Composers Datebook®

with host John Zech

Friday, December 1

Bernstein's "Candide"

Synopsis

On today’s date in 1956, “Candide,” a new Broadway musical based on a picaresque novella by the 18th century French writer Voltaire, opened in New York City.

The libretto was fashioned by the successful playwright Lillian Hellman. The song lyrics were crafted by Richard Wilbur, one of America’s finest poets. The stage direction was by Sir Tyrone Guthrie, a legendary name in British theater. The musical score was by Leonard Bernstein.

Maybe it was a case of “too much of a good thing,” but “Candide” closed after just two months on Broadway. Rather chivalrously, Sir Tyrone Guthrie took the lion’s share of the blame, suggesting that his stage direction had “the effortless grace of a freight train heavy-laden on a steep gradient.” Some suggested the show’s satire went over the heads of many in the audience, others that the poor box office was due to the lack of a big Broadway star in the original cast.

Early in 1957, shortly before the initial run of “Candide” closed, Bernstein conducted its overture at Carnegie Hall as part of a New York Philharmonic concert—and that bit of the show, at least, became an instant and lasting success.

Bernstein tinkered with the rest of “Candide” right up to his death in 1990, generating several performing versions of his problematic musical. With the benefit of hindsight, many critics now regard “Candide” as Bernstein’s masterpiece.

Music Played in Today's Program

Leonard Bernstein (1918 – 1990) Candide soloists; London Symphony; Leonard Bernstein, cond. DG 429 734

Additional Information

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