AboutComposerBernstein and Chamber Music

“Rule Number One in orchestral playing is: it’s all chamber music.”

– Leonard Bernstein

Leonard Bernstein's major concert and stage works are well known and performed often. Not as familiar, but no less significant, is his output of chamber music. Even the earliest of these works are imbued with his unmistakable compositional style. He was a renowned pianist and accompanist, and throughout his life he enjoyed the intimate musical connections he made writing and playing chamber works with his fellow artists.

While a student at Harvard, Bernstein composed works for small ensemble, including the Piano Trio (1937), the Sonata for Violin and Piano (1940)—written for fellow student Raphael Hillyer—and his very first published work, the Sonata for Clarinet and Piano (1941–42). The Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, now a staple of the chamber music repertoire, was transcribed and recorded by cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Another chamber work for clarinet, Prelude, Fugue and Riffs (1949) for clarinet solo and jazz ensemble was dedicated to, Benny Goodman.

The dramatic changes in Bernstein’s life in 1943 (he was named Assistant Conductor of the New York Philharmonic, and shortly thereafter made career-changing, front-page headlines) may have diverted his energies away from composing more of these smaller-scaled works. Nevertheless, throughout the rest of his life he wrote songs and solo and chamber works for the recital hall, notably Three Meditations from Mass (1971) for cello and piano; Halil (1987) for flute, piano, and percussion; and Arias and Barcarolles (1988) for four singers and piano four-hands.

CHAMBER & ENSEMBLE WORKS
Ensemble & Chamber without voice(s)

Piano(s)

Vocal

Choral

  • Haskiveinu (1945) 6 min, for cantor (tenor), SATB chorus and organ
  • Yigdal (1950) ca. 2 min, for chorus and piano
  • The Lark (Incidental Music from the Play) (1955) 11 min, for SATB chorus with countertenor solo or septet of solo voices a cappella (with ad lib percussion)
  • Missa Brevis (1988) ca. 10 min, for a cappella mixed chorus (or octet of solo voices) and countertenor solo with incidental percussion

Instrumental

  • Sonata for Violin (1940) ca. 16 min, for violin and piano
  • Sonata for Clarinet (1942) 10 min, for clarinet and piano
  • Brass Music (1948) 8 min, for various instruments
    Rondo for Lifey, 2 min, for trumpet and piano
    Elegy for Mippy I, 2 min, for horn and piano
    Elegy for Mippy II, 2 min, for trombone solo
    Waltz for Mippy III, 2 min, for tuba and piano
    Fanfare for Bima, 1 min, for brass quartet (trumpet, horn, trombone, and tuba or bass trombone)

TRANSCRIPTIONS, ARRANGEMENTS & REDUCTIONS
Ensemble & Chamber without voice(s)

  • Presto Barbaro from On the Waterfront (arr. 1965) 3 min, transcribed for brass, percussion, and piano (optional) by Frank Erickson

Ensemble & Chamber with voice(s)

  • Two Love Songs (1949, arr. 1995) 5 min, orchestrated for voice, flutes, clalrinets, percussion, harp and strings by Sid Ramin
  • Piccola Serenata (1979, arr. 2001) 1 min, arranged for voice and chamber ensemble by Sid Ramin

Piano(s)

Vocal

  • Afterthought: Study for the Ballet Facsimile (1954) 4 min, for voice and piano
  • Yevarechecha from Opening Prayer (1987) ca. 2 min, transcribed for voice and organ

Choral

  • Simchu Na (1947) ca. 3 min, for SATB chorus and piano (arr. Bernstein)
  • Canon in Five Parts from Symphony No. 3: Kaddish (1963) 1 min, for five-part boy choir with keyboard accompaniment
  • Warm-up (Alleluia from Mass) (1970) ca. 2 min, for mixed chorus
  • “if you can’t eat you got to” from Songfest (1973, rev. 1977) 2 min, for tenor solo, men’s voices, and optional string bass and percussion
  • Concert Selections for Soloists and Choruses from Mass (ed. 2007) 35 min, edited for soloists, chorus, and ensemble by Doreen Rao

Instrumental