Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Beethoven – Page 2

Dr. Bob Prescribes: Beethoven: The Complete Piano Sonatas – Ronald Brautigam, fortepiano

I am presently looking for recipes for the best way to prepare crow. Sadly, there seem to be any: I’m told that crow meat smells bad and tastes worse (the things eat carrion, after all). Consequently, I fear that I’ll have to eat mine raw, crow tartare, as it were. (Does anyone out there want the eyes? The beak?) What, pray-tell, has forced me into such a wretched gastronomic situation? Alas, as is usually the case when one must eat crow, it is my own ignorance and hubris. To wit. For lo these many years, I have always looked down on the fortepiano: those early pianos distinguished by their wood-framed (as opposed to metal-framed) harps, built between 1700 and 1825. In my ignorance, I have long considered wooden-harped pianos to be transitional instruments, prototypes, transiting the temporal space between the invention of the piano by Bartolomeo Cristofiori to the Erards and Pleyels of the 1830s and finally to the Steinways of the 1860s (now THAT’S a piano!, or so I thought).  A couple of months ago, we engaged here on this site in what was a spirited and most constructive discourse on HIPs (historically informed performances, meaning “original instrument” recordings) […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Beethoven Symphonies Nos. 1 – 9, transcribed for piano by Franz Liszt

This is a long piece. Its length is a function of intersecting thematic lines: a number of topics we’ve been discussing on the site – tempo and metronome markings in general; tempo and metronome markings in Beethoven’s symphonies; the piano, pianists, and the virtuosity of Franz Liszt (in particular) – all intersect in this post. Let’s start with my recommendation and move on from there. Cyprien Katsaris (born 1951) performing Beethoven’s Symphonies, transcribed for piano by Franz Liszt. While I write these words I’m listening to Katsaris’ performance of the breakneck fourth movement of Mr. B’s Symphony No. 4, and I’m doing everything I can to focus on typing and not jump out of my skin! In Katsaris’ hands, the symphony is easily as exciting, visceral, and slam-dunk powerful as it is when performed John Eliot Gardiner and his Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantic. Katsaris’ performances of these transcriptions have to be heard to be believed. I do not kid; I do not exaggerate; and I would never waste your time or money: you must have this recording. Stop reading, go on Amazon (or wherever), order it, and then come back. I’ll wait. I’m going to make a statement, for some […]

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Exploring the Dissonant C-sharp in Beethoven’s “Eroica”

Patreon patron, Mr. Sullivan, recently asked the following question: “In several of your courses you have also referred to the C# in the Eroica as implying a modulation to G minor. I have never understood that statement. Would you be so kind as to enlighten me about that?” Mr. Sullivan refers to a (dissonant!) C-sharp that appears out of nowhere in measure 7 of the first movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3; a dissonance that is to have huge ramifications later in the movement. I have prepared a four-minute video explanation that I hope will do the trick. Watch it now on Patreon Courses on Sale

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Music History Monday: Feast or Famine

I have come to realize over the eighteen months I’ve been writing these Music History Mondays that a date-sensitive blog (like this one) is a metaphor for life itself. On some days you just can’t buy a break while on others there are so many different possibilities that choosing one becomes well nigh impossible, a case of feast or famine. For example. Last week – Monday, April 30th – it was famine. Bereft of a major (or even minor) musical event to write about, I unearthed the fact that on April 30th, 1977 the rock band Led Zeppelin set a new attendance record for a single-act, non-festival ticketed concert, when it played to an audience of 77,229 at the Pontiac (Michigan) Silverdome. This week, today – May 7th – it is feast. And not just any feast; no, today’s date in music history is a cornucopia of gustatory delight; a smörgåsbord the length and breadth of Stockholm; the Carnival World Buffet at Rio Casino in Las Vegas (reputed to be the largest daily pig-out in the world). Check it out: May 7, 1747: Johann Sebastian Bach met with King Frederick II (Frederick the Great) of Prussia in Potsdam. May 7, […]

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Music History Monday: First Firsts

On April 2, 1800 – 218 years ago today – Ludwig van Beethoven staged his first public concert, a so-called “Akademie” or “benefit concert”, in which the financial beneficiary was to be one Ludwig van Beethoven. Among the works on the program were the premiere performances of Beethoven’s Septet for Winds and Strings, Op. 20 and his Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Op. 21. Yes! By April, 1800 the 29 year-old Beethoven was prepared to go the distance, take the plunge, go mano-e-mano with the Viennese musical establishment taken as widely as we please: he was ready to stake his claim as a mature compositional artist and put forward his first symphony! Beethoven placed the following advertisement in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung (meaning, “General music newspaper”; the most important German-language music periodical of its time). As has been pointed out, the ad copy drops all the right names and italicizes the single most important name five times: Today, Wednesday, April 2, 1800, Herr Ludwig van Beethoven will have the honor to give a grand concert for his benefit in the Royal Imperial Court Theater beside the Burg. The pieces which will be performed are the following: A grand symphony […]

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Music History Monday: We Would Raise a Toast to Beethoven, But, Well, That Would Be Inappropriate

