Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Mendelssohn

Music History Monday: The “Revival” Begins

On March 11, 1829 – 190 years ago today – the 20-year-old Felix Mendelssohn conducted a heavily edited version of Johann Sebastian Bach’s sacred oratorio St. Matthew’s Passion at the Singakademie in Berlin. Composed in 1727, 102 years before that sold-out performance in Berlin, Mendelssohn’s performance of the passion was the first to take place outside of Leipzig, and it caused a sensation. It single-handedly initiated what is now known as the “Bach Revival”, which brought the music of Johann Sebastian Bach – in particular his large-scale works – to the attention of a broad-based listening public for the very first time. At the time of Mendelssohn’s performance, the great man himself had been dead for nearly 79 years. Bach’s Death Sebastian Bach (as his contemporaries knew him) was built like a bull and had the constitution of one as well. At no point in his life had he suffered a serious illness until the late spring of 1749, when at 64 his body began to give out: among other things, he suffered from neuropathy (numbness and pain in his hands and feet, the result of damage to the peripheral nerves of same) and eye pain and vision problems (likely… 

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Further adventures in Paradise

Last week I wrote about the Apollo Academy, a wonderful four-day retreat at a facility called “Ratna Ling” located in the coastal mountains of Northern California’s Sonoma County. The Academy – the brainchild of a surgeon and cellist named Bill Moores – focuses on “mind/body synchronization that enhances mental and physical health. Optional sessions include immersion in the natural environment, poetry-writing, yoga, and the role of seasonal foods.” Yes, lovely and all very well-and-good, though the heart and soul of the Academy is chamber music. Open to performers and non-musician auditors alike, this year’s program was entitled “String Quartet Masterpieces of Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms.” These quartet masterworks were performed by the Alexander String Quartet with yours truly acting as host and lecturer.   Here’s how our concert-presentations worked: Each of our three sessions was delivered in two parts: for an hour before dinner (4:30pm-5:30pm) and hour-and-a-half after dinner (6:30pm-8:00pm). On day one (September 6), we presented a program entitled “The Mendelssohn Conundrum”, during which I discussed and the ASQ performed Mendelssohn’s String Quartets in A Minor, Op. 13 (of 1827); F Minor, Op. 80 (of 1847) and excerpts from his String Quartet in E Minor, Op. 44 (of 1837).  … 

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Music History Monday: Our Kind of Musician

Today we recognize and celebrate the birth, 207 years ago today, of someone who can rightfully be called “a musician’s musician”: the violinist, composer and teacher Ferdinand David. We will get to the specifics of Maestro David’s life and career in a moment. With your indulgence, a brief bit of editorializing. Marlon Brando (1924-2004). Yes, Marlon Brando: actor, director, activist, and father of at least 16 children (at least 16 children). A movie with Marlon Brando wasn’t a movie in which Marlon Brando played a role so much as a movie in which Marlon Brando played Marlon Brando playing a role. Accordingly, I would suggest that in The Godfather, Marlon Brando portrayed Marlon Brando playing Vito Corleone; in Apocalypse Now, Marlon Brando portrayed Marlon Brando playing Colonel Walter Kurtz. Brando was so brilliant, his persona so pronounced, his affectations so uniquely individual, that his personal brand always seemed to overshadow the characters he played. So it is with certain musicians as well. The pianist Yuja Wang, for example. She is brilliant, but so are lots of other elite pianists. Ah, but those other pianists don’t come out on stage like Ms. Wang wearing micro-micro-miniskirts and 6-inch stiletto heels. Then there’s… 

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