Suite from "On the Town"

From Wind Repertory Project
Leonard Bernstein

Leonard Bernstein (arr. Higgins)

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General Info

Year: 1944
Duration: c. 10:25
Difficulty: V (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: Manuscript
Cost: Score and Parts - Unknown


1. The Great Lover – 2:00
2. Lonely Town: Pas de Deux – 3:00
3. Times Square: 1944 – 5:00


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None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

On the Town is a musical with music by Leonard Bernstein and book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, based on Jerome Robbins' idea for his 1944 ballet Fancy Free, which he had set to Bernstein's music. The musical introduced several popular and classic songs, among them New York, New York, Lonely Town, I Can Cook, Too (for which Bernstein also wrote the lyrics), and Some Other Time. The story concerns three American sailors on a 24-hour shore leave in New York City during wartime 1944. Each of the three sailors meets and quickly connects with a woman.

On the Town was first produced on Broadway in 1944 and was made into a film in 1949, although the film replaced all but three of the original Broadway songs with Hollywood-written substitutes. The show has enjoyed a number of major revivals. The musical integrates dance into its storytelling: Robbins made a number of ballets and extended dance sequences for the show, including the Imaginary Coney Island ballet.

- Program Note from Wikipedia

The creative foursome who worked together to bring On the Town to life had an average age of 27, and each was a newcomer to the often rough-and-tumble world of Broadway productions. The show’s composer, Leonard Bernstein, was 25 years old at the time and fresh off of several artistic triumphs providing him with near instantaneous notoriety. He had conducted, on short notice and without any rehearsal, the New York Philharmonic, filling in for a flu-stricken Bruno Walter in late 1943. The performance was broadcast nationally on CBS radio and was hailed by the New York Times as “an American success story.” The following January, his first symphony, Jeremiah, was premiered by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. In April 1944, a ballet created in collaboration with choreographer Jerome Robbins (also 25 years old), Fancy Free, met with critical acclaim.

Encouraged by the success of Fancy Free, Robbins and Bernstein decided that the story line of three sailors on 24-hour shore leave in New York City was fodder for a full-length show. The duo brought in comedic writers Betty Comden and Adolph Green (26 and 29 years old, respectively) to write the dialogue and song lyrics. Longtime Broadway director and producer George Abbott provided the organizational know-how and secured the financial backing. Questioned by the New York Times as to why he took on the project, Abbott responded, “I like the kids.”

While Bernstein openly confessed that the new show’s creation “arose from the success of the ballet,” he averred, “there was not a note of Fancy Free music in On the Town.” Work began on the show in June 1944, mere days after the allies stormed the beaches of northern France during World War II. While the show does not mention the war itself, the conflict’s shadow looms as a counterweight to its comedic nature. Jamie Bernstein, the composer’s daughter, commented to the New York Times in 2014 about the role of the war in On the Town: “The subtext gives On the Town an undertow of — well, gravitas might be too strong a word, but melancholy. For a show that purports to be a lark, there’s a tremendous sophistication to it.”

Compared to other musicals written up to the time On the Town premiered in December 1944, the music Bernstein composed was uncharacteristically lush and complex. This did not escape the notice of director George Abbott who often chided Bernstein for writing all “that Prokofiev stuff” in the middle of a Broadway show. The music itself is often described as a Valentine to Bernstein’s adopted hometown of New York City, at times rough, jagged, and harmonically dense, while at other times subtle and nuanced.

The first episode,The Great Lover, depicts a dream that one of the three sailors, Gabey, has after falling asleep on a subway train. He has spent the day searching in vain for a beautiful woman he saw on a subway poster: “Miss Turnstiles” for the month of June. Although Gabey is outwardly shy, in his dream he wins over the object of his affection with romantic fury. Lonely Town, the second episode in the suite, is a song from the first act of the show, during which a lovesick, forlorn Gabey sings, “Unless there’s love, the world’s an empty place and every town’s a lonely town.” The final episode, Times Square: 1944, contains what is perhaps the best-known music from the show: New York, New York. The music portrays the youthful eagerness of the three sailors to explore the city from the Bronx to the Battery during their 24 hours of leave.

- Program Note from Monarch Brass concert program, 15 December 2016


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State Ratings

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Works for Winds by This Composer

Adaptable Music

  • Cool (Flex instrumentation) (arr. Murtha) (1957/2018)
  • West Side Story (Flex instrumentation) (arr. Sweeney) (1957/2015)

All Wind Works