Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Johannes Brahms

Music History Monday: A Difficult Life

Before we get to the principal topic of today’s post, we must note an operatic disaster that had nothing to do with singers or the opera being performed on stage.  Rather, it was a disaster that inspired Gaston Leroux to write the novel The Phantom of the Opera, which was published in 1909. On May 20, 1896 – 128 years ago today – a counterweight helping to hold up the six-ton chandelier at Charles Garnier’s Paris Opera House fell into the audience during a performance of Étienne-Joseph Floquet’s opera Hellé (composed in 1779).  We don’t know how the opera performance was going, but the counterweight was a big hit: one woman in the audience was killed and a number of other audience members were badly injured. The disaster was covered by a reporter for the Parisian daily Le Matin named Gaston Leroux (1868-1927).  The accident – to say nothing for the Paris Opera House itself and the lake beneath it – made quite an impression on Monsieur Leroux. About that underground “lake.” Writing in The New York Times on January 24, 2023, Sam Lubell tells us that: “When digging the foundations [for the Paris Opera House], workers hit a hidden arm of the Seine, […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Johannes Brahms: A German Requiem

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) was born and raised in the cold, dank, north German city of Hamburg. (As an adult, he habitually vacationed in the warmer climes of Italy; it would seem that it took him half a lifetime to warm his frozen bones!) Physically, Brahms matured very slowly. By the age of 20 – fully grown – he was short, blonde, blue-eyed dude, almost girlish in his physical beauty, with a high, piping voice. This description might work for a 12-year-old guy, but not one that’s 20. In fact, the year Brahms turned 20, his friend Hedwig Salomon wrote in her diary: “Brahms has a thin, boyish little voice that has not yet changed, and a child’s countenance that any girl might kiss without blushing.” Brahms’ frequent (and eventually exclusive) indulgence in prostitutes dates from this time of his life, his early 20’s. Writing in 1933, Brahms’ biographer Robert Schauffler (The Unknown Brahms, Crown Pub.) delicately observed: “Thus handicapped, he naturally found trouble in getting respectable girls to take his young virility seriously; whereas the daughters of joy, besides possessing a deep knowledge of masculine psychology and being blasé to sex appeal, would take any man as seriously as they […]

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Music History Monday: A Mama’s Boy, and Proud of It!

We mark the premiere on April 10, 1868 – 155 years ago today – of Johannes Brahms’ magnificent A German Requiem, for vocal soloists, chorus, and orchestra. Johannes Brahms, Again? I know I’ve been going heavy on Brahms (1833-1897) as of late. I would apologize if he wasn’t so fascinating a person and if his music wasn’t so darned good, but he was a fascinating person and his music is superb, so our continued attention is well deserved. It’s not as if we didn’t have other topical options for this date. For example, on this date in 1970 – 53 years ago today – Paul McCartney “officially” announced the split-up of The Beatles. Okay; whatever; if there’s one topic that’s gotten more play here in Music History Monday than Bach, Brahms and Beethoven combined, it’s the fourth “B”: The Beatles. The breakup of The Beatles? Sorry, but yawn. The “Wilhelm Scream” Then there’s this. April 10, 1921, marks the birth – 102 years ago today – of the American singer, songwriter, actor, and comedian Shelby Frederick “Sheb” Wooley, in Erick Oklahoma (he died in Nashville, Tennessee on September 16, 2003, at the age of 82). For the vast majority of […]

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Music History Monday: The Death of Johannes Brahms

