Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Mozart

Dr. Bob Prescribes: Mozart, Symphony in C major, “Jupiter”, K. 551

Nicknames. We turn to that paragon of informational accuracy, Wikipedia, for the following definition of the word “nickname”: “A nickname is a substitute for the proper name of a familiar person, place or thing. Commonly used to express affection, it is a form of endearment and amusement. In rarer cases, it can also be used to express defamation of character, particularly by school bullies [or certain Presidents of the United States]. As a concept, it is distinct from both pseudonym and stage name, and also from a title (for example, ‘City of Fountains’), although there may be overlap in these concepts. A hypocoristic is a nickname of affection between those in love or with a close emotional bond. ‘Moniker’ is a synonym.” Most nicknames assigned to people are harmless (although whoever thought up “Dick” as a nickname for “Richard” clearly did not anticipate today’s colloquial usage). The majority of nicknames would seem to be first-syllable versions of a proper name: Dan, Lil, Steve, Liz, Sam, Dave, Joe, Ben, Di, Mike, Deb, Irv, Pete, Fred, Lou, Walt, and so forth. Some such nicknames are unisexual: Sal, Pat and Chris, for example. Other nicknames are rather more distantly related to the name they nick: […]

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Music History Monday: Mozart’s “Jupiter” Symphony and the Summer of 1788

We mark the completion, on August 10, 1788 – 232 years ago today – of Mozart’s Symphony in C major, catalogued by Ludwig Köchel as K. 551 and nicknamed the “Jupiter”. It was Mozart’s final symphony, a towering, innovative masterwork, the greatest symphony ever composed to its time and by any standard of measure one of a handful of greatest symphonies ever composed. That it took Mozart all of 16 days to commit it to paper defies our imaginations. That it was composed back-to-back with the luminous, transcendentally lyric Symphony in E-flat major and the tragic, gut-busting Symphony in G Minor in something under a total of eight weeks beggars our belief. Finally, that Mozart managed this mind-blowing compositional feat while under a black cloud of grief, physical ill-health, and mounting financial disaster is just, well, inconceivable. Let’s add a bit more head-shaking information to the mix. At the same time he was composing these last three symphonies, Mozart was composing a number of other works as well! He completed his Trio for piano, violin and cello in E Major, K. 542 on June 22, 1788 and the Trio in C Major, K. 548, on July 14; he finished his […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Mozart Piano Sonatas

My Dr. Bob Prescribes post for October 23, 2018, was titled “Fine Dining”. The post featured Ronald Brautigan’s revelatory performances of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas recorded on modern copies of late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century pianos built by Paul McNulty (born in Houston in 1953). (These early pianos are often referred to as “fortepianos”, which simply means “loud-soft.” By definition, a fortepiano is an early piano that employs thin, harpsichord-like strings; leather-covered – as opposed to felt – hammers; a wooden harp; and lacks any metal bracing. The term fortepiano, then, designates pianos built from the invention of the instrument by Bartolomeo Cristofori sometime before the year 1700 to approximately 1825, when larger metal harped and thicker stringed pianos – proto-modern pianos, as they were – began to become the norm.) The title of that post – “Fine Dining” – referred to the crow I was obligated to eat as a result of Brautigam’s recording of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas. I wrote: “For lo these many years, I have always looked down on the fortepiano: those early pianos distinguished by their wood-framed (as opposed to metal-framed) harps, built between 1700 and 1825. In my ignorance, I have long considered wooden-harped pianos […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Mozart’s Piano Quartets

Statements of superlatives are dangerous because they can ride roughshod over the sorts of important details that would otherwise force us to qualify those superlative statements. For example. The consensus “greatest baseball player” of all time is Babe Ruth (1895-1948), whose stats as a power hitter were so far ahead of his contemporaries as to put him in a league of his own. (His stats as a pitcher – had he continued to pitch regularly throughout his career – might very well have put him in a league of his own as well; pitching for the Boston Red Sox in 1916 and 1917, he threw 650 innings and won 47 games with an ERA of 1.88.)  But. Babe Ruth’s stats must be taken within the context of his time. Players today are significantly bigger, faster, and better conditioned than were the players of Ruth’s time. Professional baseball today draws from a much wider population base than did baseball in Ruth’s time; Ruth never had to play against Black American players, or Dominican, Venezuelan, Mexican, Japanese, or Korean players. And the Babe rarely had to face middle and late-relief pitchers throwing 100 mile-per-hour fastballs. Would the Babe Ruth of 1920 dominate […]

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Music History Monday: A Day That Can Mean Only One Thing!

We mark the birth on January 27, 1756 – 264 years ago today – of Wolfgang Mozart.  There are certain dates that are so universally recognized that once invoked they can mean only one thing for a majority of people living on this planet. For example. Did we all know that January 1 is, among other things, Apple Gifting Day? It is also Bonza Bottler Day, Copyright Law Day, Ellis Island Day, Global Family Day, National Bloody Mary Day, and Public Domain Day. Did we all know that? And really, do any of us care? Because January 1 is New Year’s Day and every other observance shrinks to insignificance by comparison (excepting, perhaps, “National Bloody Mary Day”). Despite the fact that December 25 is Constitution Day in Taiwan and National Pumpkin Pie Day in the United States, the mention of that date can mean only one thing in much of the world: Christmas Day. May 1 is, in the northern hemisphere, May Day: a traditional celebration of spring. Planet wide, it is International Workers’ Day.  Since at least the fourteenth century, April 1 has been “international prank day”: April Fool’s Day. From its beginnings as a Celtic harvest festival, Halloween […]

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Music History Monday: The Grand Journey

On November 18, 1763, 256 years ago today, the Mozart family – father Leopold, mother Anna Maria, daughter Marianne (12 years old) and son Wolfgang (7 years old) – arrived in Paris. They were in the midst of their “Grand Journey”, a 3½ year concert tour of Central and Western Europe that was to change the history of Western music.

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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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