Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for George Rochberg

Dr. Bob Prescribes: George Rochberg, String Quartet No. 3

George Rochberg, the subject of yesterday’s Music History Monday post, is most famous for his string quartets, seven in number. We turn to his String Quartet No. 3 of 1972, a work Rochberg explains: “is the first major work to emerge from what I have come to think of as ‘the time of turning’”. As discussed in yesterday’s Music History Monday post, in 1961, Rochberg and his family suffered a terrible tragedy: his 17-year-old son Paul was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Paul Rochberg died three years later, in 1964. To his shock and horror, a grieving George Rochberg discovered that the musical language of modernism – his musical language – was completely inadequate to the expressive task of allowing him to say what he needed to say. Rochberg confesses: “By the beginning of the 1960s, I had become completely dissatisfied with [serialism’s] inherently narrow terms. The over-intense [expressive] manner of serialism and its tendency to inhibit physical pulse and rhythm led me to question a style which made it virtually impossible to express serenity, tranquility, grace, wit, energy. It became necessary to move on.” Finally, in 1972, the “new” George Rochberg emerged from the compositional closet. His “coming out […]

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Music History Monday: George Rochberg and the Great Dilemma

We mark the birth on July 5, 1918 – 103 years ago today – of the American composer George Rochberg (pronounced ROCK-berg). He died at the age of 86 on May 29, 2005. Rochberg was of that generation of composers who, having served in the military during World War Two, found himself a radically changed person and artist by the war’s end in 1945. Like other composers of his generation – Milton Babbitt, Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Iannis Xenakis, and György Ligeti – to name but a few – Rochberg’s aesthetic and world view were altered forever. Like the composers named above, he sought a modernist musical language relevant to what appeared to be an entirely new world. We’ll talk about the nature of much post-war modernism in just a bit; suffice it for now that it is music of daunting compositional complexity and sadly, far more often than not, unremitting ugliness. But then personal tragedy forced Rochberg to re-examine the roots and premises of his musical modernism. In 1972, with the composition of his String Quartet No. 3, Rochberg, musically reborn, re-emerged as a composer of a different sort of music with an entirely new aesthetic behind it. George […]

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