Elmer Bernstein


April 4, 1922 – August 18, 2004

The Society of Composers & Lyricists community mourns the loss of our dear friend and colleague, legendary composer, mentor, longtime SCL Member and SCL Advisory Board Member Elmer Bernstein, who died today at the age of 82 in Ojai, a community north of Los Angeles. He is survived by his wife, Eve, four children (Peter, Gregory, Emilie, and Elizabeth) and five grandchildren.

The family of Elmer Bernstein has requested that, in lieu of flowers or other remembrances, a charitable donation be sent to:

Young Musicians Foundation, 195 South Beverly Drive #415, Beverly Hills, CA 90212. A special scholarship fund will be established in Mr. Bernstein’s name.

About the Young Musicians Foundation (YMF): Since 1955, YOUNG MUSICIANS FOUNDATION (YMF) has provided encouragement and recognition to gifted young musicians from around the country through financial assistance, performance opportunities, and music education programs. http://www.ymf.org/

Services for Mr. Bernstein are private, but plans are being made for a future public tribute.

Elmer Bernstein spent more than half a century writing memorable music for movies. He seemed to reinvent himself every decade: His landmark score for “The Man with the Golden Arm” set the standard for jazz-based dramatic music during the late 1950s. His score for “The Magnificent Seven” made him the outstanding Western composer of the 1960s. He composed a series of comedy scores in the ’70s and ’80s, including the highly popular “Airplane!” and “Ghostbusters.”

Bernstein often said that his favorite among his nearly 200 feature Scores was “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the gentle and touching music for the1962 drama about racial prejudice in the South. Equally popular with audiences, however, were his epic score for Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments,” the smart-aleck march of “The Great Escape” and the sweeping music of “Hawaii.” He received an Oscar for his score for the period romp “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”

Late in his career, he returned to the intimate, chamber-style music of “Mockingbird” in such films as “Rambling Rose,” “My Left Foot” and “Far From Heaven.” He also enjoyed a long professional relationship with Martin Scorsese as producer and/or director of such films as “The Grifters,” “Cape Fear” and “The Age of Innocence.” For television, he wrote the “National Geographic” fanfare and such romantic themes as “Hollywood and the Stars” and “Captains and the Kings.”

Encouraged as a young man by Aaron Copland, he studied with Roger Sessions, wrote dozens of radio scores, and was widely heard as a concert pianist in New York before embarking on his film career in 1950.

Bernstein served several terms as President of the Composers and Lyricists Guild and was on the Advisory Board of the Society of Composers and Lyricists. He died in August, 2004, leaving a legacy of melodic, boldly conceived and often richly orchestrated music for American films.

— Jon Burlingame

Here is a video of Elmer Bernstein at the 2002 State of the Art Conference:

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This is a video tribute presented at the 2005 SCL Membership meeting:

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