1918 is most commonly remembered as the year which saw the end of the first world war, perhaps rightly so. However, 1918 was a year when on different sides of the world great men were born who changed the world. One, Nelson Mandela, the other Lenny Bernstein. One the son of humble African Xhosa family the other a son of a Russian Jewish family born of humble and unmusical beginnings.
What do these colossuses of the century have in common? Greatness , yes, but in such different ways. But there are common traits in both men. They both believed in themselves and they both emerged from very unpromising starts to become leaders and teachers of unparalleled ideas and achievements.
Where the sources of their genius sprang from no one knows but what is sure is that they both changed the world in their different ways. Both in their own way were uncompromising. Mandela in his intolerance of intolerance, his foresight and generosity of spirit and Bernstein in his absolute faith in the very idea of music, whatever its origin whatever its development.
Both men were mesmerising as characters, both handsome, both courageous, both blessed with outstanding intellects, and both driven by a different dream. Mandela some say was a child of his time, whereas Bernstein created wondrous music and recreated our view of music past, present and future.
Mandela, once classed as a terrorist, now universally known as a saviour of South Africa and a true messenger of peace, is still very much revered but the practice of his very high ideals is hard to follow. His successors have failed to come up to Mandela’s standards because in part those ideals are impossibly high.
The world is changing, populism is on the march, the easy way seems to be where most people want to follow. What Mandela and Bernstein proved beyond reasonable doubt is that the right way is not easy, it is impossibly difficult. Populist clowns may have their day but the likes of Mandela and Bernstein will be remembered and followed long after the clowns have gone.