Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Author Archive for Robert Greenberg

Dr. Bob Prescribes Tony Bennett and Bill Evans

I’m altering my usual MO here. Usually, when my Music History Monday post celebrates the premiere of a piece of music, the next day’s Dr. Bob Prescribes post goes on the recommend a recording of that piece. As yesterday’s Music History Monday was about Richard Wagner’s The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, it would follow, then, that today’s Dr. Bob Prescribes would recommend a recording. But, no. Instead, we’re running with the “mastersinger” thing, which is why I’m dedicating today’s DBP to the ageless and always wonderful Tony Bennett, “the mastersinger of Astoria, Queens.” I have loved the recommended albums since I first bought them on vinyl back in the mid-1970s and they have lost not an iota of their freshness and soul in the intervening years. These albums represent Tony Bennett the jazz singer at his very best. This is in no small part thanks to the otherworldly simpatico he achieves with the equally otherworldly Bill Evans on piano. Which prompts me to offer up a quick but ultimately unnecessary apologia. The apology? Bill Evans’ brilliant piano playing here notwithstanding, this post is going to focus entirely on Tony Bennett. The apology is indeed unnecessary because Music History Monday for August […]

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Music History Monday: The Mastersingers of Nuremberg

We mark the premiere performance on June 21, 1868 – 153 years ago today – of Richard Wagner’s music drama The Mastersingers of Nuremberg. The performance took place at the National Theater Munich, which today is the home of the Bavarian State Opera. Conducted by Franz Liszt’s student (and son-in-law) and Wagner’s protégé Hans von Bülow, the performance was sponsored and paid for by none-other-than the mad king himself, Ludwig II of Bavaria (1885-1886). Excepting Wagner’s second complete and first performed opera Das Liebesverbot (“The Ban on Love” of 1836, a work that Wagner ultimately rejected) The Mastersingers of Nuremberg was Wagner’s one-and-only operatic comedy. Wagner and Verdi: A Brief (and Important!) Comparison For all their many and seemingly irreconcilable differences, Richard Wagner and Giuseppe Verdi had rather more in common than we might think. They were exact contemporaries, born 4 months and 19 days apart: Wagner on May 22, 1813 (he died on February 13, 1883) and Verdi on October 10, 1813 (he died on January 27, 1901). They were the leading nineteenth-century exponents of their respective operatic traditions: Verdi Italian opera and Wagner German. They were both considered ardent patriots by their countrymen, composers who, each in his own […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Henry Mancini

Enrico Nicola “Henry” Mancini was born on April 16, 1924, in Cleveland, Ohio. He grew up in the western Pennsylvanian town of West Aliquippa, about 15 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. Apropos of nothing, my research reveals an astonishing number of high-end professional athletes hail from “greater” Aliquippa, including Jon Baldwin (National Football League/NFL); Tommie Campbell (NFL); Mike Ditka (NFL); Tony Dorsett (NFL); Tito Francona (Major League Baseball/MLB); Sean Gilbert (NFL); Nate Guenin (National Hockey League/NHL); Frank Hriber (NFL); Ty Law (NFL); Pete Maravich (National Basketball Association/NBA); Doc Medich (MLB); Paul Posluszny (NFL); Darrelle Revis (NFL); and Pete Suder (MLB). We might wonder whether there was something “in the water”, though that water was probably badly tainted by the Jones and Laughlin Steel Company mill that was the town’s primary source of employment. (Steel towns. By their nature, they are filled with big, brawny men who make big, brawny sons, many of them desperate to avoid the fate of their fathers! No wonder so many professional football players hailed from Aliquippa!) There can be no doubt that Henry Mancini’s father wanted something better for his son. Having emigrated from the Italian mountain town of Scanno, in Abruzzo as a teenager, Quintiliano […]

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Music History Monday: Henry Mancini

