Composers Datebook®

Bernstein gets political

Composers Datebook - Jan. 21, 2024


In 1968, Sen. Eugene McCarthy was running for president on an antiwar platform. The war in question was in Southeast Asia, and many American artists were, like Senator McCarthy, openly calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam.

On today’s date at a New York fundraising event for the anti-war movement Broadway for Peace, a song by Leonard Bernstein received its premiere performance, with the composer at the piano accompanying Barbra Streisand.

The song was titled “So Pretty,” with lyrics describing the tragedy of the Vietnam War from a child’s point of view.

Richard Nixon, not McCarthy, became president in 1968 and was re-elected in 1972. At his special request, the final piece on his January 1973 inaugural concert was Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, which struck many as a deliberately bellicose selection, considering that the Vietnam War was still raging.

Bernstein, McCarthy and others arranged a counter-concert at Washington’s National Cathedral, scheduled at precisely the same time as Nixon’s, but presenting Haydn’s Mass in Time of War instead of Tchaikovsky.

Whether Tchaikovsky or Haydn ultimately made any difference in resolving the conflict, history does note that a Southeastern Asian armistice was signed in Paris a few days later.

Music Played in Today's Program

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) So Pretty; Roberta Alexander, soprano; Tan Crone, piano Etcetera 1007

On This Day


  • 1899 - Russian-born American composer Alexander Tcherepnin, in St. Petersburg (Julian date: Jan. 9);


  • 1851 - German opera composer Albert Lortzing, age 49, in Berlin;

  • 1948 - Italian composer Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, age 72, in Venice;


  • 1713 - Handel: opera "Teseo" (Julian date: Jan. 10);

  • 1725 - Bach: Sacred Cantata No. 111 ("Was mein Gott will, das g'scheh allzeit") performed on the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany as part of Bach's second annual Sacred Cantata cycle in Leipzig (1724/25);

  • 1816 - Cherubini: "Requiem," in Paris;

  • 1880 - Rimsky-Korsakov: opera "May Night," in St. Petersburg, Napravnik conducting (Julian date: Jan. 9);

  • 1904 - Janácek: opera "Jenufa" in Brno at the National Theater;

  • 1927 - Roussel: Suite in F for orchestra, in Boston;

  • 1929 - Schreker: opera "Der Schatzgräber" (The Treasure Hunter), in Frankfurt at the Opernhaus;

  • 1930 - Shostakovich: Symphony No. 3 ("May First"), in Leningrad;

  • 1936 - Gershwin: "Catfish Row" Suite (from the opera "Porgy and Bess"), by the Philadelphia Orchestra, Alexander Smallens conducting;

  • 1947 - Martinu: "Toccata e due canzona" for chamber orchestra, in Basel, Switzerland;

  • 1968 - Bernstein: song "So Pretty" (a song protesting the Vietnam War) at Philharmonic Hall (now Avery Fisher Hall) in New York City, with singer Barbra Streisand and the composer at the piano;

  • 1968 - Allan Pettersson: Symphony No. 6, in Stockholm;

  • 1988 - Christopher Rouse: Symphony No. 1, by the Baltimore Symphony, David Zinman 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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