Composers Datebook®

Bernstein in Hollywood

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) –On the Waterfront Suite (Israel Philharmonic; Leonard Bernstein, cond.) DG 415 253

Composer's Datebook - 20220811


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August 11, 2022


Elia Kazan's film, "On the Waterfront," a 1954 black and white classic starring Marlon Brando, won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It was also nominated for – but didn't win – that year's Oscar for best original score. It was Leonard Bernstein's first film score, and his last. He didn't enjoy the experience:

"I had become so involved in each detail of the score," Bernstein recalled, "that it seemed to me the most important part of the picture. I had to keep reminding myself that it really is the LEAST important part… Sometimes the music would be turned off completely to allow a line to stand forth stark and bare, and then be turned on again. Sometimes the music, planned as a composition with a beginning, middle, and end, would be silenced seven bars before the end… And so the composer sits by, protesting as he can, but ultimately accepting with a heavy heart the inevitable loss of a good part of the score. Everyone tries to comfort you. 'You can always use it in a suite.' Cold comfort. It's good for the picture, you repeat numbly to yourself… it's good for the picture."

But Bernstein did fashion a concert suite from "On the Waterfront" and, not one to waste time, conducted the first performance with the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood on today's date in 1954, exactly two weeks after the film opened.

Music Played in Today's Program

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) –On the Waterfront Suite (Israel Philharmonic; Leonard Bernstein, cond.) DG 415 253

On This Day


  • 1900 - Soviet composer Alexander Mossolov, in Kiev (Julian date: July 29);

  • 1929 - Welsh composer Alun Hoddinott, in Bargoed (Wales);


  • 1949 - Austrian composer Karl Weigl, age 68, in New York City;


  • 1943 - R. Strauss: Horn Concerto No. 2, at the Salzburg Festival by the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Karl Böhm, with Gottfried von Freiburg, the principal horn of the orchestra, as soloist;

  • 1955 - Bernstein: "On the Waterfront" Symphonic Suite, at Tanglewood by the Boston Symphony conducted by the composer;

  • 1955 - Avery Claflin: madrigal "A Lament for April 15" (to an IRS text describing how to file an income tax return), at the Berkshire Center in Tanglewood, Mass.;

  • 1957 - Hindemith: opera, "The Harmony of the World," in Munich, with the composer conducting;

  • 1968 - Milhaud: "Music for New Orleans" at the Aspen Festival in Colorado; This work was commissioned originally to celebrate the 250th anniversary of New Orleans in 1966, but was rejected by the anniversary committee as unfit for the occasion;

  • 1984 - Rachmaninoff: opera "Monna Vanna" (Act 1 only, orchestrated by Buketoff), posthumously, as a concert performance in Saratoga, N.Y.; Rachmaninoff left this work unfinished in 1907;

  • 1985 - Han Werner Henze realization of Monteverdi's opera "Il ritorno d'Ulisse" (The Return of Ulysses) at the Salzburg Festival;

  • 2003 - Judith Weir: "The Voice of Desire" for voice and piano, at an afternoon BBC Proms concert at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, with mezzo-soprano Alice Coote and pianist Julius Drake;

  • 2003 - O'Connor: Violin Concerto No. 6 ("Old Brass"), at an evening BBC Proms concert at Royal Albert Hall in London, with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields conducted by Kenneth Sillito and the composer as soloist;


  • 1922 - Founding of the International Society for Contemporary Music in after a Festival of Contemporary Music in Salzburg, Austria (with the Society's central office to be located in London).