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By William Westbrook Burton. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-19-507947-7 (cloth). Pp. vi, 198. $25.00.
Yes, it's true. Leonard Bernstein was a "horrid" man. As chronicled in Humphrey Burton's thorough biography, Bernstein's life was a rake's progress from bright promise through naked ambition to debauchery and death. All of the requisite sins are there for the reader's horror and delectation. He smoked like a chimney and drank like a fish, for starters; he had a voracious and predatory sexual appetite that included women but--gasp!--hankered mostly after comely young men. He was ambitious and mendacious on a scale that makes the antics of other ambitious and mendacious conductors pale by comparison. He used mentors, colleagues, friends, and lovers ruthlessly, throwing them away like old tissue paper when he had finished with them. He was breath-takingly rude and was loud and vulgar as well. Contemplating Bernstein is like contemplating a vast polymorphous baby determined to grab and taste as much of the world as he could get his hands on--by hook or by crook.
Due to the shameless way he exposed his appetites through music, millions adored Bernstein, and millions adore him still. If only he could have met them all, taught them, loved them, rammed his wet tongue down their collective throats (a mannerism of Bernstein's later years, documented in Conversations about Bernstein, p. 110, and elsewhere). As this was impracticable during his lifetime and impossible after death, all he could do was to become the most famous and glamorous figure of twentieth-century American music. For better or worse, Leonard Bernstein was American music to a huge …