Leonard Bernstein – An extraordinary Artist

Pianist, conductor and probably America's greatest composer

With the musical "West Side Story" Bernstein gained special popularity. From 1959 to 1969 Bernstein was Music Director of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and established close ties with Austria, with the Konzerthaus in Vienna, Salzburg Festival and the Vienna State Opera. In 1987 he was named "Honorary Citizen of the City of Vienna". 2018 he would have celebrated his 100th birthday.

Bernstein was closely associated with Bösendorfer. On his own Bösendorfer, model 225 with the extra bass keys that could rattle the windows, he composed the opera "A Quiet Place”. There are many books about Bernstein and even more stories. We pay tribute to this extraordinary artist with a little anecdote from Vienna ...


In the 1970s and 1980s Leonard Bernstein was a frequent guest on the Philharmonic’s conductor’s desk in the Golden Hall of the Musikverein. On one occasion, an Imperial grand was being used for a Mozart recording. Bernstein, who was also playing the piano part, had the habit of tapping time with the heels of his shoes at the pedal. After one of the first sessions, which were also the rehearsals for the Philharmonic Subscription Concerts, the recording manager told him that he could hear strange noises. Has this anything to do with the pedal? Technicians from Bösendorfer checked the piano – but found nothing. It was the sound Bernstein created beating time with his heels. At the following rehearsal Bernstein appeared wearing black ballet shoes. The noise had disappeared. But of course this meant he had to appear at the Philharmonic Subscription Concerts wearing also ballet shoes, which he did – at least this time!

Excerpt from the book: "Bösendorfer -a living legend" published by Molden Verlag


Whenever his schedule allowed it, Bernstein enjoyed coming to the Bösendorfer Selection Centre at the Graf Starhemberg-Gasse in Vienna, either to select a grand piano for his concerts or for himself. Of course, he never came alone but was always accompanied by his entire entourage. On these occasions a good lunch was served – smoked fish, venison in aspic, anything the maestro desired - and of course, the famous whiskey truffles from Demel, K & K Hofzuckerbäcker in Vienna. Bernstein would then sign the frames of some of the grand pianos that pleased him most. Once, he signed ten pianos. Lenny said with a wink: “That was an expensive meal …”

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The Wiener Philharmoniker rehearsing Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 5 under Leonard Bernstein. It shows the struggle for artistic expression; in an interview, sitting at an Imperial Grand, Bernstein talks about his personal approach to Mahler.