Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Author Archive for Robert Greenberg

Dr. Bob Prescribes Sergei Nakariakov

Yesterday’s Music History Monday focused on the crime of passion that was the murder of the be-bop trumpet player Lee Morgan (1938-1972), a crime committed on February 19, 1972, by his common-law wife, Helen Moore. Morgan was an extraordinary player, someone who recorded prodigiously and who – being only 33 years old when he was killed – should have had a long and storied career in front of him. Morgan didn’t get his first trumpet until he was 13. Nevertheless, by the time he was 18, he was already making records and performing as a member of the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band. Given that he died at 33, I suppose we should be grateful that he wasn’t a late bloomer, as he likely would have left little by way of a recorded legacy behind him! The subject of this post is another trumpet player who made his mark as a youngster: Sergei Nakariakov, who was born in 1977. Nakariakov was a crazy child prodigy, and he has grown nicely into his maturity: today he must be considered among a handful of greatest living trumpet players. I first introduced you to Maestro Nakariakov back in 2020, and it is time to […]

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Music History Monday: Frankie and Johnny, and Helen and Lee

I am aware that Valentine’s Day is already 5 days past, but darned if the romantic warm ‘n’ fuzzies aren’t still lingering with me like a rash from poison oak. As such, I will be excused for offering up what I will admit is a belated, but nevertheless Valentine’s Day-related post. Gratitude We should all be grateful that the following Valentine’s Day-related post is not on the lines of those blogs I wrote in 2010 and 2011, blogs written for various websites in my attempt to drum up sales for my Great Courses/Teaching Company Courses. For example, I wrote a couple of Valentine’s Day-themed blogs in 2011, one for Huffpost and the other for J-Date, as in “Jewish-Dating.” For those posts – entitled “Romantic Music” – I was tasked with recommending appropriately “romantic” music for an intimate, tête-à-tête Valentine’s Day evening. This is how they began: “Fresh flowers, chilled champagne, and a candlelight dinner for two; the stereotypical trappings of a successful Valentine’s Day evening. But the sensual menu is still incomplete: smell, taste, touch, and sight are covered, but proper sound is still wanting. Yes indeed, music, the purported feast of the gods, the indispensable aural lubricant for romance, […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Joseph Haydn: Six String Quartets, Op. 76

Haydn’s six string quartets published in 1799 as Opus 76 are his supreme works of chamber music, works that show him at the very peak of his craft and imagination. The quartets were composed between 1796-1797, soon after Haydn’s return from his second residency in London. Haydn dedicated the set to his patron, the Hungarian nobleman Count Joseph Georg von Erdődy (1754-1824). The famed English music historian Dr. Charles Burney (1726-1814) first heard Haydn’s Opus 76 string quartets in 1799, and he could not contain himself when he wrote that: “They are full of invention, fire, good taste, and new effects, and seem the production, not of a sublime genius who has written so much and so well recently, but one of the highly cultivated talents, who has expended none of his fire before.” (“Expended none of his fire before”? Okay; whatever.)  Haydn’s Op. 76 string quartets are, indeed, brilliant; works that were – as we will soon observe – powerfully inspired by the late quartets of Haydn’s beloved and recently departed friend, Wolfgang Mozart (1756-1791). Mozart’s own string quartets aside, it is Joseph Haydn who, through the example of his 68 string quartets, is rightly credited with establishing the […]

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Music History Monday: Unauthorized Use

February 12 is one of those remarkable days in music history, remarkable for all the notable events that took place on this day. So: before getting to our featured topic, let us acknowledge some of those events and share some links to previous Music History Monday and Dr. Bob Prescribes posts that dealt with those events. On this day in 1812, Beethoven’s student (and friend), the Austrian composer, pianist, and teacher Carl Czerny (1791-1857) performed as the soloist in the premiere of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major, the “Emperor.” Czerny was the subject of Music History Monday on July 15, 2019. We wish a heartfelt farewell to the German pianist and conductor Hans von Bülow, who died on this date in Cairo, Egypt in 1894, at the age of 64. Von Bülow was the subject of both Music History Monday and Dr. Bob Prescribes just last month, on January 8 and 9,respectively. Birthday greetings to the American composer Roy Harris (1898-1979), who was born on this date in 1898 in Chandler, Oklahoma. Harris and his Symphony No. 3 were featured in my Dr. Bob Prescribes post on April 9, 2019. On February 12, 1924 – exactly 100 […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Barbara Cook

Songs and Singers As I discussed in Dr. Bob Prescribes on January 16 of this year, I intend to make 2024 a “year of the song” here in Dr. Bob Prescribes, specifically, the year of the “popular song.” As I mentioned in January, I’m doing this out of emotional and spiritual self-preservation, as I expect 2024 to be a dumpster fire to rival the COVID and election year 2020. Few things musical thrill me and uplift me as immediately as a great song, and IU assume many – if not most of you – feel the same way. Heavens knows, we’re going to need thrills and uplifting this year. I’m using the phrase “popular song” in its broadest sense: songs intended for popular entertainment, be they theater songs, songs from movies, or stand-alone pop songs; songs as performed by a variety of singers, be they popular entertainers, jazz singers, cabaret singers, theater actor/singers; etc. I do not intend to feature rock ‘n’ roll songs, because as a genre, rock is primarily about rhythm. Great and memorable melodies, complex harmonic progressions, and sophisticated lyrics are, for better or for worse, generally not the province of rock ‘n’ songs, with exceptions – […]

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Music History Monday: Getting Back to Work!

