Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Mozart

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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Music History Monday: Magic

It was on September 30, 1791 – 228 years ago today – that Wolfgang Mozart’s opera-slash-singspiel, The Magic Flute, received its premiere at the Freihaustheater auf der Wieden in Vienna, conducted by Mozart himself.

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Music History Monday: A Child (and a Man!) of the Theater

On this day in 1767 – 252 years ago today – Wolfgang Mozart’s first opera, entitled Apollo and Hyacinthus received its premiere in Mozart’s hometown of Salzburg. The composer was 11 years old. In a letter written to his father in October of 1777, the 21-year-old Mozart expressed his passion for opera and the opera theater in no uncertain terms: “I have only to hear an opera discussed, I have only to sit in a theater, hear the orchestra tuning their instruments – oh, I am quite beside myself at once.”  I would suggest that it is difficult for us, today, to fathom the full meaning of Mozart’s comment because, in our electronic, mass media-dominated videocracy, we have no single cultural equivalent to the opera house of Mozart’s time. For people living in late eighteenth century Europe, the opera house was a combination theater; Super Bowl half-time show; major league ballpark; rock concert; carnival mid-way; high-end fashion show; IMAX-style movie palace; theme park; special effects extravaganza: in sum, a total-sensory-immersion facility. The opera theater was for Mozart a virtual “virtual reality,” where things could happen, be seen, and be heard that very simply could not happen, could not be seen […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Don Giovanni

This Thursday – on September 21st – I will be giving a public lecture at UCLA’s Royce Hall entitled “Will the Real Mozart Please Stand Up?” On Saturday the 23rd, I will lead a two-hour seminar on Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni, which for logistical reasons will be held at UCLA’s law school.  I’ve said it before, and here I am, saying it again: Wolfgang Mozart was the greatest composer of operas who ever lived. You can argue the point if you like. That’s fine; just know that it is an argument that I will win. Mozart’s insight into the human condition and relationships, and his ability to portray and deepen those insights with music of unparalleled beauty and compositional virtuosity remains, to this day, second to none.  Mozart composed three different types of operas. The first was Italian language opera seria or “serious opera:” a pomp-filled and often over-blown style of opera based on myth, legend, and featuring heroic characters. The second was Italian opera buffa or “comic opera”, a genre of increasingly popular opera recently evolved from Neapolitan street theater that celebrated relatively ordinary people doing the stupid, mundane, and often very funny things real people do. Third was […]

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Patreon Patron Forum: Mozart Piano Concerto No. 25

I have received an extremely thoughtful question from Patreon patron Leigh Harper. On the surface it might appear to be a technical question concerning the function of various sections of music relative to one another, the sort of question that appeals to music nerds like Harper and myself but might seem to be absurdly arcane for the rest of us.  However, Mr. Harper’s question is much more than that: it is one that cuts to the heart of how we use verbal/written language to describe musical events; events that, in fact, are not easily described using words. We will ruminate on this issue in a moment. But first, Leigh Harper’s question, ever-so-slightly edited. “Dear Dr. Bob – Relistening to your wonderful 1995 lectures Concert Masterworks… Stop A thousand pardons for interrupting Mr. Harper, but I must point out that he just got “A” in my class for having used a magic word: “relistening”. I have no doubt that Mr. Harper was indeed “relistening” (“rehear-sing”) to Concert Masterworks. Nevertheless, I am honor-bound to observe that survival among snobbish company requires a certain degree of intellectual bravado, and one of the easiest ways of affecting that bravado is to never say “I […]

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Music History Monday: Don Giovanni

On October 29, 1787 – 221 years ago today – Wolfgang Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni received its world premiere in the Bohemian capital of Prague. That premiere was – and remains – Mozart’s single most triumphant first performance.  In 1777, the 21 year-old Mozart wrote his father: “I have only to hear an opera discussed, I have only to sit in a theater, hear the orchestra tuning their instruments – oh, I am quite beside myself at once.”  The opera house in Mozart’s day was something more than it is today. It was a combination theater; Super Bowl half-time show; Rock concert; carnival mid-way; high-end fashion show; high-tech IMAX-style movie palace; theme park; and a special effects extravaganza: in sum, a total-sensory-immersion facility. In a pre-electronic age, the opera theater was the ultimate virtual reality, where things could happen and be seen and be heard that very simply could not happen, be seen or heard anywhere else. Opera lighting and stage machinery represented cutting-edge technology in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, and the production crews at major opera houses in Paris, London, Hamburg, Dresden, Rome, Venice, Naples, Prague, and Vienna were the Industrial Light and Magic, the Pixar of […]

