Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Author Archive for Robert Greenberg

Music History Monday: Finland, Jean Sibelius, and the Case of the Missing Symphony

We mark the death on September 20, 1957 – 64 years ago today – of the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, in Järvenpää (yes, that’s a lot of umlauts), Finland. Born on December 8, 1865, in Hameenlinna, Finland, Sibelius was 91 years old when he died. Scandanavia Scandinavia is the Canada of Europe: a huge, climatically challenged area of extraordinary beauty that has produced an artistic community the breadth and depth of which is way out of proportion with its relatively small population. Of course, the cynic might suggest that in such northern climes, where it’s so dark and so cold and you have to stay indoors for so much of the year, there are just so many things you can do after you’ve eaten, slept, drank, and reproduced, and playing a round of golf in February is not one of them, thus encouraging – perhaps – the production of art. Certainly, Scandinavia is a vast environment of physical extremes that challenges both the body and the soul, an environment that encourages reflection and contemplation. … Continue reading, only on Patreon! Listen on the Music History Monday Podcast

Continue Reading

Dr. Bob Prescribes Complete Beethoven Sets

Spending Other People’s Money I’ve always had a talent for spending other people’s money. 35 years ago, when Berkeley California had more hi-fi/stereo shops then fleas on a feral dog, I used to take anyone who asked me stereo shopping. (I had a lot of requests as I was teaching adult extension classes for UC Berkeley, the San Francisco Conservatory, and my own private “living room” classes in San Francisco and Oakland.) I would take folks to the appropriate shop depending upon how much money they wanted to spend.  Shopping for a decent hi-fi could be intimidating, especially in those days, with the advent of digital equipment. Folks didn’t know what questions to ask, what to listen for, or whether they were being conned by salespeople. I couldn’t be conned; I knew what to listen for and what equipment was good and what was not; I knew which shops were run by honest and knowledgeable managers and which were not; and which shops provided in-home setup and did not charge extra for extended warranties.  Again, in the early days of digital (1985-1995, or so) I’d take friends to Tower Records (a moment of respectful silence, please) in San Francisco or […]

Continue Reading

Music History Monday: Leopold Stokowski

We mark the death, on September 13, 1977 – 44 years ago today – of the British conductor Leopold Anthony Stokowski, in Nether Wallop, Hampshire, United Kingdom, 67.6 miles (give or take) southwest of London.  Born in London on April 18 (the maestro and I share that day and month of birth) 1882, Stokowski was 95 years old when he died.  He was still recording for Columbia Records at the time of his death; his contract with Columbia would have kept him in the recording studio until he was 100 years old.   I will confess that I am always a bit loath to write about and celebrate conductors.  It’s not that I have anything against conductors, it’s just that so many of them spend so much of their time celebrating themselves that I feel, well, superfluous.   On just those lines, when it came to naked self-promotion and downright mythologizing, no conductor – and we mean not a one, not even Leonard Bernstein (who in many ways modelled his career on Stokowski’s) – could match Leopold Stokowski.   I’ll present a quick overview of his life and career, after which we’ll delve into those aspects of that life and […]

Continue Reading

Dr. Bob Prescribes Wolfgang Mozart: La Clemenza di Tito

Deadlines! On July 8, 1791, Domenico Guardasoni (circa 1731-1806), the newly hired superintendent of the Estates Opera in Prague, was charged with producing an opera on criminally short notice. The Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II (Peter Leopold Joseph Anton Joachim Pius Gotthard; 1747-1792, the brother of the recently deceased Emperor Joseph II) was about to be crowned King of Bohemia, and the Bohemian Estates (the governing body of Bohemia) wanted to create and produce an opera in celebration of the coronation. The opera was to be performed on the day of the coronation, which was scheduled to take place in Prague on September 6, 1791. Superintendent Guardasoni had exactly 2 months to find and hire a librettist and a composer; see the libretto written and the opera composed; hire the singers; build the sets: make the costumes; stage and rehearse the opera; and then perform it for the newly crowned King of Bohemia (who was also the Holy-freaking-Roman Emperor). Two months. The contract Guardasoni signed with the Bohemian Estates indicated that he would “engage a castrato of leading quality” and that he would “have the libretto caused to be written and to be set to music by ‘un celebre maestro’”, […]

Continue Reading

Dr. Bob Prescribes Heitor Villa-Lobos: 5 Preludes and 12 Etudes for Guitar

Oh, the Conceit, the Arrogance! Yesterday’s Music History Monday post noted that the rock guitarist Paul Rossoff – he of the 20 Quaalude-a-day habit – is (or at least was, at one time) ranked 51st in Rolling Stone’s list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.” I have consulted that list here in August 2021. According to Rolling Stone, here are the ten greatest guitarists of all time, starting with number 1: 1. Jimi Hendrix 2. Eric Clapton 3. Jimmy Page 4. Keith Richards 5. Jeff Beck 6. B. B. King 7. Chuck Berry 8. Eddie Van Halen 9. Duane Allman 10. Pete Townsend (For our information, at number 100 is a non-entity named “Lindsey Buckingham.”) We would observe the painfully, absurdly obvious. Nowhere does Rolling Stone qualify its list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” as being the “100 Greatest ROCK ‘N’ ROLL Guitarists of All Time” or the “100 Greatest ELECTRIC Guitarists of All Time.” No, we’re just supposed to take it on face value that these 100 are the greatest guitarists of all time. Neither does Greatest Guitar qualify its list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” (which puts Brian May at […]

Continue Reading

Music History Monday: Oh, Behave!