We mark the death on June 14, 1994 – 27 years ago today – of the composer, songwriter, conductor, and arranger Enrico Nicola “Henry” Mancini in Beverly Hills, California, at the age of seventy. Known primarily for his film and television scores, Mancini received twenty Grammy Awards and four Oscars.  Today’s Music History Monday and Tomorrow’s Dr. Bob Prescribes posts are conceived as a single large unit. Here’s how they will play out. Henry Mancini was the most influential American film composer of his generation. He was also the outstanding composer of what is now called the “modern Hollywood film score.” Today’s post will dwell on what constitutes the “modern Hollywood film score”, how it evolved, why it evolved, and why Mancini is considered its supreme representative. Tomorrow’s Dr. Bob Prescribes post will offer up Mancini’s biography along with the recommended discs, which feature his best-known works, including his Oscar-winning songs Moon River and Days of Wine and Roses, and his scores to Peter Gunn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and The Pink Panther, among many others.  My Music History Monday and Dr. Bob Prescribes posts for February 8 and 9 of this year, respectively, dealt with the life and music of […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Florence Foster Jenkins

“Pay-to-play” (aka “P2P”). It’s a fairly new term for something as old as the hills: paying (bribing?) others “for services or the privilege to engage in certain activities.” P2P is particularly big in the book and music publishing industry today, in which publishers require authors and composers to underwrite the costs of production (and not infrequently marketing as well) for the “privilege” of receiving a 5% royalty on their books/scores sometime down the road. Such so-called “vanity productions” can cost tens-of-thousands of dollars. For academes who must publish-or-perish, P2P is often the only way to get into print. To my mind it’s nothing short of piracy. The most notable recent example of pay-to-play in the world of concert music is that of Gilbert Kaplan (1941-2016). Born in New York City, Kaplan made his fortune when he sold his business/financial magazine Institutional Investor in 1984. According to The New York Times: “The price was never disclosed but was rumored to be about $75 million.” That was a chunk of change in 1984, the equivalent of $190 million today. With that sort of money in his pocket, the 43-year-old Kaplan was free to indulge his hobby full-time. That hobby? Gustav Mahler’s Symphony […]

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Music History Monday: When Opera Singers Misbehave

On June 7, 1727 – 294 years ago today – a long-running feud between the sopranos Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni broke out into open warfare – a screaming, hair-pulling, dress-ripping physical altercation on stage, in London – during a performance of Giovanni Bonancini’s opera Astianatte (of 1725). After pulling the “ladies” apart and dragging them from the stage, not only was the remainder of the performance cancelled but the remainder of George Frederick Handel’s Royal Academy of Music opera season as well! (FYI: Sources are in disagreement as to whether this brouhaha took place on Tuesday, June 6 or Wednesday, June 7, 1727. Obviously, I’ve chosen to run with the latter date.) Here’s what happened. The Italian operatic soprano Francesca Cuzzoni was born in Parma on April 2, 1696, and died on June 19, 1778 in Bologna. In 1718, at the age of 22, she made her Venetian operatic debut: the equivalent today of making a La Scala or Metropolitan Opera debut.  By 1723 – the year she made her London debut – Cuzzoni was one of the most celebrated singers in all of Europe. Then as now, star singers ruled the operatic roost, and London’s greatest opera impresario […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Hank Levy and Don Ellis

It is possible to know too much. A wine aficionado has no taste for a $14.00 bottle of Pinot. A modern dance devotee would not deign to attend a square dance. A cocktail shaker enthusiast won’t look twice at a mass-marketed chrome shaker from the 1930s. This sort of knowledge-based snobbery applies particularly to movies and TV shows. I know from personal experience that a physician cannot watch a doctor/hospital show without constantly (and derisively) pointing out its endless flaws. I imagine the same is true when a policeperson watches a crime show or movie; when an attorney watches a courtroom drama; or when an extra-terrestrial takes in a science fiction movie. Given my particular knowledge base, I find I tolerate movies and TV shows about music poorly. Amadeus was entertaining, but the scene in which the dying Mozart presumably dictates a portion of his Requiem to Salieri is pure poppycock. And don’t get me started on any of the Beethoven movies out there; or when the 6’ tall Robert Walker portrayed the 5’ tall Johannes Brahms in the 1947 movie Song of Love (“good for a guffaw” wrote Bosley Crowther in his review in The New York Times); or […]

