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.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon. If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

by | Permalink | Comments (16) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (16)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • ?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

  • Vaddi Tibone says:

    Hello,nice website.I want to inform you that many sites, yours includ­ed, don’t reg­is­ter the whitelist­ing. I have white list­ed your site but the adblock mes­sage keeps pop­ping up. This hap­pens with chrome deriv­a­tives more , as one can­not turn it com­plete­ly off. So please do what you can to enhance your detec­tion of us turn­ing it off. And maybe talk to Adblock and Ublock Ori­gen and per­haps the chrome peo­ple, to try to get this sit­u­a­tion dimin­ished. I am using Water­fox cur­rent, Ublock Ori­gen. I am fair­ly well edu­cat­ed on com­put­ers, com­put­er repair and the like, but not an expert by any means.
    Thank you and have a stress free day.


Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.