Every now and again, circumstances force us to plum the tawdry here in Music History Monday. Usually, those “circumstances” are a dearth of good topics to write about; today is such a day. (In fact, there is an excellent, August 30th-associated topic we could have focused on: the completion of Shostakovich’s extremely controversial Symphony No. 9 of 1945. But, alas, I wrote about Shostakovich’s death just three weeks ago, on August 9, and as this feature is called Music History Monday and not Music History Shostakovich, we’ll have to take a pass on the Shosty 9 for now.) My typical fallback on such otherwise event-challenged dates is to find some date related craziness in the world of popular music and then extrapolate outwards, discussing other like examples that are not date related. However, we needn’t do that for August 30, because enough crazy, pop-world merde happened on this date to easily fill a post. So here we go! (Actually, for just a moment, here we not go.  You might rightly ask, why are we celebrating – and by doing so, perhaps even in some way encouraging – the antics of pop stars here on the august pages of Patreon? For […]

Continue Reading

Music History Monday: Moritz Moszkowski

We mark the birth on August 23, 1854 – 167 years ago today – of the German-Polish composer, pianist, and teacher Moritz Moszkowski in the Prussian/Silesian city of Breslau, today the Polish city of Wrocław. He died in Paris on March 4, 1925, at the age of 70. Moszkowski was one of the most famous pianist-composers of his time, someone who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of Franz Liszt (1811-1886), Anton Rubinstein (1829-1894), Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924), Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943), and Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941) Paderewski paid his friend and fellow Pole Moszkowski the ultimate compliment when he said that:  “After Chopin [who was, and remains, the great Polish national hero] Moszkowski best understands how to write for the piano, and his writing embraces the whole gamut of piano technique.” In the end – painfully, tragically, inevitably (or so it so often seems) – talent, success, and fame were no match for time, aging, and illness, and died in obscurity and poverty, a broken man. Sadly and unjustly, he and his music languish in near-total obscurity today.… Continue reading, only on Patreon! Listen on the Music History Monday Podcast

Continue Reading

Dr. Bob Prescribes: Bill Evans: A Recorded Retrospective

Roommates Freshman year college roommates: talk about a crap shoot. You never know whether the individual in charge of pairing you up was having a good day or a bad day; whether he or she had a decent or a rotten sense of humor. My freshman year pairing (in 1972), knock on wood, was a good one: a fellow public-school guy from New Jersey: Rick deSante, from West Long Branch (Bruce Springsteen territory). We hit it off and remained roommates for three years, until senior year (when, as seniors, we had single rooms). Rick was (and remains) a tall, blonde guy, one-half Italian (his father), one-half Irish (his mother, whose maiden name was McGillicuddy). Rick played scratch golf and rugby, and majored in chemical engineering, a topic about as far away from music as it is possible to get. Nevertheless, opposites attract; I went to his rugby games, and he was okay with the music I played on my stereo in our room. Rick was someone who, up to the time we met, had never really listened to a note of music. He had never taken a music lesson, never been to a concert (concert music or rock ‘n’ roll); […]

Continue Reading

Music History Monday: William John Evans

We mark the birth on August 16, 1929 – 92 years ago today – of the jazz pianist and composer William John “Bill” Evans, in Plainfield, New Jersey. He died, tragically and all-too-young on September 15, 1980 in New York City at the age of 51. Just a week before his death, Evans had completed a nine-day run (from August 31 to September 8, 1980) at the Keystone Korner in San Francisco. That run was recorded and issued on an 8-cd set entitled The Last Waltz, which will be among therecommended recordings in tomorrow’s Dr. Bob Prescribes post. Apropos of that appearance at the Keystone Korner, Jesse Hamlin, music critic for the San Francisco Chronicle writes: “Evans played with such fervor during that nine-day stint that his enraptured audiences would’ve found it hard to believe that his body was wasting away and that he’d be dead a week later.” All early, unnecessary deaths are tragic. Bill Evans’ death holds a special poignancy in that it was not only self-inflicted, but he had, in the end, lost his will to live. In the end, he was only able to ignore his disintegrating body while he was playing the piano. But not […]

Continue Reading

Dr. Bob Prescribes: Shostakovich Sonata for Viola

Dmitri Shostakovich wrote a lot of chamber music, including fifteen string quartets.  From almost the beginning of Shostakovich’s career as a composer of chamber music, the viola, the tenor voice of the string quartet – with its full, warm, restrained, and yet masculine tone – had been his instrumental alter ego: his own, personal musical voice.  With Beethoven, it had been the more outgoing and boisterous bass/baritone voice of the ‘cello.  But for the more introspective Shostakovich, it was the viola.  When Shostakovich had something profound and lyric to say, as often as not, it is the viola that says it.  With this in mind, there is something both right and poetic that the last work Shostakovich ever composed was a sonata for viola and piano.  (It’s no surprise that Beethoven identified with the sound of the cello, as his speaking voice was a baritone.  As opposed to Shostakovich, whose scratchy, tobacco-ravaged voice was a tenor.  The video linked below is an interview with Shostakovich filmed in 1975, just months before his death on August 9 of that year.  Shostakovich is expressing his opinion that opera should be sung in the language of the country in which it is being […]

Continue Reading