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Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) was an erudite, passionate musician whose exceptional talents and expressive gifts earned him a special place in the hearts of New Yorkers.  He rose to instant national fame in 1943, at age 25, when he filled in for the suddenly ill Bruno Walter as conductor of a nationally televised New York Philharmonic performance.  He went on to become the Philharmonic’s music director until 1969, and remained a frequent guest conductor there until his death.  With the Philharmonic, he presented a series of 53 educational Young People’s Concerts which were broadcast on CBS, making him a familiar face around the nation.  He also composed music, crossing from academic classical music into Broadway musicals, including West Side StoryOn the Town, and Candide.

Bernstein’s operetta Candide (1956) is based on the French philosopher Voltaire’s satirical 1759 novella of the same name.  Candide is an innocent young man who lives in a sheltered paradise.  He is mentored by Dr. Pangloss, who believes that they live in “the best of all possible worlds.”  This optimistic principal is tested to the breaking point as Candide is cast out of his reverie into one abhorrent trial after another.  By the story’s end, he has seen everything he ever loved wither away amidst death, destruction, and deceit on a massive scale all over the world.  He finally amends his life’s philosophy to the more pragmatic “let us cultivate our garden.”  The story amounts to a thorough skewering of the then-fashionable optimistic philosophy, with a few jokes at the expense of government, religion, and society thrown in for good measure.  Voltaire’s original version is one of the most widely-taught pieces of literature in the Western canon.  Bernstein’s operetta, though not a success in its first incarnation, is a staple in the repertoire of opera companies around the world.

The Overture to Candide is the most famous excerpt of the operetta.  It is played hundreds of times all over the world every year.  It is considered to be sort of the theme song of Bernstein’s beloved New York Philharmonic, who have played it without a conductor ever since his death.  2 band transcriptions exist, one by Walter Beeler, the other by Clare Grundman (we’re playing the Beeler).

Video 1: Band version (the ending gets away from them a bit).

Video 2: Bernstein himself conducts it!

The Candide Suite was arranged by Clare Grundman.  Its five movements each are based on one number from the operetta: “The Best of all Possible Worlds”, “Westphalia Chorale and Battle Music”, “Auto-da-fe”, “Glitter and Be Gay”, and “Make Our Garden Grow”.

Columbia Summer Winds only did the final movement of the suite, “Make Our Garden Grow”.  So here is the band version as realized by Grundman, a good performance but perhaps a bit quick for my taste:

Now a concert performance of the actual opera version, with Bernstein himself conducting.  The sound is a bit out of sync with the video, and the volume level is quite low, but crank it up (no really, CRANK IT UP!!) and it’s absolutely worth it, a truly, deeply moving experience:

Now some links: – a true treasure trove of everything Bernstein, including many personal reflections by friends, relatives, and colleagues.

Leonard Bernstein on Wikipedia.

The Leonard Bernstein Collection at the US Library of Congress.

A lengthy and heartfelt essay on Bernstein and his influence at

Voltaire’s Candide on wikipedia – highly recommended reading!

Full text of Voltaire’s Candide at – also recommended reading!

Sparknotes version of Candiderecommended for both its summary and its rather in-depth analysis.  I think it’s longer than the book itself!

Candide the operetta on wikipedia.

Candide the drinking game – bonus for those of you who got down this far.

Overture to Candide is a 2011 senior choice for hornist and CUWE Vice-President Carmen Sheills.

3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] Overture to Candide by Leonard Bernstein (senior choice for Carmen Sheils) […]

  2. […] Band Arnold/Paynter: Prelude, Siciliano, and Rondo Bernstein/Grundman: Overture to Candide Bryant: Dusk Copland: Outdoor Overture Copland/Singleton: Promise of Living Daehn: As Summer Was […]

  3. […] Dello Joio – Scenes from “The Louvre” Jacob – Old Wine in New Bottles Schuman – Chester Bernstein – Overture to “Candide” Grainger – Ye Banks & Braes o’ Bonnie Doon Schuman – George Washington […]

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