Bernstein and JFK Assassination

JFK Assassination

News of President John F. Kennedy's assassination reached the New York Philharmonic during an afternoon subscription concert led by George Szell. Following Beethoven's Leonore Overture No. 3, the Orchestra's manager Carlos Moseley broke the news to the audience and canceled the rest of the program. The remaining concerts that weekend replaced the overture with the funeral march from Beethoven's Symphony No. 3, Eroica, performed without applause.

On November 24, Leonard Bernstein conducted Mahler's Symphony No. 2, Resurrection, in a televised tribute to President Kennedy. Not only was it the first time the complete symphony was televised, but performing Mahler for an event of this nature was unprecedented. At the United Jewish Appeal Benefit the next day, Bernstein explained his novel decision to program this work rather than the expected Eroica or a requiem. Read Bernstein's handwritten speech below, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Since the tribute to JFK, Mahler symphonies have become part of the standard repertoire for national mourning. Bernstein led the Philharmonic in the Adagietto from Mahler's Symphony No. 5 at Robert Kennedy's funeral in St. Patrick's Cathedral on June 8, 1968, and Pierre Boulez conducted the same movement in recognition of President Dwight D. Eisenhower's death in 1969. On September 10, 2011, the Philharmonic recognized the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks with Mahler's Second Symphony conducted by Alan Gilbert.

  Watch part of the JFK Tribute Concert

  Bernstein explains his choice of Mahler's Symphony No. 2 (handwritten draft)

  Bernstein explains his choice of Mahler's Symphony No. 2 (transcript)

  View Bernstein's score for Mahler's Symphony No. 2, Resurrection