Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Brahms and the Schumanns

Dr. Bob Prescribes: Johannes Brahms, Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor

Yesterday’s Music History Monday post marked the premiere of Johannes Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor. Nearly five years in the writing, the concerto received its premiere on January 22, 1859, in the German city of Hanover. Brahms himself was the soloist, supported by the Hanover Court Orchestra and conducted by Brahms’ great friend, the violinist Joseph Joachim. As we observed in yesterday’s post, Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 is bound up entirely with his reaction to his friend and mentor Robert Schumann’s suicide attempt; his feelings towards Robert and his wife, the pianist Clara Wieck Schumann; the years he spent with Clara and her children as both a surrogate husband and father during Robert’s institutionalization; Robert’s death; and Brahms’ decision that he could not marry Clara after Robert’s death. No wonder Brahms was consumed by the piece: it was a virtual diary of his feelings, experiences, and musical growth from the time he met the Schumanns in 1853 to the time he left Clara and returned to his hometown of Hamburg in 1856. As such, the concerto took on a terribly outsized degree of importance to Brahms. The consequences of this emotional investment in the concerto were, […]

Continue Reading

Music History Monday: Battered but Unbroken

With our heads bowed and our hands on our hearts, we mark the death – 123 years ago today – of the pianist and composer Clara Wieck Schumann, who died of a stroke at the age of 76 on May 20, 1896. She was among the most outstanding pianists of her time, a child prodigy whose performances were described with awe by her contemporaries. She was a composer of outstanding promise, who – for reasons having to do with the world in which she lived and her own self-doubts – never had the opportunity to fulfill that promise. She was the compositional muse for her fiancé and husband, the great Robert Schumann, and the spiritual muse of her best friend, the even greater Johannes Brahms. And she was a survivor: someone whose life reads like some endlessly tragic Victorian novel, only without the “happy ending” tacked on at the end. Honestly: whenever any of us get into one of those self-pitying funks (of which I am an especial virtuoso), during which we stand convinced that our personal lives represent the very nadir of human existence, I would recommend that we think of Ms. Wieck-Schumann and her life as an example […]

Continue Reading