Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Mozart

Music History Monday: What Day is Today?

We recognize May 13th as being, among other “days” here in the United States, National Frog Jumping Day, Leprechaun Day, International Hummus Day, National Crouton Day, and – wait for it – World Cocktail Day! National Days, Weeks, and Months! Who creates these damned things? We’ll get to that in a moment.  But first, let’s distinguish between a national holiday and a national day (or week or month). In the United States, national (or “federal”) holidays are designated by Congress and/or the President.  There are presently a total of ten national/federal holidays, meaning that federal employees get to take the day off.  However, anyone can declare a national day (or week or month).  The trick is getting enough people to buy into the “day” that it actually gains some traction and has some meaning.  Such national days are created by advocacy groups; lobbying groups; industry groups; government bodies; even individuals. According to the “National Day Calendar,” today, May 13, 2024, is – along with those “days” listed at the top of this post – National Women’s Checkup Day; National Fruit Cocktail Day; and National Apple Pie Day.  May 13 of this year is also the first day of Bike to Work Week; of […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Wolfang Mozart: Idomeneo

Mozart’s Operas Wolfgang Mozart (1756-1791) composed 21 operas (three of them left incomplete) across the span of his all-too-brief life, from the modest Apollo et Hyacinthus (Apollo and Hyacinth, composed in 1767 when he was 11 years old) to La Clemenza di Tito (The Mercy of Titus, completed in August of 1791, some 3½ months before Mozart’s death). Mozart’s operas fall into four main categories: opera seria (“serious opera,” also referred to as dramma per musica), works set in Italian; dramma giocoso (“drama with jokes”), works set in Italian; opera buffa (“comic opera,” also referred to as commedia in musica, commedia per musica, dramma bernesco, dramma comico, and divertimento giocoso), works set in Italian; and singspiel (opera with spoken dialogue), works set in German. The seven complete, multi-act operas Mozart composed in the 11 years between 1780 and his death in 1791 must be considered as being the greatest, single most significantset of operas ever composed by any individual composer in such a short period of time: Idomeneo (1780); The Abduction from the Seraglio (1781); The Marriage of Figaro (1786); Don Giovanni (1787); Cosi fan tutte (1789); The Magic Flute (1791), and The Mercy of Titus (1791).   Idomeneo, King of Crete: Characters, Voice Types, […]

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Music History Monday: Idomeneo

We mark the premiere on January 29, 1781 – 243 years ago today – of Wolfgang Mozart’s opera Idomeneo, Re di Creta (“Idomeneo, King of Crete”).  With a libretto by Giambattista Varesco (1735-1805), which was adapted from a French story by Antoine Danchet (1671-1748), itself based on a play written in 1705 by the French tragedian Prosper Jolyot de Crébillon (1674 -1762; that’s a lot of writing credits!), Idomeneo received its premiere at the Cuvilliés Theatre in Munich, Germany.  Idomeneo was a hit, and it constitutes not just Mozart’s first operatic masterwork but, by consensus, the single greatest Italian-language opera seria ever composed! Setting the Biographical Scene On January 15th, 1779, the 23-year-old Wolfgang Mozart returned home to Salzburg after having been away for 15 months.  His trip, which had taken him primarily to Mannheim and Paris, had been both a professional and personal disaster.  He had left Salzburg with his mother, filled with high hopes, high spirits, and dreams of finding a permanent job and romance.  He returned without his mother (who had died in Paris), without a job, without any money, and without the young woman he had met and fallen in love with during the trip (one Aloysia […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes – Mozart, Complete Piano Sonatas

This is an admittedly odd post. I’m not recommending Gould’s complete Mozart Piano Sonatas as a “principal set”; it’s just too quirky. For principal sets, I would heartily recommend Ronald Brautigam’s, performed on a fortepiano (on BIS); or Mitsuko Uchida’s recorded on a modern Steinway (on Decca). Typical of pretty much any Glenn Gould performance, his recording of Mozart’s Piano Sonatas might best be labelled as “Glenn Gould plays Mozart,” rather than as “Mozart, as played by Glenn Gould.” Nevertheless, Gould’s Mozart – like pretty much everything he played – can be compelling. Which makes Glenn Gould’s graceless carping about Mozart being a bad composer all the more curious. Gould’s infamous statement bears repeating: “Mozart died too late rather than too soon.” A quick story, then on to Gould’s video. Beethoven and Mozart’s Piano Concerto in C minor, K. 491 The first movement of Beethoven’s own Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37 of 1803 was inspired by Mozart’s Concerto in C Minor, K. 491 of 1786. Mozart’s concerto was a work that Beethoven often performed and adored. Beethoven once attended a rehearsal of Mozart’s C minor Piano Concerto with his friend, the pianist-composer Johann Baptist Cramer (1771-1858). […]

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Music History Monday: You’ve Got to be Kidding

‘Fessing Up Okay: you’re going to have to bear with me for one of my idiotic tangents, one that nevertheless explains precisely how I feel about Mozart and his music at a gut level.  What follows is a deep confession, something I’ve never shared before.  Be forewarned though, that once you’ve read and/or heard this confession (depending upon whether you’re reading Music History Monday as a blog or listening to it as a podcast), it cannot be unread or unheard. Here goes. Since childhood, I have had a deep and abiding affection for horror films, the gnarlier, the gnastier, the better.  Yes, color me juvenile if you must, but there it is.  Among the very greatest masters of the genre is the American filmmaker John Carpenter (born 1948), whose oeuvre includes such classics as the Halloween franchise, Escape From New York, Escape from L.A., Christine, The Fog, Assault on Precinct 13, They Live, and Prince of Darkness.  But for my dinaro, Carpenter’s magnum opus is The Thing (which was released in 1982).  Critically panned when it first opened, it is today considered (by those of us who consider it at all) to be a masterwork of graphic, on occasion inadvertently […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Mozart: The Marriage of Figaro

