The Unanswered Question (6DVDs)


Out of stock

SKU: FD1570  Categories: ,

Leonard Bernstein:
The Unanswered Question

Six Talks Given at Harvard Plus Performances

6-DVD* boxed set: 13 hours. Dolby Digital Audio
DVD Region 1, playable worldwide. (see info)

SAVE 25% over price of lectures purchased individually.
This item counts as six items toward our six-for five offer.


Lecture 1: Musical Phonology (1973). 104m. Symphony No. 40 in g minor, K. 550 (Mozart); The Boston Symphony Orchestra. Color #F1451

Topics: Common origins of music in pre-history. Notes sung by children are essentially the same in all cultures. Further elements of music common to all cultures. The universality of the harmonic (overtone) series. Musical development explained as a compositional vocabulary constantly enriched by more, remote, chromatic overtones. The circle of 12 fifths. Chromaticism, diatonicism. The connection between Bach and Beethoven. The chromaticism of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40.


Lecture 2: Musical Syntax (1973). 95m. Symphony No. 40 in g minor, K. 550, first movement (Mozart), BSO. Color #F1452

Understanding music thorough parallels with language. Musical analyses that draw on Chomsky’s linguistics.


Lecture 3: Musical Semantics (1973). 142m. Beethoven’s Symphony
No. 6 in F Major,
op. 68; BSO. Color #F1453

He explains how the first movement of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony (the “Pastoral”) is constructed from a musical point of view and how Beethoven develops the themes. He then performs the symphony.


Lecture 4: The Delights and Dangers of Ambiguity (1973). 143m.
(Berlioz), Tristan, Après-midi d’un faune; BSO. Color #F1454

The age of Bach: imperturbable tonal stability–chromaticism contained in diatonicism. Ambiguities of meter, beat and key discussed and illustrated. Beethoven: at once the last great classicist and the first great romantic. The “Hammerklavier” illustrated and discussed. (Throughout the lecture Bernstein provides many short illustrations at the keyboard.) “Romeo Alone” and “The Ball at the Capulets” (Berlioz). “Chromaticism” in poetry. The poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins–“The Leaden Echo.” The arts influenced one another. Tristan is derived from Berlioz’ Roméo. Wagner’s plagiarism–or transformational magic–exposed. Why Tristan is the crisis work of the 19th century. The diminished-seventh chord and its various resolutions. How the rest of Tristan is derived from the opening notes. Bernstein conducts the “Prelude” and “Liebestod.” His object as a conductor of this music is to convey timelessness. Debussy’s Après-midi d’un faune: his tritone, his whole-tone scale; music without a tonic, dominant, fifths, fourths or the circle of fifths; the first organized atonal material ever to appear in musical history–barely contained within a diatonic framework. Debussy and Mallarmé.


Lecture 5: The Twentieth Century Crisis (1973). 133m. “Feria” from Rapsodie Espagnole (Ravel), BSO; “The Unanswered Question” (Ives), BSO; Symphony No. 9 in D-major, fourth movement (Mahler), The Vienna Philharmonic. Color #F1455

The tonality of the Rapsodie Espagnole. By 1908 music compositions had become overstuffed with chromaticism, unwieldy, long, thick. Too many notes, too many inner voices. Schoenberg’s renunciation of tonality, in his Opus 10. The birth of non-tonal music. Ives’s “The Unanswered Question.” The split between tonal and atonal composers: Stravinsky vs. Schoenberg. The quest for increased expressive power. Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire. The problem of atonality: it’s a dead end. The solution: serialism. What it consists of. Its evolution. Schoenberg’s Opus 23. The rules of atonality. The implications of tonality in Schoenberg’s Opus 30 and Opus 31. Schoenberg’s continuing rocky romance with tonality. Bernstein contends that tonality underlies all music. Atonality in Bach’s F-minor fugue from The Well-Tempered Clavichord, in Don Giovanni, in Beethoven’s Ninth and in Liszt’s Faust Symphony. These uses of atonality suggest the unearthly. Berg was more theatrical than his mentor, Schoenberg. The traditional roots of his violin concerto.

Mahler’s non-resolution of musical tensions. Mahler, the musical prophet of the century of death. The centrality of Mahler to all later composers. The role of anguish in all great 20th-century works. Mahler’s Ninth: the opening bars are an imitation of the arrhythmia of his failing heartbeat. The finale of Mahler’s Ninth: a sonic presentation of death that paradoxically reanimates us. Bernstein performs the last movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 9.


Lecture 6: “The Poetry of Earth” (1973). 177m. Oedipus Rex, with René Kollo, Tatiana Troyanos, Tom Krause, Ezio Flagello, BSO, Harvard Glee Club. Color #F1456

Adorno’s critique of Schoenberg and Stravinsky in The Philosophy of Modern Music. “Sincerity” in art. Tonality is innate. Stravinsky’s resuscitation of tonal music. His cleaner, cooler, slightly refrigerated expression. His more removed perspective. Can something be both objective and expressive? Satie, Picasso and Cocteau: Parade. Petrushka: bigger and better ambiguities–tonality fresheners–in Stravinsky. His dissonances, bitonality and polytonality. Histoire du soldat. Noces: dissonance and irregular meter foster a feeling of barbaric cruelty. His polyrhythms: a sophisticated handling of primitive rhythms. His use of folk music–poetry of earth–a fiercely cherished bond with ancient folklore. Stravinksy’s works are anthropological metaphors, with earthly vernacular embedded in stylistic sophistication. His use of jazz, café music, salon music, waltzes, polkas, foxtrots, tangos, rags–tonality fresheners.

Darius Milhaud. Aaron Copland: Billy the Kid. Poulenc and Marmelles de Tirésias. Weill: Dreigroschenoper. Stravinsky thought of it all first. His dry, witty take-offs on folk tunes, marches, cabaret music. (Bernstein, consciously or otherwise, parodies himself–for a few minutes he “conducts” a recording and, with no orchestra present, grimaces and gyrates as much as ever.)

New classicism. Stravinsky’s Octet, of 1923: Bach turned into Stravinsky. His Piano Concerto of 1923. Schoenberg’s Opus 30 was also written in 1923.

Comparisons to poetry of the time. William Carlos Williams’s “Flowers through the window”–the verbs are deleted. Cummings’s “my sweet old etcetera.” T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (a raid on the inarticulate). Stravinsky’s eclecticism. Humor is the life-blood of his neo-classicism. The Symphony of Psalms: music about music.

The eclectic incongruities of Oedipus Rex create intense dramatic irony. The quotes of classical and pre-classical composers. The connection between Oedipus’s music and Amneris’s. (In demonstrating some of Aïda’s music, Bernstein sobs. He isn’t caricaturing–the music flushes it out of him.) Oedipus revealed as a paraphrase of Aïda! He performs Oedipus.

The re-acceptance of tonality. Our deepest affective responses are innate but do not preclude additional responses that are conditioned or learned. —Stefan Zucker