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In the fall of 1939 Leonard Bernstein auditioned for, and was accepted to, the Curtis Institute of Music.

He was encouraged to apply by Dimitri Mitropoulos, to study something which Bernstein had not yet considered: orchestral conducting. As luck would have it, even though it was late in the year, Fritz Reiner had been delayed by his engagements in Europe and had not yet chosen his conducting class. Thus, Bernstein began studies with the man he would later call his first mentor in conducting.

In the coming weeks, as Leonard Bernstein's 100th birthday approaches, we will be featuring articles and artifacts that help to tell the story of Bernstein and his relationship with Curtis, its students, and faculty. We begin with the broadest stroke - Bernstein’s original school record.


Grade card 1Bernstein Grade Card 2 

We can see that at 21 years of age, Bernstein had studied with Aaron Copland, was a Harvard graduate, a stellar Curtis student, and was poised to take the baton at the New York Philharmonic (assisting Artur Rodzinski) just two years after his graduation. Certainly, it appears as though he had breezed through life so far. However, so much of the story is yet to be revealed.

Beginning in October of 1939, within the walls of Curtis, Bernstein would find his toughest teachers, some lifelong friends, and even a few enemies. But the discoveries were not one sided for, as much as Curtis changed Bernstein, Bernstein also changed Curtis.

—Barbara Benedett, digital archivist, Curtis Archives
For more information on Curtis history, contact the Curtis Archives.