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Bernstein on Bernstein -- Age of Anxiety
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Auden’s fascinating and hair-raising Eclogue had already begun to affect me lyrically when I first read it in the summer of 1947. From that moment, the composition of a symphony based on The Age of Anxiety acquired an almost compulsive quality; and I have been writing it steadily since then, in Taos, in Philidelphia, in Richmond, Mass., in Tel-Aviv, in planes, in hotel-lobbies, and finally (this week preceding the premiere) in Boston. The orchestration was made during a month-long tour with the Pittsburgh Symphony. [Essay on Age of Anxiety, March 1949]

I imagine that the conception of a symphony with piano solo emerges from the extreme personal identification of myself with the poem. In this sense, the pianist provides an almost autobiographical mirror in which he sees himself, analytically in the modern ambiance. The work is therefore no concerto, in the virtuosic sense... The essential line of the poem (and the music) is the record of our difficult and problematic search for faith. [Essay on Age of Anxiety, March 1949]

What happens in the [Age of Anxiety] is anything but optimistic. In the poem everyone is completely drunk and trying desperately to have a good time. This feeling of desperation is there all the time and they are having a good time but the kind of good time which one hour later is horrible.
The piece deals a great deal with alcohol... The whole scene takes place in a bar, and four people find each other in a bar, all lonely, all full of problems – three men and a woman – and it is through alcohol that they begin to search out these semi-conscious, really unconscious, adventures which are going back to their roots – and then that series of variations called the 7 stages, which is a kind of spiritual journey that is taken to try to arrive at a place where relationships can be formed and faith can be established. That takes them as far as the end of Part I of the Symphony and there is a sort of brilliant ending, but it is very equivocal. They find nothing. Then they decide the bar is closing – they are all full of alchol – they want some more, so the girl invites them to her apartment for a nightcap. On the way to the apartment they sit in the taxicab and they sing this dirge which begins Part II. And the dirge is a lament for the lost father figure. A colossal Dad, as Auden says. Who is God? There is nobody to turn to, either a mortal father figure or God, and as I remember the poem, the girl had a Jewish father so there is a great deal of Mosaic reference in that dirge, and the Lament is for the absence of a Moses, someone who could really guide, tell you what to do, give you the rules of how to live. And he is not there. So, they get to her apartment, they drink, they dance, and they have this crazy scherzo. And separate. And they find that they are lonely as before, and in the Epilogue they really come to terms in a painful way with the real issue, having tried all the other routes, that they failed, and they find, as I say – the answer is in this glass of orange juice. Is God, in the orange juice. [Berlin Press Conference, September 12, 1977]

The end of the Age of Anxiety is very grandiose and I meant that at the time slightly ironically, the way it is in Auden’s poem... But the [irony of the] end of the poem and the crisis of faith is that one finds [faith] in one’s backyard ultimately, after searching and going through these variations of these stages and ages and so on, you fin it in your bathtub or under the little apple tree outside your house, not in these great terms of faith with a big ‘F.’ [Berlin Press Conference, September 12, 1977]

I am not sure [that what I tried to do at the end of the Age of Anxiety] is successful...because the protagonist (the pianist), he goes through one ’Alptraum’ after another and then he doesn’t play for a long time and the orchestra builds this grand ending, the Mahlerish ending – half Mahlerish, half Hollywood (by Hollywood I don’t mean the type of music, but I mean that the protagonist I placed in position of someone watching this big climax take place on a screen, a cinema screen). But he is detached, he is not taking part in it... he’s not in it, he’s a bit distanziert from the big ending, which is what Auden meant, and I tried to translate that Auden idea into musical symphonic terms. I don’t know if it succeeds.
I am sort of zweidetuig myself about the ending because I love it. It is beautiful and it does move me and I hope it moves other people. But I still like the dramatic idea of the pianist being distanziert from this [because] the pianist is me, I suppose. [Berlin Press Conference, September 12, 1977]

More Books: Bernstein on Bernstein -- 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue | Bernstein on Bernstein -- Age of Anxiety | Bernstein on Bernstein -- Jeremiah | Bernstein on Bernstein -- On The Waterfront | Bernstein on Bernstein -- Songfest | Bernstein on Bernstein -- Trouble in Tahiti | Findings | Homage to Stravinsky | Johns Hopkins Univ. Commencement Speech - 1980 | Leonard Bernstein on Education | Leonard Bernstein on Mahler -- NY Phil, 1960 | Leonard Bernstein on Mahler, "Music that Sings" | Leonard Bernstein on Non-Violence | Leonard Bernstein on Teachers | Leonard Bernstein on the Symphony Orchestra | Leonard Bernstein: Notes from a Friend | Mahler: His Time Has Come, by Leonard Bernstein | Speaking of Music | The Joy of Music |