Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for 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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Further adventures in Paradise

Last week I wrote about the Apollo Academy, a wonderful four-day retreat at a facility called “Ratna Ling” located in the coastal mountains of Northern California’s Sonoma County. The Academy – the brainchild of a surgeon and cellist named Bill Moores – focuses on “mind/body synchronization that enhances mental and physical health. Optional sessions include immersion in the natural environment, poetry-writing, yoga, and the role of seasonal foods.” Yes, lovely and all very well-and-good, though the heart and soul of the Academy is chamber music. Open to performers and non-musician auditors alike, this year’s program was entitled “String Quartet Masterpieces of Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms.” These quartet masterworks were performed by the Alexander String Quartet with yours truly acting as host and lecturer.   Here’s how our concert-presentations worked: Each of our three sessions was delivered in two parts: for an hour before dinner (4:30pm-5:30pm) and hour-and-a-half after dinner (6:30pm-8:00pm). On day one (September 6), we presented a program entitled “The Mendelssohn Conundrum”, during which I discussed and the ASQ performed Mendelssohn’s String Quartets in A Minor, Op. 13 (of 1827); F Minor, Op. 80 (of 1847) and excerpts from his String Quartet in E Minor, Op. 44 (of 1837).   […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes

Welcome to my new series, “Dr. Bob Prescribes”, in which I will “prescribe” recordings, books, events, videos, websites, etc. on a weekly basis, with the intention of improving our musical health and thus raising our spirits and making happier our souls. In conversation with my Patreon patrons Jane Varkonyi and Frank Schmidt, I recommended Brahms’ Piano Quintet in F Minor as one of those works that, should we find ourselves stranded on that proverbial desert island, we would have to have for company. I would take the conversation a step further and recommend my numero uno favorite recording of not just the Brahms but Robert Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E-flat, which qualifies as another of my desert island works. (FYI, my desert island will require a large library, an air-conditioned listening room, a great hi-fi rig, and a well-stocked fridge and bar, because I have a lot of desert island works!) My absolutely favorite recording of both the Schumann and Brahms Piano Quintets is: 🤐🤐🤐🤐. Dang, but I hate being a tease! But for the remainder of this post – which names and describes my favorite recording and offers up as well both pertinent and anecdotal information about these extraordinary […]

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Schumann’s Kinderscenen, Op. 15, No. 7 — Träumerei

I’ve spent the last week editing the piano excerpts that will illustrate my upcoming The Great Courses survey, “The 23 Greatest Solo Works”. In honor of that poorly entitled and numerically challenged course (which will be available in early October), I offer up a brief piano masterwork, one with a story a mile long: Robert Schumann’s Kinderscenen, Op. 15, No. 7 (1838), a piece better known as Träumerei. In 1945, Schumann’s Träumerei – which means “Dreaming” – was selected by some forgotten apparatchik at Radio Moscow to be played in the background during a moment of silence at 6:55 pm on May 8, 1945, in memory of the victims of the Soviet Union’s war against Nazi Germany. Whoever that Radio Moscow functionary was, he has gained a measure of immortality for what was an inspired choice. Schumann’s work evokes a mood of aching melancholy, loss, and nostalgia, a mood very different from that evoked by the military or funeral music that might well have been chosen. Schumann’s Träumerei was immediately embraced by the Soviet people, who felt in its sweetness and longing not just their own grief but a healing sense of peace as well. Träumerei became the go-to piece […]

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