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A Noisy Place

lenny_thumbTwo versions, and it’s hard to say which one is more revolting, of one of the least savory moments in the life of Leonard Bernstein.


From Priest of Music: The Life of Dimitri Mitropoulos


  • callasorphan says:

    Mother of god, I hate to read this. I find it very, very sad and particularly loathsome when one of “our own” is a hypocrite. However, from what I’ve learned in my life that there are those that will do anything to further their goals in life. That makes me very sad indeed.

    • armerjacquino says:

      Can we please all stop assuming that it’s true? There is, at the very least, reasonable doubt that it happened- as illustrated in the Alex Ross quote I posted earlier.

      I have no idea whether it happened or not but I always become uncomfortable when rumour is treated as fact.

      • Jack Jikes says:

        Beautifully put -Bernstein in private conversation was always throwing out the word ‘Rashmon!’ when confronted with any of various yarns about
        friends, associates and collaborators.

        • Harry says:

          Jack Jikes: That’s nice cool way for someone like Bernstein muddying the waters and hoping others do the same on his behalf. I keep getting reminded with Bernstein perhaps thinking of himself as that Blossom Dearie song ‘Im’ Hip!’, since he was such a considered darling of the late 50′s early 60′s smart Set’

      • Nerva Nelli says:

        I guess your attempt at fair-mindedness is in some ways admirable, but you are dismisisng something as a mere rumour that — as far as I had known-- was fairly well attested. (Almost like the contemptible USA music critic who had the temerity not long ago to refer to Schwarzkopf’s “putative Nazi affiliations” in print.)I heard about LB’s betrayal of DM from Boston Symphony insiders decades ago. That of course doesn’t make it true, but this was not just a rumour that cropped up after LB’s death. But just to say “both men are dead” is hardly grounds for dismisising something, or suspecting that no one, while alive, told the truth about this to someone who passed it on truthfully.

      • Ruxton says:

        I’m with you totally Armerjacquino -- all this stuff about Lenny B is nothing more than gossip….no one can prove or disprove it now so who cares? In a court of law it would not be admissable because it is just hearsay. The thing that I find incredible is the remarks of some of the posters… I just think they should enjoy the goss if they must- but have the good sense to recognise it for what it is. Some queens will grab onto anything.

        • m. croche says:

          I’m not really sure where one draws the line between “gossip”, “biography” and “history”. As for the canard “no one can prove or disprove it now”: the historian’s task is to do the best job possible in playing a bad hand. The historical record is always much less complete than one would like. They collect such evidence as remains, weigh it, contextualize it. Contrary evidence is not simply ignored, but also analyzed. I find the airy dismissals of this process glib.

          • richard says:

            That’s how I’m seeing this discussion, too.

            Sure, it’s not really possible to prove that the actions described actually took place as per the description, but there’s a big difference between that and pure “gossip”

            Anything contained in a biography has a certain kind of weight attached to it. Again, it may be just made up and in any event impossible to prove but that’s not just gossip, which has a frivolous connotation to it.

            For myself, I go by the tone of a written account. If it’s from a book/bio that otherwise seems legitimate, then I’m going to consider what’s contained in that book as something that is accurate, at least as far as the author is concerned. Not that it’s PROVEN, but at least something to be considered.

            If the account comes from what appears to be a frivolous source, then I’ll treat it as being possible but unlikely. For instance, some tale from Hollywood Babylon is going to be possible, but much more in the line of “gossip” than an account from an otherwise serious biography.

          • rapt says:

            I think the gears aren’t quite meshing in this disagreement. I think armerjaquino’s primary contention (with which I agree) is that the story remains a speculation, not proven by documents. But I agree with m. croche that speculation is often necessarily a part of the historian’s task--that entertaining and weighing varied speculations does not make one a lousy historian (although that may not be what aj is contending: if he means only that it would be a lousy historian who would assert as fact what must remain speculative, I agree with him). And the kind of “doubt” introduced by Ross is, of course, equally speculative (and, in my reading of his particular arguments, rather weak, depending as these do on unnamed authorities and on assertions about motives that, for me at least, don’t seem convincing--for instance, having a secret of one’s own is quite often a motive for, rather than a hindrance to, accusation of others [certainly we've seen a sufficiency of gay-baiting closet cases among the clergy and politicians]).

          • Ruxton says:

            Thats cos its hard to intellectualise shit.

          • m. croche says:

            I would agree that the Ross quotation approvingly cited by AJ could be described as “speculation” (at least, Ross’ points #1 and 2). I think it’s misleading to use the term when applied to Trotter: here we have one historian reporting on speech by others, not presenting his own speculations. So it seems to me that the burden involved in falsifying Trotter is much heavier.

