Bernstein’s shows for Omnibus were originally intended for adults, but many young adults are accomplished musicians, able to understand all of his examples. Bernstein has a flair for pedagogy. He presents new concepts such as recitative, counterpoint, and tone rows in a way that makes them understandable and recognizable. He provides examples of what does and does not work musically, and he encourages people to try things on their own.
Educated in music at Harvard University, the Curtis Institute of Music, and the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood, Bernstein was an eloquent graduate, and as a conductor he began the practice of talking briefly to the audience, introducing pieces with a few succinct remarks. The format of the Omnibus telecasts enabled him to talk at greater length and to have parts of pieces performed as examples.
Bernstein immediately realized the possibilities of a multimedia presentation and introduced a strong visual component in the television shows. His opening show on November 14, 1954, illustrates how he could demonstrate in detail on television what he could only assert in his first two “Imaginary Conversations,” written in 1948. Both the conversations and the television show deal with Beethoven. In fact, the text of the telecast ends with a quotation from the first conversation. Bernstein’s point about Beethoven is that he, more than any other composer, “had the ability to find exactly...
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