Composers Datebook®

Bernstein meets Wharton

Composers Datebook for September 13, 2019


On today's date in 1993, the first gala preview screening of a new film, "The Age of Innocence," based on the novel by Edith Wharton, took place at the Ziegfield Theater in Manhattan, as a benefit for the New York Historical Society. That was only appropriate, since Wharton's historical novel describes upper-class New York society of the 1870s — an age, if the film is to be believed, so emotionally repressed that the unbuttoning of a woman's glove can be a breathtakingly sensual moment.

The new film was directed by Martin Scorsese, famous for decidedly UN-repressed thrillers likes "Taxi Driver," "Raging Bull," and "Cape Fear" – and initially some thought Scorsese a poor choice to film Wharton's novel. The skeptics were proven wrong.

Much of the success of the film can be attributed to its ravishing orchestral score by American composer Elmer Bernstein. "It was my personal tribute to the music of Johannes Brahms," said Bernstein, who also credited Scorsese for appreciating the importance of music in bringing a movie to life: Unlike most directors today, Scorsese brought in Bernstein before "Age of Innocence" was filmed – not after.

"We started talking about the character of the music long before Scorsese ever shot a frame of film," recalls Bernstein, with admiration. Bernstein's "Age of Innocence" score was nominated for an Academy Award — the 12th time Bernstein had been so honored in his long and productive cinematic career.

Music Played in Today's Program

Elmer Bernstein (1922-2004) Farewell Dinner, from The Age of Innocence film score Studio orchestra; Elmer Bernstein, cond. EMI Classics 57451

On This Day


  • 1819 - German pianist, teacher and composer Clara Schumann (née Wieck), in Leipzig;

  • 1874 - Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg, in Vienna;

  • 1917 - American composer Robert Ward, in Cleveland;

  • 1924 - French film composer Maurice Jarre, in Lyons; He won an Academy Award in 1965 for his "Dr. Zhivago" film score;


  • 1894 - French composer Emmanuel Chabrier, age 53, in Paris;

  • 1977 - English-born American conductor, arranger and new music patron, Leopold Stokowski, age 95, in Nether Wallop, Hampshire (England);

  • 1985 - French-born American composer, painter and mystical philosopher Dane Rudhyar, age 90, in San Francisco;


  • 1948 - Cyril Scott: Oboe Concerto, at Royal Albert Hall in London;

  • 1956 - Stravinsky: "Canticum sacrum ad honorem Sancti Marci nomiminis," at St. Mark's in Venice, with the composer conducting;

  • 1967 - Copland: "Inscape" for Orchestra (commissioned by the New York Philharmonic for its 125th Anniversary Year), at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, Michigan, by the New York Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein;

  • 1986 - Bernstein: Concerto for Orchestra ("Jubilee Games"), at Avery Fisher Hall in New York, by the Israel Philharmonic with composer conducting.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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