            There would be a variety of ways to do this: dig up other accounts of the deliberation that would provide alternative explanations for the board’s decision; introduce evidence that Trotter, Oliver Daniel, Mitropoulos or Jack Lowe are (singly or in combination) unreliable narrators; find evidence that the story couldn’t possibly have happened as told (i.e. Bernstein was in Brazil the whole time). The problem is that Trotter’s critics here can’t be assed to do any of this. Fine, that’s not necessarily their job, but it does mean that I’m not likely to take their evaluation terribly seriously.

          • armerjacquino says:

            m. croche, I’m going to get seriously annoyed if you continue to put words in my mouth. I cited the Ross quote neither ‘approvingly’ nor disapprovingly. It’s right there on the previous page- I posted the author’s name, and the quote. Nothing else. I did so not because I agree with it or disagree with it, but because it throws some doubt on what was being treated as a signed and sealed fact.

            I also find your pronouncements on what a historian should and should not do interesting. I was always taught that the worst thing a historian can do is to start from a presumption. The presumption of guilt in this case is deafening; to the extent that my attempt to say nothing more than richard did (‘it is not proven’) or than rapt did (‘it remains speculation’) has been met with accusations of all kinds, including ON’s casually offensive suggestion of ‘performed neutrality’, whatever the gibbering fuck that may be.

          • luvtennis says:

            Something is a biography has a certain amount of weight in it?

            Sorry, but that is just about the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. Ever heard of Kitty Kelly?

            Anyone’s life can be distorted by a sensationalizing biographer. Especially when the subject is recently dead and there are lots of “friends” willing to tell tales.

          • m. croche says:

            AJ: I wrote that you brought up Ross “approvingly” because of what you wrote at 11.1. I also find that people who bring up quotations without further explication do so because they find them reasonable and require no further explication. This is describing your actions, AJ, not putting words in your mouth.

            Nor have I been operating from a presumption of guilt. Trotter et al have done some research and produced some evidence. So far there has been, for all of the huffing and puffing, no counter-evidence adduced. Nothing is “proven” -- pace Karl Popper, no hypothesis ever is “proven”, it is merely not-yet-falsified -- but there’s -- with this book -- good reason to believe some version of the story is probably true.

            Now, if you want to provide some evidence that there’s something wrong with Trotter, I’ll be all ears. I’ve got no attachment to either DM or LB (or Trotter or the rest). I’d happily believe that DM was delusional, or lied to, or that Trotter or Oliver Daniel was concealing exculpatory evidence. But you have to give me a reason to believe it. If that sort of thing seems hard, then you can appreciate the effort that people make in preparing books for publication.

          • poisonivy says:

            I think it’s naive to demand that great artists also be great people. Or, the corollary that them being great artists makes up for their failings as people. In contrast, I often think that what makes people great creative and artistic forces (unwavering self confidence, ambition, and knowledge that they are special) makes them self-absorbed, difficult, and inconsiderate.

            I mean can you really think of a great *creative* artist who was also a wonderful person? A poet, novelist, playwright, painter, composer, director, choreographer who was also just the salt of the earth? I really can’t.

          • armerjacquino says:

            And where, precisely, do you find ‘approval’ in what I wrote at 11:1? I merely said that its existence shows that there is doubt in some quarters that this story is true.

            And as for what you ‘find’ about people who bring up quotations without further explication, that is pure presumption and pure projection, which you then go on to call ‘describing (my) actions’. Words fail.

            Finally, you once again ask me to find some evidence to discredit Trotter. I have no interest in discrediting anyone; my point is that he hasn’t fully proved his. You also, once again, operate from a position of Mitropoulos definitely having said something that we have no concrete proof he said.

            I really am giving up now, because you continue to address the points you think I’m making rather than the ones I actually have.

        • Harry says:

          Then what are people experiencing by listening or watching to any alleged ‘artistic’ piece? Great thunders of notes or visuals : that they would want us to believe ‘just happened’ by a sheer fluke of nature. That Bach perhaps, could have just as easily have written Wagner’s work ‘except nature’s time was not right?’ or Donezetti could have written Lulu, but that the chain of evolution was not in synchronicity then, for 12 tone. As if music is but ink blots freely scattered,… and composers are but manifestations of a mechanical pianola time. Set to spew out compositions ‘to fit and co-ordinate with some pre ordained period of time’ I find this idea staggering. For that is the underneath pathetic argument of the ‘don’t examine the influences on those who made it or how’ camp. No matter how unintended. The fact that the slip-steams of one person’s particular unique consciousness was in play -- in their own era -- allowed a composition to come into being….is eschewed.
          Whether a rat or a saint, it certainly must have ‘textured’ the creation in some way! No man is a island.

          • Harry says:

            Whenever I hear that feverish ‘breakdown’ sequence in Berstein’s Mass and that anguished embarrassing cry go up “Let us pray..”… I want to cringe and run. I keep thinking Bernstein is yet again on his ‘atonement’ kick, .

