Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Music History Monday Podcast

Music History Monday: Handel Ripped Off

We mark the premiere on January 10, 1713 – 309 years ago today – of George Frederick Handel’s opera Teseo at the King’s/Queen’s Theater (also-known-as the “Italian Opera Theater”) on Haymarket, in London. It was the still 27-year-old Handel’s third opera composed for the London stage and it was a great success. However, its success was marred by a potentially catastrophic backstage incident after its second performance. We quote the London journal the Opera Register, which ran the following article on January 15, 1713, five days after Teseo opened. Here is the article as it originally appeared; I’ll translate the passage into contemporary English after we’ve read the original. (The punctuation, capitalization, and spelling below are all as in the original.) “Mr O. Swiny ye Manager of ye Theatre was now setting out a New Opera, Heroick. all ye Habits new & richer than ye former with 4 New Scenes, & other Decorations & Machines. Ye Tragick Opera was called Theseus. Ye Musick composed by Mr. Handel. Ye Opera being thus prepared Mr Swiny then did give out Tickets at half a Guinea each, for two Nights ye Boxes lay’d open to ye Pit. Ye House was very full these […]

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Music History Monday: The Fifth Beatle

We mark the birth on January 3, 1926 – 96 years ago today – of the English record producer, arranger, conductor, composer, audio engineer, and musician Sir George Martin, the putative “Fifth Beatle.”  Martin produced 13 albums and 22 singles for the Beatles between 1962 and 1970.  All told, it’s a body of work that adds up to less than 10 hours of music.   But here’s a case where numbers do not tell the story, because thanks to George Martin, those 9 hours-plus of recorded music revolutionized the world of popular music. Today’s post will observe just how George Martin became the Beatles’ record producer.  Tomorrow’s Dr. Bob Prescribes post will explore the impact Martin had on the Beatles’ recordings and what is, in my humble opinion, his masterwork: the Love album of 2006. But first: a dinner conversation that I believe you will find most interesting.  What Makes a Song “Last”? My neighbor across the street is a big, smart, outspoken man named John McGleenan. I love John.   He came to the United States from Dublin, Ireland, in 1992 at the age of 24, here to make his fame and fortune.  He has done both.  He founded […]

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Music History Monday: Dmitri Shostakovich, Symphony No. 7

We mark the completion on December 27, 1941 – an even 80 years ago today – of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7, the so-called “Leningrad Symphony.”  He had begun the symphony at home in Leningrad but completed it in Kuybishev, a city today known by its original name as Samara.  Located on the Volga River just west of the Ural Mountains, Kuybishev-slash-Samara was one of a number of “safe havens” set up by the Soviet government to protect its intelligentsia from the invading Nazi hordes. Background: With Friends Like These . . . On August 23, 1939, Joseph Stalin’s Soviet government signed a pact of nonaggression and friendship with Adolf Hitler’s Germany.  In a secret protocol, among other things, it was agreed that the Soviet Union and Germany would, between them slice ‘n’ dice and then gobble up Poland; and that the Baltic States of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia would stay within the Soviet sphere of influence.  In return, Stalin pledged to stay out of any war between Germany and any of the Western democracies. And so the Stalinist demon sold its soul to the Hitlerian devil.  The pact stunned the world.  Russia and Germany – the two great continental […]

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Music History Monday: Arthur Rubinstein: Fake It ‘Til You Make It

We mark the death on December 20, 1982 – 39 years ago today – of the Polish-born American pianist Arthur Rubinstein, at the age of 95. Practicing the Piano Question: does anyone really like to practice the piano? Answer: believe it or not, yes. However, we’d observe that those good people who really like to practice are – frankly – in the minority. The vast minority. Now, obviously, there is a galactic difference between the practice schedules of kids and adult hobbyists taking piano lessons and serious students of music and professional musicians. We would expect the latter – serious students and professionals – to be practice room junkies, addicted to practice and inseparable from their instruments. But this is not always the case. Which brings us to the pianist Arthur (or Artur) Rubinstein (1887-1982). Rubinstein in America, 1906 Rubinstein made his first concert tour of the United States in 1906, when he was 19 years old. It did not go particularly well. Rubinstein played his first solo recital in New York City. Henry Krehbiel (1854-1923), the famed music critic for The New York Tribune, was there and his review was scathing. How scathing I do not know, as the […]

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Music History Monday: Why We Shouldn’t Bring Our Dogs to Work: A Cautionary Tale

As those who read via blog and/or listen via podcast to Music History Monday know, as often as not I’ll mention two, three, or even more date related items before getting to the “main attraction” of a particular post. However, every now and then, one of those preliminary items will take on a life of its own and demand – rather curtly I would add – to be the main attraction itself. That’s precisely what has happened today. The original title for today’s Music History Monday was An American in Paris. Here is that post’s lead: “We mark the premiere on December 13, 1928 – 93 years ago today – of George Gershwin’s orchestral work An American in Paris. The premiere took place in Carnegie Hall, with Walter Damrosch conducting the New York Philharmonic.” We will briefly deal with the creation and premiere of George Gershwin’s An American in Paris before moving on to the canine-related item that has stolen today’s show. Be assured, however, that we will return to An American in Paris and what was to be the meat-and-potatoes of today’s post on Thursday, December 23. A Brooklynite in Paris In the spring of 1926, George and Ira […]

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Music History Monday: Altamont