We mark the death on April 3, 1897 – 126 years ago today – of the German composer and pianist Johannes Brahms at the age of 63.  One of the great ones and along with Sebastian Bach and Louis van Beethoven one of the three bees – the killer bees – Brahms was born in the Hanseatic port city of Hamburg on May 7, 1833. We will get to Maestro Brahms in just a moment but first – with appropriate fanfare – I offer up this edition of “This Day in Music History Stupid.” Ashes to Ashes; Dust to Dust; Be Kind to My Ashes, Though Snort if You Must On April 3, 2007 – 16 years ago today – the Reuters news agency reported that Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards (born December 18, 1943) admitted in a soon-to-be published interview with NME (New Musical Express) magazine that he had snorted his father’s ashes during a drug binge.  I think we’ve all wondered the same thing at some point or another: given his personal habits and corpse-like appearance, how and why is Keith Richards still alive, yet still performing at nearly 80 years of age? Richards would seem to be […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes ‘Die Fledermaus’

Yesterday’s Music History Monday marked the occasion, on January 20, 1982, when Ozzy Osborne bit the head off of a dead and decaying bat during a performance at the Des Moines Veterans Memorial Auditorium. To his credit, Osbourne thought that the bat-like other such rodents and reptiles tossed on stage during his performances – was a toy. However, this fact should not absolve him of being a disgusting, drug-and-alcohol addled, pee-in-your-beer-mug (a favorite game of his) slime bucket; on other occasions Osbourne was known to have purposely consumed living creatures. For example, in 1981, smashed off his gourd during a meeting with record company executives in Los Angeles, he bit the heads off of two live doves to show his displeasure with the progress of the negotiations. In 1984, on tour with the heavy metal and umlaut-abusing band Mötley Crüe, Osbourne participated in gross-out competitions with the bass guitarist Nikki Sixx. It was during such a contest that Osbourne snorted a line of ants from the pavement and then allowed them to crawl out of his mouth. That’s a winner. But back to the bat. I’d suggest that we do not perceive them as the sweet, furry, adorable, pug-nosed creature […]

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Music History Monday: All Too Soon: The Death of Mendelssohn

On November 4, 1847 – 172 years ago today – Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn died in the Saxon/German city of Leipzig. He died all too soon; at the time of his death Mendelssohn was just 38 years old.

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Johannes Brahms, Horn Trio in E-Flat Major, Op. 40 (1865)

When the Hamburg born-and-raised Johannes (“Hannes”) Brahms was around four years old, his father Johann Jakob Brahms decided it was high time the kid learned to play the three instruments that he himself played. Papa Brahms wanted his eldest son to follow him into the family trade and be, bless him, employable. Those three instruments were violin, cello, and the valveless, “natural” horn. The young Brahms gained a degree of competence in all three instruments, in particular the cello. However, to his father’s apparently endless annoyance, what the little fella really wanted – what he demanded! – was to learn how to play the piano. We can well imagine the conversations between father and son, played out over several years: “Daaaaad! I wanna play the piano.” “Hannes, dude, how many pianos are there in the Hamburg Philharmonic?” “Uh . . . zero?” “How many pianos in a dance band?” “Maybe . . . um . . . one?” “You got it. Violinists? There’s always work. Cellists? Ditto. Horn players? There are never enough decent horn players: horn players gig. Piano players? A dime-a-dozen and there’s no work. Besides, we don’t even own a piano and we don’t have the ducats […]

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Music History Monday: Spreading the Love

October 2 was a most interesting day in music history. Rather than choose just one person or event for discussion, we’re going to spread the love today and observe three people and one event for whom/which October 2 was a signal date. Max Bruch and One Hit Wonders On October 2, 1920, 97 years ago today, the 82 year-old composer Max Bruch died in Berlin. A highly respected composer in nineteenth century Germany, the list of Bruch’s compositions is a moderately long one, and includes, among other works, four operas, three symphonies, three suites for orchestra, five concerti, four string quartets, two string quintets, twenty large works for chorus, and nearly 100 songs. Alas. Of Bruch’s fame in his lifetime almost none remains. And of all those many works, the only one that is still performed with any regularity is his Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 26, which was completed and premiered in 1866. (The Bruch fans among us – what that they are – might insist on adding to the list of still-performed works Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra and the Kol Nidre, Op. 47. But that’s reaching, and in this case I am […]

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