Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Brahms – Page 2

Music History Monday: A Very Tough Crowd

156 years ago today – on March 13, 1861 – Richard Wagner’s opera Tannhäuser was first performed in Paris at the Théâtre Imperial de l’Opéra. The Paris production of Tannhäuser remains one of the greatest operatic flops of all time: a scheduled ten-performance run that was reduced to three disastrous performances before the opera was withdrawn. Aside from its fabulous gossip value, it’s a story that must be told because it is this Paris version of Tannhäuser that continues to be the version performed today. Richard Wagner had a checkered history with Paris and the Parisians. He lived there in terrible poverty between 1839 and 1842. He returned there in 1859 under very different circumstances: he was no longer an unknown and had, for the time being, some real money in his pocket. While in Paris this second time around, Wagner made friends in very high places, including Princess Pauline Metternich, the daughter-in-law of the former Austrian Chancellor Prince Clemens Wenzel von Metternich. It was thanks to the intervention of the Princess that in March of 1860 the French Emperor, Louis-Napoleon, commanded a performance of Tannhäuser at the Paris Opera. Tannhäuser was not a new work. It had been premiered […]

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Scandalous Overtures — Brahms: The King of Practical Jokes

According to my Oxford English Dictionary, a practical joke is “a trick played on someone in order to make them look foolish and amuse others.” As definitions go that one is DEAD ON. Unlike a verbal joke, which features a storyteller and a presumably amused listener, a practical joke requires a victim: a patsy, a fall guy (or gal) whose victimization (and potential humiliation) becomes the source of amusement for the perpetrator and whomever else is looking on. Some practical jokes can be funny; for example, the ones on the old Candid Camera TV show. Still, I suspect that many of the show’s victims were not particularly amused at all, and only acted like good sports because they saw the camera at the conclusion of their ordeals. Generally speaking, I have found that people do not like to be publicly duped, embarrassed, and held up to ridicule. The advent of YouTube has turned everyone and her sister-in-law into an Allen Funt (the host of Candid Camera). We can watch folks become the butt of someone else’s pranks all day, along with that offshoot of the practical joke, the video “fail”. It makes us wonder: What sort of people perpetrate practical […]

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Scandalous Overtures — Johannes Brahms & Clara Schumann: Did They Or Didn’t They?

There is a cadre of power-elite, formerly-married women in the entertainment biz today who have a reputation for dating significantly younger men, among them Jennifer Lopez, Susan Sarandon, Sharon Stone, Madonna, Demi Moore, and Cher. And who can blame them? My only problem with this is that none of them ever dated me when I was a lad! Oh, to have been the arm candy of a beautiful, successful, and experienced woman. It would have been, I think, a little slice of heaven. Of all the composers I can think of, the only one who has lived that heaven was Johannes Brahms (1833-1897). The familiar image of Johannes Brahms is that of a portly, late middle-aged man with a big beard and an omnipresent cigar; an image that exudes a bourgeois, professorial machismo. But for most of his life, Brahms did not physically look like the Brahms we are familiar with today. The paunch didn’t start to appear until his late thirties. And the beard?Brahms was what we might call a “late shaver” — his whiskers didn’t even start to grow in until his early forties, and he didn’t grow the beard until his mid-forties. Johannes Brahms at twenty looked […]

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Reporting from Vienna — The Haydn House

For my two Euros, the best monument to a composer in Vienna is – by far – the house in which Joseph Haydn lived during the last twelve years of his life, from 1797 to 1809. Here’s the story: Between 1791 and 1795, Joseph Haydn twice visited England. The first of Haydn’s most excellent English adventures took place between January of 1791 and June of 1792, and the second one between January of 1794 and August of 1795. These trips cemented Haydn’s reputation as the world’s most famous and popular living composer and made him – as composers go – a rich man. It was thanks to the money Haydn earned during his first English adventure that he was able to do something that neither Antonio Vivaldi (who died in Vienna in 1741) nor Wolfgang Mozart (who died in Vienna in 1791), nor Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, nor Mahler (who died in Vienna in, respectively, 1827, 1828, 1897, and 1911) ever managed to do: Haydn bought his very own house in Vienna. It was a one-story house on Kleine Steingasse in the Viennese suburb of Obere Windmūhl. It had been spotted by Haydn’s wife Maria Anna while he was away in […]

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