Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Ludwig van Beethoven

Music History Monday: Ludwig van Beethoven and the Legacy of Johann Sebastian Bach

We mark the birth on March 21, 1685, of Johann Sebastian Bach in the Thuringian town of Eisenach, in what today is central Germany.  He died 65 years later, on July 28, 1750, in the Saxon city of Leipzig. I can hear the howling now, “Dr. B, hello, Bach was born on March 31, 1685, not March 21; March 31: it says so on Wikipedia!” Chill out and unknot those jockeys; let’s talk.   Wikipedia and various other sources do indeed indicate, not incorrectly, that Bach was born on March 31.  But according to the irrefutable and unassailable Bach scholar Christoff Wolff writing in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Sebastian Bach was born on March 21.  And in fact Bach celebrated his birthday on March 21.  So what gives? A Brief Contemplation of Dates (by which we do not refer to one’s social life but the calendar) Old style and new style; in style and out-of-style.  It is a question of almost Talmudic complexity.   We’re talking about calendars and the confusion wrought by changing calendars. In 46 BCE (two years before his conversion into a human pincushion), Julius Caesar proposed replacing what was the 10-month Roman […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes – Beethoven: Arrangements of Irish, Scottish, and Welsh Songs

We return to the birthday boy, Ludwig/Louis/Luigi van Beethoven, who turns 250 years-young this very year of 2020. As promised/threatened back in mid-2019, every month or two through 2020 I will dedicate a Dr. Bob Prescribes post to one or another of Beethoven’s lesser-known works or lesser-known recordings. On July 23, 2019 it was Beethoven’s Mass in C; on August 27, 2019 it was Beethoven’s Piano Quartet No. 3 in C Major, WoO 36 (a work composed when he was 14); on October 15, it was Emil Gilels’ superb recording of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4. Dr. Bob Prescribes for December 31 was a lengthy post on Beethoven’s songs, which are entirely under-appreciated and underperformed. Just so, today’s post will be the second of a projected three dealing with Beethoven’s songs; that third post, which will appear most definitely whenever (vague enough for you?) will focus on Beethoven’s vocal masterwork, Liederkreis an die ferne Geliebte (“Song-circle To the Distant Beloved”), Op. 98 of 1816. For today we turn to a body of Beethoven’s work – a very large body of Beethoven’s work – that remains almost unknown: his folk song arrangements. Between 1809 and 1818 Beethoven arranged 179 Scottish, Irish, […]

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Scandalous Overtures: Beethoven’s Death Wish

The Fine Line Between Depression and Genius Where have we heard this before? A beloved, supremely gifted performing artist appears to be at the top of his game and on top of the world. However, unbeknownst to all but a few friends and relatives, he harbors a great darkness within him, a despair that motivates and inspires his art. He is then diagnosed with a progressive and incurable disease, one that will eventually destroy his ability to perform. In his anguish, his mind turns to the most extreme option: suicide. It sounds awfully familiar in light of Robin Williams’ recent passing. But I am referring here to another performing artist, Ludwig (“my friends call me Louis”) van Beethoven. The parallels between Louis van Beethoven and Robin McLaurin Williams are striking, even extraordinary, although in the end the manner in which they dealt with their respective catastrophes were entirely different. Beethoven grew up hard and fast in the backwater German city of Bonn. His astonishing musical talent landed him in Vienna – the capital city of Euro-music – a few days shy of his 22nd birthday.He built his initial fame and fortune on his spectacular improvisations at the piano. Williams grew […]

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