Rondo for Lifey (1959)
Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)

Biographical Info

Leonard Bernstein enjoyed an illustrious career as a composer, conductor, educator and pianist. He will be best remembered for his contribution to the Broadway musical scene, his composition of scores for On the Town, Candide and West Side Story will live on long in the memory of all who hear them. As a conductor, after graduating from Harvard, he became the Musical Director of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and led them in more concerts than anyone who had previously held that post.

Amongst the chamber music composed by Bernstein is a series of 5 pieces composed for brass instruments and dedicated to dogs, though bearing the inscription “For my brother Burtie.” The Julliard Music Foundation commissioned these. Members of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra premiered the series of works in 1959 in New York’s prestigious Carnegie Hall. Rondo for Lifey is the first of these; Lifey being the name of Judy Holliday’s Skye Terrier. Despite being a relatively short piece, lasting only two minutes, Rondo for Lifey is one of the two longest works in the series, which collectively lasts just eight minutes.

The piece itself has a playful, if not slightly cheeky nature about it. Beginning with a short, slow and expressive solo trumpet introduction, the piece suddenly bursts into life with the introduction of the main theme. The light style of the repeating section of the rondo using staccato quavers in the shifting time signatures between simple triple and cut common give an unstable, jerky feel to the music; something which is evident throughout the piece. The work also has some fleeting lyrical sections, contrasting with the jerky initial theme and the trumpet echoing the piano at one stage almost before the line has finished gives a feeling of continual smooth motion before a return for the final time to the main theme, this time presented with a mute before a perfect cadence finishes the piece off.

© Stephen Wright

Suggested Equipment

Bb trumpet with straight mute.

Practice/Performance Tips

I have always felt a little disappointed with this piece.  Not because of the quality but because it’s BERNSTEIN writing for solo trumpet, and this is all he gives us?  The piece is so short it’s tough to program.  While it is charming it’s not particularly flashy enough to use as an encore and potentially awkward as a program opener.  ie. Normally programs are programed chronologically.

The tempo marking places the eighth-notes right in section between double and single tonging for me.  So, in the clip below, I bumped up the tempo just a tad to accommodate my double tongue.  And, for those of you that are not familiar with this music, I recorded this with most of the rests included so the clip is almost the length of the entire piece.

Rondo for Lifey

Suggested Recordings

Wynton Marsalis – On the 20th Century

Sergei Nakariakov – Trumpet Works

Thomas Stevens – Trumpet

Hakan Hardenberger – The Art of the Trumpet (a must have box set!)