When Steven Spielberg’s remake of “West Side Story” hits the silver screens, many will applaud the director’s effort to find the best actors within the Puerto Rican and broader Latin community to play in it. There will also be those who fall into the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” school of thought because for them, there is no improving on the original 1961 West Side Story directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins. We suspect that whether it is the old version or the new, the music of Leonard Bernstein and the lyrics of Stephen Sondheim will carry the story.
And that brings us to Leonard Bernstein, a renowned conductor and major composer who wrote the music not just for West Side Story, but also for many other musicals and movies such as On the Town, The Birds, On the Waterfront, and Peter Pan, as well as operas, symphonies, orchestrals, chamber music, and ballets too numerous to mention here.
Because he appears here, it’s also safe to assume that he was a “dog man.”
By all accounts, his family was accustomed to a new dog in the house: There was a Doberman Pinscher, several Dachshunds (all named Henry), a Bichon-Frise named “Tookie” (short for “Tuchus”), and a Sheltie called “Honey.”
Bernstein’s affection for dogs worked its way into his music: He sent a copy of a trumpet score he called Rondo (for Lifey), to actress, Judy Holiday, whose Skye Terrier was named “Lifey.” Bernstein’s Slava! included an alternate title on the title page: Puk, a reference to cellist and conductor, Mstislav Rostropovich’s dog.
Bernstein’s brother’s dog, “Mippy,” was remembered in Elegy for Mippy I and II, Mippy I written for horn and piano, and Mippy II, for a solo trombone. Tragedy struck Mippy, and the pieces helped signify the dog’s second coming.
Bernstein wrote Fanfare for Bima (scored for trumpet, trombone, horn, and tuba) with Serge Koussevitzky’s black Cocker Spaniel, “Bima,” in mind. The fanfare was based on the theme whistled in the Koussevitzky household to call “Bima.”
Leonard Bernstein died in 1990, and it’s said that he was buried with a piece of amber, a lucky penny, a baton, a copy of Alice in Wonderland and a pocket score of Gustav Mahler’s Fifth Symphony.
Photo of Leonard Bernstein with his Doberman Pinscher found on Pinterest and happily credited upon receipt of information.