Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Liszt

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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Music History Monday: One Tough Lady

We mark the birth on December 24, 1837 – 181 years ago today – of Cosima Liszt von Bülow Wagner: the illegitimate daughter of Franz Liszt; the wife of the pianist and conductor Hans von Bülow; and then the mistress and wife of Richard Wagner. As Wagner’s wife, she became his protector and his muse. According to Ernest Newman, whose four-volume, 2429 page biography of Wagner remains an essential reference, Cosima was “the greatest figure that ever came within Wagner’s circle”.  As Wagner’s widow, she became the “keeper of the Wagnerian flame”; she rescued and made profitable Wagner’s Bayreuth Festival and protected Wagner’s artistic legacy with a ferocity ordinarily associated with wolverines and spotted hyenas. Cosima Liszt von Bülow Wagner remains a controversial figure. Her racism and anti-Semitism were even more virulent than Wagner’s, and by the time she died – in 1930 – the close association of Wagner, Hitler and the Nazis was becoming institutionalized. Writing in 1930, Cosima’s first biographer – Richard du Moulin Eckart – asserts that she was “the greatest woman of the century”. According to the critic and librettist Philip Hensher, writing in 2010: “Wagner was a genius, but also a fairly appalling human being. […]

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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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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Beethoven Symphonies Nos. 1 – 9, transcribed for piano by Franz Liszt

This is a long piece. Its length is a function of intersecting thematic lines: a number of topics we’ve been discussing on the site – tempo and metronome markings in general; tempo and metronome markings in Beethoven’s symphonies; the piano, pianists, and the virtuosity of Franz Liszt (in particular) – all intersect in this post. Let’s start with my recommendation and move on from there. Cyprien Katsaris (born 1951) performing Beethoven’s Symphonies, transcribed for piano by Franz Liszt. While I write these words I’m listening to Katsaris’ performance of the breakneck fourth movement of Mr. B’s Symphony No. 4, and I’m doing everything I can to focus on typing and not jump out of my skin! In Katsaris’ hands, the symphony is easily as exciting, visceral, and slam-dunk powerful as it is when performed John Eliot Gardiner and his Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantic. Katsaris’ performances of these transcriptions have to be heard to be believed. I do not kid; I do not exaggerate; and I would never waste your time or money: you must have this recording. Stop reading, go on Amazon (or wherever), order it, and then come back. I’ll wait. I’m going to make a statement, for some […]

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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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