Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Violin

Doctor Bob Prescribes: Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35

As I know I’ve mentioned all-too-many-times, my paternal grandmother, Bessie Hurwitz Greenberg, graduated in 1916 with a degree in piano from the New York Institute of Musical Art (renamed the Juilliard School in 1926). For the next fifty-plus years, she tortured generations of piano students from her studio in Queens, New York, including my father and myself. She had been born in Brooklyn New York in 1894, about 12 years after her family immigrated to the United States from the Russian Empire (Minsk, in modern Belarus), as a result of the pogroms that erupted after the assassination of Tsar Alexander in 1881. While my paternal grandfather, Sidney Greenberg – Bessie’s husband – was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey (Exit 13) in 1891, he also grew up in Brooklyn, New York. Like my grandmother’s family, Sidney’s family fled Belarus in the 1880s. Unlike my grandmother the musician, my grandfather was a jock: a fairly high-end track-and-field athlete and semi-pro baseball player who, according to family legend (myth?) turned down an invitation to the 1912 Olympic Trials because he couldn’t get the time off from work. My grandfather went on to a successful career as an executive for a fabric company called… 

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Music History Monday: Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major

136 years ago today – on December 4, 1881 – Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major received its premiere in Vienna. It was performed by the violinist Adolf Brodsky and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Hans Richter. The concerto is, in my humble opinion, Tchaikovsky’s single greatest work and one of a handful of greatest concerti ever composed.  Yet its premiere there in Vienna elicited one of the most vicious reviews of all time. Question: do any of us like being criticized? And please, let’s not dignify that oxymoronic phrase, “constructive criticism”. I don’t mean to sound oversensitive, but after a certain age, all criticism – constructive or not – becomes simply infuriating. Unfortunately for him, Peter Tchaikovsky was both one of the most over-sensitive and over-criticized composers in the history of Western music. (Growing up, his governess called him “a porcelain child” so easily was his spirit chipped and cracked.) So: criticism. No one likes to be criticized. And no major composer ever received more damning criticism than did Peter Tchaikovsky. Given his incredibly sensitive nature, and the fact that he was, as a homosexual in Tsarist Russia, leading virtually a double life, well, you’ve got… 

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