Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for The Phoenix Symphony

Music History Monday: Concerts I Would Like to Have Attended (and One I am Glad to have Missed!)

January is usually a concert-heavy month, following, as it does, the holiday-heavy month of December. In a non-COVID environment, theaters thrive in the cold and early darkness of January, as folks look for something to do while they wait out the winter in anticipation of warmer, longer days and baseball season.  January 18th is particularly notable for concerts that have taken place on this date, concerts that with one glaring exception I personally would have been thrilled to attend. Stuck at home as we presently are thanks to you-know-what, let us live vicariously through these January 18 concerts, even as we anticipate – hungrily, hopefully – the soon-enough-to-be attended concerts of January 2022.  We will focus primarily on the first of these concerts – the premiere of Dmitri Shostakovich’s opera, The Nose – after which we’ll do a quick prance through five other January 18-specific concert events of note. The Nose We mark the premiere performance on January 18, 1930 – 91 years ago today – of Dmitri Shostakovich’s first opera, The Nose, which was performed by the Maly Opera Theater in Leningrad (today’s St. Petersburg). Completed in 1928 when Shostakovich was just 22 years old, The Nose is based […]

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Music History Monday: Prokofiev, Romeo and Juliet, and the B***h Goddess

We mark the first performance of Sergei Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet on January 11, 1940 – 81 years ago today – by the Kirov Ballet in Leningrad, what today is St. Petersburg. Prokofiev was born on April 23, 1891 in Ukraine. He attended the St. Petersburg Conservatory as both a pianist and composer and graduated in 1914, first in his class. His rise to fame as both a pianist and composer was meteoric, and by 1917, the 26-year-old Prokofiev had come to be considered among Russia’s very best and brightest. Unfortunately, that’s also when current events had their way him. By 1917, World War One had been raging for three years. As the only son of a widow, Prokofiev had not been called up into the Russian army; a good thing, considering that four million Russians died in combat between 1914 and 1917. Violent frustration over the Russian war effort led Czar Nicholas II to abdicate on March 2, 1917. An armed insurrection brought Vladimir Lenin’s Bolshevik Party to power in November of 1917, and the Russian Civil War began. The Civil War would last for five horrific years and kill an additional 9 million Russians. In 1918, deciding […]

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Music History Monday: A Rockin’ Day

What July 4th is for Americans; what Bastille Day on July 14th is for the French; what St. Patrick’s Day on March 17th is for the Irish, and what the Black-Necked Crane Festival on November 11th is for the Bhutanese, so January 4th is for fans of rock ‘n’ roll: a day when so much stuff happened as to enshrine it as a major, rock ‘n’ roll holiday! What, pray tell, happened on this day? Thank you for asking. Elvis Presley and Sam Philips It was on January 4, 1954 – 67 years ago today – that Elvis Presley, four days short of his 20th birthday (on January 8), came to the attention of the record producer and founder of Sun Records, Sam Phillips (1923-2003). It was the singular event that vaulted Elvis to stardom. Here’s what happened. On this day in 1954, Elvis made his second visit to the studios of the Memphis Recording Studio, which shared an office with Sun Records. On his first visit – six months before, on July 18, 1953 – Presley had recorded two songs (at his expense) on a two-sided, 10-inch acetate disc, claiming that the recording was a “gift for his mother.” […]

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Music History Monday: Maurice Ravel

We mark the death on December 28, 1937 – 83 years ago today – of the French composer and pianist Maurice Ravel, in Paris, at the age of 62. We will get to the magnifique and formidable Monsieur Ravel in a moment, but first, we’ve a birthday to acknowledge. We mark the birth on December 28, 1896 – 124 years ago today – of the American composer and teacher Roger Huntingdon Sessions, in Brooklyn New York. He died, at the age of 88, on March 16, 1985, in Princeton, New Jersey. I myself never studied with Roger Sessions; he had retired from the Princeton faculty in 1965, while I was in attendance from 1972 to 1976. Nevertheless, the “old man” cut a wide swath on campus. And why the heck not? A multiple Pulitzer Prize winner; friend of Arnold Schoenberg, Aaron Copland, and Thomas Mann; Norton Fellow at Harvard: there was hardly an American musical event that took place during the twentieth century that Sessions wasn’t in some way involved with. While I never studied with Sessions, I did indeed study with his protégé Andrew Welsh Imbrie (1921-2007) when I was a graduate student at the University of California Berkeley; […]

