Omnibus

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On November 14, 1954—the anniversary of his surprise, nationally-broadcast debut conducting the New York Philharmonic—Leonard Bernstein made his first television appearance as a musical educator. This event, while less celebrated in the press than that momentous concert event, launched a new and significant facet of Bernstein's career.

Bernstein appeared on CBS Television's Omnibus, a weekly culture-oriented program funded by the Ford Foundation. At the suggestion of the show's producers, he put together a program about the genesis of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony using sketches discarded by the composer. The scholarly nature of this material could have been seriously dull, and was something of a gamble for the mass medium of television. Bernstein, however, made the subject seem vivid and vital through his clear, unprententious writing and clever metaphors.

The floor of the television studio had been painted with a huge blow-up of the first page of Beethoven's score. Bernstein had the musicians stand on the lines of music representing their parts to illustrate, visually as well as aurally, the changing colors of Beethoven's orchestration.

Bernstein focused on what he saw as Beethoven's "bloody...inner battle" to create a work of inevitability and "rightness." He showed pages from the composers sketchbook, pointing out Beethoven's messy penmanship and the many scratched-over revisions, using Stravinsky's neat and precise manuscript style as a comparison.He compared the reality of Beethoven's struggle with the Hollywood image of a composer: someone who is hit by inspiration and writes effortlessly, like James Cagney's portrayal of George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy.

The program was widely acclaimed as a model for quality, educational television programming. Over the next few decades, through more Omnibus programs and the many Young People's Concerts, Bernstein set the standard for effective music education, not only on television, but in the classroom as well.


For a listing of Omnibus and other lectures that have been released on video, visit the Videopgrahy section.
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