Exploring Candide

This spring, the Kennedy Center celebrates Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday with a production of Candide, a work with contributions from a veritable gallery of 20th-century masters. In anticipation of this epic theatrical event, you can learn more about the creators of Candide—and the novella and events that inspired them—by exploring some of the recommendations below.

The Source

Voltaire’s satirical novella traces the journey of young Candide as he attempts to reconcile his tutor’s philosophy of optimism with the hardship of earthly existence. The Norton Critical Edition of Candide, edited by Nicholas Cronk, includes extensive footnotes for the novella’s many references, as well as a series of essays offering background and criticism.

The Creators

Humphrey Burton’s 1994 biography, Leonard Bernstein, discusses the life and work of the great American conductor, composer and educator who gave us Candide. Bernstein’s own writing—on music old and new, art and politics—is collected in several volumes, including The Joy of Music, Findings and The Unanswered Question.

The Ballad of John Latouche: An American Lyricist’s Life and Work, by Howard Pollack, sheds light on the life and career of Virginia-born librettist and lyricist who worked with composers including Bernstein (Candide), Vernon Duke (Cabin in the Sky), Duke Ellington (Beggar’s Holiday) and Douglas Moore (The Ballad of Baby Doe), among many others.

Pulitzer Prize-winning Richard Wilbur was one of many writers who contributed lyrics to Candide; his Collected Poems, 1943-2004 offers an opportunity to explore his work more deeply. Conversations with Richard Wilbur, edited by William Butts, offers three decades of conversations with a man known for both his formal genius and his good nature.

Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) offers a remembrance of Stephen Sondheim’s first collaboration with Leonard Bernstein, West Side Story. Although Sondheim almost didn’t take the job, Oscar Hammerstein urged him to sign on. Meryle Secrest’s Stephen Sondheim: A Life offers a full-scale biographical portrait of the composer and lyricist.

The Political Backdrop

Winner of the National Book Award, Victor S. Navasky’s Naming Names examines the motivations for the investigation of Hollywood radicals by the House Committee on Un-American Activities and offers an analysis of its consequences.

Published in 1990, Richard M. Fried’s Nightmare in Red: The McCarthy Era in Perspective offers a history of the rise and fall of the phenomenon known as McCarthyism, as well as introductions to many players on both sides of the drama.