Leonard Bernstein Essay - Critical Context

Critical Context

Ewen, a music major in college and a best-selling writer on music and musicians, has written many books for adults and has also authored several biographies of composers or conductors for young people. The range of topics that he has selected has been from classical to contemporary, and this experience has given him an outlook that permits him to place the life of Bernstein in perspective.

One of the strengths of this biography is that contemporary composers, conductors, and musicians are presented in a favorable context, and their contributions to the musical world are used to provide a varied background against which the work of Bernstein can be compared. The use of newspaper headlines and anecdotes of world events in the text helps the reader to keep the life and contributions of Bernstein in perspective.

There is a definite advantage to writing about someone who is still alive and about whom one can easily collect firsthand information and documentation. Ewen has provided a wealth of such direct evidence in his writing, which holds the reader’s interest and which may serve as historical background for future biographers. Because of the book’s wealth of authentic sources, it was not necessary for Ewen to fictionalize the presentation in order to maintain the reader’s interest. The disadvantage of writing about a still-active individual, however, is that there may be a lack of historical perspective and an incomplete chronicle of the subject’s life. Fortunately, Bernstein continued to fulfill the optimistic predictions made by Ewen in the “Coda” of this book, therefore assuring the continued relevance of the information contained within it. Leonard Bernstein provides the young reader with a solid foundation for considering the lives and musical contributions not only of one important figure but also of a generation of composers and musicians.