BERNSTEIN AT 100
Leonard Bernstein (1918-90) was one of the most phenomenally gifted musicians of the twentieth century. He composed music, conducted it, and played it. He spoke about music and he wrote about it. He knew where it fit into our overall cultural scheme, and he believed in its power to make life better and richer.
Candide 1956/88 | 2 hours
Voltaire’s novella Candide, ou L’Optimisme (1759) captivated Bernstein, although the composer struggled for more than three decades to find the right way to translate it for the musical stage. To Voltaire we owe the tale of the wide-eyed hero Candide whose trips to distant points of the globe invariably turn into dismal misadventures, much though he may be assured by his idealistic tutor, Doctor Pangloss, that everything is for the best. Voltaire published his novella in 1759 as a satirical, persuasive rebuttal to the German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibnitz’s philosophical assertion that “All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds,” a necessary consequence of God being a benevolent deity. Voltaire, however, saw bad things happening all around, including such contemporary occurrences as the Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 (which may have killed up to 100,000 people) and the Seven Years’ War (1756-63, which was leaving bodies strewn on battlefields throughout Europe). The whole idea struck Voltaire as palpably absurd. How does blatant violence fit into Leibnitz’s contention?, he asked. What about shipwrecks? What about the Spanish Inquisition? Candide has to deal with them all in the course of this tale, and by the time he gets back to his native Westphalia he has become a wiser, if more cynical, young man, disabused of automatic optimism and intent on finding happiness where he can, achieving a measure of contentment in just making his garden grow. DID YOU KNOW? The version performed here was created for the Scottish Opera in 1988 and the San Francisco Symphony gave the US premiere in April 1993, under the baton of David Zinman. It uses about 40% of all the Candide music that had accumulated in the course of the many revisions (and is the shortest of all the versions). Many consider this concert version a resounding success in how it balances the musical standards expected from a reputable opera house while being produced on the nightly schedule of a musical comedy, how it preserves a sense of intimacy, and in it being scaled so as to not try the patience of the audience. Enjoy!
Jeanette Yu is Director of Publications at the San Francisco Symphony.