Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Robert Greenberg – Page 2

Music History Monday: A Magnificent Fiasco!

On March 6, 1853 – 164 years ago today – Giuseppe Verdi’s opera La Traviata received its first performance at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice. The two years between March of 1851 and March of 1853 saw the premieres of three operas by Giuseppe Verdi that cemented, for all time, his reputation as the greatest Italian-born composer of operas since Claudio Monteverdi: Rigoletto, Il Trovatore, and La Traviata. To say that Giuseppe Verdi was the most famous and beloved living composer working in Italy at the time of the premiere of La Traviata is like saying that Babe Ruth was the most famous and beloved baseball player in 1930: a statement so obvious that it hardly bears mention. So it might come as something of a surprise that the premiere of La Traviata was one of the greatest disasters of Verdi’s long and storied career: a “fiasco” in contemporary parlance. Here’s what happened: New Webcourses Mozart In Vienna   Music of the Twentieth Century La Traviata Verdi’s opera Il Trovatore received its premiere on January 19, 1853 in Rome. While in Rome, Verdi had a piano installed in his rooms, so that he could get to work composing his […]

Continue Reading

Music History Monday: Chopin’s Heart

167 years ago today – on October 17, 1849 – the brilliant Polish-born composer Frédéric Chopin died in his apartment in Paris’ très chic Place Vendome. He was 39 years, 6 months, and 16 days old when he died and was attended by Dr. Jean Cruveilhier, France’s leading authority on tuberculosis. A few months before his death, Dr. Cruveilhier had diagnosed Chopin with tuberculosis, and Cruveilhier ascribed TB as the cause of Chopin’s death on his death certificate. There was a certain tragic romance associated with tuberculosis in nineteenth century Europe. Dubbed the “White Plague”, TB was thought to imbue its victims with a heightened artistic sensibility. Reflecting on just this, the prototypical Romantic poet Lord George Gordon Byron, wrote, “I should like to die from consumption.” (He didn’t; he died of a septic infection at the age of 36. No romance there at all.) In a letter to a friend, George Sand wrote of her beloved Frédéric Chopin, “Chopin coughs with infinite grace.” So idealized was the “spiritual purity” tuberculosis presumably bestowed on its sufferers that it became stylish for mid-nineteenth century women to affect the appearance of a consumptive by making their skin as pale as possible. (As […]

Continue Reading

Scandalous Overtures: Beethoven’s Death Wish

The Fine Line Between Depression and Genius Where have we heard this before? A beloved, supremely gifted performing artist appears to be at the top of his game and on top of the world. However, unbeknownst to all but a few friends and relatives, he harbors a great darkness within him, a despair that motivates and inspires his art. He is then diagnosed with a progressive and incurable disease, one that will eventually destroy his ability to perform. In his anguish, his mind turns to the most extreme option: suicide. It sounds awfully familiar in light of Robin Williams’ recent passing. But I am referring here to another performing artist, Ludwig (“my friends call me Louis”) van Beethoven. The parallels between Louis van Beethoven and Robin McLaurin Williams are striking, even extraordinary, although in the end the manner in which they dealt with their respective catastrophes were entirely different. Beethoven grew up hard and fast in the backwater German city of Bonn. His astonishing musical talent landed him in Vienna – the capital city of Euro-music – a few days shy of his 22nd birthday.He built his initial fame and fortune on his spectacular improvisations at the piano. Williams grew […]

Continue Reading

OraTV: Scandalous Overtures — The Sizzle!

Sizzle for schizzle! So would have spoken the late, great Tupac Shakur, had he the opportunity to share among his friends (and enemas) the following promotional video, created by OraTV to publicize my new show, a promotional video called in the trade a “sizzle”. Regarding the show. I had originally entitled the show “Conspiracies, Peccadilloes, and Dirty Little Secrets: Fun and Games with the Great Composers”. As titles go, well, where do I begin? I’m really good (or so I believe I am) at entitling musical compositions; from such myriad titles as “Child’s Play” and “By Various Means” to “Among Friends” and “Invasive Species”, I (arrogantly) believe I have a knack for finding a title that reflects the expressive content of a given piece. But. When it comes to entitling lectures and other such exercises in verbal over-rectitude, I tend to be . . . well . . . bloviated. Wanting – always – to say more than less, I end up indulging in the “colon game”. This has nothing to do with the GI tract but, rather, is an attempt to say more-than-less by inserting a colon between two separate phrases which (presumably) allows me to double-up on my […]

