Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Author Archive for Robert Greenberg

Dr. Bob Prescribes Emil Gilels

This post continues the celebration of Beethoven’s upcoming semiquincentennial (250th anniversary of his birth) by featuring what is, for me, my out-of-the-ballpark favorite performance of what is, for me, my favorite Beethoven Piano Concerto. We contemplate, for a moment, youth, innocence, and the inevitable loss of both. I am writing this post on October 14, 2019. Today is my daughter Lillian Patricia’s 13th birthday; for not the first time in my life I have a teenaged daughter under my roof. Lily is still – may it long last – as sweet as can be, as the picture to the right (taken last night in her Halloween outfit) attests. But. But as experience has taught me, I am (painfully) aware that some point in the next two years she will suddenly and inexplicably disappear, to be replaced by an irrational, cynical, hypersensitive, over-emotional, easily angered, appearance-obsessed clone, someone pathologically hostile towards my jokes and given to door-slamming exhibitions of pique. I am additionally aware that it could take up to five or even six years to find my real daughter, during which time the rest of us will have to tread as if walking on glass.  Lillian’s childhood is almost over, […]

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Music History Monday: Der Bingle

We mark the death on October 14, 1977 – 42 years ago today – of the American singer and actor Harry Lillis “Bing” Crosby of a so-called “widow maker”: a massive, dead-before-he-hit-the-ground heart attack. We sense that he went out the way he would have chosen to go out.

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Jessye Norman

Death comes for us all, even the goddesses among us.  Pardon me such a lachrymose opening line, but Jessye Norman died on September 30, 2019 at the age of 74 and how can that be.  I had planned to write today about Johannes Brahms’ glorious vocal quartets (for soprano, alto, tenor, and bass voices and piano), 12 in number and published as Opuses 31, 64, 92, and 112. Like so much (if not most) of Brahms’ music for multiple voices and chorus, the vocal quartets are buried treasures, hidden gems, superb works generally unknown by the listening public and as such, a perfect subject for Dr. Bob Prescribes.  But our exquisite Ms. Norman’s passing has prompted a necessary change of course. So instead, I ask that you join me on Patreon as we explore one of my favorite recordings of Ms. Norman’s. Robert Greenberg Courses On Sale Now

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Music History Monday: The Bombs Bursting in Air: Bombing The Star-Spangled Banner

On October 7, 1968 – 51 years ago today – the Puerto Rican-born singer and songwriter José Feliciano (b. 1945) performed the Star-Spangled Banner in Detroit, before the fifth game of the World Series between the Detroit Tigers and the St. Louis Cardinals. His rendition caused a firestorm of controversy, one that did serious damage to his career.

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Celebrating ZOFO’s 10th Anniversary

On this past September 15, the amazing/killer/epic-fine piano duo ZOFO (“20-Fingered-Orchrestra) celebrated it’s tenth anniversary. (My Dr. Bob Prescribes post of March 5, 2019 was an undisguised fan-boy paean to this wonderful “ensemble”; it can be read on my Patreon subscription page.) ZOFO — meaning the pianists Keisuke Nakagoshi and Eva-Maria Zimmermann — celebrated their anniversary appropriately, by giving a concert at the same venue in which they performed their premiere on September 15, 2009: on Old First Concerts at Old First Church in San Francisco. I was honored to be represented on that concert by a piece called Exercised, which I composed for ZOFO back in 2018 and which they premiered last April. For your viewing and listening pleasure, a video link to their anniversary performance sits atop this post. On my Patreon channel, I have provided a program note for the work as well as the full score. Patreon is a subscription service on which I regularly post blogs, rants, bloviations, vlogs, and even, on occasion, items of genuine interest. A subscription can be had for as little as $2 a month: the price of parking in Oakland, California for one hour. Though a proud resident of Oaktown myself, I would nevertheless tell […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Robert Schumann

I have been asked to write a brief program note for the Library of Congress, and it just so happens that they have asked me to write about one of my favorite performing ensembles performing some of my absolutely favorite music. Talk about two birds with one stone! I will adapt this Dr. Bob Prescribes post for the LOC. But to our post first. By way of explanation. The National Recording Registry is a list of 25 recordings issued annually by the Library Congress. The Registry now totals some 525 recordings. According to the LOC: “Each of these recordings has been chosen by the Librarian of Congress, with input from the National Recording Preservation Board. Each of these recordings have been deemed so vital to the history of America — aesthetically, culturally or historically — that they demand permanent archiving in the nation’s library.” There are certain actors whose fan-bases are so deep that their mere presence in a film will, by itself, guarantee its success. Tom Hanks, Jennifer Lawrence, Harrison Ford, Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, Scarlett Johansson, Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep, Brad Pitt, Samuel Jackson, Sandra Bullock, Tom Cruise: put ’em on the screen and watch the moolah roll in. There are […]

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Music History Monday: Magic

It was on September 30, 1791 – 228 years ago today – that Wolfgang Mozart’s opera-slash-singspiel, The Magic Flute, received its premiere at the Freihaustheater auf der Wieden in Vienna, conducted by Mozart himself.

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Felix Mendelssohn

It is cliché but true: the older we get, the more most of us realize how little we know and how much there is still to learn. Getting older has a way of humbling us if, indeed, we are lucky enough to get older. Now, I am aware that some “older” people – particularly older academes who, believing they have mastered that narrow range of information they call their “field” – swell with arrogance when dealing with the uninformed novices that are their students and the ignorant hoi-polloi, which qualifies as everybody else. But such irksome creatures are, in my experience, relatively few and far between, and we need pay them no mind (unless we work for one or, heaven forbid, are married to one!). I bring this up because 25 years ago even I, your humblest of intellectual servants, suffered from the sin of informational pride: I believed that I was familiar with the great bulk of the Western concert repertoire. How wrong I was. What I “knew” were the staples, the chestnuts, and a number of sleepers, and while no one can possibly “know” the entire repertoire – it is almost inconceivably vast – it turns out that […]

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Music History Monday: Paul is Dead!

On September 23, 1969 – 50 years ago today – the venerable English tabloid the London Daily Mirror reported that Paul McCartney of the Beatles was dead. It was the first time the rumor was printed in the mainstream press.

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Anne Rice

Given all of its terminological pitfalls, referencing music is notoriously difficult for non-musicians. I read a lot, both fiction and non-fiction, and far more often than not music references are bungled by both authors and their editors (who allow those bungles to slip through).   (It has only just now occurred to me that I should have been keeping a list of such musical miscues; we’d have some real boners to discuss about had I done so. Things like referring to a Beethoven symphony as a “song”; assertions that Mozart “waltzed through the night” at a time when the waltz was not yet danced in urban areas; references to Frank Sinatra’s “scintillating tenor voice”; he was a baritone, etc.) If the occasional music reference can be problematic for non-musicians, then actually writing about music can be a downright disaster. In correspondence with my Patreon patron, the professional writer (and musical patron) Howard Jay Smith (whose own historical novel – Beethoven in Love; Opus 139 – I, pathetically, have yet to read), we discussed how ripe for literary depiction was the Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann, Johannes Brahms ménage a trois. In the course of our correspondence I mentioned two books that […]

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