Leonard Bernstein: Little Smary

Written by Leann Osterkamp


In category: Song of the Day

Published November 14, 2017

“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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Award-winning American pianist Leann Osterkamp is a NYFOS Next and Emerging Artist alum and the first pianist to participate in NYFOS’s Caramoor residency. A Young Steinway Artist, she is releasing a solo album The Complete Works of Leonard Bernstein for Solo Piano on the Steinway and Sons label this fall. Leann will be featured extensively in the CUNY Graduate Center’s upcoming A Bernstein Marathon, part of the worldwide Bernstein at 100 celebration, on December 2.


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