On February 5, 1887 – 137 years ago today – Giuseppe Verdi’s 25th and second-to-last opera, Otello, received its premiere at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan.  The premiere was the single greatest triumph in Verdi’s sensational career.  But it was a premiere – and an opera – that was a long time coming. Background He was born on October 10, 1813, in the sticks: in the tiny village of Le Roncole, in the northern Italian province of Parma.   Verdi’s first opera, Oberto, received its premiere at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan in November 1839, when Verdi was 26 years old.  Oberto was a modest success – it received 13 performances – and based on its success, the management at La Scala offered Verdi a contract to compose three more operas.  Verdi had begun his second opera – a comedy called A King for a Day – when catastrophe struck: he lost his wife and two young children to disease during a horrific, 20-month span between 1839 and 1840.  Rendered nearly insane by the deaths, Verdi nevertheless battled through his grief and managed to complete A King for a Day.  The opera received its premiere on September 5, […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Wolfang Mozart: Idomeneo

Mozart’s Operas Wolfgang Mozart (1756-1791) composed 21 operas (three of them left incomplete) across the span of his all-too-brief life, from the modest Apollo et Hyacinthus (Apollo and Hyacinth, composed in 1767 when he was 11 years old) to La Clemenza di Tito (The Mercy of Titus, completed in August of 1791, some 3½ months before Mozart’s death). Mozart’s operas fall into four main categories: opera seria (“serious opera,” also referred to as dramma per musica), works set in Italian; dramma giocoso (“drama with jokes”), works set in Italian; opera buffa (“comic opera,” also referred to as commedia in musica, commedia per musica, dramma bernesco, dramma comico, and divertimento giocoso), works set in Italian; and singspiel (opera with spoken dialogue), works set in German. The seven complete, multi-act operas Mozart composed in the 11 years between 1780 and his death in 1791 must be considered as being the greatest, single most significantset of operas ever composed by any individual composer in such a short period of time: Idomeneo (1780); The Abduction from the Seraglio (1781); The Marriage of Figaro (1786); Don Giovanni (1787); Cosi fan tutte (1789); The Magic Flute (1791), and The Mercy of Titus (1791).   Idomeneo, King of Crete: Characters, Voice Types, […]

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Music History Monday: Idomeneo

We mark the premiere on January 29, 1781 – 243 years ago today – of Wolfgang Mozart’s opera Idomeneo, Re di Creta (“Idomeneo, King of Crete”).  With a libretto by Giambattista Varesco (1735-1805), which was adapted from a French story by Antoine Danchet (1671-1748), itself based on a play written in 1705 by the French tragedian Prosper Jolyot de Crébillon (1674 -1762; that’s a lot of writing credits!), Idomeneo received its premiere at the Cuvilliés Theatre in Munich, Germany.  Idomeneo was a hit, and it constitutes not just Mozart’s first operatic masterwork but, by consensus, the single greatest Italian-language opera seria ever composed! Setting the Biographical Scene On January 15th, 1779, the 23-year-old Wolfgang Mozart returned home to Salzburg after having been away for 15 months.  His trip, which had taken him primarily to Mannheim and Paris, had been both a professional and personal disaster.  He had left Salzburg with his mother, filled with high hopes, high spirits, and dreams of finding a permanent job and romance.  He returned without his mother (who had died in Paris), without a job, without any money, and without the young woman he had met and fallen in love with during the trip (one Aloysia […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Johannes Brahms, Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor

Yesterday’s Music History Monday post marked the premiere of Johannes Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor. Nearly five years in the writing, the concerto received its premiere on January 22, 1859, in the German city of Hanover. Brahms himself was the soloist, supported by the Hanover Court Orchestra and conducted by Brahms’ great friend, the violinist Joseph Joachim. As we observed in yesterday’s post, Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 is bound up entirely with his reaction to his friend and mentor Robert Schumann’s suicide attempt; his feelings towards Robert and his wife, the pianist Clara Wieck Schumann; the years he spent with Clara and her children as both a surrogate husband and father during Robert’s institutionalization; Robert’s death; and Brahms’ decision that he could not marry Clara after Robert’s death. No wonder Brahms was consumed by the piece: it was a virtual diary of his feelings, experiences, and musical growth from the time he met the Schumanns in 1853 to the time he left Clara and returned to his hometown of Hamburg in 1856. As such, the concerto took on a terribly outsized degree of importance to Brahms. The consequences of this emotional investment in the concerto were, […]

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Music History Monday: Johannes Brahms, Piano Concerto No. 1

We mark the premiere on January 22, 1859 – 165 years ago today – of Johannes Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1, in the German city of Hanover. No other work by Brahms caused him such effort; never before or after did he so agonize over a piece, working and reworking it over and over again. Background On October 1, 1853, the 20-year-old Johannes Brahms showed up at the door of Robert and Clara Schumann’s house in Düsseldorf, in the Rhineland.  At the time, Brahms was pretty much a complete unknown outside of his hometown of Hamburg.  He was visiting the Schumann’s at the behest of the violinist and conductor Joseph Joachim (1831-1907) who, although only two years older than Brahms, was already world famous.   Physically, the young Brahms looked virtually nothing like the bearded, portly, cigar-smoking, bear-like dude of his later years; at twenty he was described as being: “a shy, awkward, nearsighted young man, blonde, delicate, almost wispy, boyish in appearance as well as in manner (the beard was still 22 years away) and with a voice whose high pitch was a constant embarrassment to him.” This 20-year-old kid might not have looked like our familiar image of […]

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