Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Franz Liszt

Dr. Bob Prescribes Franz Liszt: ‘Transcendental Etudes’

I spent the first few months of this year composing a set of six etudes for piano (posted on Patreon on April 2 and 9). As per my usual MO, I spent a couple of days prior to starting work listening to and/or reading through a batch of etudes by the usual suspects – Chopin, Liszt (I was once given a small, rectangular pad of paper labeled “Chopin Liszt” – “shopping list”), Rachmaninoff, Debussy, and Ligeti – in order to get my head and my ears in the right place. Again, typical of my compositional process, once I started writing I put such listening aside. At that point, it could only get in my way and remind me of how utterly inadequate I am when compared to the heavyweights named above. “Etude” means “study”. A musical “etude” is a technical study, a work that isolates and emphasizes some particular aspect (or aspects) of technique. Etudes have and will continue to be composed for every instrument for pedagogic purposes. With all due respect to Beethoven’s student and friend (and the teacher of Liszt) Carl Czerny (1791-1857), who wrote virtually thousands of piano etudes (his last published work, Opus 861, is titled […]

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Music History Monday: The Little Pagan

We mark the death of the violinistic wizard, composer, and showman extraordinaire Niccolò Paganini, who died 179 years ago today in the Mediterranean resort city of Nice on May 27, 1840. Marfan Syndrome (or “MFS”) is a genetic disorder of the connective tissue. The syndrome is named after the French pediatrician Antoine Marfan, who first identified it in 1891. For those – like me – who must know, the gene linked to the condition was identified in 1991 by Francesco Ramirez at New York City’s Mount Sinai Medical Center. Folks with Marfan Syndrome are characteristically tall and slim; with long arms, legs, fingers and toes. Their joints are typically flexible; sometime crazy flexible, the sort of crazy flexible that makes the rest of us squirm with discomfort when we see such a person casually twist him or herself up like a human pretzel. Marfan Syndrome can affect the heart as well, and thus the American Heart Association, ever the Helpy Helperton, has made recommendations regarding the sorts of activities folks with Marfan can and should not engage in.  The American Heart Association lists as “high risk” activities for Marfan sufferers bodybuilding, weightlifting (non-free and free weights), ice hockey, rock climbing, […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: A Franz Liszt Trilogy

But first, we have a cat named Teddy. Ted is a rescue cat. He spent the first years of his life roaming the mean streets of Fresno, California. We got him (or more appropriately, he got us) in February of 2009, almost ten years ago. Based on the wear on his pads, the vet figured he was two or three years old at the time of adoption, making him 12 or 13 years old now. While he won’t chase the red dot from a laser pointer the way he used to, he’s hardly lost a step and, as the recent photo above attests, he still looks mahvelous. The Tedster is a Maine Coon: a landrace (or “natural breed”) native to the state of Maine. (A landrace is a type plant or breed of animal that over time naturally adapts to its environment. In the case of the Maine Coon that environment is a cold, snowy, and icy one, necessitating long, thick hair; big feet; and a huge, bottlebrush-like tail.) He is extraordinarily friendly to everyone – family, friends, and strangers – without being needy or clingy. In the presence of other cats and the occasional dog (visitors to our house), […]

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Music History Monday: The First Rock Star

Party hats and noisemakers at the ready, today we celebrate the birth of Ferencz (that’s Hungarian; Franz in German) Liszt. (Woohoo! Let’s make some noise!) He was born on October 22, 1811 – 207 years ago today – in the market town of Doborján in the Kingdom of Hungary. (Today the town is known as Raiding and it is located in Austria.) Here’s something we read/hear with tiresome frequency: “Like, yah, Mozart was the first ROCK STAR!” No, he wasn’t. He was an intense, brilliantly schooled composer whose music was increasingly perceived by his Viennese audience as being too long and complex. Okay; how about: “Beethoven was the first ROCK STAR!” Oh please. One more try. “Liszt was the first ROCK STAR!” That he was. (Or perhaps the second, if we choose to consider Liszt’s inspiration, the violinist Niccolò Paganini to be the first true “rock star.”) But: Paganini or no, in terms of Liszt’s looks and his fame, the tens-of-thousands of miles he travelled on tour and the thousands of concerts he gave; in terms of the utterly whacked-out degree of adulation he received, the crazed atmosphere of his concerts, and the number of ladies (and perhaps men as […]

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Music History Monday: Justice Denied

October 23 is one of those dates on which virtually nothing of interest has (yet) happened in the world of music. On such days, I typically turn to the day before or the after for my “Music History Monday” topic; and indeed, both October 22nd and 24th are rich in events about which I could write. I would quickly mention two of those events with the understanding that I’m going to dedicate the bulk of this post to the dastardly demise of a long-forgotten composer. But first Music of the Twentieth Century Mozart In Vienna October 22 marked the 206th anniversary of the birth of the Hungarian composer, pianist, conductor, teacher, arranger, organist, philanthropist, author, Franciscan tertiary and showman/shaman/charlatan supreme Ferencz (Franz) Liszt. As that as that liszt (sorry) of accomplishments indicates, Liszt lived about 46 (give-or-take) different lives in his not-quite 75 years. His principal life was that of a pianist; he was the greatest pianist of his time and very possibly the greatest who has yet to live. As a composer he must be credited – along with Frédéric Chopin – with creating the defining software for the brand new hardware that was the metal harped piano which […]

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Music History Monday: Our Kind of Musician

Today we recognize and celebrate the birth, 207 years ago today, of someone who can rightfully be called “a musician’s musician”: the violinist, composer and teacher Ferdinand David. We will get to the specifics of Maestro David’s life and career in a moment. With your indulgence, a brief bit of editorializing. Marlon Brando (1924-2004). Yes, Marlon Brando: actor, director, activist, and father of at least 16 children (at least 16 children). A movie with Marlon Brando wasn’t a movie in which Marlon Brando played a role so much as a movie in which Marlon Brando played Marlon Brando playing a role. Accordingly, I would suggest that in The Godfather, Marlon Brando portrayed Marlon Brando playing Vito Corleone; in Apocalypse Now, Marlon Brando portrayed Marlon Brando playing Colonel Walter Kurtz. Brando was so brilliant, his persona so pronounced, his affectations so uniquely individual, that his personal brand always seemed to overshadow the characters he played. So it is with certain musicians as well. The pianist Yuja Wang, for example. She is brilliant, but so are lots of other elite pianists. Ah, but those other pianists don’t come out on stage like Ms. Wang wearing micro-micro-miniskirts and 6-inch stiletto heels. Then there’s […]

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Music History Mondays: Good Advice

159 years ago today, on November 7, 1857, Franz Liszt’s Dante Symphony for orchestra and female choir received its premiere at the Royal Theater in the Saxon capital of Dresden. The 46 year-old Liszt was, at the time, the most famous and beloved performing musician in all of Europe, and nowhere was he more popular than in Dresden, where he was considered something of a second son by the locals. Alas, Liszt’s popularity in Dresden did him no good; the premiere performance of his Dante Symphony was a fiasco and Liszt was all but hissed off the stage. The disaster was attributable to one thing: Liszt’s failure to take his own advice. Advice. Along with talking politics, religion, and dangling our feet in piranha-infested rivers, few things are more fraught with danger than giving (or receiving) advice. Yes: on occasion, we will solicit advice, and sometimes we’ll even follow that advice (provided that it corresponds with what we were going to do in the first place). But as often as not we receive (or give) advice that was neither asked for (unsolicited advice) nor desired (well-intended advice), advice that can cause no end of bad feelings between advisor and advisee. […]

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