Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Dr. Bob Prescribes – Page 4

Dr. Bob Prescribes My Fair Lady

My Fair Lady is a fifth-generation work: an adaption of adaption of an adaption of an adaption, a musical that many top-end talents believed – for reasons we will discuss – could never be successfully written. The original story of King Pygmalion comes from Greek myth and legend. It was the Roman poet Publius Ovidius Naso (known in the English-speaking world as Ovid; March 23, 43 B.C.E. – 18/18 C.E.) who gave the story form and substance in his Metamorphoses, which he wrote around 8 C.E. (For our information: Metamorphoses is a Latin poem in 15 books. It’s a collection of myths and legends in which metamorphosis – transformation – plays some sort of role. The stories themselves are unrelated, though they are presented in chronological order, from the creation of the world (with the metamorphosis of chaos into order) to the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 B.C.E. (and his subsequent metamorphosis from a mortal to a god). In Ovid’s version of the story at hand, Pygmalion is a sculptor. He carves a statue that represents what is, for him, the perfect woman. He names the statue Galatea and proceeds to fall in love with it/her. In answer to […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Hector Berlioz: Requiem

Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) was not just a great composer, but a wonderful writer as well. He left behind a not-insignificant body of prose. In the 1830s he made much of his living writing reviews and essays (and continued to write reviews almost to the end of his life, even when he no longer needed the income). He wrote a famous book on orchestration which was first published in 1844; and in 1865 he completed his Memoirs at the age of 62. His writing is remarkable for its devastating wit, incision, clarity, and stylistic elegance. Berlioz begins his Memoirs with the following passage. His sense of irony, his ego and his self-deprecatory/facetious sense of humor are all on immediate display: “I was born on the 11th of December 1803 at La Cote Saint André, a very small town in France situated between Vienne, Grenoble, and Lyon. During the months that preceded my birth, my mother never dreamt, as Virgil’s did, that she was about to bring forth a branch of laurel. However painful to my beloved mother this confession may be, I ought to add that neither did she imagine, like Olympias, the mother of Alexander, that she bore within her […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes the Bill Evans Trio

The Job of a Record Producer Here’s how The Recording Academy (formally the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, or NARAS) defines a record producer: “The person who has overall creative and technical control of the entire recording project, and the individual recording sessions that are part of that project. He or she is present in the recording studio or at the location recording and works directly with the artist and engineer. The producer makes creative and aesthetic decisions that realize both the artist’s and label’s goals in the creation of musical content. Other duties include but are not limited to: keeping budgets and schedules, adhering to deadlines, hiring musicians, singers, studios and engineers, overseeing other staffing needs and editing.” When it comes to making a recording, the producer, then, is the chief, the chef, the Jefe, the Geater-with-the-Heater, the Big-Boss-with-the-Hot-Sauce, that single person who makes (or breaks) a recording session. We should be aware that the job of a record producer will vary tremendously depending upon the genre of music involved (concert, rock/pop/country/hip-hop, or jazz) and whether the recording is made in a studio or live, in front of an audience. Let’s start with studio recordings and the differing role played […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4

By way of review: Pyotr (Peter) Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) was a homosexual with a predilection for cross-dressing and teenaged boys. In May of 1877, around the time of his 37th birthday on May 7, he received a letter from one Antonina Milyukova – a former student at the Moscow Conservatory, where Tchaikovsky taught – professing her undying love for him. Tchaikovsky hadn’t a clue of who she was, and he blew her off. But Ms. Milyukova would not be blown off (what at first seemed a schoolgirl crush turned out to be full-blown mental illness), and within a few short weeks, Tchaikovsky, in a moment of epic self-delusion (and hoping to deflect rumors of his homosexuality), actually agreed to marry her! As all of this was happening in the late spring and early summer of 1877, Tchaikovsky was initiating a regular correspondence with a fabulously wealthy widow nine years his senior named Nadezhda von Meck. Unlike Antonina, who didn’t know a note of Tchaikovsky’s music, Madame von Meck worshipped Tchaikovsky for his music. Tchaikovsky and Antonina Milyukova were married on July 18, 1877, some nine weeks after Tchaikovsky received that first letter from Antonia. The marriage was a disaster from […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Christopher Rouse: Trombone Concerto

The great and eminently quotable English conductor Sir Thomas Beecham famously said: “I never look at the brass. It only encourages them.” Jeepers! Whatever would have prompted Sir Thomas to say such a thing? We consider the brass instruments, the most common of which are trumpets, French horns (as they are called in the United States; “horns” everywhere else), trombones, baritones, and tubas. All of these instruments evolved from instruments meant to be played out-of-doors: from hunting horns, signal devices, and military instruments. There is hardly a trumpet player, trombonist, or tuba player alive who didn’t start his/her musical life playing outside, in marching bands. By their very nature these instruments are loud and the people who play them want to play them loudly. Back then to Thomas Beecham’s comment, which is borne of decades of experience. I would tell you that for many (if not most) brass players, a dynamic of piano is beneath contempt, mezzo-piano is an insult, mezzo-forte is uncomfortably limiting, forte is permission, and fortissimo, well, fortissimo might very well be a mistake on the composer’s part. Why? Because, while the brass may be outnumbered 72 to 11 (or so) in a modern orchestra, they are […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes John Williams

