Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Robert Schumann

Dr. Bob Prescribes Robert Schumann: Kreisleriana

Romanticism The nineteenth century saw the emergence of a new sort of European literature.  The cutting-edge writers of the time were consumed by a number of particular themes: the glorification of extreme emotion, particularly love; nostalgia for a distant, mystical, legendary past; and a passionate enthusiasm for nature wild and free, unspoiled by humanity and its bourgeois values! Soon enough, visual artists and composers embraced these themes as well.  For many such nineteenth century writers, poets, visual artists, and composers, over-the-top expressive content, nostalgia for the past, personal confession and the depiction of nature wild and free were the vehicles for achieving what their art – at its essence – was all about: spontaneous and magnified emotional expression. The adjective “Romantic” came to be used to describe such emotionally charged and self-expressive art. And no nineteenth century, “Romantic era” composer believed more fervently in music as personal, emotional, and spiritual confessional than did Robert Schumann (1810-1856). Robert Schumann: Early Life He was born in the central German town of Zwickau on June 8, 1810, the fifth and last child of August Schumann and Joanna Christiana Schumann (née Schnabel).    We are told that if we do what we love, we’ll […]

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Music History Monday: Robert and Clara, Sittin’ in a Tree…

We mark the marriage on September 12, 1840 – 182 years ago today – of the pianist and composer Clara Wieck (1819-1896) to the composer and pianist Robert Schumann (1810-1856).  The couple were married the day before Clara’s 21st birthday (September 13, 1840), for reasons that will be explained in detail in tomorrow’s Dr. Bob Prescribes post. Not for the Timid I ask: what are the most difficult things any person can attempt?  To summit K2 and return alive?  To win Olympic gold?  To overcome addiction?  To row solo across the Pacific?  All tough things to accomplish, no doubt.   What are the scariest things anyone can do?   Swim with piranhas? Eat at a barbecue restaurant next to a cat hospital?  Urinate on Mike Tyson?  Scary stuff, dangerous stuff, that. But to my mind, nothing is more soul-searingly difficult-slash terrifying than one, raising children and two, staying in a first marriage.  (Okay; I’ve probably told you more about my life than I intended to, but there it is.) Children are to people what water is to a house: children will find and reveal every flaw in your “structure” – your personality – while simultaneously sucking dry your money, patience, […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Robert Schumann

I have been asked to write a brief program note for the Library of Congress, and it just so happens that they have asked me to write about one of my favorite performing ensembles performing some of my absolutely favorite music. Talk about two birds with one stone! I will adapt this Dr. Bob Prescribes post for the LOC. But to our post first. By way of explanation. The National Recording Registry is a list of 25 recordings issued annually by the Library Congress. The Registry now totals some 525 recordings. According to the LOC: “Each of these recordings has been chosen by the Librarian of Congress, with input from the National Recording Preservation Board. Each of these recordings have been deemed so vital to the history of America — aesthetically, culturally or historically — that they demand permanent archiving in the nation’s library.” There are certain actors whose fan-bases are so deep that their mere presence in a film will, by itself, guarantee its success. Tom Hanks, Jennifer Lawrence, Harrison Ford, Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, Scarlett Johansson, Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep, Brad Pitt, Samuel Jackson, Sandra Bullock, Tom Cruise: put ’em on the screen and watch the moolah roll in. There are […]

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Music History Monday: A Very Bad Ending

We mark the death on July 29, 1856 – 163 years ago today – of the German composer, pianist, and music critic Robert Schumann at the age of 46. The actress Valerie Harper was back in the news this week. Now nearly 80 years old (her birthday is on August 22nd), she is best remembered for her role as Rhoda Morgenstern on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and then its spin-off, Rhoda, in the 1970s. Ms. Harper was diagnosed with lung cancer back in 2009, and she has fought like the proverbial tiger since. Her time is almost up; this week’s news was about her husband’s refusal to ship her off to a hospice. During the course of her illness, she has pointed out – correctly, if painfully for us all – that we are all “terminal.” I know, I know, I know: it’s not something anyone wants to think about, especially not on a Monday, which by itself is depressing enough. Yes, our time will come when it comes, but I, for one, want to spend as little energy as possible thinking about it. But having buried three beloved family members long before their time should have been up, […]

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Music History Monday: The Compositional Jag

On January 8, 1843 – 175 years ago today – Robert Schumann’s magnificent Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 44 received its public premiere in the Saxon city of Leipzig. Dedicated to his wife, the pianist Clara Wieck Schumann, the quintet was written during what can only be called a manic, three-year compositional jag. Check it out Robert and Clara were married in 1840. Jig city: in 1840 Schumann composed 135 songs, including the two Liederkreis cycles, and the cycles Frauenliebe und leben and Dichterliebe! The jag, continued: in 1841 he turned to orchestral composition and produced, among other works, his Symphony No. 1 in B-flat Major; the Fantasia in A Minor for piano and orchestra (which later became the first movement of his piano concerto); the Overture, Scherzo and Finale in E Major; and he began his Oratorio entitled Das Paradies und die Peri. Then 1842 rolled around and Schumann got freaky. In what is now called his “year of chamber music” he composed – in the span of nine months – the three string quartets of Op. 41; the Piano Quintet in E-flat Major; the Piano Quartet in E-flat Major; and the first of his piano trios, a […]

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Music History Monday: A Very Long Engagement!

176 years ago today – on September 12, 1840 – one of the most tortuous, profanity-inducing, potentially violent, legally drawn out courtships ended when the composer Robert Schumann and the pianist Clara Wieck were married in Schönefeld, just northeast of Leipzig. The person to blame for all the tsuris was Friedrich Wieck, Clara’s father. He was a piano teacher who had molded his daughter Clara into one of Europe’s greatest pianists by the time she was a teenager. Clara was Friedrich’s reason-to-be, his creation, a walking advertisement for effectiveness of his “piano method” as well as his Individual Retirement Account. So when that lump Robert Schumann – who had once also been a student of Wieck’s – started sniffing around his Clara when she was just 16 years old (and Schumann was 25), well, it was time to nip things in the bud. There was no way on this good earth that that lame-fingered loser Robert Schumann was going to steal Wieck’s cash cow. Nip things. In the bud. Yes. But in this Friedrich Wieck was singularly unsuccessful, though it wasn’t for lack of trying. For five years after Robert and Clara had pledged themselves to each other he did […]

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