Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for The Great Courses

Music History Monday: Musicians Behaving Badly

Before getting on to our central topic for today’s post – naughty, naughty musicians – we need to give a shoutout to the great Spanish composer and conductor Manuel de Falla who was born on November 23, 1876 – 144 years ago today – in the Andalucían port city of Cadiz. We will celebrate de Falla tomorrow in my Dr. Bob Prescribes post, which will focus on his ballet El amor brujo (meaning “The Magician Love”) of 1915, and the Carlos Saura movie of the same title (from 1986) based of de Falla’s ballet. On to today’s feature presentation, Musicians Behaving Badly. On November 23, 1956 – 64 years ago today – a sheet metal worker named Louis Balint was arrested after attacking the King – Elvis Presley – in Toledo, Ohio. Here’s what happened. On November 22, 1956, Elvis Presley and his band played two shows in Toledo’s Sports Arena. Elvis’ fame and popularity had skyrocketed since his first two appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show just a few weeks before, on September 9 and October 28, 1956. Along with the concerts, November 22, 1956 was an auspicious day for Elvis and his fans in Toledo, as that was […]

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Music History Monday: Chopin’s Last Concert

It was on November 16, 1848 – 172 years ago today – that Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) performed his final concert. It was given at a benefit ball held in London’s Guildhall, staged to raise money for Polish exiles. Chopin, 38-years-old, was desperately ill. And although he lived another 11 months, he was never to perform again.  Frédéric François Chopin (born Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin) was a quintessential Romantic figure: a restless man of genius; a forlorn lover who could never settle down; a prodigy whose music and piano playing enchanted his listeners from the time he was an adolescent; someone whose muse demanded that he work in a white heat for days at a time despite his physical frailty and dismal health. He was a consumptive at a time when consumption (that is, tuberculosis) was considered that most “romantic” of illnesses, the “disease of genius”.  Of course, if you actually had tuberculosis, you didn’t consider it “romantic” at all; you were too busy trying not to cough your lungs out and to just freaking breathe. Chopin himself had no patience for the entire Romantic trip and claimed to be disgusted with the artistic precepts and pretentions of Romanticism, which he considered self-indulgent […]

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Music History Monday: “You will write your concerto. . .”

We mark the first complete performance of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 on November 9, 1901 – 119 years ago today – in Moscow. Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) was the piano soloist. The performance was conducted by his cousin: the pianist, conductor and composer Alexander Siloti (1863-1945). Before moving on to Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto and the compelling story behind it, we’ve an utterly irresistible anniversary to note.  It was on this day in 1974 – 46 years ago today – that the unthinkable occurred onstage at the New York City Opera, and no, I’m not talking about copulating dogs during the Act I party scene of Rigoletto. The opera being performed was Giuseppe Verdi’s Un ballo in Maschera (“The Masked Ball”) of 1859. In the starring role of Riccardo was the Italian-American tenor Michele Molese. Molese was a mainstay of the New York City Opera, and over the years he appeared there in almost every leading tenor role in the standard repertoire. He was known, particularly, as being among Beverly Sills’ favorite leading men, and together they appeared in new productions of, among other operas, Manon (by Jules Massenet, 1884), Faust (Charles Gounod, 1859), and Lucia di Lammermoor (Gaetano Donizetti, […]

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Music History Monday: Shostakovich and His String Quartet No. 8 in C minor, Op. 110

I’m doing something today that I have never done before in Music History Monday and which, I hope, I will never have to do again. November 2 is not a day bereft of musical events. For example, November 2, 1739 saw the birth, in Vienna, of the composer and violinist Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf, who was a friend of Beethoven’s and who went on to become the concertmaster of the Esterhazy Orchestra. November 2, 1752 saw the birth of Count Andrey Kirillovich Razumovsky in St. Petersburg. In 1792, Count Razumovsky became the Russian Ambassador to the Austrian Court in Vienna. It was as a resident of Vienna that he formed his own house string quartet and commissioned Beethoven to compose three quartets for his “Razumovsky String Quartet” (those quartets would be Op. 59, nos. 1, 2, and 3). Beethoven further immortalized Razumovsky by dedicating both his Symphonies Nos. 5 and 6 to the Count. On this day in 1984, the Reverend Marvin Gaye Sr. was given a suspended six-year sentence and probation for shooting and killing his son, the singer and songwriter Marvin Gaye (1939-1984). Initially charged with first degree murder, the charges were reduced to voluntary manslaughter when it […]

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Music History Monday: Musical Riots and Assorted Mayhem

We mark the riot that occurred on October 26, 1958 – 62 years ago today – when Bill Haley and his Comets played a concert at Berlin’s Sportpalast to an audience of some 7000 people. Signs of trouble had occurred at Haley’s first two German concerts on the previous two evenings, the first one in Hamburg and the next in Essen. But no one could have anticipated the mayhem in Berlin, where some 500 rock ‘n’ rollers and police staged a fist-and-stick battle during the show. Five policemen were badly beaten, six audience members severely injured, while damages to the venue amounted to over 50,000 Deutsche Marks. Both the East and West German authorities reacted with outrage. The West Berlin senate banned all future rock ‘n’ roll concerts. In East Germany, Neues Deutschland, the official Communist Party organ, condemned Haley in a front-page editorial for: “turning the youth of the land of Bach and Beethoven into raging beasts.” (With all due respect we would observe that just a few years before, “the youth of the land of Bach and Beethoven” had indeed behaved like raging beasts.) The newspapers in both East and West Berlin agreed that the Haley riots were: […]

