Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for How to Listen to and Understand Opera

Dr. Bob Prescribes: Superbo di me stesso

I recorded my first course for The Teaching Company (now branded as “The Great Courses”) in May of 1993. That was the first edition of How to Listen to and Understand Great Music. To date, I’ve recorded 666 forty-five minute lectures for The Teaching Company/The Great Courses, and virtually every single one of them features any number of musical examples.  Licensing recordings for use in my courses has been – and continues to be – the single greatest (and most expensive!) headache in creating a courses. It’s a topic I’ve written about and whined about many times, and I’m not going to get into it at length here except to point out that for many years, the terms of our licensing agreements forbade me from identifying on camera the particular recordings I was using. (I know: this is totally counter-intuitive. You would think that the record companies would want me to identify recordings I was excerpting and by doing so drive sales of those recordings. But there you go: it’s just another instance of “go figure.”)  I bring all of this up because the vast majority of mail and emails I receive from my viewers and listeners include a request… 

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Music History Monday: A Decidedly Politically-Incorrect Rant

As events in music history go, July 9 is definitely on the lighter side. (Although, for me – personally – it is an important day, and I would use this opportunity to wish the happiest of birthdays to my beautiful daughter Rachel Amy, who was born in Berkeley, California 32 years ago today!) But back to musical business. We will indeed recognize the birth on July 9, 1879 – 139 years ago today – of the Italian composer, musicologist, and violinist Ottorino Respighi in Bologna, the city of lunch meat and red sauce fame. Respighi’s fame as a composer rests on four works: his three orchestral tone poems Fountains of Rome, Pines of Rome, and Roman Festivals; and the eighth of his nine operas, a work entitled La fiamma (meaning “The Flame”), which received its premiere on January 23, 1934 in Rome. Fancy that: an Italian composer writing opera! In fact, there’s nothing more natural in the world. Opera was invented in Italy for the same reason that surfing was invented in Hawaii: Hawaii is surrounded by warm ocean water and perfect waves and Italians are surround by the musical warmth and beauty of the Italian language: that seemingly perfect… 

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Music History Monday: Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Enlightened Opera

240 years ago today – on July 2, 1778 – the Swiss-born philosopher, novelist, educator, music theorist and critic, and composer Jean-Jacques Rousseau died at age 66 in the township of Ermenonville, roughly 25 miles north-east of Paris. Rousseau was one of the greatest and most significant thinkers ever born to our species. According to Will and Ariel Durant, writing in their book Rousseau and Revolution, Rousseau: “transformed education, elevated the morals of France[!], inspired the Romantic movement and the French Revolution, influenced the philosophy of Kant and Schopenhauer, the plays of Schiller, the novels of Goethe, the poems of Wordsworth, Byron, and Shelley, the socialism of Marx, the ethics of Tolstoy, and, altogether, had more effect upon posterity than any other writer or thinker of that eighteenth century in which writers were more influential than they had ever been before.” Rousseau also helped to redefine the role and substance of opera at a time when opera – like movies and television today – was not just a form of entertainment but both a reflection and a driver of the political and social values of its time. A little background Opera was invented in Florence Italy around 1600 as a… 

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Ordering The Great Courses Surveys

I receive all sorts of (usually lovely) mail and email from all sorts of folks asking all sorts of questions, mostly about music but not infrequently about other things as well. You will – I’m sure – be relieved to hear that for now I will focus on the former, reserving my advice on dating, brands of gin, and whether the martini should be shaken or stirred for another time. For now, it’s on to one of my most frequently-asked-questions, and that is: if my Great Courses surveys were a curricula, in what order would I suggest they be consumed? It’s a good question (at least I think so). Courses numbers one, two and three as identified below might be considered the basic prerequisites to the remainder of my catalog. Course number one: “How to Listen to and Understand Great Music”, 3rd edition (2006). I know, this is pretty much a no-brainer; it’s The Great Courses’ equivalent to Music 101, “tunes for goons”. Please, please, please, the 3rd edition only. The second edition (from 1998) is flawed, and the first edition (1993) was made during the Stone Age. Course numbers two and three: “How to Listen to and Understand Opera”… 

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