Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Music History Monday Podcast

Music History Monday: Frankie and Johnny, and Helen and Lee

I am aware that Valentine’s Day is already 5 days past, but darned if the romantic warm ‘n’ fuzzies aren’t still lingering with me like a rash from poison oak. As such, I will be excused for offering up what I will admit is a belated, but nevertheless Valentine’s Day-related post. Gratitude We should all be grateful that the following Valentine’s Day-related post is not on the lines of those blogs I wrote in 2010 and 2011, blogs written for various websites in my attempt to drum up sales for my Great Courses/Teaching Company Courses. For example, I wrote a couple of Valentine’s Day-themed blogs in 2011, one for Huffpost and the other for J-Date, as in “Jewish-Dating.” For those posts – entitled “Romantic Music” – I was tasked with recommending appropriately “romantic” music for an intimate, tête-à-tête Valentine’s Day evening. This is how they began: “Fresh flowers, chilled champagne, and a candlelight dinner for two; the stereotypical trappings of a successful Valentine’s Day evening. But the sensual menu is still incomplete: smell, taste, touch, and sight are covered, but proper sound is still wanting. Yes indeed, music, the purported feast of the gods, the indispensable aural lubricant for romance, […]

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Music History Monday: Unauthorized Use

February 12 is one of those remarkable days in music history, remarkable for all the notable events that took place on this day. So: before getting to our featured topic, let us acknowledge some of those events and share some links to previous Music History Monday and Dr. Bob Prescribes posts that dealt with those events. On this day in 1812, Beethoven’s student (and friend), the Austrian composer, pianist, and teacher Carl Czerny (1791-1857) performed as the soloist in the premiere of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major, the “Emperor.” Czerny was the subject of Music History Monday on July 15, 2019. We wish a heartfelt farewell to the German pianist and conductor Hans von Bülow, who died on this date in Cairo, Egypt in 1894, at the age of 64. Von Bülow was the subject of both Music History Monday and Dr. Bob Prescribes just last month, on January 8 and 9,respectively. Birthday greetings to the American composer Roy Harris (1898-1979), who was born on this date in 1898 in Chandler, Oklahoma. Harris and his Symphony No. 3 were featured in my Dr. Bob Prescribes post on April 9, 2019. On February 12, 1924 – exactly 100 […]

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Music History Monday: Getting Back to Work!

On February 5, 1887 – 137 years ago today – Giuseppe Verdi’s 25th and second-to-last opera, Otello, received its premiere at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan.  The premiere was the single greatest triumph in Verdi’s sensational career.  But it was a premiere – and an opera – that was a long time coming. Background He was born on October 10, 1813, in the sticks: in the tiny village of Le Roncole, in the northern Italian province of Parma.   Verdi’s first opera, Oberto, received its premiere at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan in November 1839, when Verdi was 26 years old.  Oberto was a modest success – it received 13 performances – and based on its success, the management at La Scala offered Verdi a contract to compose three more operas.  Verdi had begun his second opera – a comedy called A King for a Day – when catastrophe struck: he lost his wife and two young children to disease during a horrific, 20-month span between 1839 and 1840.  Rendered nearly insane by the deaths, Verdi nevertheless battled through his grief and managed to complete A King for a Day.  The opera received its premiere on September 5, […]

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Music History Monday: American Pie

On January 15, 1972 – 52 years ago today – Don McLean’s folk-rock song American Pie began what would eventually be a four-week stay at number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.  The song made the singer, songwriter, and guitarist Don McLean (born 1945) very famous and very rich, and it is considered by many to be one of the greatest songs ever written. No One is Perfect Not a one of us is perfect, and that goes double/triple/quadruple for me.  I eat ice cream right out of the carton before putting it back in the freezer, and will guzzle club soda and tonic water out of the bottle before putting it back in the fridge. I will lick a knife with cream cheese or peanut butter on it, lest any of it go to waste, and I will observe my personal ten-to-fifteen second rule when I drop food on the floor (providing one of the cats hasn’t gotten to it first).  I don’t always turn my socks right-side-out before putting them in the washing machine, and I have been known to forget to water the plants even when I’ve been reminded to do so. (Regarding the freaking plants: […]

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Music History Monday: The “Amusa”

On December 11, 1721 – 302 years ago today – Johann Sebastian Bach’s employer, the 27-year-old Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen (1694-1728), married the 19-year-old Friederica Henrietta of Anhalt-Bernburg (1702-1723).  She was the fourth daughter (and youngest child) of Charles Frederick, Prince of Anhalt-Bernburg (1668-1721) and his first wife, Sophie Albertine of Solms-Sonnenwalde (1672-1708). We can only hope that the kids enjoyed their wedding, because, sadly, their marriage was not fated to last for very long. (Allow me, please, a small bit of editorial bloviation. Speaking as a lower middle-class American kid born in Brooklyn, New York and raised in South Jersey – meaning someone with zero tolerance for all this royalty stuff – I find all of these puffed-up hereditary royals insufferable in both their titles and their actions.  Among the actions of the literally hundreds of “princes” and “princesses” of the Holy Roman Empire was to intermarry, for generations, with other such “people of quality,” meaning their cousins.  A brief look at their life spans – which are, indeed, representative of their “class” – reveals how well that turned out.  Bach’s beloved boss, Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen, lived for all of 33 years.   Leopold’s father, Emmanuel Lebrecht of […]

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Music History Monday: Unplayable

