Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Mozart

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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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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