Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Music History Monday: A Day of First Performances!

We will observe the first performances that occurred on this date and contemplate, as well, the nature and reality of a “first performance” in a moment. But first.

I know; I know. We collectively wait, with breaths bated, for today’s “This Day in Musical Stupid.” Sadly, aside from this very post, I have not been able to dig up any particular date-related event that would so qualify. However, I did find a brief but compelling item that qualifies under the heading, “This Day in Musical ENVY”, the envy being my own. Here’s the item.

Elvis Presley and Natalie Wood
Elvis Presley (1935-1977) and Natalie Wood (1938-1981)

On November 15, 1956 – 65 years ago today – the 21-year-old Elvis Presley (1935-1977) celebrated his new-found success by buying himself a brand-new Harley Davidson motorcycle. He spent the remainder of the day tooling around Memphis on his new bike with a “friend” nestled on the seat behind him: the then 18-year-old actress, Natalie Wood (1938-1981).

Okay people: let’s put ourselves in Elvis Presley’s riding boots. Can we imagine being 21 years old, poised at the edge of phenomenal fame and fortune, buying a Harley and driving around town with Natalie Wood’s arms around you, her young, nubile body pressed up around your back? Think about it. “This Day in Envy” is right!

I will now attempt to lower my temperature.

First Performances

We contemplate the nature of a “premiere”: of a “first performance.”

(Having been witness to over 50 premieres of my own, to say nothing of those of my friends and colleagues, I feel this is a subject I can address with some degree of experience.)

Can you imagine?

I have never jumped from an airplane. I have never surfaced too rapidly from a deep dive. I have never been pregnant and thus have never experienced morning sickness. I have never seen Steve Bannon naked. Nevertheless, I have experienced the nausea and “the bends”-like pain unique to experiencing a premiere of my own work. (I have for decades espoused the placement of a barf-bag under the seat of any composer or playwright about to experience the special “joys” of a premiere performance.)

The older I get, the more I realize that I am no different, better, or worse than the vast majority of human beings going back as far as we please. With slight variations, I am convinced that we all feel the same (momentary) joy and (comparatively sustained) despair, grief, fleeting happiness, fear, giddiness, anxiety, paranoia, pride, embarrassment, anticipation and disappointment, love and dislike, self-love and self-loathing, etc., etc., blah and blah. If the human condition was a house, I would suggest it would be a broken down fixer-upper in need of lots of TLC. 

I’ve made these blanket statements about what I perceive to be our shared “condition” in order to support the following observation: I do not believe my physical and emotional reactions to a premiere are particularly different from anyone else’s.

So here’s my personal take on creation, rehearsals, and premieres as they are experienced by composers and playwrights.…

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