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The excitement generated by Bernstein's first Omnibus telecast is reflected in the broad coverage the program received. Life, one of the most popular national magazines of the time, took an entire page to cover the story in their November 29, 1954 issue.
"The gigantic struggle of Ludwig van Beethoven in composing his celebrated Fifth Symphony in 1805 was made ingeniously vivid last week on Omnibus...."
Jay Nelson Tuck, who wrote the "On the Air" column for The New York Post, was generally critical of CBS's Omnibus. He was impressed with Bernstein's presentation, however, though he found fault with Bernstein's very physical conducting style.
... [The] program presented three films, none of which advanced TV programming in the smallest degree, and an enormously interesting live experiment in the understanding of music.
... [Bernstein's presentation] was clear, concise and fascinating to a young man of nine as well as to his elders. I wish someone would give Bernstein a regular program of this kind.
When it came to the straight playing of the music [Bernstein's conducting of the complete movement at the end of the program], however, Omnibus fell down again. There was no originality or thoughtfulness in the camera work that accompanied the music, and Bernstein's physical antics on the podium were a serious distraction. ...
Howard Taubman raved about Bernstein's first Omnibus program in the Sunday The New York Times on November 21, 1954. The revolutionary nature of the program is made clear in Taubman's assessment, and he credits Bernstein for its success. The headline reads: "Touch of Class on TV: Music Rarely Fares Well, But It Did With Bernstein."
Television does so little with and for good music that one expects almost nothing of quality from it.
...Some executives in the television field [use the] excuse... that it is nearly impossible to do anything worthwhile with music, especially instrumental music, on the home screen. If this is their out, they are wrong. In the last few weeks this observer has caught several shows that prove it can be doneand very well, indeed.
A brilliant example occurred on Omnibus last Sunday when about a half hour of the program's time... was turned over to Leonard Bernstein.
...Credit for an absorbing and adult half-hour belongs largely to Mr. Bernstein... It was Mr. Bernstein's idea to illustrate in purely musical terms how Beethoven struggled to build his symphony.
...Mr. Bernstein spoke simply, cogently and without condescension or artiness as he made his points.
...As Mr. Bernstein went along with [his] illustrations, he made vividly clear how Beethoven fought his way to the right phrase. He gave his audience an insight into the mind of a creative thinker. Without resorting to the rhetorical flourishes so common to discussion of good music on the airwaves, he showed what a tremendous adventure a symphony can be.
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Perhaps the most flamboyant rave review of Bernstein's first Omnibus program was by Paul Speegle in The San Francisco News. Speegle noted how the quality of Bernstein's lecture-concert made most other television programming seem uninspired. The fanciful headline (referring to a nursery rhyme) reads: "TV's Like 'Little Girl With Curl': Sublime if Good, Horrid if Bad."
The 'sublime' took place on Omnibus ... when Leonard Bernstein, one of the more promising figures in American Music (and the world, too--what the heck, if the Russians can embrace the universe, so can I!), stepped before the cameras to dissect the first movement of Beethoven's 'Fifth Symphony.'
Perhaps 'sublime' is too grand a superlative to use in this connection, but if some enterprising TV producer doesn't 'con' Mr. Bernstein into a TV series he's missing one of the more electrifying personalities of our time.
In the first place, Mr. Bernstein looks like a young [Abraham] Lincoln ...and then when he proceeds to talk in a resonant, magnificently modulated voice, using the English language as she should be used but so often isn't, the warmth he generates makes itself felt in the homes on either side of your own.
Even if your musical knowledge only extends as far back as 'Three Little Fishies' and Beethoven is the name of a neighbor's canary, Mr. Bernstein's feeling for the dramatic; the grace and flow of his gestures; his sense of the fitness of things would make you sit up and take notice, no matter what the situation.
If he never makes another TV appearance this year, his one performance last Sunday stands out as one of the finest of the season.