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Leonard Bernstein: A Guide to Resources at the Library of Congress

Koussevitzky Commissions

Photographer unknown. Leonard Bernstein and Isaac Stern, recording session for Serenade. 1955. Leonard Bernstein Collection. Library of Congress Music Division.

Serge Koussevitzky (1874-1951), conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1924 to 1949, was a champion of contemporary music. He played a vital role in the creation of new works when he established the Koussevitzky Music Foundation, Inc. in 1942 to commission composers. In 1949, the Serge Koussevitzky Music Foundation in the Library of Congress was established to continue his program and honor his legacy.

The Koussevitzky Music Foundation in the Library of Congress commissioned two works from Leonard Bernstein:

  • Serenade (after Plato's Symposium), solo violin, string orchestra, percussion (Commissioned in 1951)

  • Symphony No. 3, "Kaddish" (Commissioned in 1954)

Some scholarship identifies Bernstein's Symphony No. 2 "The Age of Anxiety" (1949) as a Koussevitzky Foundation commission. This is not the case. Read further on this page for an explanation of the work and its connection to Koussevitzky.

The Music Division is home to the Koussevitzky Music Foundation Collection, the Serge Koussevitzky Archive, the Leonard Bernstein Collection, and more collections that together document the creative process behind these works.

Music Manuscripts

The Koussevitzky Music Foundation Collection includes music manuscripts for commissioned works. The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information for published scores in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content are included when available.

In an exception to the rule, the manuscript for Bernstein's Symphony No. 3 "Kaddish" is not found in the Koussevitzky Music Foundation Collection. The following special collections hold manuscript scores and sketches for the "Kaddish" Symphony:

Symphony No. 2: "The Age of Anxiety"

Photographer unknown. Bernstein with conductor Serge Koussevitzky after performance of The Age of Anxiety, symphony No. 2 at Tanglewood. August 11, 1949. Leonard Bernstein Collection. Library of Congress Music Division.

Bernstein's Symphony No. 2 "The Age of Anxiety" premiered on April 8, 1949 at Symphony Hall in Boston, conducted by Koussevitzky and featuring Bernstein as the piano soloist. Bernstein dedicated "The Age of Anxiety" to Koussevitzky, who was culminating his 25-year tenure as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Bernstein rushed to finish the symphony, completing it just three weeks before the 1949 premiere. In 1965, he revised the finale, adding material for the solo pianist.

While the original work was a personal commission from Koussevitzky, it is not considered an official commission from the Koussevitzky Music Foundation; therefore, the manuscript score is not cataloged alongside other scores in the Koussevitzky Music Foundation Collection.

In addition to scores, sketches, and revision material found in the Leonard Bernstein Collection (Boxes 1045 and 1085), a full manuscript score for the Symphony is cataloged under the call number ML96. The following title links to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog.

Bernstein's Relationship with Koussevitzky

Bernstein's relationship with Koussevitzky began in 1940 when Bernstein was accepted as one of three inaugural conducting fellows at the Boston Symphony Orchestra's Berkshire Music Center (now known as Tanglewood Music Center). Koussevitzky, impressed with the young talent, appointed Bernstein as his assistant the following year, and served as mentor and inspiration to Bernstein throughout the 1940s. After Koussevitzky died in 1951, Bernstein honored his mentor's legacy by accepting the position of Head of Orchestral Conducting at the Tanglewood Music Center and returning to Tanglewood regularly to conduct Koussevitzky memorial concerts.

The Leonard Bernstein Collection and the Serge Koussevitzky Archive document the relationship between these two giants of 20th-century conducting with correspondence and photographs. Consult the finding aids to these special collections to grasp the amount of material available.

Digitized Correspondence and Photographs

The Leonard Bernstein Digital Collection offers a limited selection of digitized correspondence, photographs, and other materials from the Leonard Bernstein Collection.