Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

OraTV Episodes – Page 2

Scandalous Overtures: Beethoven’s Death Wish

The Fine Line Between Depression and Genius Where have we heard this before? A beloved, supremely gifted performing artist appears to be at the top of his game and on top of the world. However, unbeknownst to all but a few friends and relatives, he harbors a great darkness within him, a despair that motivates and inspires his art. He is then diagnosed with a progressive and incurable disease, one that will eventually destroy his ability to perform. In his anguish, his mind turns to the most extreme option: suicide. It sounds awfully familiar in light of Robin Williams’ recent passing. But I am referring here to another performing artist, Ludwig (“my friends call me Louis”) van Beethoven. The parallels between Louis van Beethoven and Robin McLaurin Williams are striking, even extraordinary, although in the end the manner in which they dealt with their respective catastrophes were entirely different. Beethoven grew up hard and fast in the backwater German city of Bonn. His astonishing musical talent landed him in Vienna – the capital city of Euro-music – a few days shy of his 22nd birthday.He built his initial fame and fortune on his spectacular improvisations at the piano. Williams grew […]

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Scandalous Overtures: Mozart: How Did Mozart Really Die?

Conspiracy Theories Pssst! Did you know that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld knowingly allowed Mossad to blow up the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001? Did you know that the fluoridation of our water is a communist conspiracy meant to contaminate our precious bodily fluids? Are you aware that global warming is fake, the moon landing was staged, vaccinations cause autism, Paul McCartney is dead (that’s why he’s barefoot on the Abbey Road cover) and has been portrayed by a double since 1966? Are we all cognizant of the fact that — along with Queen Elizabeth II and most other world leaders — Obama is a shape-shifting space lizard, a blood-sucking repto-humanoid alien from the Alpha Dragonis star system?(Check out the oeuvre of journalist David Ickes, who has made a career writing and lecturing on just that topic.) Oh those whacky conspiracy theories and the Internet that proliferates them. And yet, so desperate are some people to perceive logical narrative in the chaos of everyday events, so desperate are some people to see government as representative of evil, so desperate are some people to have something or someone to blame for their own misfortunes that they […]

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Scandalous Overtures: Haydn: Haydn Go Seek

Why would anyone want to hack the head off of Joseph Haydn’s corpse, scoop out its eyes and brain, boil off its hair and skin, bleach the skull, and then mount it on a black velvet pillow? This strikes us as gross and more than a little weird, like preserving and mounting Kim Kardashian’s buttocks for permanent display at the Mutter Museum of human abnormalities in Philly. But happen it did; at least, the part about Haydn. Some context is called for. Souvenirs, keepsakes, and mementoes: we’ve all got them. Most of them sit quietly in drawers or closet shelves gathering dust, like the memories they presumably represent. The important ones, though, go on permanent display somewhere in our homes, there to become constant reminders of a person or an experience: a memory in concrete form. Among the many such objects in my home (I’m not a hoarder, but I am, admittedly, an accumulator who attaches great sentimental meaning to objects inanimate) is a hubcap from my first car, a 1957 Ford. When we scrapped “The Bomb” (as we called it) in 1972, it was nothing but a rust bucket held together with dental floss and chewing gum, a rolling […]

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Scandalous Overtures: Tchaikovsky: Fear And Loathing In St. Petersburg

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and William Bruce Jenner: really, can we imagine a more unlikely pair? Tchaikovsky was a nineteenth century Russian composer of exquisitely lyric music; a shy and sensitive man, fastidious in his habits and Victorian in his manners and bearing. Bruce Jenner is a dyslexic jock from Westchester County in New York. When his football career was cut short by a knee injury he went on to track and field and won a gold medal at the 1976 summer Olympics in Montreal. He has been squarely in the public eye since, as an athlete, actor, racecar driver, businessman and, since 2007, a reality TV star. Their differences aside, both Tchaikovsky and Jenner led secret lives of remarkable similarity. That Tchaikovsky’s secret killed him while Jenner’s has inspired fascination and no small degree of public support has much to tell us about the environments in which they lived. Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky was a deeply neurotic man. His neurosis sprang from a personality so over-sensitive that his governess called him a “porcelain child”; from his inferiority complex as a composer; and from his sexuality. Tchaikovsky was a died-in-the-wool homosexual living and working in one of the most homophobic cultures of […]

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