Leonard Bernstein at 100

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European tradition, American incarnation

IF YOU were a well-heeled Massachusetts lady in the late 1920s and wanted your hair fixed like the movie stars, there was one man to turn to: Samuel Bernstein. In 1927, this entrepreneurial immigrant, who had arrived in New York from Tsarist Russia aged 16, acquired the only local licence to sell the Frederics Permanent Wave machine for curling hair. Like many businessmen of the times, he expected his eldest son to follow him into the family firm.

But Louis Bernstein, born in August 1918 and known to everyone as Lenny (he officially changed his name to Leonard as a teenager), had different ideas. The family had no musical roots to speak of, but ten-year-old Lenny found himself drawn obsessively to his aunt Clara’s piano. No matter that his father remained vehemently opposed to the notion that he should make music his life, there was but one path ahead.

For all his early misgivings, Samuel later conceded that his son…Continue reading

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