Leonard Bernstein’s Masterful Lectures on Music (11+ Hours of Video Recorded at Harvard in 1973)

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

This lecture series has been added to our extensive collection, 1,700 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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Comments (16)
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  • ?what? says:

    Gosh, I must be a musical idiot. I need Tonal Music for Dummies, never mind that this lecture is already for laymen. Am at 1:05 of the first lecture and I’m still at sea.

  • Artemis says:

    This was a complete mystery and yet I persevered with the entire lecture set and was rewarded handsomely. There are only a few words to describe the likes of a startling real and accessible master teacher and musician like Mr. Leonard Bernstein — rare mind, exceptional talent, skillful presenter, and completely disarming human being. I like his style above all — he gets you to the heart of the idea with minimal theatrics and with much depth. In spite of my own rather naive musical mind, I have learned much and profited greatly by hearing him speak here and explain his field so lucidly. Many thanks!

  • Mike Stephens says:

    I saw this series when it was first broadcast in the UK, and have wanted a permanent record of it ever since, but was able to find it only on discs incompatible with Europe. Thank you for making it available here; it was a great series.

  • Lois Manowitz says:

    This is phenomenal. That we can access it from the internet is such a pleasure. Thank you!

  • Avital Roenll says:

    I know it’s a valuating demand, in this case, is there a transcript?

  • Avital Roenll says:

    Correction ‘vaulting demand’….

  • Nichael Mubertz says:

    Leonard Bernstein, cut throat post mortem by some anonymus who claims ownership of his voice!nn”This video previously contained a copyrighted audio track. Due to a claim by a copyright holder, the audio track has been muted.” by YouTube

  • Mr.Screens says:

    Avital, click the link in the last two words of the article above, “book format.”

  • Christopher J. Faris says:

    Watched the “Norton Lectures” when first broadcast on PBS (1973?). Purchased the lectures in book form (with 3 33rpm records) in 1976. The book was published by Harvard University press, its ISBN# is 0-674-92000-7.
    This is a fabulous tutorial that has stood the test of time. I was studying composition in Boston at the time and have had cause to refer to this information throughout my career as a composer….. A recording of the lectures should still be available and is a priceless font of information……

  • John Alifano says:

    This man was truly a genius. We were blessed to have him in our lives for a brief time.

  • Carlos Cordeiro says:

    There are no words to describe the GREATNESS of this soul. Thanks for the posting.

  • Rob Jean says:

    One of my Eng. Lit. professors introduced this series when it was first recorded. Seemed genius at the time, and the analogy L.B.created between linguistic structure and music has stuck with me for all these years. So glad to find the recordings here!

  • Janice Warnock says:


    I had recorded the above lecture series on Masterpiece Theater. My recording was lost. Is there a way to get these
    recordings on tape? or will it be recorded again on Masterpiece Theater?

    I would truly appreciate knowing the answer. I think Masterpiece Theater is brilliant.

    Looking forward to your response and thanking you for wonderful content always.


    Janice Warnock

  • John Stanton says:

    Cannot play lecture 6 due to SME copyright in my country??!!

  • Lewis Brown says:

    For anyone looking to download high-res aud/vis, there are peer2 sources where you can find this series and his YPC lectures. What an amazing mind

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