Bernstein - Candide

The journey of Candide from 1956 failed comic operetta to perpetual Classic FM Hall of Fame favourite is as intriguing as the hero’s journey within the work itself.

In the operetta, the eponymous Candide (sung by a tenor) experiences numerous fabulous disasters and tortuous plot twists. In real life, the operetta itself seems to have had just as many ups and downs.

It received a disappointing premiere in 1956 and had to be fitted with a completely new libretto in 1973, after the original librettist withdrew her permission for her words to be used. After numerous minor makeovers, it was finally set in stone with the composer’s 1989 refurbishment, which took the essence of the 1956 and 1973 versions, blending them with parts from 1958 and 1971 settings. If you factor in the revelation that some music he had written for Candide was ‘borrowed’ by the composer for another of his great works, West Side Story – ‘One Hand, One Heart’ was intended originally for Candide – then it makes it all the more surprising that it has endured. Could it be that the Overture, which seems to be written in the key of life, is the reason for its success? For an exuberant version, the composer’s own with the New York Phil is hard to beat.

Recommended Recording

Overture only: New York Philharmonic Orchestra; Leonard Bernstein (conductor). Sony: SMK63085.