We mark the disastrous concert held on December 6, 1969 – 52 years ago today – at the Altamont Speedway here in Alameda Country in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Over 300,000 people attended, four of whom died that day, one of them at the hands of the so-called “security personnel.” The word “Altamont” has become synonymous with “rock concert disasters.” However, before we get to the tragic events of December 6, 1969, we would recognize an event that occurred on this day in 1975, 46 years ago today, in this edition of “This Day in Music Stupid.” On Saturday, December 6, 1975, the Reverend Charles Boykin – associate pastor and youth director of the Lakewood Baptist Church in Tallahassee, Florida – gave a talk to the young people of his church on “evil effects of rock music on youth.”  Not content to just talk-the-talk, the good reverend had his charges gather up their rock ‘n’ records, including those by Elton John, the Rolling Stones, Cream, the Doors, and Neil Diamond, and burned them.   Boykin claimed to have been inspired by a nameless professor at Hyles-Anderson College (an unaccredited private independent Baptist college in unincorporated Crown Point, in Lake County, Indiana), […]

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Music History Monday: What to Do About Otello?

Before getting to the question that drives today’s post, we would recognize five date-worthy events: a tragedy; two notable cancellations, and two notable opera performances. First, the tragedy. On November 29, 2001 – 20 years ago today – George Harrison died in Los Angeles of lung cancer at the age of 58.  Born in Liverpool on February 25, 1943, Harrison was the youngest of the Beatles: just 16 years old when he joined up in 1959.  Though not known for his song writing early on, Harrison’s contributions to the band’s repertoire came to rival those of John Lennon and Paul McCartney.  Harrison contributed four songs to the Beatles second to last album, released in November of 1968 and nicknamed “The White Album” for its plain white cover.  Among those four songs is the exquisite While My Guitar Gently Weeps (the recording of which features Eric Clapton on lead guitar).  Harrison’s two contributions to the Beatles’ final album – Abby Road, released in 1969 – are both rock classics: Here Comes the Sun and Something. (John Lennon declared that Something was the best song on the album, and it is the second most covered Beatles song, after Paul McCartney’s Yesterday.  The […]

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Music History Monday: Benjamin Britten: The Making of a Composer

We mark the birth on November 22, 1913 – 108 years ago today – of the English composer, pianist, and conductor Edward Benjamin Britten in Lowestoft, Suffolk, on the eastern coast of England, roughly 105 miles northeast of London. He died in nearby Aldeburgh on December 4, 1976, at the age of 63. The danger of overstatement is great when tossing around superlatives, but with Britten it’s no danger at all. He was not just the most important English composer of the twentieth century; he was quite arguably the most important English-born composer since Henry Purcell, who was born in London in 1659, 246 years before Britten. Britain composed scads of music(that’s a musical term, “scads”): orchestral music, choral music, chamber music, vocal music, and film music as well. But pride of place must go to his dramatic works: his War Requiem (of 1962) and his fifteen operas. Those operas include Peter Grimes (1945), Billy Budd (1951), Turn of the Screw (1954), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1960), Prodigal Son (1968), and Death in Venice (1974). Britten’s operas constitute, by any measure, the most significant body of opera composed during the twentieth century. Britten was lucky enough to have experienced fame […]

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Music History Monday: La Divina in Chicago

We mark the American operatic debut on November 1, 1954 – 67 years ago today – of “La Divina” – “the divine one” – meaning Maria Callas at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Callas performed her signature role of Norma in Vincenzo Bellini’s opera of the same name under the baton of Nicola Rescigno. I have never envied great athletes or dancers, except perhaps for the income potential of the former. My (general) lack of envy stems from the all-too-brief shelf life of such careers. With rare exception – Phil Niekro, George Blanda, George Foreman, and Tom Brady come to mind – most top athletes and dancers hit their prime in their twenties. By their thirties, wear and tear and the aging process have damaged their bodies and eroded their skills and will soon enough bring their careers to an end. (Magnificent though they still are, Steph Curry [33 years old, born 1988] and LeBron James [presently still 36 years old, born 1984] are considered to be among the “old men” of their sport, that being professional basketball. An old man at 33? Please.) What professional athletes, dancers, and musicians all have in common is that they will have begun […]

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Music History Monday: Johannes Brahms and his Symphony No. 4

We mark the world premiere – on October 25, 1885, 136 years ago today – of Johannes Brahms’ fourth and final symphony.  Performed by the superb Meiningen Court Orchestra, the performance was conducted by Brahms himself.  It went well. We’ll get to Herr Doktor Professor Brahms in a bit.  But first, some gratuitous, auto back slapping. I began writing these Music History Monday posts in September of 2016.  That was when Melanie Smith, President of San Francisco Performances (for which I am the Music-Historian-in-Residence) asked me to write some sort of regular feature for SFP’s Facebook page.  Here’s the first paragraph of my first post: a celebration of the birthday of Anton Diabelli (1771-1858, as in Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations) that appeared on September 5, 2016: “Welcome to what will become a weekly feature here on the San Francisco Performances Facebook page, ‘Music History Monday.’ (As titles go that’s about as thrilling as root canal, but it is an accurate description of the feature’s content so run with it we will.) Every Monday I will dredge up some timely, perhaps intriguing and even, if we are lucky, salacious chunk of musical information relevant to that date, or to San Francisco Performances’ […]

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