"If time had permitted . . . " Leonard Bernstein says in his preface to this collection. These words sound a leitmotif in his life today, his life as it has been for quite a while. The joy of being Bernstein, we may assume, is the ease with which he can please people -- dash something off and listen to the applause. This is partly because he is extremely talented; his first drafts and rough approximations can be more enjoyable and enlightening than many another man's heavily polished work of long years. And partly because he can put the name of Leonard Bernstein, a name deeply and rightly loved and honored, on what he does.
The arts public tends to be indulgent with its celebrities -- perhaps because it is easier to remember names, faces and relative ratings of status than to experience an artistic or literary event freshly and evaluate it in terms of objective standards. Once you have put in the necessary effort to become a Bernstein, a Menuhin, a Mailer or a Copland, there is a kind of inertia that sustains that status with minimal effort. And this is a blessing for the celebrity, because simply being a celebrity absorbs time and energy that once could have been put into real work.
"If time had permitted," Bernstein says -- not apologizing but explaining -- he would have put some "highly critical marginal notes from today's perspective" into the text of his 1939 Harvard bachelor's thesis on "The Absorption of Race Elements into American Music," which occupies 63 pages of "Findings." There is plenty of margin for such notes, and it remains blank in this edition. A pity; the thesis is wordy and sententious, as such documents tend to be, but in hindsight it has a certain fascination. The young Bernstein devotes most of his attention to the integration of black ethnic elements -- particularly jazz -- American classical music. While ostensibly talking about Gershwin and Copland, he forecasts a lot of the older Bernstein. His comments at 64 on how his Harvard thesis relates to what he did later in "Fancy Free," "West Side Story," "Trouble in Tahiti" and "Mass" would have made that document enormously more interesting and valuable. "But," Bernstein explains in his preface, "Time's winged chariot . . . " Time does not even permit him to finish the sentence.
The Harvard thesis, for all its shortcomings, probably is the most substantial piece of writing in the book. The collection opens with a short essay he wrote as an undergraduate at Boston Latin School and continues with some pieces of fiction and music criticism written while he was at Harvard. A psychiatrist might find some startling self-revelation in the fiction; the average wide-eyed fan will have nothing to show for his reading efforts but some amateurishly written short stories. Musicologically, there is a certain interest in the spectacle of Bernstein as a 20-year-old undergraduate taking a rather condescending attitude toward Prokofiev when his music still was quite new. "One is very thankful these days," he observes, "for a concert piece that has a finale one can whistle while leaving the hall." The only new data conveyed by this work must be data about Leonard Bernstein in 1938, and that information, like Bernstein's nonexistent notes, is marginal.
There is material of some value in this collection, to be sure. It would be hard to assemble more than 50 pieces of writing by or about Bernstein without including a certain amount of substance. There is biographical interest, for example, in the front page of The New York Times for Nov. 15, 1943, which is reproduced in a severely reduced form but can be read with a magnifying glass. At the bottom of a page otherwise devoted almost entirely to war news is the story of a 25-year-old conductor named Bernstein who substituted for Bruno Walter at the last minute in a broadcast concert.
There are tributes in various forms to friends and mentors -- Marc Blitzstein, Serge Koussevitzky, Stephen Sondheim, Aaron Copland--above all, Copland, to whom Bernstein pens a tribute every few years.
There are segments of a diary devoted to the long, complex process of getting "West Side Story" from a vague idea to an opening night. There is a letter to a critic about various ways of conducting Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, and there are random thoughts popping out everywhere that might be developed into something really interesting.
That is the problem, of course: the randomness, the unfinished, semi-improvised quality of almost all the writing in this collection. Most of these pages are not material to be thrown away but material to be kept in a private place for the writer, when he wants to examine where he has been and perhaps where he is going; material to be filed for further consideration and elaboration into a finished, publishable piece of work. "If there had been time . . . "
One of the problems of being Leonard Bernstein is the sheer wealth and variety of things to be done, so many things that focusing on one means neglecting dozens of others. In such a situation, lack of focus is one answer, but probably not the right one. Aided by an abundance of good photos (Bernstein is marvelously photogenic and it takes practically no time), and with a prestigious name on the title page, "Findings" probably will sell well. But it might have sold equally well, and it would be a more honest product, if it had been titled "The Leonard Bernstein Celebrity Photo Album and Scrapbook."