In the introduction to his 1966 book, The Infinite Variety of Music, Leonard Bernstein argues that there is no musical equivalent to the radical artistic modernism of the 20th century. Painting can eliminate representation; literature can banish character and plot; but music “is abstract to start with.” It contains no words, images, or other real-life referents, only tones arranged in patterns of “up-and-down, long-and-short, loud-and-soft.” As for the death of tonality celebrated in the most avant-garde composers, Bernstein likens it to the death of God proclaimed by Friedrich Nietzsche: “neither death is true; all that has died is our own outworn conceptions.”

This perspective was shared by the three other artists—playwright Arthur Laurents, choreographer Jerome Robbins, and lyricist Stephen Sondheim—who collaborated with Bernstein on his 1957 Broadway masterpiece, West Side Story, a musical version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet set in the mean streets of New York. I call it Bernstein’s masterpiece because, however brilliant the contributions of his collaborators (not to mention the original Broadway cast), they were outshone by the sheer refulgence of the music. The same is true of the hundreds of thousands of revivals of West Side Story over the past 65 years, in English and 26 other languages. Regardless

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