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Bernstein, Leonard (1918-1990)  
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In 1951, Bernstein married the Chilean actress Felicia Montealegre, with whom he had three children. Bernstein nonetheless engaged in a number of homosexual relationships over the years. In the mid-1970s, the couple separated, and Bernstein attempted to live an openly gay life with Tom Cochran, who had been his lover since 1971. A year later, he returned to his wife, who was by this time terminally ill.

After Montealegre's death in 1978, Bernstein became increasingly open about his gayness; even so, as his daughter observed after his death, his need for a "middle-class sensibility" kept him from living a completely gay life.

Bernstein's final major composition, the opera A Quiet Place (1983), positions a bisexual male character, who functions as the mediator between the other, more conflicted characters, at the center of the action. The opera's message is one of reconciliation and acceptance among all people.

Although increasingly in ill health in his final years, Bernstein continued to perform and record until his death from a heart attack on October 14, 1990.

As a conductor, he had a vast repertoire and recorded frequently, often in collaboration with the greatest singers and solo musicians of the postwar era. As a result, he has left an extensive and remarkable legacy of recordings and video performances that will ensure his reputation as an intelligent and enthusiastic conductor, composer, and musician for generations to come.

Patricia Juliana Smith

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arts >> Overview:  Conductors

In spite of the presence of many gay, lesbian, and bisexual figures in the field of classical music, it is difficult to identify more than a handful of self-identified, openly gay or lesbian conductors even in the early years of the twenty-first century.

arts >> Overview:  Music: Classical

Classical music is an important component of Western culture to which glbt people have contributed significantly.

arts >> Overview:  Musical Theater and Film

The musical has been a significant aspect of American gay male culture, manifesting itself both in diva worship and, more recently, in the presentation of openly gay characters and shows written by gay writers primarily for gay audiences.

arts >> Overview:  Subjects of the Visual Arts: David and Jonathan

It is not surprising, since the Bible insists that David be looked at and admired, that he should emerge in Western art as the incarnation of male physical attractiveness, especially as rendered by Michelangelo.

literature >> Auden, W. H.

One of the most accomplished poets of the twentieth century, W. H. Auden found that his gayness led him to new insights into the universal impulse to love and enlarged his understanding of all kinds of relationships.

arts >> Blitzstein, Marc

American composer Marc Blitzstein, whose homosexuality probably inspired his sympathy for outsiders, attempted to write politically relevant music, and in doing so influenced other composers to blend classical and popular forms.

arts >> Britten, Benjamin

The most acclaimed British composer of the twentieth century, Benjamin Britten created many works that were inspired by his long-time personal and professional relationship with his lover, Peter Pears.

arts >> Cherkassky, Shura

Widely recognized as one of the world's greatest pianists, Shura Cherkassky performed for more than 75 years, enjoying the longest career in the history of classical pianism.

arts >> Copland, Aaron

Despite his outsider status as a Jewish homosexual, Aaron Copland composed a significant number of musical works that embody the idea of American history, struggle, and courage.

arts >> Diamond, David

One of the leading American composers of the twentieth century, David Diamond created music that is melodic and lyrical even as it jumps with modern energy.

arts >> Horowitz, Vladimir

Russian-American pianist Vladimir Horowitz is widely regarded as among the greatest musicians of the twentieth century; his legendary artistry, preserved on recordings, remains a source of inspiration and delight.

arts >> Kert, Larry

Gay actor and singer Larry Kert introduced some of the most memorable songs in American musical theater.

arts >> Mitropoulos, Dimitri

Conductor and composer Dimitri Mitropoulos achieved great success in the world of classical music, but was yet another victim of McCarthy-era homophobia.

arts >> Poulenc, Francis

One of the first openly gay composers, Francis Poulenc became one of the most thoughtful composers of serious music in the twentieth century.

arts >> Robbins, Jerome

Bisexual choreographer and director Jerome Robbins was both a great choreographer of classical ballet and a Broadway innovator, but he was fearful that he might be outed.

arts >> Rorem, Ned

American composer Ned Rorem is one of the most accomplished and prolific composers of art songs in the world, but his musical and literary endeavors extend far beyond this specialized field.

arts >> Sondheim, Stephen

One of the most innovative talents of the musical theater in the second half of the twentieth century, Stephen Sondheim has only indirectly reflected his homosexuality in his work.


Burton, Humphrey. Leonard Bernstein. New York: Doubleday, 1994.

Burton, Willi Westbrook, ed. Conversations about Bernstein. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Myers, Paul. Leonard Bernstein. London: Phaidon, 1998.

Peyser, Joan. Bernstein: A Biography. Rev. ed. New York: Billboard Books, 1998.

Secrest, Meryle. Leonard Bernstein: A Life. New York: Knopf, 1994.


    Citation Information
    Author: Smith, Patricia Juliana  
    Entry Title: Bernstein, Leonard  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated August 2, 2004  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


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