Four Anniversaries for the Piano


Four Anniversaries for the Piano

Background

The piece Four Anniversaries for the Piano was composed in 1948 by the great American composer Leonard Bernstein. His most famous works include West Side Story (1957). The piece was written for solo piano and contains four movements, each written for a different person in Bernstein’s life. Leonard Bernstein composed three other works using the same concept: Seven Anniversaries (1943), Five Anniversaries (1948-1951), and Thirteen Anniversaries (1988). Each work commemorates the birth of a different individual, such as Sergei Koussevitzky and Aaron Copland. The movements were not only dedicated to colleagues in the music field but to Bernstein’s family and friends. The composition, "Four Anniversaries", contains movements dedicated to Felicia Montealegre, Johnny Mehegan, David Diamond, and Helen Coates.

Critic Herbert Livingston has described the movements in Four Anniversaries:

The first written with restraint and cultivated lyricism, is serene and song-like. There follows a short waspish scherzo, interesting principally for the rhythmic surprises; a slow elegiac piece freely contrapuntal in structure: and a vigorous finale, also predominately contrapuntal, involving sudden extreme dynamic changes. [^1Livingston, Herbert, “Reviewed Work(s): Four Anniversaries by Leonard Bernstein,” Notes, 2nd Ser., Vol. 7, No.1. (Dec., 1949), p.141.]
Each movement in "Four Anniversaries for the Piano" is unique to the person for which it was intended.

Movements

1) "For Felicia Montealegre (February 6, 1922)"

The first movement was written for Leonard Bernstein’s wife Felicia Montealegre, a Chilean actress. This movement is marked Tranquillo: piacevole and then Pochiss. Piu mosso means that the melody begins at a quiet, agreeable tempo then start to move to a faster paced tempo. To reiterate the tempo markings the movement begins at piano and ends on pianississimo which sets the mood for the next movement.

2) "For Johnny Mehegan (June 6, 1920)"

The second movement is dedicated to Johnny Mehegan, a jazz pianist. Marked Agitato: scherzando, this movement has the playful feel of a scherzo and the syncopation of what could be heard of as jazz improvisation. To balance the first movement, it begins at pianississimo where the first movement leaves off and ends pianissimo.

3) "For David Diamond (July 9, 1915)"

The third movement was composed for David Leo Diamond, also an established composer. “His music was characterized by its classic structures and its strong melodic sense.” [“Diamond, David Leo,” Britannica Book of the Year, 2006. 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online, 11 2008, ] This movement represents the style of Diamond. There is a strong sense of melody line and character and because it is marked Andantino, the flowing melody line can be linked to the first movement. Like the previous two movements, this movement begins softly starting on piano and ending on pianissimo.

4) "For Helen Coates ( July 19, 1899)"'

Helen Coates was a long time friend to Leonard Bernstein. She was not only his piano instructor as a child but later became his personal secretary. It is no wonder than that the last movement is the longest and the most technically difficult. It should be noted that this is also the only movement to begin and end on forte.

Conclusion

The four movements compliment each other in that while they remain unique and representative of the unique person they were written for. The piece takes its form from the baroque sonata da chiesa form by alternating the movements from slow-fast-slow-fast. There are common themes and a sense of tonality that help to bring the work together. Donald Truesdell quotes James Tocco, pianist, who gets to the heart of the piece:

Lenny may disagree with me but one finds much more about him in the Anniversaries than the people to whom they are dedicated. I sense that Lenny may have been attracted to certain characteristics of a personality that in some way reflected something in himself-aspects of his own personality that he wished to develop. [Truesdell, F. Donald. “The Complete Works for Solo Piano by Leonard Bernstein.” American Music, Vol. 4, No. 1, British-American Musical Interactions. (Spring, 1986). pp.120-121.]

Leonard Bernstein composed "Four Anniversaries for the Piano" to commemorate the the birthdays of four important people in his life and the result is four individual movements that form one coherent piece.

Sources

1Livingston, Herbert, "Reviewed Work(s): Four Anniversaries by Leonard Bernstein," "Notes", 2nd Ser., Vol. 7, Nol1. (Dec., 1949), p.141.

2“Diamond, David Leo,” Britannica Book of the Year, 2006. 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online, 11 2008, 3Horowitz, Mark Eden. “About the Leonard Bernstein Collection.” The Leonard Bernstein Collection. Library of Congress. 11 February 2008. Anderson, Martin. "Review: A Bernstein Cornucopia." Tempo, New Ser., No. 180. (Mar., 1992), pp.44-49.

Truesdell, F. Donald. “The Complete Works for Solo Piano by Leonard Bernstein.” American Music, Vol. 4, No. 1, British-American Musical Interactions. (Spring, 1986). pp.120-121.

References


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