Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Dr. Bob Prescribes

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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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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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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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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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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Dr. Bob Prescribes: In Praise of Song

I’ve always believed there are basically two kinds of music: the music you grow up listening to as a child and as an adolescent and everything else. An overly simple statement? No, I don’t believe it is. It’s been my experience that nothing impresses itself more powerfully (or permanently) on the relatively blank slates that are our young brains than the smells we smell and the music we hear as kids and adolescents.   As olfactory phenomena are beyond the scope of my knowledge, we’ll stick here with music. The music we listen to growing up impresses itself on us like no other music heard at any other time of our lives, or so I believe.  Our childhood innocence, our sexual coming-of-age, the magic that ensues when almost every experience is new, all of this (and more) is wrapped up in and forever identified with the music of our childhoods and adolescence.  That music becomes our music; we own it.  Good or bad, we love it like a we love our delinquent children, just because they’re ours.  (I know that when I was an infant, my father used to sing Waltzing Mathilde and When You Wish Upon a Star to […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Hans von Bülow: A Life and Times

Five years ago, my Dr. Bob Prescribes post for January 15, 2019 recommended Alan Walker’s epic (25 years in the research and writing!), three-volume biography of Franz Liszt. In that post, I mentioned – that our Maine Coon cat Teddy (who, sadly, kicked the Kibble on December 24, 2022) – was often paid the highest compliment any cat can receive: that he acted like a dog. (To my mind, it speaks poorly of cats if the nicest thing one can say about a good one is that it behaves like another species altogether.) The point was to observe that likewise, the nicest thing anyone can say about a work of non-fiction is that it reads like a novel. That’s because non-fiction – written histories in particular – are all-too-often catalogs of names, dates, and events; information-rich but tedious, often poorly written tomes that can induce slumber in even the most hardened insomniacs. Novels tell stories, stories written by professional writers. So when we say a work of non-fiction reads like a novel, we’re saying, one, that the information contained therein has been woven into a compelling narrative and two, that the author who wrote the narrative writes like a pro. […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Babi Yar: A Document in the Form of a Novel

According to one review, Kuznetsov’s Babi Yar is: “A disturbing book that screams to be read.”  Truer words were never written. Despite its titular reference to the ravine in Kyiv known as Babi Yar, only the first part of the book deals with the murder of Kyiv’s Jewish population there on September 29 and 30, 1941.  Beyond Babi Yar, the majority of the book is an account of the invasion, destruction, and occupation of Kyiv by Nazi Germany, as eye-witnessed by the young Anatoly Kuznetsov himself.  (The subtitle of the book, “A Document in the Form of a Novel” would more accurately read “A Memoir in the Form of a Novel.”) The prescribed edition of the book came out in 2023, to mark the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022.   As can be seen from the copyright dates listed above, this is not a new book.  Nevertheless, given that yesterday’s Music History Monday post dealt with Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13, subtitled “Babi Yar,” and given that today’s headlines continue to talk about whether factions within the Congress of United States will be willing to support Ukraine against its current invaders, Anatoly Kuznetsov’s […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Johann Sebastian Bach, Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin

We cannot (and will not!) talk about Sebastian Bach’s landmark Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin without first considering what is, to my mind, one of the most perfect examples of human ingenuity this side of cave painting, and that is the violin. The Violin The violin is a miracle of ingenuity and nature, of art and science.  Here are some particulars.   The instrument we call the “violin” appeared around the year 1530 and continued to evolve until it reached its (more-or-less) definitive size and shape – in the late 1600s and early 1700s – in the hands the great violin gurus of Cremona, Italy: Nicolo Amati (1596-1684), Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737), and Giuseppe Bartolomeo Guarneri (1698-1744).  Depending upon whom you talk to, the violin consists of up to 83 parts. (That’s because different ways of counting will yield up a different number of parts; for example, the back of a violin can be made up of one or two pieces of wood.)   Whatever.  No matter how you count the individual pieces, the violin ultimately consists of three essential components: the resonating body (the sound box), typically 355 millimeters (or 14”) in length; the neck with the fingerboard; and […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Adolf von Henselt – Piano Music

Unplayable? Yesterday’s Music History Monday post observed how two beloved concert staples by our great and good friend Pyotr (Peter) Ilych Tchaikovsky – his Piano Concerto No. 1 (of 1874) and his Violin Concerto in D major (of 1878) – were deemed unplayable by their initial dedicatees. Those “dedicatees” were, respectively, the pianist Nicolai Rubinstein and the violinist Leopold Auer. Their poor attitudes lost them the dedications, which were ultimately given to the players who sucked it up, learned to play the concertos, and gave them their premieres (that would be, respectively, the pianist Hans von Bülow, and the violinist Adolf Brodsky). At the conclusion of yesterday’s Music History Monday post, I provided a short-list of composers who wrote music that was initially deemed to be “unplayable.” That list included Niccolò Paganini, Franz Liszt, Mily Balakirev, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Samuel Barber, and György Ligeti. To that august list of names we could add tens – if not hundreds – of other composers, composers whose music was, at first, thought unplayable by the musicians initially tasked to perform it. For now, please permit me to add just two more composers’ names to that list, Adolf von Henselt and yours truly, Robert M. […]

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