Leonard Bernstein (copy)

Leonard Bernstein, seen during rehearsal with the New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra on Dec. 31, 1957, presents a display of varied expressions at Carnegie Hall in New York. On Nov. 6, the Stockbridge Library, Museum & Archive will host a world premiere of his "Music for String Quartet."

LENOX — In 1936, as a Harvard freshman, Leonard Bernstein composed his only string quartet. It received a few private readings in Boston and was forgotten …

Until John Perkel, a retired Boston Symphony Orchestra librarian, learned of its existence, tracked down the four parts and resolved to give the work its world premiere. And what better place for the premiere than Tanglewood, with its long association with Bernstein as student, conductor, composer, teacher and all-round presence?

It wasn’t simple. Handed down by a former BSO violinist, the parts languished in his mother’s family music cabinet. They needed editing for legibility. And Perkel needed permission for performance from Amberson Productions, the personal management company founded by Bernstein and now run by his three children.

Amberson said Bernstein had never written a string quartet. What proof did Perkel have? He said he had the handwritten composition, with every page signed by Bernstein. After five months Amberson conceded. Permission in hand, Perkel scheduled the concert for April 2020 in Tanglewood’s Linde Center.

Everybody knows what happened next. The pandemic struck. No concert, no premiere.

So, 85 years after composition, 31 years after Bernstein’s death and about 10 years after Perkel first hatched the idea, Bernstein’s “Music for String Quartet” will receive its world premiere as the centerpiece of a Bernstein-themed concert to be held at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 6, in the Linde Center’s Studio E. The program is a benefit for Stockbridge Library, where Perkel runs a chamber music series.

The performers — all current or retired BSO members, Tanglewood Music Center graduates, or both — will be violinists Lucia Lin and Natalie Rose Kress, violist Daniel Kim, cellist Ronald Feldman and pianist Melvin Chen. Rounding out the program are Bernstein’s 1937 Piano Trio, Copland’s “Elegies” for violin and viola, Mozart’s Piano Quartet in G minor, K. 478, and Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E flat, Opus. 44. Bernstein recorded the latter two works with the Juilliard String Quartet.

“Music for String Quartet” consists of a single “allegro vivace” movement 9 minutes long. Those familiar with the parts say the music sounds at times like Copland or Shostakovich, both lifelong influences on Bernstein’s work. In his book “Findings,” Bernstein briefly recalls criticism by Copland — a mentor to him in early days and later a friend – of his early work, including the quartet and trio:

“All that has to go … This is just pure Scriabin. You’ve got to get that out of your head and start fresh … This is good. These two bars are good. Take these two bars and start from there …”

Perkel recounts this history of “Music for String Quartet”:

Even in his student years, Bernstein was known as a fine pianist. The string quartet received its first run-through after the New England String Quartet, based in Boston, asked Bernstein to be its guest pianist for a series of concerts. Bernstein in turn asked the group to read through his quartet.

Stanley Benson, a BSO violinist and member of the group, accepted Bernstein’s offer to hold onto the parts. Benson in turn gave them to his mother Clara Benson, an amateur violinist who played the piece occasionally with her own quartet ensemble. She stored the parts in her music cabinet and there they lay until, one day many years later, while driving to Tanglewood with her daughter Lisa Benson Pickett, she told Lisa about the Bernstein quartet.

Then, at a BSO retirement party at Blantyre about 10 years ago, Lisa mentioned the long-forgotten quartet to Perkel, a friend of hers.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Perkel recalled in a phone interview. He didn’t do anything about it at the time but as the centennial of Bernstein’s birth, 2018, approached, “I thought about it and I called her one day. I said, ‘Do you still have those parts?’ She said, ‘Yes, what are you thinking?’ And I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to stage the premiere at Tanglewood?’”

But first, permission from Amberson and editing of the parts were needed. When Amberson doubted any such work existed, Perkel sent them samples. He recruited Charlie Harmon, Bernstein’s ex-assistant, editor of Bernstein’s works for the Bernstein estate, and author of the recent book “On the Road and Off the Record with Leonard Bernstein,” to correct the manuscript parts. Harmon did the job gratis, Perkel said.

Meanwhile, after consulting with music experts and dealers, Clara Benson sold the manuscript in a confidential transaction, according to the Benson children, Lisa Benson Pickett and Peter W. Benson. “We kept a copy of the music hoping that it would be played so music lovers everywhere could hear it,” they said.

Did Bernstein plan the single movement to be part of a larger quartet? Nobody knows. A Roman number “I” on the second page of the manuscript seems to indicate a further movement to come, according to Perkel, but there is no proof. In fact, nobody seems to know much else at all about the piece.

“I’ve spoken with all three of Bernstein’s children and none of them knew anything about it,” Perkel said. “I have so many questions myself; it’s such a mystery.”

Yet in the end, “it doesn’t even matter,” Perkel said. “It’s by the most famous classical musician in 20th-century America. It’s not his best work, but he was 18. It’s historically significant because people don’t know about it.”