Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Author Archive for Robert Greenberg

Dr. Bob Prescribes: Wagner – The Ring of the Nibelung

Nothing is perfect, not even evolution. Speaking for myself, I wish evolution had done a better job with human knees and rotator cuffs, though given that evolution engineered the human body to last only some 35 or 40 years, I suppose the breakdown of my knees and shoulders – which are presently long past their natural expiration date/shelf life – is to be expected. One thing evolution got very right is “binaural” hearing. “Binaural” means “having or relating to two ears.” Why do we humans and virtually every other creature that “hears” on this planet have two ears? Because binaural hearing allows us to figure out the origin and direction of sounds. When it comes to negotiating our environment, one ear is not enough and three is simply too many. As such, there’s no practical reason why any animal would have evolved 3, 4, 5 or more ears; that would be a useless waste of precious energy and resources. And aside from having created the preconditions that led to the dance-pop/tech-house/pop-reggae singing/recording career of Paris Hilton, evolution typically does not waste its resources on the useless.  As discussed in yesterday’s Music History Monday post, the 12-inch, 33 1/3-rpm (rotations-per-minute) long-playing […]

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Music History Monday: A Bevy of Firsts and Number Ones!

Before moving on to our “firsts” and “number ones”, we would acknowledge an event that picks up on the Music History Monday post of March 2, 2020. That postmarked the death in 1830 of the violinist and conductor Ignaz Schuppanzigh. Schuppanzigh was a loyal friend and supporter of Beethoven and his music, despite Beethoven’s often abusive fat-shaming of the admittedly zaftig violinist. Schuppanzigh participated in more premieres of Beethoven’s music than any other musician other than Beethoven himself, and his unwavering devotion to Beethoven and his music continued after Beethoven’s death. On March 23, 1828 – 192 years ago today – the Schuppanzigh String Quartet posthumously premiered Beethoven’s final string quartet: the F major, Op. 135 of 1826 in Vienna. At the time of the premiere Beethoven had been dead for just under a year: for 362 days. With this posthumous premiere, Schuppanzigh’s life-long service to Beethoven as a first performer came to an end. On March 23, 1956 – 64 years ago today – RCA Victor records released Elvis Presley’s debut LP (long-playing) record, catalog number LPM-1254. There are 12 songs on the album, six on each side, recorded between July 5, 1954 and January 30, 1956, totaling 28 […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: The Folk Revival

Today’s Dr. Bob Prescribes post is different from previous posts in two ways. First, only once before has this post prescribed more than one recording; today’s post prescribes four. My thinking is as follows: as Amazon is still delivering, and as so very many of us are housebound (or nearly so) for the foreseeable future, we have the time and wherewithal to consume rather more music than usual. And that we should do, because it will help to keep us sane. Second, this post recommends three “greatest hits” albums, which is something I am ordinarily loath to do. What constitutes a “greatest hit”, anyway? Record sales? Frequency of radio play? Sheet music sales”? Excuse me, but generally speaking, I’d rather decide what constitutes a “greatest hit” based on perceived artistic merit than statistical accomplishment. Further, a “greatest hits” album tells no larger musical story: we as listeners get no sense of a group’s artistic trajectory over time. Rather, such an album is a hodge-podge of songs recorded whenever, without any chronological reference. Finally, for those of you who are already fans, the greatest hits albums serve no purpose whatsoever, as you likely already have a comprehensive sampling of these artists’ […]

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Music History Monday: Puff the Magic Dragon

Before getting to the Puffster, I’d like us to recognize three other noteworthy musical events that have fallen on this date. On March 16, 1736 – 284 years ago today – the Italian composer Giovanni Pergolesi died in Pozzuoli Italy, a city that today is part of metropolitan Naples. Pergolesi passed away at the utterly obscene age of 26. He was born in Jesi, in central Italy not far from the Adriatic Sea. He spent his professional life – what there was of it – in Naples, where he experienced great success. He died of tuberculosis and, according to one source, “his ill health was probably due to his notorious profligacy”. Profligate or not, he was amazingly talented, and his early death robbed us all of someone special. We’re reminded of Schubert’s epitaph, written by Franz Grillparzer: “Music here has buried a rich treasure, but still fairer hopes.” On this day in 1947 – 73 years ago today – the coloratura soprano Margaret Truman (1924-2008), the daughter of then-President Harry Truman, made her professional radio debut when she sang with the Detroit Symphony. Ms. Truman continued to perform on stage, radio, and television through 1956. In the early years of […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Verdi String Quartets

Yesterday’s Music History Monday post observed the premiere of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Nabucco on March 9, 1842. Staying with Verdi, today’s Dr. Bob Prescribes post deals with Verdi’s least-known masterwork: his String Quartet in E minor of 1873. The winter and spring of 1861 saw the not quite 48-year-old Giuseppe Verdi composing the operatic potboiler La Forza del Destino, “The Force of Destiny.” The majority of this four-act gore-fest takes place in Spain, and its characters and story line are Spanish. Given its Spanish locale, characters, and story, Verdi’s librettist on the gig – Francesco Maria Piave (1810-1876; Piave also write the libretti for Verdi’s Ernani, I due Foscari, Attila, MacBeth, Il corsaro, Stiffelio, Rigoletto, La Traviata, and Simon Boccanegra) – asked Verdi if he wanted to take a look at a collection of Spanish folksongs he had borrowed from a friend. We can well imagine Piave’s offer: “You know, Giuseppe, the opera’s got a Spanish locale, characters, and storyline, and since it’s been four years since you wrote any music I’m thinking that some Spanish folksongs might give you a little inspiration, maybe help you to add a little local color, whatever. I’d like to bring them over so […]

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Music History Monday: Unspeakable Catastrophe and Unqualified Triumph!