We mark the premiere on December 4, 1881 – 142 years ago today – of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s one-and-only violin concerto, his Violin Concerto in D major.  It received its premiere in Vienna, where it was performed by the violinist Adolf Brodsky and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Hans Richter. The concerto is, in my humble opinion, Tchaikovsky’s single greatest work and one of a handful of greatest concerti ever composed.   Yet its premiere in Vienna elicited one of the most vicious reviews of all time. Unfortunately for him, Tchaikovsky was indeed one of the most over-criticized composers in the history of Western music. (Just asking: do any of us like being criticized?  I think not, and please, let’s not dignify that oxymoronic phrase, “constructive criticism” by considering it seriously. I don’t mean to sound over-sensitive, but after a certain age – say, 25 – criticism of any sort, even if it is deserved [we’re talking to you, George Santos] is simply infuriating.) Tchaikovsky was also one of the most over-sensitive people ever to become a major composer, which meant that the sometimes brutal criticism he received drove him to near madness.  (Regarding Tchaikovsky’s sensitivity, as a youngster, […]

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Music History Monday: Richard Strauss, Stanley Kubrick, Friedrich Nietzsche, and “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”

On November 27, 1896 – 127 years ago today – Richard Strauss conducted the premiere performance of his sprawling orchestral tone poem Thus Spoke Zarathustra in the German city of Frankfurt.  Requests A momentary and applicable (if gratuitous) diversion.  Over the course of the first half of my musical life I played a lot of gigs, both in bands and as a solo piano player.  The bands ranged from fairly high end to not fairly high end.  The best band I ever played with was led by the alto saxophonist Lee Konitz; the worst was a disco band the name of which will remain my little secret.  The first band in which I played was a rock ‘n’ roll garage band called “Cold Sun” and the last was a Berkeley, California-based Klezmer group called “Hot Borscht.” (“Cold Sun” and “Hot Borscht”: temperature challenged tags in both cases.) As a solo player I’ve played pretty much every sort of gig, from cocktail parties, weddings, sing-a-longs, awards shows, and receptions to a long-running gig at a long defunct restaurant in Oakland, California, called The Pewter House. I played at The Pewter House, in 1978 and 1979, on Friday and Saturday evenings.  It […]

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Music History Monday: The Great-Grandmother of All Concert Tours: Elton John’s “Farewell Yellow Brick Road: The Final Tour”

We mark the conclusion on November 20, 2022 – one year ago today – of the North American leg of Elton John’s “Farewell Yellow Brick Road: The Final Tour.”  The concert took place at Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles; it was the third of three “farewell” concerts held at Dodgers Stadium. The three concerts (on November 17, 19, and 20) saw a total attendance of 142,970 people and grossed $23,462,993. Since the first rock ‘n’ roll concert , which was held in Cleveland on March 21, 1952 (that would be the “Moondog Coronation Ball”), there have been rock ‘n’ roll concert tours and there have been rock ‘n’ roll farewell concert tours.  But Elton John’s “Farewell Yellow Brick Road: The Final Tour” was in a league of its own and will likely never, ever be matched.  The numbers are mind-boggling and bladder-weakening.  The tour, interrupted, as it was, by the COVID epidemic, ran for nearly five years, from September 8, 2018, to July 8, 2023.  It began in Allentown, Pennsylvania and concluded in Stockholm, Sweden. It consisted of nine separate legs (or “tours within the tour”) and a total of 330 shows.  All together, the tour was attended by 6.1 […]

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Music History Monday: Gioachino Rossini and the Comedic Mind

We mark the death on November 13, 1868 – 155 years ago today – of the opera composer Gioachino Antonio Rossini, in Paris, at the age of 76. He was one of the most famous and beloved artists of his time, and he remains no less so today. It is my humble opinion that anyone who does not like Rossini’s operas – and, believe it or not, I have met any number of such people in the “rarified” confines of academia – well, such a person is a crank and a humbug, someone averse to melodic brilliance, theatric sparkle, and wit. 10,000 Hours? In his book Outliers: The Story of Success (Little, Brown and Company, 2008), the English-born Canadian journalist (and staff writer at The New Yorker) Malcolm Gladwell posited his “10,000-hour rule.” Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule asserts that: “the key to achieving true expertise in any skill is simply a matter of practicing, albeit in the correct way, for at least 10,000 hours.” Of course this is complete nonsense. We must conclude that Mr. Gladwell has practiced making absurd statements for well over 10,000 hours, so completely daft is his “rule.” Listen: when I was twenty, I was 5’7” in […]

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Music History Monday: The March King

We mark the birth on November 6, 1854 – 169 years ago today – of the American composer, conductor, and violinist John Philip Sousa.  Born in Washington, D.C., Sousa died in Reading, Pennsylvania on March 6, 1932, at the age of 77. Timing, Location, Life Experience, and Talent We are told that talent – be it athletic, musical, artistic, culinary, whatever – will only take us so far; that without commitment, hard work, and perseverance “talent” is, in the end, nothing but potential.  But success in any field in which innate, gene-given talent is an underlying necessity requires something more than just blood, sweat, and tears: it also requires timing, location, and life experience. We consider.  How many potential William Shakespeares have been born in times and places in which vernacular, secular theater was not being cultivated to a revolutionary degree?  How many latent Sebastian Bachs lived until one was born into the perfect family and at the perfect time and place to exploit his skill set? How many possible LeBron Jameses existed before the invention of basketball?  I would suggest that what made Mozart “Mozart” was not just his talent and work ethic, but that his father was a […]

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