Continue Reading

Celebrating Verdi’s 200th — Falstaff

I trust we all raised a glass last Thursday on the 10th of October in honor of Giuseppe Verdi’s 200th birthday. Now, I am aware that with the exception of “belated birthday cards” (“I really crapped up, I’m embarrassed to say; but I had better things to do than remember your day”), we generally do not continue to celebrate birthdays after the date has passed. But 200th birthdays should – rightly – be considered an exception, and thus October of this year has been unofficially designated as “Giuseppe Verdi Appreciation Month”. In Italy in particular, the celebration goes on, with Verdi festivals and opera performances up and down the peninsula. With this in mind, I will be on my way to Italy in just a few hours where I will lead an opera tour organized by Arte & Travel in and around Verdi’s home province of Parma. Among other treats, we will attend performances of “Don Carlo” at La Scala (in Milan); “Nabucco” in Bologna, and “I Masnadieri” (“The Bandits”) at the Teatro Reggio in Parma. This, my friends, is pretty much as good as it gets, and I am most aware of how fabulously lucky I am to be […]

Continue Reading

Robert Greenberg Named An Official Steinway Artist

It has been a very good week. I distrust very good weeks. I would explain. By calling this a “good week” I am (obviously) asserting that good things have happened during the last seven (or so) days. And that is true. But saddled (as I am) with my particular psychoneuroses, such a positive assertion is riddled with dangerous implications. You see, by publically admitting that I’ve had a good week I fear I have called down a Karmic wet blanket that will suffocate my present high spirits and render me, once again, susceptible to the existential gloom that is my natural emotional condition. I expect it can all be boiled down to a single unfortunate assumption: that when a good thing happens there must be a bad reason for it. So here’s what’s happened. On Saturday last, I got married, as documented previously on this site. Yes; all good. In fact, all great. Then today (Thursday), I was informed that I’ve been designated a “Steinway Artist” by Steinway & Sons piano manufacturers. This is, no doubt, a tremendous honor, and I have indulged myself mightily by announcing it here on this page. But my ingrained suspicion of positive news has […]

Continue Reading

Lessons With Lee

I studied jazz improvisation with the alto saxophonist Lee Konitz for the better part of a year between 1973 and ’74. As best as I recall, his apartment in New York City was on the East 30’s. He shared it with his wife and a two cats. Of the three, Konitz clearly had the better relationship with the cats. (One day I went in for a lesson and the place felt different; a bit dustier and more cluttered. His wife, who had always been around during my lessons, was nowhere to be seen. I asked after her. Konitz said, “My old lady’s GONE.” I said I was sorry to hear it. He said, “I’m not”, and that was the end of that conversation.) Konitz was part of a small and elite group of musicians who had studied and/or worked with the pianist Lennie Tristano in the 1940’s, ‘50’s, and 60’s. This “Club Tristano” included the tenor sax player Warne Marsh, the pianist Sal Mosca, the guitarist Billy Bauer, and the bassist Peter Ind. What all these musicians had in common were mad technical skills and a penchant for improvising long, harmonically complex lines marked by a rhythmic asymmetry and phrase […]

Continue Reading

Behind a Composition – Technology

I am fond of saying (overly fond, frankly) that “technology is our friend, except when it isn’t.” We all know that this is true although it is tiresome to repeat. Nevertheless I have repeated this truism as a reminder that our techno-toys often actually hinder progress and creativity. Technology. We were led to believe that computers would reduce the amount of paper we waste. Hah. We were told that cell phones, email and texting would bring us “closer together”. Please; the absurd ease with which we can now communicate has in fact lowered the standard and meaning of our interaction. Meanwhile, an entire generation spends its waking hours “cyber multi-tasking”, which is a euphemism for “not doing any one thing particularly well.” Dang, I do sound old. I bring all of this up because modern technology has impacted mightily on how composers actually compose. For what it’s worth, here’s how I do it. My compositional methodology is decidedly old school: my basic tools are pencils and paper. Specifically, Music Writer pencils made by Pacific Music Papers and Passantino No. 85 spiral music notebooks. (When I started seriously writing music around the age of 14, I discovered music manuscript notebooks made […]

Continue Reading

Wishing My Father a Happy Birthday and A Little Greenberg Family History

A birthday greeting and appreciation to my father – Alvin R. Greenberg – who turned 88 today. More than anyone else, it is my dad who is responsible for my career in music, a fact that at one time might have given him some cause for regret but which, at this point, provides more pleasure than pain. My father’s mother – my grandmother – was an excellent pianist who graduated from the New York Institute of Musical Art (later the Juilliard School) with a degree in piano in 1916. She went on to teach three generations of piano students in the borough of Queens, where my father grew up. Of all the hundreds (thousands?) of students she trained, perhaps her greatest hopes were for her son (my father) who – so she hoped – would someday take his place among the pantheon of great pianists. To that end he was subjected to just the sort of Tiger Mommy practice-at-all-costs discipline that makes the more sensitive among us cringe: hours of enforced technical exercises and practice; recitals in high-end New York venues; never mind being a kid and going outside to play (“Play? You want to play? Play Chopin – that’s […]

Continue Reading