On March 26, 1827 – 191 years ago today – Ludwig van Beethoven died at the age of 56 years, 3 months, and 11 days in his third story apartment (what in Europe would have been called the second story) at Schwarzspanierstrasse 15, in a building called the Schwarzspanierhaus. (Schwarzspanierhaus means the “House of the Black-Robed Spaniards”, so-called because it had once been part of a monastery built by black-robed, Montserrat Benedictine monks from Spain. The order auctioned the building off in 1781, at which point it was turned into rental units. Painfully – and despite tremendous contemporary outcry – the building was demolished in the name of “progress” in 1904.) Even by the standards of his day, Beethoven cannot have been considered a particularly healthy man. Along with his chronic hearing disability (which resulted in clinical deafness after 22 years), Beethoven suffered from smallpox, rheumatism and rheumatic fever, typhus, colitis, all sorts of skin disorders and infections, abscesses, ophthalmia (eye inflammations, in particular conjunctivitis or “pink eye”), chronic bronchitis, inflammatory degeneration of his arteries, colic, irritable bowl, foul body odors and extreme halitosis: bad breath. At the end of his life, let us add to this woeful list hepatitis, pancreatitis, jaundice […]

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Music History Monday: Beethoven and Haydn

On Wednesday December 12, 1792, 224 years ago today, the nearly 22 year-old Ludwig van Beethoven jotted down an expenditure he had made that day: “Haidn [sic] 8 groschen.” Beethoven had just taken and paid for his first lesson with Joseph Haydn. The 8 groschen came to about 24 cents(!), typical of the token sums Haydn charged his non-aristocratic students. Haydn had met Beethoven and examined (and heard) his music some five months before – in July of 1792 – when he passed through Bonn on his way back to Vienna after a triumphant 18 months residency in London. Haydn was knocked out by what he saw and heard and arrangements were quickly made for Beethoven to travel to Vienna in order to study with Haydn at the city of Bonn’s expense. On November 2 or 3, 1792, Beethoven left Bonn for Vienna. The plan: Beethoven would study with Haydn for a year or two; get some high-end Viennese caché and then return to Bonn, there to serve – as did his father and grandfather – as a musical functionary of the Electoral Court. (In fact, Beethoven would never set foot in Bonn again.) Beethoven arrived in Vienna on or […]

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Music History Monday: Go Figure

On this day in 1928, Maurice Ravel’s one-movement orchestra work Boléro received its premiere at the Opera Comique in Paris with Ravel conducting. (Various sources variously describe the premiere as having taken place on November 20, November 21, and November 22! We are splitting the difference and going with the 21st.) Boléro was commissioned by the Russian ballerina Ida Rubinstein, whose choreography that opening night followed this scenario: “Inside a tavern in Spain, people dance beneath the brass lamp hung from the ceiling. In response to the cheers to join in, the female dancer has leapt onto the long table and her steps become more and more animated.” That’s not much of a scenario, and Ravel responded with not much of a musical composition. Boléro begins with a rhythm presented by a side or snare drum. (While it’s usually the other instrumental soloists who take the bows after a performance, it should be the hapless drummer who gets the huzzahs, for having to play the same freaking two-measure rhythm for 17 minutes!) Stacked atop the drum rhythm are two vaguely “Spanish” sounding melodies – each 18 measures long – that alternate with one another. And that’s it. Over time, more […]

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Murray Perahia — Beethoven: Piano Sonata in F Minor, Op. 57, “Appassionata”

Gratitude. It’s cliché but true – at least for me – that we/I should consider spending a bit more time contemplating those things that I am thankful for, those things that make life worth living. Heaven knows, we spend enough time hearing about, reading about, and thinking about those things that suck the lifeblood out of us. We can all fill in the blanks there, though I’d offer up a couple spirit-sappers that generally drive me to distraction: the extraordinary intolerance and lack of civility with which we as a species tend to treat each other and morons with guns (the latter often being a function of the former). It’s a good thing – given my personal proclivity to dwell on the darker side of human nature – that I’m a musician. Nothing restores my fragile faith in humanity and arouses my gratitude more effectively than listening to music beautifully performed. I am frequently asked an impossible question: “who’s your favorite composer?” Who could answer such a question? Certainly I can’t. I’ve said it before, and here I am, saying it again; I am a musical slut: I am in love with whomever I’m presently with. How can I possibly […]

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T-Shirt Comedy

I was all ready to post a longish blog this evening, describing my webcast plans and thanking all those whose comments and advice helped me to formulate those plans when, just moments ago, I received this link from Gethin Jones. It is a Beethoven tee-shirt, with – presumably – the first four measures of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony writ large across the bosom. Except. Except, instead of spelling out Beethoven’s iconic “fate motive” – G-G-G-Eb; F-F-F-D – the genius who designed the shirt instead spelled out “Three Blind Mice” (G-F-Eb). I am not usually a laugh out-loud sort of guy but this has really tickled my funny bone. It could very well be the biggest musical mistake since Pol Pot’s “Christmas Album”. Available in nine(!) different colors and six different sizes, I’m thinking that this is the “must have” of the year; the pet rock, the Chia Porcupine, the “Dog is My Co-Pilot” bumpersticker of 2015. If anyone wants to know, I wear between a large and an X-large.

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