December 02, 1994 at 05:00 AM EST

Leonard Bernstein: A Life

Current Status
In Season
Meryle Secrest
Music, Biography
We gave it an A

Leonard Bernstein once recalled his first musical epiphany, touching a piano in a long-ago hallway. ”That was my contract with life, with God. From then on I had found my universe, my place where I felt safe.” The tenets of that contract would be expanded. The restless Boston youth would change, from prodigy to aspiring concert pianist, from composer to the man at the podium of the New York Philharmonic, arguably the most celebrated conductor of his time. Secrest has written a biography that presents an abundance of Bernstein’s many colors: from his uncanny childhood command of complex musical scores to his numerous passions, both personal and political. Secrest balances necessary candor and fond reverence in a brisk, accessible style. She explains much about the people — Aaron Copland and Stephen Sondheim among them — who influenced Bernstein’s life and informed his music. Despite Bernstein’s penchant for self-invention, Secrest has ably penetrated the facades to write a sparkling study of a talented, conflicted man. A

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