For Leonard Bernstein’s 100th Birthday

As yesterday would have been the 100th birthday of the great Leonard Bernstein (a’h), I am sharing this link to his December 1989 performance of Candide:

Bernstein was a “Hasid” in the sense that he helped many of us through his art and his genius and his struggles with Emunah / Faith. Please read his opening remarks, transcribed below, from this wonderful performance:


My dear friends, I hear you thinking, “Here comes the old professor to lecture us again!” But I promise to be brief and only [speak] by way of introduction.

The reason I feel I should say a few words… , that I ought to say something, is that for more than thirty years, (thirty-five years to be exact), people have asked me, “Why Candide; whither and whence Candide?” And I thought I might answer a little more clearly by speaking not only as the composer of this work, but as an every-day observer of history – like anyone here – and particularly of that period of history known as “The Age of Enlightenment”, roughly the eighteenth century, which was the century in which Voltaire lived, wrote, and in which he had extraordinary influence.

His masterpiece was a tough, skinny little novella, called “Candide” which inspired the playwright Lilian Helman and me to have a bash at it musically.

Voltaire’s book was actually entitled, “Candide or Optimism,” it being a viciously satirical attack on a prevalent philosophical system known as “Optimism” which was based on the rather indigestible writings of a certain Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz and popularized by our own beloved Alexander Pope.

For example, in this great line from his “Essay on Man”:

“One truth is clear, Whatever is, is right.”

Now according to Leibniz, whose ideas Pope was lyricizing, if we believe in a Creator, then He must be a GOOD Creator, and the greatest of all possible Creators and therefore could have created only the best of all possible worlds; in other words, everything that is, is right.

Granted that in this world the innocent are mindlessly slaughtered and that crime mostly goes unpunished, and that there is disease and death and poverty but, if we could only see the whole picture, the divine, universal plan, then we would understand that whatever happens is for the best!

Thus spake Leibniz.

Naturally Voltaire found this idea absurd every day of his life. But particularly, on that day in 1755 when all of Lisbon, Portugal exploded in an earthquake and uncountable numbers of people were drowned, crushed, buried alive, exterminated.

Now if Leibniz was right, said Voltaire, then God is just playfully spraying his “flit gun” and down go a million “mosquitoes” at random, haphazardly.

Well, the Lisbon disaster was the last straw for Voltaire and provoked him to write “Candide” in which he lashed out against all established authority: Royal, Military or Mercantile, but most of all, at the power of the Church which actually WAS burning heretics at the time, burning them alive, to prevent earthquakes.

In other words, says Voltaire, sectarian religion is always an incitement to conflict. And “Optimism” as a strict belief, therefore breeds complacency, induces lethargy, inhibits the human power to change, to progress, to rise against injustice, or to create anything that might contribute to a genuinely better world.

During my incredibly extensive researches for this lecture through which you are now suffering, I came across the following, quite succinct, summing up of the whole Voltaire-isme:

“Voltaire was acting as an eclectic who had synthesized the ideas of the Stoics, the Epicureans, the Skeptics…”

Oh, the hell with it, let’s play the overture.


Jerry Hadley – Candide
June Anderson – Cunegonde
Adolph Green – Dr. Pangloss / Martin
Christa Ludwig – Old Lady
Nicolai Gedda – Governor / Vanderdendur / Ragotski
Della Jones – Paquette
Kurt Ollman – Maximilian / Captain
Clive Bayley – Bear-Keeper / Inquisitor / Tsar Ivan
Neil Jenkins – Cosmetic Merchant / Inquisitor / Prince Charles Edward
Lindsay Benson – Doctor / Inquisitor / King Stanislaus
Richard Suart – Junkman / Inquisitor / King Hermann Augustus
John Treleaven – Alchemist / Inquisitor / Sultan Achmet / Crook

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