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Music History Monday: Haydn’s Death and His Final Road Trip

We mark the death, on May 31, 1809 – 212 years ago today – of the incomparable Joseph Haydn, at his home in Vienna at Kleine Steingasse 73 (today, the address is Haydngasse 19). At the time of his death, he was 77 years old and was, without any doubt, the most popular and beloved composer in the Western world. Franz Joseph Haydn was born on March 31, 1732 in the Austrian town of Rohrau. He was as self-made a person as any we’ll ever meet. A choirboy at St. Stephen’s cathedral in Vienna, he was booted out onto the mean streets of Vienna when his voice changed at the age of 16 and left entirely to his own devices. He subsisted in a Viennese garret, giving lessons and playing the violin in dance bands while he taught himself to compose. To indulge the cliché, the young dude attended the school of hard knocks and managed to graduate summa cum laude. He slowly climbed the Viennese musical ladder and in 1761 – at the age of 29 – took up a position with the Esterházy family, a fabulously wealthy family of Hungarian nobles. His position was that of Vice-Kapellmeister – […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Beethoven: Complete Sonatas for Violin and Piano

By the Numbers Some important Beethoven numbers. Zero: the number of wastepaper baskets Beethoven owned. (The man kept everything.) Zero: the number of hair-styling implements found in Beethoven’s apartment at the Schwarzspanierhaus after his death on March 26, 1827. (Does this surprise any of us?) One: the number of beautiful, leggy, rich aristocratic women who returned Beethoven’s love in his lifetime. (That would be Antonie “Toni” Brentano, the woman Beethoven addressed as his “Immortal Beloved.”) Two: the number of middle fingers Beethoven was wont to raise to anyone who was even remotely critical of him. Three: number of composition students Beethoven taught. They were Ferdinand Ries (1784-1838), Carl Czerny (1791-1857), and Archduke Johann Joseph Ranier Rudolph (1788-1831). Four: the number of ear-trumpets made for Beethoven in 1813 by Johann Nepomuk Mälzel that reside in the Beethoven-Haus Museum in Bonn. (Ironically, the things look more like musical instruments than anything else.) Five: in 1825, the number of publishers to which Beethoven sold the “exclusive publication rights” of his Missa Solemnis – the “Solemn Mass”: the houses of Diabelli, Probst, Schlesinger, Schott and Peters. (How do we spell “dastardly, dishonorable dealings?” There, we just spelled it.) Sixty (60): the number of coffee […]

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Music History Monday: George Bridgetower, Louis van Beethoven, Rodolphe Kreutzer, and a Sonata for Violin!

We mark the premiere on May 24, 1803 – 218 years ago today – of Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 9 in A major, Op. 47. When published in 1805, it was dedicated to the French violinist Rodolphe Kreutzer, and has been known as the “Kreutzer Sonata” ever since. However, it was originally dedicated to the famed violinist George Bridgetower, who, along with Beethoven, premiered the work 218 years ago today. How and why George Bridgetower originally received and then lost the dedication of the sonata makes for quite a story! General Jean Baptiste Jules Bernadotte (1763-1844) was an extraordinary character, the only of Napoleon Bonaparte’s generals to achieve any post-Napoleonic success on his own: he reigned as King of Norway and Sweden from 1818-1844. (Not bad for the son of a tailor from the nowheresville city of Pau in southwestern France!)  In February of 1798, long before he became King of Sweden and Norway (where he was known as “Charles/Carl XIV John”), the young and Hollywood good-looking Bernadotte was appointed the French minister to the Habsburg Emperor in Vienna. He didn’t last long in the job; Napoleon himself referred to Bernadotte as being “somewhere between hotheaded and crazy”, but he […]

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