In 1972, the composer Leonard Bernstein returned to Harvard, his alma mater, to serve as the Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry, with “Poetry” being defined in the broadest sense. The position, first created in 1925, asks faculty members to live on campus, advise students, and most importantly, deliver a series of six public lectures. T.S. Eliot, Aaron Copland, W.H. Auden, e.e. cummings, Robert Frost, Jorge Luis Borges — they all previously took part in this tradition. And Bernstein did too.
Delivered in the fall of 1973 and collectively titled “The Unanswered Question,” Bernstein’s lectures covered a lot of terrain, touching on poetry, linguistics, philosophy and physics. But the focus inevitably comes back to music — to how music works, or to the underlying grammar of music. The lectures run over 11 hours. They’re considered masterpieces, beautiful examples of how to make complicated material accessible. And they’re available in full on YouTube. You can watch the first lecture (on Musical Phonology) above, and find the remaining five lectures below. The lectures can also be purchased as DVDs or in book format.
Lecture 2: Musical Syntax
Lecture 3: Musical Semantics
Lecture 4: The Delights & Dangers of Ambiguity
Lecture 5: The 20th Century Crisis
Lecture 6: The Poetry of Earth
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