  • Niel Rishoi says:

    Somehow, whenever I read stuff like this about Lenny, the word “euthanasia” crops up.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor says:

    • Jack Jikes says:

      Ah…. the trouble that ensued when Lenny invited the Bunraku imperial
      musicians to the Berkshires. Tahiti was nothing compared to THAT.

  • Vox says:

    Don’t know anything about this story but anyone who was at Tanglewood in the early ’80s can attest to Bernstein’s behavior toward any male who caught his eye. If proper attention was not paid, you could expect to have no opportunities.

  • Harry says:

    For those that ‘wish to let sleeping dogs lie’ or die ABSOLUTELY where deceased figures of the music scene are concerned -- let’s look at at other dead artistic figures. Take Sylvia Plath, Picasso, Virginia Wolff, Eugene O’Neil, Henry James, E.M Forster etc…people keep digging deep to understand the ‘full force’ of what they created, why they did what they did, and where they were actually coming from. No squeals go up about the need for protection of their memory. Their memories and works will survive and be admired.. The question is: … “Is Bernstein and what he artistically created: capable of surviving the same similar forms of close scrutiny of his life?” To fully ascertain how much of his own life experience went into molding what he presented to the public. Surely he was aware of this fateful final result, that also posthumously awaited him. Otherwise he should have stayed a baton waver.
    A case now of Who’s Afraid of The Real Life of Lenny B? Otherwise let’s call it a day and shrug off everything as gossip and include calling his compositions ‘mere passing forgetful piffle’ too. Fair’s….. fair. That’s the name of the game.

    • Ruxton says:

      I recently saw an interview with the much esteemed art historian and critic, Sister Wendy on Youtube(strongly recommend it- fascinating stuff).

      On matters of assessing, judging or trying to understand any “artistic creation” Sister Wendy is unambiguous- one has to look at the integrity of the work, itself- and leave personal judgements of the artist or creator out of it altogether. She says it is not relevant.

      She argues the case so well, (don’t believe me -- check it yourself) I’m not going to push the case other than to say I agree with her, but nonetheless I also realise “leaving the gossip out of it” ain’t half as interesting.

      • richard says:

        Well, I agree with that, it only makes sense. But sometimes it’s hard not to let personal judgements creep into what she be an assessment .

        I know I try but sometimes shit just creeps into my judgement process…..

      • Harry says:

        It is a fascinating discussion. I am familiar with Sister Wendy’s methods. Being of the ‘holy cloth’, it would therefore seem to make her rather unwilling on the surface to some degree, to play ‘Devil’s Advocate’ whilst attempting to sanctify artists for the Saints pantheons of Art. I have watched other art historians use the same methods to illuminate a piece on one hand, but then give an alternative ‘dig deep’ reactive appraisal of things like great paintings and sculpture. Works -- now deemed totally historical,and not having any recent generation to draw on to give first hand information. They may be things of great visual beauty but do not engage the senses of most people here; that of the extra sense….hearing. Exciting a further added different dimension set of living breathing creative reactions and emotions, prone to instant change. THEREBY GAINED : born first of close study listening, interest, research and knowledge by using all those connected associations. In Bernstein’s case there is still time for collection of first hand ‘thread’ information from associates still living, or from factual records of those not long dead that may be of value as a record, for still further posterity.

        I will take another example. Take Joyce Grenfell’s autobiography where -- in passing ,she mentions Benjamin Britten’s total unthinking castigation of his long loyal creative associate help on so many of his creations, that of Viola Tunnard. Playing through some new creation of his, he noticed she , ever reliable -was missing a few notes on the piano here and there….Britten was quick to blame her ‘that it was her careless fault’. The poor woman was in fact, showing signs of the hideous fast terminal disease Motor Neuron Disease. So I ask, should this be laid down for other people’s knowledge? Should such things be not overlooked and noted? The answer is a yes, yes, yes. Does it say: connect with other recorded, like cold behavior of Britten ? etc etc etc. It allows people to place further questions forward about the make up of Britten and his own individual traits -- ‘the ‘human soup’ out of which his compositions came. Whilst listening to any music, we are continually and privately making our own forms of individual conjecture about any composer. That the nature of the beast.

        This is after all the 21st Century. Do people realize that the Vatican once wanted to ban Rossini’s Cenerentola because at the end of the opera , Cinderella had to expose part of HER ANKLE for the Prince to try on her, the famous shoe!!!!

        The final judged integrity of anything: comes out of knowing what actually created it and the influential forces involved, whilst it was being created. ‘Something does not just come out of some mindless Everyman silence vacuum’.I believe this is all we are also attempting to do, in these discussions. When you eat something…do you not care about knowing the true ingredients?

