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Leonard Bernstein: Little Smary

“Little Smary” is an example of Bernstein’s art song repertoire outside of the theater. The words are by Jennie Bernstein (Bernstein’s mother). The story depicts a young girl playing with her “wuddit” (rabbit). The story was a common bedtime story told to Bernstein by his mother.

The piece comes from a song cycle entitled Arias and Barcarolles, completed in 1988 and dedicated to S.A.B. (Shirley Anne Bernstein, his sister). The cycle exists in a piano four-hand version and an orchestrated version by Bright Sheng. It is said that the ironic title of the cycle originated from a statement Dwight Eisenhower made at a 1960 performance of Bernstein. He stated, “I liked that last piece you played, it had a tune. I like music with a tune, not all of them arias and barcarolles and things.”

Unlike Bernstein’s theater works, this song is very fragmented. The singer is more narrative than tuneful. This wonderful recording comes from the NYFOS family in 1994 with Steve Blier and Michael Barrett at the piano. The fabulous Judy Kaye masterfully paints a clear story and also characterizes a distraught little Smary.

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