Franz Peter Schubert (1797–1828) in 1825, watercolor by Wilhelm August Rieder

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…

François-André Danican Philidor (1726–1795)

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…

According to “This Day in”, on August 31, 2006–14 years ago today — the Times of London ran an article on the sometimes outright whacko-crazy demands made by rock stars when on tour. Today we’ll live vicariously through a few of these rockers and see what sort of extravagance we too could command if we were among their number.

But first, let us mark three worthy birthdays and one death.

Alma Marie Schindler Mahler Gropius Werfel (1879–1964) in 1909

On August 31, 1879–141 years ago today — the composer, pianist, and muse Alma Maria Schindler was born in Vienna; she died in New York City on December 11…

Queen, circa 1975; left-to-right: Roger Taylor (born 1949), John Deacon (born 1951) Freddie Mercury (born Farrokh Bulsara, 1946–1991); Brian May (born 1947)

It was on August 24, 1975–45 years ago today — that Queen began recording Bohemian Rhapsody at Rockfield Studio №1 in Monmouth, Wales. It would take a total of three weeks to record the song. We are told that Freddie Mercury had “mentally prepared the song beforehand” and thus he directed the sessions. We are also told that Mercury, along with fellow bandmembers Brian May and Roger Taylor, sang their vocal parts pretty much non-stop for “ten to twelve hours a day”, resulting, in the end, in 180-plus separate overdubs (to say nothing for sore throats and hoarse voices!).

I Confess


Advertising postcard picturing Wagner (with his father-in-law Franz Liszt directly behind him) greeting Kaiser Wilhelm I at the inaugural Bayreuth Festival in 1876

Yesterday’s Music History Monday marked the 144th anniversary of the premiere of Richard Wagner’s music drama Götterdämmerung (“The Twilight of the Gods), the fourth and final installment of his epic tetralogy The Ring of the Nibelungs. As we properly observed yesterday, Wagner’s Ring was and remains the greatest single undertaking in the long history of Western music.

We read — here and there — that “Wagner wrote almost no instrumental music.” This is a most misleading statement, as he was a brilliant composer for orchestra and did indeed compose a significant body of orchestral music. However, it just so happens…

Richard Wagner’s “Festival Theater” in Bayreuth

On August 17, 1876–144 years ago today — Richard Wagner’s music drama Götterdämmerung (“Twilight of the Gods”) received its premiere in his newly-opened “Festival Theater” in Bayreuth, Germany. That performance of Götterdämmerung brought to its conclusion the first production of Wagner’s epic four evening tetralogy, The Ring of the Niebelung.

Let’s say it up front because it needs to be said. That performance concluded what was and remains the greatest single undertaking in the history of Western music: not just Wagner’s writing and composition of the four music dramas that make up The Ring, but of the construction and opening…

The first page of Mozart’s manuscript of the Jupiter Symphony; note the date of completion appended to the upper right-hand corner: “10 Aug 1788”

Nicknames. We turn to that paragon of informational accuracy, Wikipedia, for the following definition of the word “nickname”:

“A nickname is a substitute for the proper name of a familiar person, place or thing. Commonly used to express affection, it is a form of endearment and amusement. In rarer cases, it can also be used to express defamation of character, particularly by school bullies [or certain Presidents of the United States]. As a concept, it is distinct from both pseudonym and stage name, and also from a title (for example, ‘City of Fountains’), although there may be overlap in these…

Mozart in 1789 by the German portrait artist Dora (Doris, Dorothea) Stock (1760–1832)

We mark the completion, on August 10, 1788–232 years ago today — of Mozart’s Symphony in C major, catalogued by Ludwig Köchel as K. 551 and nicknamed the “Jupiter”. It was Mozart’s final symphony, a towering, innovative masterwork, the greatest symphony ever composed to its time and by any standard of measure one of a handful of greatest symphonies ever composed. That it took Mozart all of 16 days to commit it to paper defies our imaginations. That it was composed back-to-back with the luminous, transcendentally lyric Symphony in E-flat major and the tragic, gut-busting Symphony in G Minor in…

Louise Farrenc (1804–1875)

Soon after I opened up shop on Patreon, I was asked to comment on the music of Louise Farrenc (1804–1875). Not for the first time and certainly not for the last, I was brought up short . . . Louise who? I’m not sure I was brave enough to admit my ignorance, but as I recall I promised to look into her music.

I have indeed “looked into” her music and have been properly gobsmacked by what I have heard: symphonies of great power and pathos, dazzling piano music and, in particular, chamber music on par — on par —…

Ferruccio Busoni (1866–1924) in 1913

Yesterday’s Music History Monday post marked the death on July 27, 1924 of the musical polymath Ferruccio Busoni (1866–1924). Today’s Dr. Bob Prescribes post picks up where yesterday’s Music History Monday left off, with an examination of what is, perhaps, Busoni’s single most representative work: his massive, 30-plus minute-long Fantasia Contrappuntistica for piano.

Hugo Leichtentritt — Ferruccio Busoni’s first biographer — wrote on the occasion of Busoni’s 50th birthday in 1916 that:

“He is a campaigner, not a quiet, complacent inheritor. He is a pioneer [and yet] he is anchored in the past by many roots.”

A good choice of…

Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author, and The Great Courses Professor Robert Greenberg.

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