        I once did research for a artist who was wanting to do a new show on certain wartime artists. Some of the unsavory political material I dredged up would surprise some. Does that make me ‘a gossip’ digging it up and now knowing it? If it was not there….I could not be accused, could I? Whose ‘final culpability’ is it? Committing some frowned upon or treacherous act, or others finding out, it took place?

        • Ruxton says:

          Free world, Harry. You are allowed to miss the point.

          • Harry says:

            Ruxton : Exactly what is noticeably absent point, anyway? Now, now, stop trying to take a leaf out of the pages of some art mob’s abstract thesis for what constitutes ‘integrity’, in various forms of Art.

            Watching Sister Wendy on youTube as you admitted…really Ruxton!!! What a screamer! Should we laugh?
            It is like someone attempting to be university Arts educated: but looking at miniature size short cartoons and then taking down notes, with the facilities of a kindergarten kid’s first writing slate and crayons. Therefore I respect the ‘integrity’ of the first invention of the wheel!

        • Regina delle fate says:

          Well since there is no shoe in La cenerentola -- it’s a bracelet -- it’s very hard to believe the above story about the Vatican trying to ban it.

          • Regina delle fate says:

            But of course, it could have originally been a shoe and the librettist changed it to keep the Vatican quiet. I didn;’t think of that until now! Sorry Harry.

    • luvtennis says:


      You assume that there is general agreement about the wisdom of using biography as a crutch in critical analysis. I abhor the practice. Just because some academics condone the practice doesn’t make it right. In fact, academics are just about the most gossipy folks in my acquaintance.

      Look, I loathe the historical Wagner, not just for his awful racism and anti-semitism, but because he was an arrogant jerk who used everyone around him.

      How much do you want to bet that he used Ludwig’s proclivities against him? But I can listen to his music because I don’t hear those things in the music.

      The libretti are another matter sadly.

      Not every composer can be as cool as Bach or Verdi -- who was a very progressive dude indeed. Not every writer can be as upstanding as Tolkien -- whose letter the Nazi’s regarding the translation of the Hobbit stands as a model of how a responsible artist should deal with evil despots.

      If we only enjoyed the art of the righteous, we would be severely limited in our entertainment choices.

      • Harry says:

        luvtennis; I respect your position but…. take the case of the composer Percy Grainger who consciously made sure that every single aspect of his life was documented for public view when dead..

        In Melbourne Australia, they have just reopened after renovation, HIS OWN consciously purpose built museum once again -containing amongst other things, letters, music, photos……and even all the artifacts for his love of sado-masochism. Including a collection of his very whips,the contraptions for his physical containment whilst being whipped and actual naked photographs of him… with his legs ‘spread-eagled’, buttocks exposed -- both before and after whipping!

        His only proviso was..that some of the material seen on display, only become available for viewing to the public -- one decade -a short 10 years after his death. He died in 1961.

        Makes this little teapot discussion about Bernstein seem childish stuff by comparison.

  • CruzSF says:

    As La Cieca has reminded us recently, Parterre is first and foremost a “gossip” site. We shouldn’t be surprised that gossip might trump the facts here.

    I don’t know whether Trotter, Ross, or anyone else is closer to the truth. It seems to me pretty unknowable at this point. What we have are years upon years of rumors of who tried to destroy whom.

    richard, even when I disagree with you, I find your posts are pretty fair-minded. If you have read the Trotter book and found it to be plausible, then I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt, until I can read it myself and compare it with other sources.

  • louannd says:

    WHAT a terrific discussion! I love Parterre!

  • m. p. arazza says:

    Well, I had never known about any of this and normally would have no reason to doubt what seems to be the coin of the realm. However, when the biographer (Trotter) himself concedes that “There are two versions of what happened,” isn’t that as much as to say that there might well have been a third version, and a fourth, etc., etc., and that no one really knows exactly what happened? Okay, maybe there really are only two versions. But unless I’m misreading something, there is one disturbing point of ambiguity in Trotter’s account on the page reproduced above. He writes: “As Jack Lowe recounted it…”, followed by the quote from Lowe which includes “Later when we [italics added] heard about it from Dimitri…” However, a few lines previously we’ve been told that this Second Version was “recounted by a board member to pianist Jack Lowe.” So if Lowe is merely repeating the board member’s account, who is the “we” in Lowe’s testimony? Did he hear about it from Dimitri or didn’t he? It’s this kind of fudged (however trivial) detail that makes me (rightly or wrongly) want to re-open the case…

  • manou says:

    Reflection On The Fallibility Of Nemesis

    He who is ridden by a conscience
    ?Worries about a lot of nonscience; ?
    He without benefit of scruples ?
    His fun and income soon quadruples.

    Ogden Nash

  • manou says:

    Sorry -- ignore the ??????s