Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Richard Strauss

Music History Monday: When Richard Strauss was “Modernity”: ‘Salome’ and ‘Elektra’

We mark the world premiere – on January 25, 1909 – 112 years ago today – of Ricard Strauss’ opera Elektra at the Semperoper, the opera house of the Sächsische Staatsoper – the Saxon State Opera – in Dresden. Today acknowledged as one of the masterworks of the operatic repertoire, the premiere of Elektra uncorked a degree of critical controversy equaled only by Strauss’ own opera Salome in 1905 and Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring in 1913. If I were to ask you who was the most famous and controversial living composer in 1909, who would you name? Gustav Mahler, born in 1860? No: Mahler was then best known as a conductor and a composer of long and rarely performed symphonies. Igor Stravinsky, born in 1882? No: Stravinsky didn’t appear on Europe’s artistic radar until 1910, when his ballet The Firebird was premiered in Paris on June 25th of that year. Arnold Schoenberg, born 1874? In 1909, Schoenberg was hardly known outside of his native Vienna, and many (if not most) of those Viennese who did know his music considered him a crackpot; okay, a talented crackpot. You know where this is going. The most famous, controversial, and (not […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Richard Strauss – Four Last Songs

There are fighting words, and then there are FIGHTING WORDS. As for the former, small-case version of “fighting words” I would lump political discourse (which can, admittedly, get pretty hot these days; I trust none of you are put off by the fact that I keep politics out of this site, not because I am an apolitical wuss but because I want this to be a safe place for everybody); the question as to whether steroid-era baseball superstars like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Mark McGuire belong in the hall of fame; or whether Certs should be considered a breath mint or a candy mint. As someone writing on topics musical, I would list but one category of true, all caps FIGHTING WORDS, and that topic/category is singers. I have found that you can say pretty much anything about someone’s children, mother, pets, and car (okay; maybe not their car), but mess with that person’s favorite singer(s) and you will be in for a world of hurt. For example. In last week’s Music History Monday, I extolled the glories of Giacomo Puccini’s opera Tosca. In the course of the post, I indicated that my favorite recording of the opera features […]

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Music History Monday: Richard Strauss

We celebrate the birth of the composer Richard Strauss, who was born on June 11, 1864, 154 years ago today. I will pull no punches here: in my humble (but happily expressed) opinion, Richard Strauss was one the greatest composers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He was a melodist and musical dramatist on near par with Mozart, which is, I think, just about the highest compliment any composer can be paid. His brilliant (though, admittedly, sometimes sprawling) tone poems – From Italy, Don Juan, Macbeth, Death and Transfiguration, Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Don Quixote, A Hero’s Life, Domestic Symphony, and An Alpine Symphony – constitute, virtually, a genre of experimental music of their own. His superb operas pick up from where Richard Wagner’s “music dramas” leave off, which inspired the wags of his time to call Strauss “Richard II”. He continued to turn out masterworks until the very end of his long life; his exquisite Oboe Concerto (1945) and Metamorphosen for strings (also 1945) were composed when he was 81; his Four Last Songs (1948) was composed when he was 84. In 1947, the 83 year-old Strauss declared with typical self-deprecation: “I may not be a […]

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