Mark Grindell | Shipley,West Yorkshire | 05/19/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Its quite interesting that in the late 20th century, there was a progresive tendency to look for a number of grand schemes, many of which would be familiar to you guys, perhaps some of which would not be. One obvious example is that tremendous effort to find an underlying theory of physics which would combine relativity and quantum mechanics - another are more obscure attempts to reconcile set theory with certain models within category theory which had been giving trouble to a certain set of number theoretians - etc, etc.But the human dimension to this appeared, almost as one man in the form of Chomsky. His book, "Aspects of the theory of Syntax" was the tip of the iceberg of a huge number of papers published on the deep structure of language while he was working at MIT. This appeared to offer clues as to aspects of the structure of ANY human language, an utterly amazing claim. Some of his later works give clues to the possible existence of a universal paradigm for language which has massive implications for people in so many disciplines, I couldn't begin to enumerate. This all started, by the way, on the route to attempting the final cataloguing of the North American indian languages, some of which had only one remaining speaker. The task was huge and unapproachable until Chomsky evolved a system for abbreviating certain grammatic structures, which, to his surprise, evolved into a powerful predictive theory.Anyone exposed to this at the time would have been impressed, but what was to follow was even more amazing. Chomsky's ideas swiftly melded with other theories of semantics and syntax transformations in different fields, and became de-rigeour for many PhDs in computer science and anthropology, uniting what was up until that time two very, very different disciplines. Citations to his work began to appear everywhere, and in the most amazing places.An illustration of what was to follow THAT is basically contained here. no less, a unified theory of language and music![You ought to get this - it is undoubtedly a brilliant scholarly work in any case, even if you don't concur with Bernstein on all points - and few would exactly agree with him on all, nor, importantly, would you need to, to benefit from this.]The argument presented is quite intuitive, but is nontheless compelling. Music is shown as being a byproduct of our humanity, extended from need in whatever form, as an infant, or an adult, from utility into sophisticaion, and finally inspiration. Bernstein makes sure the listener is in no doubt that there is something way, way beyond necessity in our provision for the experience of music. His explanation of the physics of music is flawless, and ... awe inspiring. And, watching the man traverse this enormous gap between logic, physics, liguistics, and the unnameable majesty of Beethoven and Debussy (both of which he performs as a conductor, and is moved greatly and visibly) is utterly breathtaking. I would doubt that anyone watching his exposition of the 6th would be any less moved in this way.Apart from any of this, Bernstein entertains enormously. There are parts of his explantions that truly defy you not to laugh. He has an honesty and self effacement that is quite unusual, this comes out particularly in his efforts to sing, which he pokes quite a bit of fun at. It's obvious how passionately his audience is involved. (He describes at length a discussion with a student after one lecture in the next one - and its clear that both student and teacher really have learned quite a bit but have obviously been a little combatative, at least, at first)From there on, you might care to differ a bit. The history of the 20th Century is described rather neatly as the showdown between Schoenburg and Stravinsky, two schools of thought, two very different philosophies. He enters this very complex consideration fairly gently. I agree with his approach - and understanding of the environment of the early 20th century is essential if one is to understand its music - and so he described Debussy, who is ... sort of.. at the end of the Waagnerian era, stretching ambiguity and tonal resources to the uttermost. Can one go further? Yes indeed, and here we have the entry of the Viennese school of 12 tone technique, illustrated with Schoenburgs six little piano pieces. But oddly enough, Bernstein shows very clearly that the appearance of 12 tone technique is not unequivically Schoenburgs' alone, but appears in the guise of mists and mirages in Chopin, Wagner, even Beethoven, but grasped once and for all by Schoenburg.Given another five or so lectures, one might imagine that one could explore the use of bitonality, not just in the context of the Rite of Spring (which is most EXCELLENTLY explained), but the mid century English composers, who use this technique. Such people as Holst, Grainger, Williams, Strauss, and of course, Britten. But there isn't time. The end point of these complications is the resolution into a robust defence of neo-classicism, such as the ebony concerto, and of course, Oedipux Rex. But I think that this is a sad way to end - Rex is a sombre, hard work, and doesn't quite illustrate the end that either Schoenburg or Stravinsky seem to have unknowingly appointed for that part of the 20th century. In this, Bernstein may have overlooked that really recent developoments in Europe, that of an emerging new impressionism (even, perhaps, Romanticism), exemplified by Xenakis, Maderna, Berio, and others, who in some sense share some parts of both ends of the bipolar world which was the basis for all this in the middle part of that century.All this is debatable. For instance, not a mention is given to either those very radical spirits like Varese, who seemed to eschew both ends equaly - or those, like Sibelius, Delius or Neilson, who didn't seem to mind either way, and continued to write what is now known as the mid century symphonic repertoire. That is a long, long story, and could form the basis of a lot of commentary. Where, for instance, is Shostakovich in all this? Or Bartok, for that matter? I think this is all dealt with elsewhere, but I would have given a great deal to have seen these composers discussed at length.But this set of lectures is so valuable as a signpost, I would never do anything other than highly, highly recommend it.It's absolutely magnificent."