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Franz Schubert’s “Gretchen am Spinnrade”

On October 19, 1814 – 206 years ago today – Franz Schubert composed his first masterwork, the song Gretchen am Spinnrade – “Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel” – for solo voice and piano, on a text by Johann von Goethe. Schubert was 17 years old. It is an enduring and, in the end, unanswerable question: how many songs did Franz Schubert compose? It’s not that various sources haven’t tried to answer the question. For example, according to volume twenty of the Schubert Gesamptausgabe (“complete edition”), a massive project completed in the 1890s, Schubert composed 603 songs. According to the Belgian musicologist and Schubert scholar Reinhard van Hoorickx (1918-1997), writing in his Thematic Catalog of Schubert’s Works: New Additions, Corrections and Notes (published in1976), Schubert composed 660 songs. Not to be outdone, the English Schubert scholar, Maurice John Edwin Brown writing in his Essays on Schubert (Macmillan, 1966), claims that Schubert composed 708 songs. FYI, in a lecture I gave at San Francisco’s Herbst Theater on February 25, 2003 entitled “Schubert: On the Wings of His Songs” I indicated that he had composed 637 songs. (I know I wouldn’t have made that number up, but presently, I can’t for the life of […]

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Music History Monday: Gluck and Orfeo ed Euridice

We mark the premiere performance on October 5, 1762 – 258 years ago today – of Christoph Willibald Gluck’s opera Orfeo ed Euridice at the Burgtheater in Vienna, in the presence of Empress Maria Theresa her very self.  The history of opera is not unlike the history of the movies or television: it is a medium of great artistic and intellectual potential cyclically debased by its potential for huge monetary gain.  The first operas, composed between roughly 1600 and 1640 were courtly entertainments called “drammi per musica”: “dramas with music.” And that’s precisely what they were: stage dramas in which words and actions were deepened a gazillion-fold by setting them to music. Such entertainments were literate and sophisticated, and the great master of the genre was Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643). … Continue Reading – Only on Patreon! Listen on the Music History Monday Podcast Robert Greenberg Courses On Sale Now

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Music History Monday: The Planets

We mark the premiere performance – on September 28, 1918 – 102 years ago today – of Gustav Holst’s The Planets in Queen’s Hall, London, under the baton of Adrian Boult. To hear Holst (1874-1934) tell it, The Planets became an albatross around his neck; a monkey on his back; a large, gnarly grain of sand in his skivvies: it made him internationally famous and remained so popular that nothing he composed for the remainder of his life ever came close to approaching its popularity. Holst went to his grave believing that as far as the public was concerned, he was hardly more than a one-hit wonder.  As a composer and a man, Holst presents us with something of an enigma. In The Planets, we hear a composer of great passion, ecstatic joy, ethereal lyricism, and stunning violence. In its massive, seven-movement design, The Planets has no real precedent; it is quite original. Likewise, Holst’s compositional merging of Wagnerian expressive oomph, English folk song, and Hindu mysticism set him apart from every other English composer of his time. (Four our info, Holst was a student of Sanskrit literature who, among other Hindu-inspired works, set to music hymns from the Rig […]

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Music History Monday: The Prodigal Son Returns

On September 21, 1962 – 58 years ago today – the composer Igor Stravinsky returned to Russia for the first time in 48 years: he had been gone since 1914. Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky was born on June 17, 1882 in the tony summer resort town of Oranienbaum (today known as Lomonosov) on the Gulf of Finland, about 25 miles from St. Petersburg. His father Fyodor Ignatievich Stravinsky (1843-1902) was a well-known opera singer – a bass (oh, how the Russians love their bass singers!) – with the Kyiv Opera and Mariinsky Theater there in Peter. The Stravinsky family was of Russian-Polish heritage, descended, we are told by biographer Steven Walsh: “from a long line of Polish grandees, senators and landowners.” Stravinsky’s mother Anna Kirillovna Stravinskaya (born Kholodovskaya, 1854-1939) was from Kiev, and came from a family hardly less distinguished than her husband’s: landowners from the governing class of 19th century Russia. She numbered among her ancestors distinguished politicians, military officers, noblemen and noblewomen.  Igor Stravinsky grew up in St. Petersburg with his three brothers (two older, one younger), his mother and father, and the servants (as many as five or six), in a large, eight-room, second-story flat at No. 66 […]

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Music History Monday: François-André Danican Philidor

We mark the birth on September 7, 1726 – 294 years ago today – of the composer and chess master (properly, the “unofficial” world chess champion!) François-André Danican Philidor.  In my Dr. Bob Prescribes post for Tuesday, September 1 (all of last week), we observed that the composer and conductor Giuseppe Sinopoli died all-too young of a heart attack (while conducting a performance of Aida in Berlin), on April 20, 2001, at the age of 54. We further observed that he died two days before he was to receive a Laurea in Archeology – a bachelor’s degree in archeology – from the Università La Sapienza in Rome. Finally, we observed that among Sinopoli’s publications is a book entitled Masterpieces of Greek Ceramics from the Sinopoli Collection. Ah: “the Sinopoli Collection.” So, either he was himself a collector or he grew up with a family collection of Greek ceramics. Was he, then, just a hobbyist, a passionate collector, or something more? We would observe that hobbyists do not generally suffer the rigors of attaining a bachelor’s degree at the age of 54 just because they like to collect stuff. No: Giuseppe Sinopoli would appear to be that fairly rare, world-class professional […]

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