Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Schubert

Music History Monday: Buried Treasure

On December 17, 1865 – 153 years ago today – the two complete movements that make up Franz Schubert’s so-called “Unfinished Symphony” received their premiere in Vienna, in a performance conducted by Johann von Herbeck (1831-1877). Schubert had completed those two movements in 1822, 43 years prior to that premiere performance. At the time of the premiere, Schubert had been dead for 37 years. Buried treasure. I don’t know about you, but when I hear the phrase “buried treasure” my mind – conditioned by having read Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island as a kid – immediately conjures images up a huge chest filled with gold and silver coins and jewels: specie and precious stones, hard stuff of value. But there are soft treasures – meaning stuff made out of paper – that are of equal or even greater value than the hard stuff. Should you find a complete copy of a Gutenberg Bible in your Aunt Edith’s library, you’re looking at a value of between 25-35 million USD; that complete Shakespeare First Folio you found at the bottom of a box at a garage sale is valued at between 8 and 12 million dollars; that 1909 Honus Wagner Sweet Caporal T206 […]

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Music History Monday: Schubert’s Death

November 19 is a sad day for us all. On November 19, 1828 – 190 years ago today – Franz Schubert died in Vienna at his brother Ferdinand’s third floor flat at Kettenbrückengasse 6 (in Schubert’s day, the address was Firmiansgasse 694). The building looks almost exactly the same today as it did when Schubert died there; the red and white flags in front of the building today surround a tablet that reads “Schubert Gedenktafel”: “Schubert Memorial Plaque.” On the facing directly below the bust at Schubert’s original grave in Vienna’s Währing Cemetery (what is now called “Schubert Park”) is an inscription written by the Viennese dramatist Franz Grillparzer: “The art of music here interred a rich possession/But still far fairer hopes.” Ain’t that the truth. In the last sixteen years of his brief life, this composer of really unparalleled lyric gifts composed, among other works: 8 finished and “unfinished” symphonies (not 9, which is the number typically bandied about); 10 orchestral overtures; 22 piano sonatas; 6 masses; 17 operas; over 1000 works for solo piano and piano four-hands; around 145 choral works; 45 chamber works, including some drop dead string quartets, and 637 songs. But in fact, the 31 […]

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Music History Monday: Death and the Maiden

192 years ago today – on January 29, 1826 – Franz Schubert’s String Quartet No. 14 in D Minor, better known as Death and the Maiden, received its premiere at the home of Karl and Franz Hacker in Vienna. The quartet comes by its nickname honestly, as its second movement is a theme and variations form movement based on a song entitled Death and the Maiden, a song Schubert had composed in 1817 when he was twenty years old. The song sets a poem by Matthias Claudius, in which Death comes to claim an adolescent girl who is not prepared to go quietly. In the first stanza she sings: Pass by, alas, pass by! Go, you savage skeleton! I am still young, go, oh dear! And do not touch me. In the second stanza, Death seeks to calm her and allay her fears: Give me your hand, you fair and tender creature; I am a friend and do not come to punish you. Be of good cheer! I am not savage, Gently you will sleep in my arms. The song begins and ends with a slow, solemn, march-like passage played by the piano. At the beginning of the song, it […]

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Greetings from Vienna!

Along with mass consumption of Viennese coffee, strudel, and schnitzel, our pilgrimages have begun. Today we visited he house in which Franz Schubert was born on January 31, 1797 at Nußdorfer Straße 54. To call the house “modest” is a bit of an understatement; at the time of Schubert’s birth its 16 apartments housed some 70 people, making the tract house in which I grew up in South Jersey seem like a palace by comparison. The Schubert apartment – on the upper right-hand side of the second floor (see photo below) – consisted of two rooms: a small kitchen and a single living room, in which the Schubert family managed to live, sleep, make music, reproduce, etc. The family moved to larger digs when Franz was a few years old. Schubert was born in the kitchen, next to the fireplace/stove. For a January birth it was the warmest spot in the apartment and thus the location. One of the photos below shows me crouching at pretty much the exact spot Schubert was born. Also pictured below (and on display in the apartment): a pair of Schubert’s glasses (looking, to my untrained eye, very much like bifocals). He was severely near-sighted […]

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