Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Bartok

Dr. Bob Prescribes Béla Bartók: Concerto for Orchestra

Yesterday’s Music History Monday post marked the 77th anniversary of Bartók’s death in New York City, and the circumstances leading to what he himself called his “comfortable exile” in the United States between January 1940 and his death in September 1945. Among the works he composed while living in New York was his Concerto for Orchestra of 1943 which is, by any and every measure, among the very greatest orchestral works composed during the twentieth century. A monumental achievement in and of itself, the fact that the Concerto for Orchestra was written by a composer suffering from leukemia makes it something of a miracle as well. The story of its composition will be told soon enough. But first, indulge me some first-person reflection. Harlotry in Music Among my most frequently-asked-questions is: “who is your (my) favorite composer?” Who indeed! My typical response – flippant but true – is that I am a musical harlot, a strumpet, a slut: I love whomever/whatever I’m listening to at the moment. I mean, really: when listening to Sebastian Bach’s St. Matthew Passion or the Goldberg Variations, how in heaven’s name would it be possible not to convinced that the sun, moon, and stars revolve […]

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Music History Monday: Béla Bartók’s American Exile

We mark the death on September 26, 1945 – 77 years ago today – of the pianist, composer, and Hungarian patriot Béla Bartók. Born in what was then the Hungarian town of Nagyszentmiklós(now Sînnicolau Mare in Romania) on March 25, 1881, Bartók died – during what he called his “comfortable exile” – in New York City. Before moving on to Bartók’s “American Exile”, let’s establish –as we can from our vantage point in 2022 – his creds as a great and influential twentieth century composer! In 1961, 16 years after Bartók’s death, Pierre Boulez (1925-2016) – composer, conductor, and, in the words of his teacher Olivier Messiaen, the great insufferable one – wrote this about Bartók’s music: “The pieces most applauded are the least good; his best products are loved in their weaker aspects. His work triumphs now through its ambiguity. Ambiguity that will surely bring him insults during future evaluation. His work has not the profound unity and novelty of Webern’s or the vigorous controlled dynamism of Stravinsky’s. His language lacks interior coherence. His name will live on in the limited ensemble of his chamber music.”  Boulez was not just wrong; he was snotty wrong.  But the degree of […]

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Music History Monday: Émigrés

We mark the birth – on July 16, 1901, 117 years ago today – of the Austrian composer and conductor Fritz Mahler. While we might not recognize his first name, we surely recognize his surname, and Fritz’ father was indeed a cousin of the great composer and conductor Gustav Mahler. His present obscurity aside, Fritz Mahler was a well-known musician in his time. He studied composition with Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, and Anton Webern. He emigrated to America in 1936, where he taught at Juilliard and conducted the Erie Philharmonic and the Hartford Symphony. For us, for now, the key phrase is “he emigrated to America in 1936”: Fritz Mahler was one of the hundreds – the thousands – of artists, scientists, writers, and intellectuals who managed to escape Europe in the 1930s. And thereby hangs our tale. Catastrophe On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) was appointed Chancellor of Germany: head of the German government. Until April 30, 1945, when a palsied and defeated Hitler put his 7.656 mm Walther pistol against his right temple and scrambled his diseased brain, he presided over as malignant and criminal a regime as modern Europe has ever seen. Once in power, Hitler […]

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