Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Author Archive for Robert Greenberg

Dr. Bob Prescribes Stravinsky’s “Les Noces”

When discussing the long compositional life of Igor Stravinsky (he completed his first masterwork, The Firebird, in 1910; his last, Requiem Canticles, in 1966 [see Dr. Bob Prescribes for a post on the latter April 7, 2020]), his output is often conveniently divided into three large compositional “periods”: his “Russian period” (1909-1919); his neo-Classic/neo-tonal period (1920-1956, which includes a wide variety of presumably Baroque and Classical-era inspired works); and his late or “serial” (modern) music, 1957-1966.  Alas, like most such convenient divisions, these are broad generalizations and exceptions abound. (Apparently no one bothered to tell Stravinsky that his “Russian” period had concluded in 1919. Consequently, he had no qualms about composing Mavra in 1921. Mavra is a charming one-act opera buffa based on Alexander Pushkin’s rhymed story, The Little House in Kolomna. It is a rarely performed work; Tchaikovsky-like in its rich, bel canto lyricism and most Stravinskyan in its concision and rhythmic asymmetry, the latter an outgrowth of the Russian language itself. Likewise, Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements of 1945 might just as well be titled Son of The Rite of Spring – or perhaps Beneath the Rite of Spring – so closely related are these two works composed […]

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Music History Monday: The Prodigal Son Returns

On September 21, 1962 – 58 years ago today – the composer Igor Stravinsky returned to Russia for the first time in 48 years: he had been gone since 1914. Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky was born on June 17, 1882 in the tony summer resort town of Oranienbaum (today known as Lomonosov) on the Gulf of Finland, about 25 miles from St. Petersburg. His father Fyodor Ignatievich Stravinsky (1843-1902) was a well-known opera singer – a bass (oh, how the Russians love their bass singers!) – with the Kyiv Opera and Mariinsky Theater there in Peter. The Stravinsky family was of Russian-Polish heritage, descended, we are told by biographer Steven Walsh: “from a long line of Polish grandees, senators and landowners.” Stravinsky’s mother Anna Kirillovna Stravinskaya (born Kholodovskaya, 1854-1939) was from Kiev, and came from a family hardly less distinguished than her husband’s: landowners from the governing class of 19th century Russia. She numbered among her ancestors distinguished politicians, military officers, noblemen and noblewomen.  Igor Stravinsky grew up in St. Petersburg with his three brothers (two older, one younger), his mother and father, and the servants (as many as five or six), in a large, eight-room, second-story flat at No. 66 […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Michael Haydn Symphonies

Yesterday’s Music History Monday post marked the 283rd birthday of the composer, organist, and violinist Michael Haydn, a musician of outstanding talent whose reputation has, sadly and unfairly, been obscured by that of his older brother, Joseph Haydn. Michael Haydn was five years younger than Joseph, having been born in the Austrian village of Rohrau on September 14, 1737. He died in Salzburg on August 10, 1806, predeceasing his older brother by some three years.  At the age of eight, Michael followed his brother to Vienna to become – as had Joseph – a student and choirboy at St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Of the two, Michael was considered the superior student and singer. Like Joseph, Michael harbored the ambition to be a composer, an ambition he was able to freely indulge when he took up the position – in 1743, at the age 26 – of concertmaster in Salzburg, a job he held for the remaining 43 years of his life. Among the people responsible for actually hiring Michael Haydn (which occurred the previous year, in 1762) was Salzburg’s new court Kapellmeister, one Leopold Mozart, who in 1762 was preparing to take his preternaturally talented children – Wolfgang, 6 and Nannerl, […]

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Music History Monday: The “Other” Haydn

We mark the birth on September 14, 1737 – 283 years ago today – of the composer, organist, and violinist Johann Michael Haydn, in the western Austrian town of Rohrau. (Rohrau lies about 20 miles west of today’s capital of Slovakia – Bratislava – a city called Pressburg in Haydn’s day.) Forgive me a classic/stupid question-and-answer: Question: “what’s that guy doing in the corner?” Answer: “he’s Haydn”. Nyuck, nyuck, nyuck.  You’ll notice that in answering that question, we’ll naturally assume that the “Haydn” in the corner is Franz Joseph Haydn, as if there are no other Haydns out there whose existence we might need to account for. Did any of us, even for a moment, stop to consider whether that “Haydn” could have been Michael Haydn? And there it is, in that most convenient of nutshells, yet another example of life’s inherent unfairness: when one sibling, no matter how talented, is overshadowed by an even more talented brother or sister.  There are so many examples! Continue Reading, only on Patreon! Listen on the Music History Monday Podcast Robert Greenberg Courses On Sale Now

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Yiddish Song and Klezmer

Sitting around the dinner table recently, my son Daniel (11 years old) asked the rest of us what single superpower each of us would choose if we could only choose one. He went first, and predictably, he chose the power to choose an unlimited number of superpowers. His sister Lily (13 years old) immediately disqualified him based on his own stated criteria. Once they stopped arguing, I made my choice, which was easy. I no longer want to be able to fly (where would I fly to in these days of COVID? and where would I put my carry-on?), and the thought of being able to make myself invisible strikes way to close to the reality of my career as a composer. My choice: I want to be able to speak (and read, if written) every language – past and present – ever spoken, including hump-back whale, crow, and porpoise (color me “Dr. Bob-Doolittle”). How incredible would it be to be linguistically at home anywhere, with anyone! How fantastic it would be to be able to read everything in its “original!” Nothing cuts to the essence of a culture like its language. A tribe’s, a people’s, a nation’s music is […]

