Composers Datebook®

Bernstein takes a chance

Leonard Bernstein (1900 –1990) Concerto for Orchestra (Jubilee Games) (Israel Philharmonic; Leonard Bernstein, cond.) DG 429 231

Composer's Datebook - 20210913


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September 13, 2021


The Grove Dictionary of Music defines the word “aleatory” as follows: “music whose composition and/or performance is, to a greater or lesser extent, undetermined by the composer.”

But isn’t music supposed to be organized, planned, determined sound? Isn’t “aleatoric music” a contradiction in terms? Well, not necessarily. Musicians throughout the ages have delighted in spontaneous, improvised sound, or musical games in which the results will be different with each performance.

In the 20th century, American composers like Charles Ives and Henry Cowell often gave performers a great deal of freedom in the realization of their scores, and John Cage developed what he called “chance operations” into an art form all its own.

On September 13, 1986, at Avery Fisher Hall in New York City, Leonard Bernstein conducted the Israel Philharmonic in the premiere of his new Concerto for Orchestra subtitled “Jubilee Games,” which incorporates some aleatoric elements.

Bernstein explained, “Its first movement is musical athletics, with cheers and all. It is also charades, anagrams, and children’s counting games… therefore aleatoric, ranging from structured improvisation to totally free orchestral invention. It is thus inevitable that the movement will vary considerably from one performance to another, and even one rehearsal to another.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Leonard Bernstein (1900 –1990) Concerto for Orchestra (Jubilee Games) (Israel Philharmonic; Leonard Bernstein, cond.) DG 429 231

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.