My Dr. Bob Prescribes post for February 21 of this year feature Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s superb video of Gioachino Rossini’s Barber of Seville. During the course of that post, I wrote: “Comedy requires deftness, speed, and timing, timing, and more timing. Ponnelle’s production has it all, and the opera crackles under his direction. I would like to say that I can hardly imagine an equally good opera film, but actually, I can: Ponnelle’s own version of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, filmed in 1976. With an all-star cast featuring Hermann Prey, Mirella Freni, Dieterich Fischer-Dieskau, Kiri Te Kanawa, and Maria Ewing; accompanied by the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Karl Böhm; staged and directed by Ponnelle; and produced by DG, this version of Figaro remains among the very best opera films I’ve ever seen. I will find a reason to feature the performance in a post of its own sooner than later.” Yesterday’s anniversary of the premiere of The Marriage of Figaro on May 1, 1786, is all the excuse we need to celebrate Ponnelle’s film! Jean-Pierre Ponnelle (1932-1988) The opera director and designer Jean-Pierre Ponnelle was born in Paris on February 19, 1932. He died, much too young, in Munich on […]

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Music History Monday: The Enduring Miracle

On May 1, 1786 – on what was also a Monday, 237 years ago today – a miracle was heard for the first time: Wolfgang Mozart’s opera The Marriage of Figaro received its premiere at the Burgtheater in Vienna.   Some 100 years later, Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) 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.” Herr Brahms, when you’re right, you’re right, and this case you are so right!  237 years after the premiere, Brahms’ awe of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro mirrors our own.  For many of us – myself included – it is, simply, the greatest opera ever composed.  Composing an Italian Language Opera for the Viennese On May 7th, 1783 – some three years before the premiere of The Marriage of Figaro – Mozart wrote the following in a letter to his father back in Salzburg: “The Italian opera buffa [here in Vienna] is very popular.  I have looked through more than a hundred libretti [meaning literally “little book,” the script of an opera] but I have […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Wolfgang Mozart: Requiem, K. 626 (1791)

The Commission During the summer of 1791 – some five months before his death – Mozart was anonymously commissioned to compose a Requiem Mass: a mass for the dead. More than any other single element, it was this anonymous commission that helped to later fuel the myth that Mozart had, in fact, been murdered. In 1829, 38 years after his death, Mozart’s widow Constanze was interviewed by an English music publisher named Vincent Novello and his wife, Mary. Constanze purportedly told the Novellos that: “Some six months before his death he was possessed with the idea of his being poisoned – ‘I know I must die’, he exclaimed, ‘someone has given me aqua toffana and has calculated the precise time of my death – for which they have ordered a Requiem. It is for myself that I am writing this.’” (For our information, “aqua toffana” is a colorless and tasteless mixture containing arsenic, antimony, and lead that was invented in Naples in the seventeenth century as a cosmetic. However, we are told that young women used it quite successfully as a poison, young women “who wished to hasten the arrival of widowhood.”) Back to Constanze Mozart’s assertion, made 38 years […]

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Music History Monday: Myths of Mayhem and Murder!

Here We Go Again . . . It has come to pass. I have been writing these Music History Monday posts for long enough that Monday dates and events have begun to repeat. And as a result, December 5, which was a Monday in 2016, once again falls on a Monday today. Ordinarily there are enough events on any given Monday to keep me from having to deal with the same topic. But December 5 is a special date for one particularly terrible musical event, an event that demands to be revisited. Dates That Will Live in Infamy We consider: there are some dates that, for events that marked them, will live in infamy. I would suggest that what qualifies as an “infamous date” – that is, a date we will all remember to our dying day – is generally dependent upon when one was born. For example, for someone born in the United States in 1854 (that’s 100 years before I was born), those dates of infamy might include: March 6, 1857: the date of the Dred Scott decision, which saw the U.S. Supreme Court rule 7-2 that an enslaved human being (Dred Scott) who had resided in a […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Wolfgang Mozart, Masses

In his heart-of-hearts, Wolfgang Mozart was a believer. Like so many other aspects of and lessons in his life, Wolfgang Mozart got his earliest exposure to religious piety from his father, Leopold (1719-1787). Having said that, we’d observe that Leopold’s own piety towards the Roman Catholic church was rather late in coming. As a young man, he was, in Maynard Solomon’s words: “Constitutionally incapable of simple obedience to his superiors, and his deep resentment of authority frequently erupted in imprudent words or actions.” Those superiors and authorities to which Solomon refers are the Church authorities who employed the young Leopold Mozart. It wasn’t just a case of disliking his bosses; Leopold’s letters of the time reveal a degree of general disdain and even outright hostility towards Catholic priests, Jesuits, monks, and canons that bordered on the heretical. But like so many professional musicians of his day, Leopold Mozart had no choice but to make his career working for the Church. In Leopold’s case it was the Archbishopric of Salzburg, and his professional and financial survival depended upon his getting along with those clerics that were his bosses and colleagues. So Leopold mastered his heretical tendencies and innate disobedience and became, […]

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