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Music History Monday: The Other Mozart Kid

Today we mark the birth – 267 years ago, on July 30, 1751 – of the “other” surviving Mozart child. Four-and-a-half years older than her brother Wolfgang, her full name was Maria Anna Walburga Ignatia Mozart; she was known as “Marianne” and went by the nickname of “Nannerl.” Nannerl was something of a musical prodigy herself, and by an early age she had become a formidable harpsichordist and pianist, to the degree that in the earliest of the Mozart family musical tours, she often received top billing over her brother. But her life as a performer came to a screeching halt when she turned 18 in 1769. Having reached a “marriageable age”, she was no longer permitted by her father to publically “exhibit” her talents. Yes, Nannerl could have gone renegade like her brother and defied her father, but such a thing would have been inconceivable to her. From her first breath to her last, Maria Anna/Marianne/Nannerl – whatever we choose to call her – was her father’s daughter, and she could no more have gone against his wishes than I can pole vault 19 feet (or 4 feet, for that matter). She did not marry the man she loved […]

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Music History Monday: Leopold Mozart

On this day in 1787 – 231 years ago – Leopold Mozart, the father of Wolfgang Mozart, died in Salzburg at the age of 67. For all of his talents as a violinist, violin teacher, conductor and composer, history would have forgotten Johann Georg Leopold Mozart almost entirely had he not fathered and trained one of the greatest members of our species ever to have lived, his son Wolfgang. Leopold Mozart gave his son what was – very possibly – the greatest music education ever given anyone, for which posterity must be grateful. But more than just his son’s teacher, Leopold became his Dr. Frankenstein, his creator: Wolfgang’s ghost-writer, concert producer, travel agent, booking agent, public relations huckster, investment councilor, valet, and, in the end, oppressive tyrant. In the process, Leopold crafted one of the most troubling parent-child relationships since Oedipus and his mother Jocasta. In the long history of excessive parenting, of tiger mamas and tennis fathers, Leopold Mozart must be considered among the very greatest of the type. The History He was born on November 19, 1719 into a family of artisans that had for generations lived in the city of Augsburg, in southern Germany. Young Leopold was […]

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Music History Monday: How Did He Do It?

On this day in 1788 Wolfgang Mozart completed the score of his Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Major, K. 543. It is – with no exaggeration or hyperbole intended – a virtually perfect work: with the greatest of respect to Joseph Haydn, Mozart’s K. 543 is the most exquisitely constructed and expressively sublime Classical era-styled symphony in the repertoire. Having completed his Symphony in E-flat Major 229 years ago today, Mozart went right back to work. Over the course of the next 29 days he wrote out the score of his proto-Romantic Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K. 550, completing it on July 25. The following day he began work on his epic and monumental Symphony No. 41 in C Major, K. 551 (“Jupiter”), finishing it 16 days later, on August 12. Start to finish, Mozart wrote out the scores of his final three symphonies – arguably the greatest symphonies composed in the eighteenth century – in just six weeks. For our information, there are no cross-outs or revisions. Working with a quill pen and ink, Mozart simply wrote out the scores, a measure at time, beginning to end. How did he do it? How could he do it? […]

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Music History Monday: The Enduring Miracle

On Monday, May 1, 1786 – 231 years ago today – a miracle occurred in the great city of Vienna: Wolfgang Mozart’s opera The Marriage of Figaro received its premiere at the Burgtheater in Vienna. 100 years later, Johannes Brahms wrote this about The Marriage of Figaro: “Every number in Figaro is for me a marvel; I simply cannot fathom how anyone could create anything so perfect. Such a thing has never been done, not even by Beethoven.” 231 years after the premiere, Brahms’ awe of Figaro mirrors our own. For many of us – myself included – it is, simply, the greatest opera ever composed. On May 7th, 1783 – three years before the premiere – Mozart wrote to his father: “The Italian opera buffa [here in Vienna] is very popular. I have looked through more than a hundred libretti but I have found hardly a single one that satisfies me. That is to say, there are so many changes that would have to be made that any poet, even if he were to undertake to make them, would find it easier to write an entirely new text. Our poet here now is a certain da Ponte. He has […]

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