Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Rachmaninoff

Dr. Bob Prescribes: Rachmaninoff, Symphony No. 2

Rachmaninoff in America Like so many Russians of his time and of his class (what was then called in Russia the “lower nobility”; what we would call today the upper middle class), Sergei Vasilyevich Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) and his family lost everything but their lives in the Russian Revolution of 1917.  He, his wife Natalia, and his daughters Tatiana and Irena escaped Russia on December 22, 1917, with what they could carry in their small valises.  After having spent nearly a year in Sweden and Denmark, the family arrived in New York City on November 10, 1918.   (The list of so-called “first wave” Russian émigrés who fled the Revolution represented a brain-drain of what was to then an unprecedented proportion.  In just the arts, that list of émigrés included, aside from Rachmaninoff, Léon Bakst, Yul Brynner(!), Oleg Cassini, Marc Chagall, Feodor Chaliapin, Serge Diaghilev, Peter Carl Fabergé, Michel Fokine, Wassily Kandinsky, Tamara Karsavina, Vladimir Nabokov, Vaslav Nijinsky, Sergei Prokofiev, Nicolas Roerich, and Igor Stravinsky.) On arriving in New York City in 1918, Rachmaninoff made his headquarters on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.  His first long-term residence was an apartment at 33 Riverside Drive, at 75th Street and Riverside.   In 1926, […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Rachmaninoff Piano Concerti

Yesterday’s Music History Monday began with the story of the tenor Michele Molese’s call out of the critic Harold Schonberg from the stage of the New York City Opera in 1974 after Schonberg had made a snarky critical remark about Molese’s singing of a high “C”. It’s appropriate then, or so I think, to begin today’s post with another Schonberg appraisal, this one of Sergei Rachmaninoff the pianist. No snark here; Schonberg – who was the senior music critic of The New York Times for 20 years – had the opportunity to hear Rachmaninoff in concert when he (Schonberg) was a young man. Writing many years later, Schonberg was still in awe. “There was nobody like him. Rachmaninoff would come on stage stiff and severe, never smiling, with his hair cropped as close as a convict’s. With terrible dignity he would seat himself and wait for the audience to quiet. He played with a minimum of physical exertion, brooding over the keys. From his fingers came an indescribable tone: warm, projecting into every corner of the hall, capable of infinite modulation. When Rachmaninoff played, everything was perfectly planned, perfectly proportioned. Melodies were outlined with radiant authority; inner voices were brought […]

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Music History Monday: “You will write your concerto. . .”

We mark the first complete performance of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 on November 9, 1901 – 119 years ago today – in Moscow. Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) was the piano soloist. The performance was conducted by his cousin: the pianist, conductor and composer Alexander Siloti (1863-1945). Before moving on to Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto and the compelling story behind it, we’ve an utterly irresistible anniversary to note.  It was on this day in 1974 – 46 years ago today – that the unthinkable occurred onstage at the New York City Opera, and no, I’m not talking about copulating dogs during the Act I party scene of Rigoletto. The opera being performed was Giuseppe Verdi’s Un ballo in Maschera (“The Masked Ball”) of 1859. In the starring role of Riccardo was the Italian-American tenor Michele Molese. Molese was a mainstay of the New York City Opera, and over the years he appeared there in almost every leading tenor role in the standard repertoire. He was known, particularly, as being among Beverly Sills’ favorite leading men, and together they appeared in new productions of, among other operas, Manon (by Jules Massenet, 1884), Faust (Charles Gounod, 1859), and Lucia di Lammermoor (Gaetano Donizetti, […]

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Scandalous Overtures — Rachmaninoff: Reborn Through Hypnosis

The human hand, with its four fingers and opposable thumb, is a miracle of design, function, dexterity, and beauty. The human hand contains 29 major and minor bones (though many people have a few more) and 29 major joints. Each human hand has at least 123 named ligaments and 34 muscles that move the fingers and thumb: 17 of these muscles are located in the palm of the hand and 18 of them in the forearm.(A fascinating fact, at least to a non-medico like myself: there are no muscles in our fingers.The muscles that move our fingers are located in our palms and mid-forearms.These muscles are connected to our finger bones by tendons, which yank and pull and move our fingers in the same way that strings move a marionette.) Actual hand size is as variable as every other aspect of the human body, and while we will not – for now – address the urban legends surrounding thumb size in men, I would offer up a few observations about overall hand size. There are some occupations for which large hands are a downright liability. It seems to me that superfine work like building circuits, cutting diamonds, defusing bombs, and […]

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