Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Dmitri Shostakovich

Music History Monday: The Show Will Go On!

On December 18, 1962 – 55 years ago today – Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13 received its premiere in Moscow. It was a premiere that almost didn’t take place, one that did indeed take place even though officially it did not really take place! Here’s what happened Joseph Stalin – the “great leader and teacher” and butcher par excellence – died in March of 1953. He was succeeded as “First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union” by Nikita Khrushchev. In 1956, Khrushchev denounced Stalin as being “savage, half-mad and power-crazed” in his famous “secret speech”. Delivered to the 20th Party Congress in February of 1956, the speech was, in fact, anything but secret. Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin initiated a period called the “Thaw”, during which domestic repression and censorship in the Soviet bloc were scaled back significantly, until Khrushchev’s ouster in 1964. The Thaw reached its climax in 1962 with the publication of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and the premiere of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13. Never mind that the Soviet authorities did everything they could to undermine the Symphony’s premiere, and that it was banned outright […]

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Music History Monday: Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich

Last week’s “Music History Monday” was about the premiere of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13 on December 18, 1962 and the official Soviet silence that greeted that premiere on December 19, 1962. We’re going to stay with Shostakovich this week because on January 21, 2017 the Alexander String Quartet and I are going to begin a two-season, nine-concert perusal of the string quartets and chamber music of Dmitri Shostakovich in San Francisco’s Herbst Theatre. Along with Shostakovich’s 15 string quartets, we will examine and perform as well Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in G Minor, Op. 57 (1940), Piano Trio in E Minor, Op. 67 (1944), and his Viola Sonata Op. 147 (1975). The lessons to be learned from Shostakovich’s life, his times, and his music are as real and relevant today as they were when Shostakovich was alive. Russian repression and adventurism are alive and well today in the kleptocracy of Tsar Vladimir the First as they were under the Soviets. “Mistakes that were made” are once again being made, and Shostakovich’s life and music offer a degree of insight into these current events that few other things can. Art and politics can be problematic bedfellows, but they are an indivisible […]

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Great Masters: Shostakovich — His Life and Music: Let the Controversy Begin

I am often asked which of the 30 some-odd courses I’ve created for the Teaching Company/Great Courses is my personal favorite. My typical response is to name my most recent course, which presumes that it represents my best, most recent work. But in truth, it is an impossible question to answer for a number of reasons. I’ve been writing and recording these courses for over twenty years; they are my babies, and no matter how rotten, awful and delinquent they may be, they are mine and I love them. Each course represents a different time of my life and reflects what I knew and felt at that time (in this way, my courses are no different from my musical compositions). Each course represents the best of what I was when I made it. As such, it’s impossible for me to play favorites. However, if I was asked for which of my courses did I fight hardest to make, and which one tells the single most compelling, amazing, and heart-breaking story, the answers are easy: my Great Masters biography of Dmitri Shostakovich. In the earliest days of the Teaching Company I was given carte blanche to write and record pretty much […]

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Marking the passing of Shostakovich

August 9 marks the 38th anniversary of the death of Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich. Never a particularly healthy man, what got Shostakovich in the end was lung cancer, the result of a lifetime of chain-smoking those foulest-of-foul “papirosi”: cardboard-tipped Soviet cigarettes. Please a moment of silence (and, if you’re a smoker, perhaps a tobacco-free day) for this superb composer. Art, politics, and current events make problematic bedfellows, but they are a ménage à trois we cannot avoid when talking about Dmitri Shostakovich and his music. Shostakovich was born on September 25, 1906 in St. Petersburg, and died in Moscow on August 9, 1975, a few weeks shy of his 69th birthday. Shostakovich’s compositional career corresponded exactly with the history of the Soviet Union from 1917-1975. He began attending the St. Petersburg (Petrograd) Conservatory at the very end of the Tsarist era; he graduated and began his career during Lenin’s rule (the early 1920’s); he knew Stalin and was nearly purged twice, in 1936 and 1948; he survived the siege of Leningrad, argued with Khrushchev, and died while Brezhnev was in power. Shostakovich survived because he was considered by the powers that were a Yurodivy, a village idiot, a holy fool who […]

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