Leonard Bernstein

On the Waterfront, symphonic suite

    Description by Joseph Stevenson

    The great American conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein produced his only original film score for one of the prestigious projects of American film, Elia Kazan's film On the Waterfront (1954). The film, starring Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint, tells the story of union corruption on the docks of New York in searing, personal terms. Bernstein produced one of the great scores in Hollywood history, but never consented to do another film project. He wrote of his experiences in a chapter of his book The Joy of Music, showing that he was unprepared to have portions of the music summarily cut, changed into a different order than he first supposed, or even simply turned down in volume just as a theme was reaching its emotional heights.

    In 1955, he adapted the music he had produced for the film into his own vision, a continuous 20-minute suite of symphonic music. It begins with a haunting and eloquent horn theme which is allowed to grow in emotional depth. It makes a transition into a "barbaro" section with very prominent percussion, related to the dehumanizing conditions on the docks. The film's love theme is followed by a scherzo-like Allegro, and the suite concludes with a tragic development of the opening theme. It is not necessary to know the film to understand or appreciate this score, which can easily be taken simply as a portrait of life in New York City. As such, it is one of the most distinctive (and most unjustly overlooked) great symphonic portraits of an American scene.


    1. Andante (with dignity) - Presto barbaro
    2. Adagio - Allegro molto agitato - Alla breve (Poco più mosso - Presto come prima)
    3. Andante largamente - More flowing - Lento
    4. Moving forward - Largamente - Andante come prima
    5. Allegro non troppo, molto marcato - Poco più sostenuto
    6. A tempo (Poco più sostenuto)

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 Somm ARIADNE 5002
    2018 BIS BIS 2278
    2018 Decca / Deutsche Grammophon 4798418
    2018 ABC Classics 4817378
    2018 ABC Classics
    2014 Sony Classical 88843047122
    2014 Gia / GIA Publications GIA 937
    2013 Naxos 8573056
    2012 RPO RPO 023
    2011 Klavier Records K11185
    2010 Royal Philharmonic Masterworks / RPO 28780
    2010 Columbia Masterworks / Sony Classical 88697700432
    2010 Dorian 92109
    2009 Documents 232777
    2008 Sony Music Distribution 727988
    2006 Golden Stars 5416
    2006 Rhino
    2006 Arte Nova 433210
    2004 Sony Classical 92728
    2004 Warner Music 4604802
    2004 Brilliant / Brilliant Classics 6151
    2004 Universal Classics & Jazz
    2004 Deutsche Grammophon 000306402
    2003 Deutsche Grammophon 000001402
    2003 Naxos 8559177
    2002 Brilliant 6169
    2001 Deutsche Grammophon 471518
    2001 Deutsche Grammophon 469115
    2001 Sony Classical 89750
    2000 Sony Music Distribution 89043
    1999 Deutsche Grammophon / PolyGram 463465
    1997 Arte Nova 74321 43321-2
    1993 Dorian 90170
    1990 Deutsche Grammophon 415253
    1990 CBS Records / Columbia 42263
    Deutsche Grammophon 427042
    Sony Music Distribution 47530
    Deutsche Grammophon 431028
    Sony Music Distribution 47154
    BBC Music Magazine 234
    CBS Records 42263