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Music History Monday: The Top “ZZ’s” – Frank Zappa and Zdeněk Fibich

We mark and celebrate two composers born on this date. Zdeněk Fibich was born on December 21, 1850; 170 years ago today. Frank Zappa was born on December 21, 1940, 80 years ago today. The two had more in common with each other than just a name that started with the letter “z”. They were both eclectic composers, who brought to bear in their music a wide variety of influences, influences that were deemed “incompatible” by their critics. Oh yes, their “critics”: as composers, both Fibich and Zappa were controversial. They both suffered from poor health and they both died young: Fibich at 49 and Zappa at 52. Frank Vincent Zappa was born on this date in 1940 in Baltimore, Maryland, the eldest of four children in an Italian-American family. Zappa’s father Francis was a defense-industry scientist, and as such the family lived a peripatetic existence: Baltimore, then to Florida; back to Maryland; then to Monterey, California; Claremont, California; El Cajon, California; San Diego, California; and finally, in 1956 (when Zappa was sixteen) to Lancaster, California, an aerospace and farming community in the Antelope Valley, in the Mojave Desert, near Edwards Airforce Base. The young Frank Zappa was chronically ill; […]

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Music History Monday: Wozzeck

We mark the premiere performance on December 14, 1925 – 95 years ago today – of Alban Berg’s opera Wozzeck in Berlin, conducted by Erich Kleiber. That premiere performance was preceded by 137 rehearsals. Wozzeck was, and remains, one of the great masterworks of the twentieth century. Johann Franz Wozzeck, the title character of Berg’s opera, is described as being: “Thirty years and seven months old, militia man and fusilier in the second regiment, second battalion, fourth company; uneducated, uncomprehending.” Wozzeck is slowly being driven insane by those around him, something we become aware of early in the first act. Composed in greatest part during and immediately after World War One, Johann Franz Wozzeck’s incipient madness reflects not just the eroding mind of a doomed soldier but a doomed generation as well. According to the musicology Professor Glenn Watkins of the University of Michigan: “Wozzeck’s growing madness is as vivid a projection of impending world doom as any to come out of the Great War.” Berg’s opera is based on a play based on a real-life person: a confessed murderer named Johann Christian Woyzeck (W-o-y-z-e-c-k). This Woyzeck was a Leipzig-born wigmaker and barber who later enlisted in the army. In […]

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Music History Monday: The Worthy and Unworthy, from High Taste to Low

Prince Josef Lobkowitz and Some Number One Songs That Will Live in Infamy! We have three items on our calendar-driven agenda today, which also happens to be the 79th anniversary of the Japanese surprise attack at Pearl Harbor, on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. One of these items is a birth; one of them is a recording session; and one of them notes some songs that will live in infamy! We begin with the recording session.  On December 7, 1967 – 53 years ago today – Otis Ray Redding, Jr. (1941-1967) entered the recording studio of Stax Records in Memphis Tennessee and recorded (Sittin’ On) The Dock of The Bay. Redding had written the first verse of the song while staying on a houseboat at Waldo Point, in the San Francisco Bay Area town of Sausalito (which I am presently looking at as I write this from across the Bay in Oakland).  The song went on to become his greatest hit, something – tragically – the 26-year-old Redding never lived to see; he was killed in an airplane crash just three days after the recording date, on December 10, 1967. Redding’s whistling at the conclusion of the song, just before […]

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Music History Monday: Furtwängler

We mark the death on November 30, 1954 – 66 years ago today – of the German conductor and composer Gustav Heinrich Ernst Martin Wilhelm Furtwängler, who was one of the most important and controversial musicians of the twentieth century. We will talk all about Maestro Furtwängler in just a moment. But first: November 30 is a busy day in music history, and we have some important births and deaths to mark. We mark the birth on November 30, 1813 – 207 years ago today – of the French pianist, composer, and teacher Charles-Valentin Alkan in Paris. Alkan was a great piano virtuoso and an equally great oddball, who composed some of the most impossibly virtuosic piano music ever put to paper. Tomorrow’s Dr. Bob Prescribes post will celebrate Alkan and his Grande Sonata, Op. 33; his Sonatine, Op. 61; and his “Twelve etudes in all the minor keys” Op. 39, No. 12, an etude entitled “Aesop’s Feast”. The following three November 30th oriented entries all deal with musicians who made a profound impression on me growing up in the 1960s. Long before “Weird Al” Yankovic (born 1959) created satirical songs parodying pop culture, there was Allan Sherman, who was […]

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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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