We mark the first performance on March 9, 1842 – 178 years ago today – of Giuseppe Verdi’s third opera and first operatic masterwork, Nabucco, at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi (1813-1901) was born on either the ninth or tenth of October 1813, in the north-central Italian village of Le Roncole in the Duchy of Parma.  At the time, the Duchy of Parma was part of Napoleon’s “First French Empire” and as such Verdi’s birth name was recorded in French as “Joseph Fortunin François”. Thus, this great Italian patriot was born– much to his later annoyance – as a citizen of France. Verdi’s family moved to nearby Busseto when he was still a child, and it was there that Verdi acquired the padrone – the patron – who would shape his life: a wealthy merchant named Antonio Barezzi. Barezzi paid for Verdi’s musical education, arranged for Verdi’s first full-time music position (as Busetto’s “town music master”), and sponsored Verdi’s first public performance. But even more, Antonio Barezzi “gave” Verdi the greatest gift any father can give, and that was the hand of his daughter Margherita; the two were married on May 4, 1836. Margherita in turn […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes A Jazz Duo

To an overwhelming degree, musicians are “defined” – personally, even spiritually – by the instruments they play and the music they play on those instruments. Put a flute player, a trumpet player, and a pianist in a room, and they might talk about the weather, or where they went to school, or were they are presently gigging; or cars, or their kids, or whatever; maybe they’ll talk about music and maybe they won’t. (The only thing you can be certain of is that the flute player and trumpet player will arrange to see each other again, because that’s what flute players and trumpet players do: they go out with each other.) But. Put three flute players in a room together and the conversation will focus like a diamond cutting laser on their flutes (“You’ve got a Drelinger head joint? OMG; I wish I could afford a Drelinger head joint!”), their teachers (“Loved Tim Day, but Robin McKee was a better fit for me”); auditions (“You guys gonna do Tampa?”), the repertoire, upcoming recitals, and a thousand-and-one other things, all having to do with the flute.  The point: for professional and high-end amateur musicians who have been playing a particular musical […]

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Music History Monday: M’Lord Falstaff

We mark the death, in Vienna, on March 2, 1830 – 190 years ago today – of the violinist and conductor Ignaz Schuppanzigh. Born in Vienna on November 20, 1776, he was 53 at the time of his death, reportedly of “paralysis”, whatever that’s supposed to mean. Speaking generally but accurately, a measure of professional contentment can be hard to come by in the professional musical world. That’s because a professional career – for composers and performers alike – consists (particularly early in our careers when we are most vulnerable) of a seemingly endless sequence of (often failed) auditions; rejection; criticism (sometimes fair but more usually unfair); rejection; scratching out a living that is in no way commensurate with one’s talents and skills; and rejection. (Did I remember to mention “rejection”?) Sure, what audiences see and hear during a concert performance are skilled musicians, playing their hearts out and receiving – in the end – applause for a job well done. But hang out afterward and scratch the scab that is any professional musician’s psyche, and the frustration will likely spurt forth like goobers from a lanced boil. One will rarely – if ever – meet a professional musician who, […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes – Beethoven: Arrangements of Irish, Scottish, and Welsh Songs

We return to the birthday boy, Ludwig/Louis/Luigi van Beethoven, who turns 250 years-young this very year of 2020. As promised/threatened back in mid-2019, every month or two through 2020 I will dedicate a Dr. Bob Prescribes post to one or another of Beethoven’s lesser-known works or lesser-known recordings. On July 23, 2019 it was Beethoven’s Mass in C; on August 27, 2019 it was Beethoven’s Piano Quartet No. 3 in C Major, WoO 36 (a work composed when he was 14); on October 15, it was Emil Gilels’ superb recording of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4. Dr. Bob Prescribes for December 31 was a lengthy post on Beethoven’s songs, which are entirely under-appreciated and underperformed. Just so, today’s post will be the second of a projected three dealing with Beethoven’s songs; that third post, which will appear most definitely whenever (vague enough for you?) will focus on Beethoven’s vocal masterwork, Liederkreis an die ferne Geliebte (“Song-circle To the Distant Beloved”), Op. 98 of 1816. For today we turn to a body of Beethoven’s work – a very large body of Beethoven’s work – that remains almost unknown: his folk song arrangements. Between 1809 and 1818 Beethoven arranged 179 Scottish, Irish, […]

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Music History Monday: The Game Changer

We mark the first performance on February 24, 1607 – 413 years ago today – of Claudio Monteverdi’s opera L’Orfeo, in Mantua, Italy. I suppose I should apologize. I have been advised, gently but firmly, to diversify these Music History Monday posts as much as possible: to spread the topics around by focusing on relatively “contemporary musical events” (a euphemism for “popular musical events”) as well as on concert music and opera. And this I have done, as best as I can. For example, we celebrated the great Broadway composer Richard Rodgers on December 30; we discussed the fortunate/unfortunate patenting of the accordion on January 13; we dined on bat tartare together with Ozzy Osbourne on January 20.  Certainly, there is no shortage of (relatively) contemporary musical events we could celebrate here on February 24. For example, on February 24, 1965, the Beatles began filming the movie Help in the Bahamas. On February 24, 1978, “The Second Barry Manilow Special” was broadcast on ABC-TV with guest star Ray Charles (OMG; be still our hearts!).  On February 24, 1988 the delightful Alice Cooper (born 1948) announced he would run for Governor of the great state of Arizona as a member of […]

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