Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Mozart

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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Music History Monday: One Talented Kid

As is sometimes the case, the lack of notable musical events on our “appointed” date (in today’s case, April 10) requires that we shimmy forward (or back) a day for relevant material; thus: On April 11, 1770 – 247 years ago tomorrow – a choral performance took place in Rome that was the source of one of the most famous stories in the entire history of Western music. Here’s the story. On December 13, 1769, the then 13 year-old Wolfgang Mozart and his father left their hometown of Salzburg for what would be the first of three extended tours of Italy. Working their way south, they arrived in Rome on Wednesday, April 11, 1770, four days before Easter. They were just in time to hear the Papal Choir perform Gregorio Allegri’s Miserere in the Sistine Chapel. Allegri’s Miserere is a setting of Psalm 51, which consists of 20 lines. Here are its first three: Have mercy upon me, O God, after Thy great goodness According to the multitude of Thy mercies do away mine offences. Wash me thoroughly from my wickedness: and cleanse me from my sin. Allegri (1582-1652) composed his Miserere sometime in the late 1630s, during the reign… 

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Music History Monday: The Mozart/Clementi Duel

On January 23, 1752 – 265 years ago today – the composer, harpsichordist, pianist, organist, conductor, teacher, music publisher and editor, and piano manufacturer Muzio Filippo Vincenzo Francesco Clementi was born in Rome. Remembered best today for his six delightful Sonatinas for Piano published as Op. 36, he was, in fact a prodigious composer; his collected works (published in Bologna by Ut Orpheus) fills 60 volumes! In his own lifetime, Clementi was considered by his contemporaries to be one of the handful of greatest living pianists. Wolfgang Mozart – almost exactly four years younger than Clementi – quit his day job in Salzburg and settled in Vienna in May, 1781. He was 25 years old. Mozart knew his worth, and he knew – as well as we do, today – that in 1781 he was the greatest pianist and composer in the world. To his mind, among his first tasks in Vienna was to make sure that everyone in that fine city understood his greatness as well. By December 1781, Mozart had gone a long way towards accomplishing that task. By December of 1781, Mozart considered Vienna to be his turf, and he was not kindly disposed towards anyone busting… 

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Music History Mondays: Mozart – A Diagnosis

December 5 is an important date in music history. On December 5, 1830 (which was a Sunday) Hector Berlioz’ ground-breaking Symphonie Fantastique received its premiere at a concert that began at 2 P.M. at the Paris Conservatoire, then located on the Rue Bergère – what today is called the Rue de Conservatoire – in the 9th arrondissement. Tuesday, December 5, 1865 saw the public premiere of Johannes Brahms’ crazy-awesome Trio for Horn, Violin, and Piano in E-flat Major, Op. 40, in the southwestern German city of Karlsruhe, with the 32 year-old Brahms at the piano. The Barry Tuckwell, Itzhak Perlman, and Vladimir Ashkenazy recording on London affords more pleasure than any of us have a right to experience. Acquire it. Now. It gets no better. But these and other events pale to insignificance next to what happened on Monday, December 5, 1791 in Vienna. It was then and there – at 55 minutes past midnight – that Wolfgang Mozart died in the music room of his first story (what we in the U.S.A. call the second story) flat, located in a house called “das kleine Kaiserhaus” (“the small imperial house’) at Rauhensteingasse 8 in central Vienna. Mozart was 35 years,… 

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Scandalous Overtures: Mozart: How Did Mozart Really Die?

Conspiracy Theories Pssst! Did you know that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld knowingly allowed Mossad to blow up the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001? Did you know that the fluoridation of our water is a communist conspiracy meant to contaminate our precious bodily fluids? Are you aware that global warming is fake, the moon landing was staged, vaccinations cause autism, Paul McCartney is dead (that’s why he’s barefoot on the Abbey Road cover) and has been portrayed by a double since 1966? Are we all cognizant of the fact that — along with Queen Elizabeth II and most other world leaders — Obama is a shape-shifting space lizard, a blood-sucking repto-humanoid alien from the Alpha Dragonis star system?(Check out the oeuvre of journalist David Ickes, who has made a career writing and lecturing on just that topic.) Oh those whacky conspiracy theories and the Internet that proliferates them. And yet, so desperate are some people to perceive logical narrative in the chaos of everyday events, so desperate are some people to see government as representative of evil, so desperate are some people to have something or someone to blame for their own misfortunes that they… 

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