Leonard Bernstein Introduces The Moog Modular Synthesizer In 1969


Reader Thomas O’Neill let us know about this 1969 TV broadcast, featuring composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein talking about the transmogrification of Bach, as part of his Young People’s Concert specials.

Bernstein’s program explores Bach, “switched on, turned on, rocked, rolled, shaken & baked”:

Back in 1969, around the time Wendy Carlos’ Switched On Bach album became a sensation, Leonard Bernstein was hosting periodic “Young People’s Concerts” specials on broadcast TV.

In this installment, he presents Bach’s “Little Fugue in G” in various arrangement iterations. One of the iterations featured the then-new modular Moog synthesizer, in a rendition prepared on tape by Walter Sear.

The oohs and ahs from the audience as the behemoth was wheeled out on stage seem comical in retrospect, but at the time it was revolutionary.

The ‘switched on’ section starts about 15 minutes in, and provides an interesting contemporary view of 60’s synthesis. Most of the people in the audience had probably never seen a synthesizer, outside of photographs, and Bernstein’s introduction focuses on the ‘space age’ aspect of the technology.

Beyond that, the broadcast highlights what an astounding combination of knowledge, musical skill and charisma Bernstein wielded, and how the broadcast presented surprisingly sophisticated content, for a show intended for a school age audience.

via Marius Buia

23 thoughts on “Leonard Bernstein Introduces The Moog Modular Synthesizer In 1969

  1. Wow, they just brought that whole system out, then played a tape of it [17:27 to 20:39].
    Sounds very chip-tunes like (8-bit) to me.

  2. It’s interesting to see this. In 1969 people must have thought that machines like the Moog will one day replace entire orchestras, but almost 50 years later we’re still not even close. But then again, people in 1969 must also have believed that we would have conquered space by now…

    1. Well, it ia my understanding that entire movie scores have been made in a computer, including orchestral sounds, so we are indeed very close. I agree on the space part though

  3. yeah, i thought chip tunes as well.

    watching this amazes me. to think of the complete lack of eloquence (coupled with horrendous oration skills) and likewise lack of class exhibited by people back then compared to how far we have improved since…mindblowing. evolution for sure.

    1. ‘Complete lack of eloquence & horrendous oration skills’ ? Leonard Bernstein?
      Wow… interesting comment.
      But the moog tape sounds cheesy indeed.

      1. yeah, i was just being goofy! truthfully, i am blessed to be able to see this. because of this, i started exploring a bunch of the Bernstein stuff on youtube…awesome. and i particularly enjoy the comments left by people on those channels. it is good to know that there are plenty of people out there who feel that some things pale in comparison to today’s direction of things. Eloquence, a command of language lexicon, class. it just seems that back then even regular folks spoke differently when being interviewed on tv for instance.

        that reel-to-reel recording however, c h e e z i e

        now it is time for me to continue overseeing my daughter’s lego building session, followed by a little electribe driving the blofeld grooving and sound design fueled by Young’s Double Chocolate Stout


        1. Ok, didn’t get your irony then! That’s a relief…
          Yes Bernstein Harvard lectures on Youtube are amazing for instance!

          Still more irony in the fact that the combination huge Moog modular & Analog tape, today seen as the pinnacle of gorgeous sonics, produce this plinky plonky Bach.

        2. Sounds to me like a 4-part (or more) multitrack recording. So while bringing out a tape deck might be cheesy, you’d need 4 modulars to perform the synth arrangement live. Then the players would need to pray that the synths actually stay in tune, and otherwise behave correctly!

        3. Me too…. I am mesmerized by Bernstein…i had never seen his lectures…wow…HE does a whole series on Avant garde 20th century composers where he defends tonality…. and he makes it sound interesting and fun…..,,and Cheers!!! i have some Young’s stout in my immediate future!!!

        4. From Bernstein’s comments, I’m guessing that he also thought the Moog was a bit cheesy. It would have been much more interesting if it were performed live in conjunction with the tape. Yeah, sure, now we would take a pass on Sear’s performance, but back then, that was the state of the art. The four track tape machine was a workhorse found in every top recording studio, and the Moog presented there was, indeed, the state of the art.

          Read the Wikipedia entry on Walter Sear, he was a very innovative and interesting person.

  4. I can understand the appeal of any performance of an early Moog to sound unlike “anything heard before” and fortunately many of those sounds have remained that way. The thing that changed my mind was in 1973 when David Hentschel arranged the lengthy intro to Elton John’s “Funeral For A Friend” and it was so organic, so orchestral, yet electrically charged I was blown away and it wasn’t a Moog it was an ARP2600. Youtube it if you haven’t heard it.

    1. Looking into it, it looks like the intro was done on an ARP 2500. I thought the sound was rather massive and it makes sense that it was a 2500.

  5. Love articles like this one. First time I touched and was able to play a Moog modular system was at the Art Institute in Chicago….while all my friends were into bass, guitar n drums, I myself was married to the hip with wanting a synthesizer like that moog. During those early years of Walter Carlos, now Wendy Carlos, n Tomita, n Zappa, etc….I read n seen as much as I could afford. Glad the audience of today is loving this like I still do.

  6. The appearance by Stokowski was a nice surprise (no mention of him in the presentation text of the posting). This man was a truely fascinating musician.
    About the Moog: I suspect the sequencer was only used for show (clock synced to tape),, since there was no way to sequence enough of the piece to run throughout.

  7. Bernstein was outstanding. Check out the soundtrack to “West Side Story” and drink in the wide range of pieces. Maybe moreso, check out his own opera, “Mass.” Its a choral creature all its own. Great lyrics, too: “Half the people are drowning and the other half are waiting for the next election… half the people are stoned and the others are swimming in the wrong direction, they called it glorious living.” He was once asked how he and his musicians responded to all of the horror in the world. He said “By making more beautiful music.” What a mensch! He’s the classical version of a rock god.

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