Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Stalin

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: The Show Will Go On!

On December 18, 1962 – 55 years ago today – Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13 received its premiere in Moscow. It was a premiere that almost didn’t take place, one that did indeed take place even though officially it did not really take place! Here’s what happened Joseph Stalin – the “great leader and teacher” and butcher par excellence – died in March of 1953. He was succeeded as “First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union” by Nikita Khrushchev. In 1956, Khrushchev denounced Stalin as being “savage, half-mad and power-crazed” in his famous “secret speech”. Delivered to the 20th Party Congress in February of 1956, the speech was, in fact, anything but secret. Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin initiated a period called the “Thaw”, during which domestic repression and censorship in the Soviet bloc were scaled back significantly, until Khrushchev’s ouster in 1964. The Thaw reached its climax in 1962 with the publication of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and the premiere of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13. Never mind that the Soviet authorities did everything they could to undermine the Symphony’s premiere, and that it was banned outright […]

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