Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Florence Foster Jenkins

“Pay-to-play” (aka “P2P”). It’s a fairly new term for something as old as the hills: paying (bribing?) others “for services or the privilege to engage in certain activities.” P2P is particularly big in the book and music publishing industry today, in which publishers require authors and composers to underwrite the costs of production (and not infrequently marketing as well) for the “privilege” of receiving a 5% royalty on their books/scores sometime down the road. Such so-called “vanity productions” can cost tens-of-thousands of dollars. For academes who must publish-or-perish, P2P is often the only way to get into print. To my mind it’s nothing short of piracy. The most notable recent example of pay-to-play in the world of concert music is that of Gilbert Kaplan (1941-2016). Born in New York City, Kaplan made his fortune when he sold his business/financial magazine Institutional Investor in 1984. According to The New York Times: “The price was never disclosed but was rumored to be about $75 million.” That was a chunk of change in 1984, the equivalent of $190 million today. With that sort of money in his pocket, the 43-year-old Kaplan was free to indulge his hobby full-time. That hobby? Gustav Mahler’s Symphony […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Hank Levy and Don Ellis

It is possible to know too much. A wine aficionado has no taste for a $14.00 bottle of Pinot. A modern dance devotee would not deign to attend a square dance. A cocktail shaker enthusiast won’t look twice at a mass-marketed chrome shaker from the 1930s. This sort of knowledge-based snobbery applies particularly to movies and TV shows. I know from personal experience that a physician cannot watch a doctor/hospital show without constantly (and derisively) pointing out its endless flaws. I imagine the same is true when a policeperson watches a crime show or movie; when an attorney watches a courtroom drama; or when an extra-terrestrial takes in a science fiction movie. Given my particular knowledge base, I find I tolerate movies and TV shows about music poorly. Amadeus was entertaining, but the scene in which the dying Mozart presumably dictates a portion of his Requiem to Salieri is pure poppycock. And don’t get me started on any of the Beethoven movies out there; or when the 6’ tall Robert Walker portrayed the 5’ tall Johannes Brahms in the 1947 movie Song of Love (“good for a guffaw” wrote Bosley Crowther in his review in The New York Times); or […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Beethoven: Complete Sonatas for Violin and Piano

By the Numbers Some important Beethoven numbers. Zero: the number of wastepaper baskets Beethoven owned. (The man kept everything.) Zero: the number of hair-styling implements found in Beethoven’s apartment at the Schwarzspanierhaus after his death on March 26, 1827. (Does this surprise any of us?) One: the number of beautiful, leggy, rich aristocratic women who returned Beethoven’s love in his lifetime. (That would be Antonie “Toni” Brentano, the woman Beethoven addressed as his “Immortal Beloved.”) Two: the number of middle fingers Beethoven was wont to raise to anyone who was even remotely critical of him. Three: number of composition students Beethoven taught. They were Ferdinand Ries (1784-1838), Carl Czerny (1791-1857), and Archduke Johann Joseph Ranier Rudolph (1788-1831). Four: the number of ear-trumpets made for Beethoven in 1813 by Johann Nepomuk Mälzel that reside in the Beethoven-Haus Museum in Bonn. (Ironically, the things look more like musical instruments than anything else.) Five: in 1825, the number of publishers to which Beethoven sold the “exclusive publication rights” of his Missa Solemnis – the “Solemn Mass”: the houses of Diabelli, Probst, Schlesinger, Schott and Peters. (How do we spell “dastardly, dishonorable dealings?” There, we just spelled it.) Sixty (60): the number of coffee […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Eric Satie: Socrate

Pardon me a brief (well, maybe not as brief as you’d like) rant. Encyclopedia articles about Satie inevitably begin by calling him a “precursor”, a card-carrying member of the Parisian “avant-garde” (properly defined as “people or works that are experimental, radical, or unorthodox with respect to art, culture, or society”), someone whose music “predicted” such genres as minimalism, repetitive music, the Theater of the Absurd, background music and ambient music (what Satie coined as being “furniture music” back in 1917). Just so, the article on Erik Satie in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians begins this way (italics mine): “He was an iconoclast, a man of ideas who looked constantly towards the future. Debussy christened him ‘the precursor’ because of his early harmonic innovations, though he surpassed [Debussy’s] conception of him by anticipating most of the ‘advances’ of 20th-century music – from organized total chromaticism to minimalism.” (Momentarily apropos of Debussy, we have to take any compliments he gave with very large grains of sel de mer. In truth, he could be as gnarsty as a honey badger with a hangnail. Debussy was happy to say nice things about Satie as long as Satie was a nobody. But […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Leonard Bernstein: Fancy Free and On the Town

Leonard Bernstein is very like the most talented, all-around musician ever born in the United States. I prevaricated a bit by adding “very likely” (above), if only to assuage those who might consider Charles Schulz’s Schroeder or Snoop Dog (Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jr., born 1971) to be, instead, the greatest all-around musicians this nation has yet produced. But really, in terms of his prodigious musical range and versatility and tremendous cultural impact, Leonard (born Louis) Bernstein is indeed the most gifted musician ever born in the U.S.: America’s Mozart. He was born on August 18, 1918 in Lawrence, Massachusetts, the son of Ukrainian Jews. Bernstein’s hard-working immigrant parents had indeed found America’s streets paved with gold; his father, Samuel Joseph Bernstein, was the owner of “The Samuel Bernstein Hair and Beauty Supply Company”, which held the New England franchise for the immensely popular “Frederick’s Permanent Wave Machine.” When he was 10, Bernstein’s Aunt Clara parked her upright piano at his house. He began teaching himself to play and then, we are told, he began “clamoring for lessons.” However, Samuel Bernstein had no intention of encouraging Lenny’s musical foolishness; as his eldest son, he was going to follow his father into […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Works Conducted in America