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Music History Monday: François-André Danican Philidor

We mark the birth on September 7, 1726 – 294 years ago today – of the composer and chess master (properly, the “unofficial” world chess champion!) François-André Danican Philidor.  In my Dr. Bob Prescribes post for Tuesday, September 1 (all of last week), we observed that the composer and conductor Giuseppe Sinopoli died all-too young of a heart attack (while conducting a performance of Aida in Berlin), on April 20, 2001, at the age of 54. We further observed that he died two days before he was to receive a Laurea in Archeology – a bachelor’s degree in archeology – from the Università La Sapienza in Rome. Finally, we observed that among Sinopoli’s publications is a book entitled Masterpieces of Greek Ceramics from the Sinopoli Collection. Ah: “the Sinopoli Collection.” So, either he was himself a collector or he grew up with a family collection of Greek ceramics. Was he, then, just a hobbyist, a passionate collector, or something more? We would observe that hobbyists do not generally suffer the rigors of attaining a bachelor’s degree at the age of 54 just because they like to collect stuff. No: Giuseppe Sinopoli would appear to be that fairly rare, world-class professional […]

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Celebrating an Anniversary and Some Changes on Patreon

My Dear Patrons, My two-year anniversary on Patreon is here and changes are afoot. I will tell you all about them. Permit me, though, a little background first. My original intention here on Patreon was to blog and vlog once, perhaps twice a week, and in doing so build a body of patron-only posts and a patron base. Despite the fact that the Patreon model is based on delivering tiered content and benefits based on the level of patron contribution, I chose to democratize my site by making all posted materials available to all patrons, whether they were contributing at the $2 level or the $100 level. Thanks to our friendly, neighborhood pandemic, the manner in which I make a living – lecturing, teaching, and performing – has, for the foreseeable future, gone the way of dial-up. Given the nature of my work, applying for unemployment is not an option. Thus – as those of you who have been with me for a while are aware – I am now posting four to six times a week, depending. Patreon has become my primary occupation, in which I’m presently investing roughly 30 hours a week. It is necessary, then, that I […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Mahler Symphony No. 5

When it came to his music, particularly its orchestration, Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) was fussy. Starting with his Symphony No. 5, which he began in 1901 and initially completed in 1903, Mahler was never completely satisfied with anything he composed; he was always reworking this, re-orchestrating that, fussing to a degree that pretty much everything composed between 1901 and his death in 1911 must be considered a “work in progress”.  Mahler’s fussing with his Fifth Symphony began soon after its completion in 1903. After a reading in 1904 he removed a considerable bit of the percussion parts. In 1906 he again made significant revisions in anticipation of a performance in Amsterdam. In 1908 he revised the symphony yet again. Finally, in early 1911, just a few months before his death on May 18, he wrote: “The Fifth is finished. I have been compelled to re-orchestrate it completely. I cannot understand how I could have written so much like a beginner at that time [meaning 1901-1903]. It is clear that the method I had used in the first four symphonies deserted me altogether, as if a totally new message demanded a new technique.” That “new message” to which Mahler refers is the […]

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Music History Monday: I Want, I Need, I Must Have: Rock Stars and Their Riders

According to “This Day in Music.com”, on August 31, 2006 – 14 years ago today – the Times of London ran an article on the sometimes outright whacko-crazy demands made by rock stars when on tour. Today we’ll live vicariously through a few of these rockers and see what sort of extravagance we too could command if we were among their number. But first, let us mark three worthy birthdays and one death. On August 31, 1879 – 141 years ago today – the composer, pianist, and muse Alma Maria Schindler was born in Vienna; she died in New York City on December 11, 1964. Had Ms. Schindler been born 100 years later, in 1976 rather that 1886, she would almost certainly be a professional composer today with a career of very much of her own. But alas and alack, the time and place of her birth forced her to find self-realization through the many men in her life, three of whom she actually married: the composer and conductor Gustav Mahler (1860-1911); the Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius (1883-1969); and the author Franz Werfel (1890-1945). That this extraordinarily talented and literate woman should be best remembered for the men she slept […]

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Music History Monday: Bohemian Rhapsody

It was on August 24, 1975 – 45 years ago today – that Queen began recording Bohemian Rhapsody at Rockfield Studio No. 1 in Monmouth, Wales. It would take a total of three weeks to record the song. We are told that Freddie Mercury had “mentally prepared the song beforehand” and thus he directed the sessions. We are also told that Mercury, along with fellow bandmembers Brian May and Roger Taylor, sang their vocal parts pretty much non-stop for “ten to twelve hours a day”, resulting, in the end, in 180-plus separate overdubs (to say nothing for sore throats and hoarse voices!).  I Confess I have been accused of being a critical Pollyanna, of heaping praise on every work and performance I write about; of employing such adjectives as “brilliant”, and “amazing”, and “outstanding”, and “singular”, and “awesome”, and “astonishing”, and “extraordinary” to a frankly tiresome degree. To such accusations I stand guilty as charged. Here’s the thing (or “things”, as the case may be). First, my formal training is in music composition, not musicology. I am not, nor have I ever claimed to be, a “musicologist” (though I am occasionally billed as such by good people who do not […]

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