We have some heavy preliminaries to discuss, starting with the differences between European film music and the classic Hollywood symphonic film score (of which Williams is its greatest contemporary exponent); the relationship between Williams’ scores and the music of Richard Wagner (1813-1883); the derivative nature inherent to the vast majority of film music (including Williams’); and the criticism levelled at film music and film composers by the “traditional” musical establishment. Generally but accurately speaking, European film music is discontinuous: there will be long swatches of time during which there is no music at all, particularly during dialogue. (On these lines, according to the great Italian film composer Ennio Morricone – 1928-2020 – who composed over 400 film and television scores, including those for Sergio Leone’s “Spaghetti Westerns”: “Our hearing, and therefore our brains, cannot listen [to] and understand more sounds of a different nature simultaneously. We will never understand four people speaking at the same time. It is absolutely necessary, if the director wants to consider music in the right way, to isolate music and give the audience the time to listen to it in the best way.”) Generally but accurately speaking, then, European film music is not synchronized with […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Music to Calm Hearts and Souls

In yesterday’s Music History Monday post, we had the opportunity to talk about the questionable but on occasion necessary (if borderline masochistic) pleasures of hot peppers and punk rock. The post went on to mark the short, tragic, and depraved life of one Simon John Richie (best known by his stage name of “Sid Vicious”, May 10, 1957 – February 2, 1979). That discussion of Maestro Vicious, relatively brief though it was, likely left us all with a worse taste in our mouths than that provided by a fabled Carolina Reaper pepper. As the best cure for the pepper’s capsaicin burn is vanilla ice cream, I am today offering up a musical antidote for punk rock in general and Sid Vicious and the Sex Pistols in particular, and that is some glorious choral music. GASP! Am I comparing choral music to vanilla ice cream? And what if I were?!? Let’s everybody stay calm. “Vanilla”: let’s establish what that word does and doesn’t mean in this context. As an adjective, “vanilla” has come to be used to describe something plain: easily consumed and digested, something devoid of interest and empty of meaning. Excuse me, but only the most dedicated chocoholics could […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Blame it on the Bossa Nova

Yesterday’s Music History Monday post acknowledged the birth in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil of the Brazilian singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Antônio Carlos Jobim. That’s all the excuse we require for today’s foray into the music of Brazil, samba, and bossa nova! The name “Brazil” comes from the Portuguese word pau–brasil, meaning “brazilwood”: an East Indian tree from which a bright red dye is extracted. Sixteenth century Portuguese explorers found the coastal areas of what today is Brazil filled with these commercially valuable trees, which gave the territory – and eventually the country – its name. If Brazil wasn’t locked into South America, it could be a continent on its own. In terms of sheer landmass, Brazil – at 3,287,956 square miles – is the fifth largest country in the world, behind Russia (the largest), Canada, the United States, and China. (For our information, the landmass of the 28 nations of the former European Union – yes, including the United Kingdom, Brexit be damned – totals 1,669,808 square miles: half the size of Brazil.) The relative size of today’s five largest countries – of which Brazil is the fifth – is, in fact, misleading. Unlike Russia, Canada, and the United States, all of which have […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Absurdity

“The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” As hoary old aphorisms go, this one is right up there on the tiresome scale with “a penny saved is a penny earned”, “you miss 100% of the shots you do not take”, “when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping:” and “insinuations are lavender, nearly.” Nevertheless, I have a particular fondness for “the grass is always greener on the other side” because its sentiment cuts so closely to my own life, psyche, and existential feelings of victimization: well, duh, of course everyone else’s life is better than mine, of course I’m missing out on something everyone else has, of course everything always happens to me, of course I’m a fraud and everyone else is not. “The grass is always greener on the other side” addresses, perfectly, that generative emotion held so dear by so many composers, authors, poets, painters, sculptors, architects, musicians, singers, and actors (to say nothing for the rest of the population) and that is envy. What we might call “the grass-is-always-greener syndrome” is surely as old as humanity itself: “the cave is always bigger on the other side.” For our information, the first […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Prokofiev Piano Sonata No. 7

Yesterday’s Music History Monday post focused on Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953), his ballet Romeo and Juliet, and his permanent return to the Soviet Union in 1936 at precisely the time Joseph Stalin’s Great Terror was shifting into full gear. Today’s Dr. Bob Prescribes explores Prokofiev’s explosive and in all ways awesome Piano Sonata No. 7 (completed in 1942), one of the great masterworks of his “Soviet years.” BUT EVEN MORE THAN THAT! I absolutely believe, without qualification, hedging, prevarication, equivocation or any other description of lily-livered middle-of-the-roading (where dwells nothing but dead skunks and yellow lines) that the prescribed recording is not just the best available of Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 7 but the best possible recording of Prokofiev’s sonata on what is, in my humble but not ill-informed opinion, the greatest single solo piano album ever recorded. Deep breaths. I find it hard to believe that only now, in my 128th (consecutive) Dr. Bob Prescribes post, am I getting around to this album. Better late than never. Sergei Prokofiev was born on April 11, 1891 in the village of Sontsovka, in Ukraine. His father managed a large estate, and it was on that estate that Prokofiev grew up an isolated, […]

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