Pronunciation! Before we can get to the extraordinary man whose beneficence built America’s premiere concert hall and brought Tchaikovsky to New York in order to break it in, we must deal with a sticky issue of pronunciation. Andrew Carnegie’s surname is pronounced Car-NEH-gie, with an accent on the second syllable. Likewise, the Car-NEH-gie Corporation of New York; the Car-NEH-gie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching; the Car-NEH-gie Foundation for International Peace, and so forth. Car-NEH-gie. Except when it comes to the music hall. So many generations of well-meaning folks have mispronounced Car-NEH-gie’s name when referring to CAR-ne-gie Hall that the mispronunciation must be defacto accepted, just as we have come to accept – grudgingly, I admit – jew-lery (instead of “jew-wel-ry”) and re-la-tor (instead of “real-tor”). So, his name: Car-NEH-gie. The music hall: CAR-ne-gie. Carnegie’s rags-to-untold-riches story is the stuff of legend, the “American Dream” writ in CAPITAL LETTERS. Born on November 25, 1935 in a one-room weaver’s cottage in Dunfermline, Scotland, the Carnegie family emigrated to Allegheny, Pennsylvania in 1848 in search of a better life. Through intelligence, hard work, perseverance, vision, zero risk aversion, and no small bit of luck, Carnegie became one of the richest men in […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes The Dave Brubeck Quartet

It took me some time to find it but find it I did: my “Senior Lifesaving and Water Safety” card, issued on August 29, 1969 when I was 15 years old.  The thing would never have survived the last 50-plus years had it not come in most handy on August 17, 1970. That was the day that along with my friend Craig Denning and his father Allan, I attended a concert at “St. John Terrell’s Music Circus” in Lambertville, New Jersey. The “Music Circus” was (and is) a summer-only theater-in-the-round under a tent (a very big tent). The act that evening was the Dave Brubeck Quartet featuring the baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, Jack Six on bass, and Alan Dawson on drums (the “classic” Brubeck quartet that made the album Take Five that featured the alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, Eugene Wright on bass, and Joe Morello on drums had disbanded in 1967).  We got there early and walked around the field outside the big top tent, and who was out taking a walk as well but Maestro Brubeck himself. I froze: I was 16 years old and Dave Brubeck was my hero. Craig and his dad encouraged me to talk to […]

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Music History Monday: To the memory of an Angel

We mark the posthumous premiere on April 19, 1936 – 85 years ago today – of Alban Berg’s breathtaking Violin Concerto. Its score bears a double dedication: “To Louis Krasner” (1903-1995; Krasner was the violinist who commissioned and premiered the concerto) and “To the Memory of an Angel” (the significance of which will be explained in due time). Albano Maria Johannes Berg was born in Vienna on February 9, 1885. He died there 50 years later, on December 24, 1935. Berg was born into a highly cultured family that travelled in the highest circle of Vienna’s cultural elite, at a time when Vienna was home to a staggering amount of talent. Berg numbered among his friends Gustav and Alma Mahler, the writers Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) and Karl Kraus (1874-1936); the architect Adolf Loos (1870-1933); and the artists Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) and Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980). Among others. That’s quite a crew. A tall (he grew to be 6’5” in height), gangly, shy child, the young Berg was more interested in literature than music. A few elementary piano lessons aside, Berg had no formal musical training whatsoever until 1904, when he was 19. That was when he began composition lessons with the […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Samuil Feinberg Piano Sonatas

Odessa is the fourth largest city in Ukraine, after Kiev, Kharkov, and Donetsk. Located on the northwestern coast of the Black Sea, Odessa is an important seaport, transportation hub, and a major tourist destination, the so-called “Pearl of the Black Sea.” What today is the city of Odessa has been occupied for nearly 3000 years by a bewildering variety of peoples. The ancient Greeks, various semi-nomadic tribes, the Crimean Taters, Cossacks, and Ottoman Turks have all called the area home over the centuries. The Russian defeat of the Ottoman Turks in the Russian-Turkish War of 1787-1792 saw the region incorporated into the Russian Empire. In 1795, the Russian authorities named the settlement Odessa after the Greek colony of Odessos which was (erroneously, as it turned out) believed to have been located in the area. With the official Russian creation of the “city” of Odessa, the population exploded, increasing 15-fold between 1795 and 1814. Much of this explosive growth was due to the region and the city’s governor, Duc de Richelieu, who served in that capacity from 1803 to 1814. A refugee from the French Revolution, he oversaw the large-scale grid design of the city (which remains to this day) and […]

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Dr. Prescribes Ludwig van Beethoven, Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37

Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37 is the first of his “mature” piano concerti. While he had sketched bits and pieces of it as far back as 1799, he didn’t get to the nuts and bolts/nitty-gritty/down ‘n’ dirty essentials of composing the thing until early 1803, by which time – in response to the suicidal depression over his hearing he experienced in October 1802 – he had reinvented himself as a hero battling fate through music. The concerto received its premiere on April 5, 1803, at an Akademie (public concert) held at Vienna’s Theater-an-der-Wien. Anxious to get as much of his new music before the public as possible, Beethoven, true to form, overloaded the concert with way too much music: a repeat performance of his Symphony No. 1 and the premieres of his Symphony No. 2, Piano Concerto No. 3, and the oratorio Christ on the Mount of Olives. (According to Beethoven’s friend and student Ferdinand Ries, the concert was originally slated to be even longer: “The concert began at six o’clock, but it was so long that a couple of the pieces were not performed.” Try as I might, I have not been able to track […]

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