Form and Content

The Joy of Music is in two parts, a felicitous combination of conversations that Leonard Bernstein was contracted to write for publishing company Simon and Schuster but never finished and the scripts of his subsequent television shows about music for the CBS series Omnibus.

Bernstein states in the introduction that he will deal with “purely musical meanings,” which are the only ones worthy of musical analysis. Any questions that the reader may have about Bernstein’s rejection of extramusical associations are dispelled in the two opening dialogues of part 1, “Imaginary Conversations.” Two major art forms are represented, music and literature. Bernstein, the musician, counters the observation of a fictitious Lyric Poet that the “hills are pure Beethoven.” Bernstein wins the debate, explaining at length that music is without any meaning except its own, “a meaning in musical terms, not in terms of words, which inhabit an altogether different mental climate.” The musician, he suggests, hears so much in the music that it is “unnecessary to bring associations into the picture at all.”

Having laid the philosophical foundation for his book, Bernstein devotes the next three sections of part 1 to problems that he encounters as a composer. Since these sections do not show him as a success, they provide a welcome contrast to his self-portrayal as an overbearing conversationalist and, ironically, win him the reader’s understanding.

The first section on composing, written in the form of telegrams and letters between Bernstein and a fictitious Broadway Producer, shows...

(The entire section is 668 words.)