Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Russia

Music History Monday: One of a Kind!

On April 23, 1891 – 127 years ago today – the composer and pianist Sergei Prokofiev was born in the village of Sontsovka, in Ukraine. He was, very simply, one of a kind: a brilliant, tungsten-steel-fingered pianist; a great composer; and one of the most irksome and narcissistic artists ever to ply his trade (no small statement given the character flaws of so many professional artists). He grew up an isolated, only child on an estate managed by his father. He was homeschooled and rarely played with the local kids, who were considered to be “social inferiors” by his parents, a parental attitude that no doubt helped to foster the overweening arrogance and snobbery that characterized Prokofiev’s personality from the beginning. A prodigy as both a pianist and composer, in 1904 – at the age of 13 – he entered the St. Petersburg Conservatory. Prokofiev was not a popular student. He was, by pretty much all surviving accounts, a total jerk. For example, he laughed out loud when his fellow piano students made mistakes and went so far as to actually keep a roster of the mistakes committed by his classmates. (This would have earned him a dislocated jaw where […]

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Music History Monday: A Cold War Miracle

Four years ago today, the pianist, cultural icon and “Cold War Musical Envoy” Van Cliburn died at his home in Fort Worth Texas. He was 78. Van Cliburn’s celebrity was shaped not just by his talent but also by what were – and remain – earth-shaking historical events. Joseph Stalin – “the Leader and Teacher; the Friend of Children; the Great Helmsman; the Great Father of the Nation; the Great Railway Engineer” – was born in 1878. He initially rose to power in 1924; by 1927 he had crushed all opposition to become the all-powerful Soviet dictator that he remained until his death in 1953. Stalin was also a butcher, and while the numbers vary, the eminent English historian Norman Davies claims that Stalin was responsible for the deaths of some 50 million human beings – excluding wartime – between 1924 and 1953. Stalin could not have done it alone, however, and he surrounded himself with a cadre of ruthless goons and henchmen disguised as “government officials”. Among those henchmen was Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev (1894-1971). Khrushchev was a short (5’3”), round, peasant-born operative who did what he was told to do, which included strapping on the leather apron and rubber […]

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