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Working With Bernstein: A Memoir. Jack Gottlieb. New York: Amadeus Press, 2010. ISBN 978-1-5746-7186-5
In 1958, Leonard Bernstein, recently appointed music director of the New York Philharmonic, hired as his assistant Jack Gottlieb, a composer with a Ph.D dissertation on Bernstein’s music. Gottlieb’s job description seemed indeterminate: from vetter of compositions sent to Bernstein for potential performance to general “gopher.” In this latter capacity, Gottlieb traveled the globe with the peripatetic maestro, seeing to Bernstein’s toiletries, packing his bags, managing transportation, and otherwise working hard but, in Bernstein’s company, having a thoroughly good time. Apparently Gottlieb performed splendidly, and, save for four years when he took a position teaching composition, he remained at Bernstein’s side until Bernstein’s death in 1990. No doubt, the friendship that ensued was cemented by shared Jewish faith and Gottlieb’s extraordinary competence in understanding Bernstein’s music. Indeed, Bernstein would come to entrust Gottlieb with writing the program notes and commentaries to accompany the published scores, recordings and performances of Bernstein’s own music. Now Gottlieb, some twenty years after Bernstein’s death, has written this work, Part I of which is a memoir of his experiences with Bernstein, and Part II of which contains his collected program notes and commentaries. Read the rest of this entry »
A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs. David Lehman. New York: Nextbook/Schocken, 2009. 249 pp. ISBN 978-0-8052-4250-8
Creating America on Stage: How Jewish Composers and Lyricists Pioneered American Musical Theater. Jill Gold Wright. Saarbrücken, Germany: VDM Verlag Dr. Müller, 2009. 135 pp. ISBN 978-3-6391-7142-6
An ever-growing body of critical literature, beginning nearly forty years ago with Alec Wilder’s seminal American Popular Song, has established the lasting cultural value of the classic songs of George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, and the other great songwriters of what is sometimes called popular music’s “golden era.” (Whether or not one considers that era to have been “golden” has much to do with one’s opinion of rock and roll.) At the beginning of those decades—the 1920s through the 1950s—popular music was dominated by the sheet music publishing industry, centered on a few blocks of West 26th Street in New York City, an area that gave the business its nickname, Tin Pan Alley. But the era also saw the rise of radio and the growth of the recording and movie industries, mass media that eventually eclipsed sheet music as means of disseminating popular songs. The majority of hit songs throughout this period—and in contrast to later phases of popular music history—made their debut in Broadway and Hollywood musicals. Indeed, the history of the popular song in those years is inseparable from the history of the musical comedy. Read the rest of this entry »