Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) was an erudite, passionate musician whose exceptional talents and expressive gifts earned him a special place in the hearts of New Yorkers.  He rose to instant national fame in 1943, at age 25, when he filled in for the suddenly ill Bruno Walter as conductor of a nationally televised New York Philharmonic performance.  He went on to become the Philharmonic’s music director until 1969, and remained a frequent guest conductor there until his death.  With the Philharmonic, he presented a series of 53 educational Young People’s Concerts which were broadcast on CBS, making him a familiar face around the nation.  He also composed music, crossing from academic classical music into Broadway musicals, including West Side StoryOn the Town, and Candide.

Profanation
is the second movement of Bernstein’s Symphony no. 1 Jeremiah.  The Symphony is based on the biblical story of Jeremiah, a prophet who warned his people of the coming destruction of Jerusalem, was mocked by them for it, and famously lamented when it came to pass.  Bernstein wrote the Symphony in 1942 in order to enter it in a competition at the New England Conservatory.  He did not win, but the piece went on to bring him great success, earning him the New York Music Critics’ Circle award for best classical composition in 1944 and helping him reconcile with his father, to whom he later dedicated the score.  Profanation is the Symphony’s scherzo.  It dramatizes the savage mockery that Jeremiah experiences from the priests of the Temple of Solomon when he warns them that their corrupt ways will bring about its destruction.  It opens with a distorted version of a liturgical melody, which multiplies into a chaotic pagan celebration.  Jeremiah’s warning from the first movement (Prophecy) returns later, only to be drowned out by the chaos.

Video 1: Band version, arranged by Frank Bencriscutto, in a nearly flawless rendition by Michael Haithcock and the University of Michigan Symphony Band:

Video 2: Original version for orchestra

Now some links:

Leonardbernstein.com – a true treasure trove of everything Bernstein, including many personal reflections by friends, relatives, and colleagues.

Leonard Bernstein on Wikipedia.

The Leonard Bernstein Collection at the US Library of Congress.

A lengthy and heartfelt essay on Bernstein and his influence at classicalnotes.net.

Program notes on Profanation from the Williams College Symphonic Winds.

Program notes on the entire Symphony from the Kennedy Center and Bernstein’s website.

More information on the Prophet Jeremiah and his Book of Lamentations.