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The Unanswered Question: Six Talks at Harvard (Charles Eliot Norton Lectures) (The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures)

4.48  ·  Rating details ·  143 Ratings  ·  14 Reviews

The varied forms of Leonard Bernstein's musical creativity have been recognized and enjoyed by millions. These lectures, Mr. Bernstein's most recent venture in musical explication, will make fascinating reading as well. Virgil Thomson says of the lectures: "Nobody anywhere presents this material so warmly, so sincerely, so skillfully. As musical mind-openers they are firs

Paperback, 438 pages
Published July 1st 1990 by Harvard University Press (first published 1976)
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Jonathan Chuang
Dec 17, 2015 is currently reading it
Shelves: music
I'm watching the lectures. The use of linguistic analogy seems tenuous. They are probably as tenuous as his ideas of a 'musical monogenesis' -- the structures we build around, or which naturally evolve from the original flash of inspiration, especially when reworked over generations, often depart substantially from the source. He does concede this, and even admits that there are 'deviants' such as Hindu Raga but he argues that one can still, with effort, trace its construction to the same natura ...more
Dec 27, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mindgames
My brother, a violinist, turned me on to Bernstein's ideas about the "grammar" of music - his explanation of the crisis of early twentieth-century music is worth it all - readable, erudite and human in the best Bernstein way!
Oct 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is a beautiful cross-disciplinary approach to explaining the balance between tonality and atonality of music in our century. Bernstein starts by establishing a musical vocabulary borrowed from linguistics, and uses these tools to illustrate the theory behind a range of classical music from Mozart to Debussy. What makes it distinct from other popular texts on classical music is that the linguistic analogies enable Bernstein to talk about specific musical constructions as if they were poetic ...more
Christina Solensten
Aug 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: classical-music
This is an outstanding series of lectures. I recommend watching the videos alongside reading the essays, in order to hear the musical examples and look at the scores simultaneously.

The first three essays are highly technical - Bernstein lays out a linguistic theory of music (borrowing heavily from Chomsky.) The latter three essays apply these principles but also venture a great deal into philosophy, literature, and poetry. "The Delights and Dangers of Ambiguity" explores Romanticism; "The Twenti
Janice Fehlauer
Oct 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
There is little to be said about these lectures that has not already been said. They are illuminating and chock-full of brilliant insights, and especially thought-provoking in the way that they weave connections between different disciplines. The only segment that I didn't feel stood the test of time was the final one, regarding the mid-twentieth century tonal/serial conflict. Perhaps Bernstein's conclusion was not fully satisfying because he was too close to his subject and lacked our decades o ...more
Janis Ian
Oct 14, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This is finally out in DVD - I bought it when it was only available on vinyl nd as a book. It changed my life.
Vincent Russo
May 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Leonard Bernstein was an incredibly passionate conductor of classical music, and gave a series of wonderful lectures recorded at Harvard. These lectures present his theory that music can be broken down into constituent atoms of musical words and phrases that form the structure necessary for a form of language. He draws heavily on the linguistic influence of Noam Chomsky and applies this theory to music. In doing so, he analyzes popular classical pieces and dissects them in a while to expose thes ...more
Ingrid Fong-Daley
As a musician and as a linguist, I find this some of the more intelligent, sound, and innovative writing I've found on both frontiers. Its style is also very accessible for the layperson; the examples are clear and concise. A fascinating subject put forth beautifully by a brilliant mind.
For those wishing to listen to the excerpts and pronunciations/sounds "in the moment," you can watch the series on Netflix as well.
Apr 01, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: classical music lovers
Shelves: music
Though I don't necessarily agree with Bernstein's opinion about the true "answer" to the "unanswered question" of tonality, these lectures are passionate, insightful, and riveting, even in written form.

Ah, if only Charles Ives could be resurrected in order to settle this debate! Who am I kidding, he'd remain "neutral" just to provoke us all.
Morgan Sidky
Aug 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Alright, I'm cheating; Technically I've only seen this on video, but it's basically the same.
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Leonard Bernstein was an American conductor, composer, author, music lecturer and pianist. He was the first conductor born and educated in the United States of America to receive world-wide acclaim. He is perhaps best known for his long conducting relationship with the New York Philharmonic, which included the acclaimed Young People's Concerts series, and his compositions including West Side Story ...more
More about Leonard Bernstein...
“I'm no longer quite sure what the question is, but I do know that the answer is Yes.” 35 likes
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