I'm glued to the screen
PuppyTalk | NY United States | 05/03/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"All technical and musical matters have been discussed by other reviewers, so I'm just going to say that this collection of lectures is a delight to watch and listen. Some of them run nearly 3 hours, but I never become bored of them. Bernstein, with his contageous energy, enthusiasm and excellent communication skills, shares his views and thoughts with such pleasant ways; it is just irresistible. Just to prove my point, my husband, who has no musical background and had no idea what the maestro was talking about when he watched the first lecture with me, gave a delightful cry of amazement each time Bernstein demonstrated on the piano. Needless to say, he was glued to the screen and watched it till the end without a hint of boredom.
The lectures are highly intellectual, and to understand what he's talking about, you need musical background, but even if you don't understand at all, it is still very enjoyable.
Humphrey Burton writes in his Bernstein's biography that Bernstein was having such good time being with young people at Harvard, he kept on delaying and delaying to complete these lectures. You can see that the maestro enjoys so much sharing what he knows with not only Harvard students but with all the world. His theme is universality of music and brotherhood of human kind through music. Some of his thoughts and ideas are so very unique and different; they amuse me at the same time make me think.Even though the questions are not all answered (the more he talks, the more questions arise, I have to admit), his spirit is well delivered, and that alone makes this DVD a treasure worth having."
Bernstein via Chomsky on the human need for music & meaning
Mark Grindell | 07/30/1997
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Flushed and slightly dissheveled from his passionate tryst with the writings of revolutionary linguist and critic Noam Chomsky, Leonard Bernstein offers an uncannily lucid, moving, and colorful series of "Six Talks At Harvard," charting the human biological foundations of our need for music and meaning. Musical examples throughout at the piano and podium. Transcribed with great loss of depth in a silent book of the same name. Profound. END"
Transformational Grammar to Transforming Art and Insight...
Mark Grindell | 06/06/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Leonard Bernstein's approach to explaining music, its
composition, its structure, its tonalities, its historical
context and influence is incredible in this series.
You will never think of Debussy in the same way
again after you hear Bernstein's discussion of him.
If you thought that Debussy was just some flowery
French aesthete writing gossamer chords and haunting
tonalities, then Bernstein will open your mind to
his true significance. In similar fashion, Bernstein
makes Wagner's profound genius and contribution to
the furtherance of music and its development into
later forms completely understandable.
Then Bernstein conducts the orchestra, the Boston
Symphony Orchestra in several of the pieces. His
interpretaion of the "Prelude and Liebestod" from
_Tristan und Isolde_ is incredible...perhaps the
slowest, but most intense, compelling, emotional
version I have ever heard.
If you wish to truly understand music, its
structural, tonal, chordal underpinnings and the
effects which can be produced by the artistic
genius of composition and insightful, empathetic
interpretation, this series is a required course
in artistic "grammar.""
Continued Applause for Leonard Bernstein
Christopher Thomas | Palm Beach, FL | 02/16/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"One of the most extraordinary musical geniuses of this century uses his expertise in music and linguistics to develop a riveting series of lectures on the universality of music. Once you've heard this man speak, you understand why he was such a brilliant interpreter of the classical music repertoire. Absolutely brilliant!"