Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Henry Mancini

Enrico Nicola “Henry” Mancini was born on April 16, 1924, in Cleveland, Ohio. He grew up in the western Pennsylvanian town of West Aliquippa, about 15 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. Apropos of nothing, my research reveals an astonishing number of high-end professional athletes hail from “greater” Aliquippa, including Jon Baldwin (National Football League/NFL); Tommie Campbell (NFL); Mike Ditka (NFL); Tony Dorsett (NFL); Tito Francona (Major League Baseball/MLB); Sean Gilbert (NFL); Nate Guenin (National Hockey League/NHL); Frank Hriber (NFL); Ty Law (NFL); Pete Maravich (National Basketball Association/NBA); Doc Medich (MLB); Paul Posluszny (NFL); Darrelle Revis (NFL); and Pete Suder (MLB). We might wonder whether there was something “in the water”, though that water was probably badly tainted by the Jones and Laughlin Steel Company mill that was the town’s primary source of employment. (Steel towns. By their nature, they are filled with big, brawny men who make big, brawny sons, many of them desperate to avoid the fate of their fathers! No wonder so many professional football players hailed from Aliquippa!) There can be no doubt that Henry Mancini’s father wanted something better for his son. Having emigrated from the Italian mountain town of Scanno, in Abruzzo as a teenager, Quintiliano […]

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Music History Monday: Musicians Behaving Badly

Before getting on to our central topic for today’s post – naughty, naughty musicians – we need to give a shoutout to the great Spanish composer and conductor Manuel de Falla who was born on November 23, 1876 – 144 years ago today – in the Andalucían port city of Cadiz. We will celebrate de Falla tomorrow in my Dr. Bob Prescribes post, which will focus on his ballet El amor brujo (meaning “The Magician Love”) of 1915, and the Carlos Saura movie of the same title (from 1986) based of de Falla’s ballet. On to today’s feature presentation, Musicians Behaving Badly. On November 23, 1956 – 64 years ago today – a sheet metal worker named Louis Balint was arrested after attacking the King – Elvis Presley – in Toledo, Ohio. Here’s what happened. On November 22, 1956, Elvis Presley and his band played two shows in Toledo’s Sports Arena. Elvis’ fame and popularity had skyrocketed since his first two appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show just a few weeks before, on September 9 and October 28, 1956. Along with the concerts, November 22, 1956 was an auspicious day for Elvis and his fans in Toledo, as that was […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Holiday Music

I offer up a hot, steaming mug (or if you prefer, an ice-cold martini) of gratitude to Jack Conte, who created the Patreon platform in 2013, and to my wonderful patrons for having given me the wherewithal to write, opine, and on occasion bloviate on topics musical.  I will in today’s Dr. Bob Prescribes acknowledge the “season of giving” by offering up some “holiday music”, holiday music that will serve as something of an antidote to the seasonal treacle that has been assaulting our ears since at least the day after Thanksgiving. (Yes, color me humbug. To my mind and ear, one of the great challenges of surviving the holiday season is coping with the music. Question: for how long can we tolerate the high-fat aural regimen of silent nights, roasting chestnuts, spinning dreidels, little drummer boys, and sugar plum fairies before our ears occlude with phlegm-like plaque and simply stop working?)  Thank heavens, there are exceptions to this musical mugging we call “holiday music”, and I’m not just referring to the music of J. S. Bach and G. F. Handel. Last year, in my Dr. Bob Prescribes post for December 25, 2018, I offered up the phenomenal Dave McKenna’s […]

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Music History Monday: A Very Bad Ending

We mark the death on July 29, 1856 – 163 years ago today – of the German composer, pianist, and music critic Robert Schumann at the age of 46. The actress Valerie Harper was back in the news this week. Now nearly 80 years old (her birthday is on August 22nd), she is best remembered for her role as Rhoda Morgenstern on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and then its spin-off, Rhoda, in the 1970s. Ms. Harper was diagnosed with lung cancer back in 2009, and she has fought like the proverbial tiger since. Her time is almost up; this week’s news was about her husband’s refusal to ship her off to a hospice. During the course of her illness, she has pointed out – correctly, if painfully for us all – that we are all “terminal.” I know, I know, I know: it’s not something anyone wants to think about, especially not on a Monday, which by itself is depressing enough. Yes, our time will come when it comes, but I, for one, want to spend as little energy as possible thinking about it. But having buried three beloved family members long before their time should have been up, […]

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Music History Monday: Pierre Monteux: One of the Great Ones

We acknowledge the death – on July 1, 1964, 55 years ago today – of the French-American conductor and teacher Pierre Monteux, who passed away at his home in Hancock, Maine at the age of 89. Conductors: love them or hate them, we can’t live without them. Composers and instrumental musicians have mixed feelings about conductors, and rightly so. (I’m leaving singers out of the mix here because it’s been my experience that singers, bless them, will generally do what they damn please, conductor or no conductor.)  As a composer, I can tell you that it is disquieting to hand over a “child of my imagination” – a score – to a conductor. I know that 99% of the time that conductor will do her level best to perform the piece to my specifications, whether she herself “likes” the piece or not. But you never really know what’s going to happen in a performance, and every composer I know has at least a couple of horror stories to tell when it comes to their experience with conductors. (I had a Concerto for Vibraphone and Chamber Orchestra premiered on a Monday Evening Concert at the Los Angeles County Museum some 25 […]

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Dr. Bob Recommends: Aaron Copland, Short Symphony

Thus far, this post series has celebrated eight mid-twentieth century American composers – Howard Hanson, Roy Harris, Samuel Barber, Henry Cowell, David Diamond, Peter Mennin, William Schuman and Walter Piston – each and every one of whom deserves to be respected and his music embraced. For better or for worse, the one mid-century American composer who has come to overshadow them all is Aaron Copland (1900-1990). Yes, for both the American public and professional music community, Copland is considered the most representative “American” composer of the twentieth century. Having said that, we’d also observe that Copland was a genuinely nice man, someone who believed deeply in the essential role of the arts in a free society, and he would be nothing less than mortified by the present obscurity of so many of his contemporaries. Barber, Diamond, Mennin, Schuman and Piston (and Morton Gould and Roger Sessions and Irving Fine and Virgil Thomson, etc.) were not just Copland’s fellow mid-century composers; they were also his colleagues, his collaborators, and his friends. See the post and celebration of Copland’s little-known masterpiece – his Short Symphony of 1933, only on Patreon!

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Exploring the Dissonant C-sharp in Beethoven’s “Eroica”

Patreon patron, Mr. Sullivan, recently asked the following question: “In several of your courses you have also referred to the C# in the Eroica as implying a modulation to G minor. I have never understood that statement. Would you be so kind as to enlighten me about that?” Mr. Sullivan refers to a (dissonant!) C-sharp that appears out of nowhere in measure 7 of the first movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3; a dissonance that is to have huge ramifications later in the movement. I have prepared a four-minute video explanation that I hope will do the trick. Watch it now on Patreon Courses on Sale

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Talking Royalties on the Habeas Humor Podcast

I joined Charone Frankel’s “Habeas Humor” podcast to talk about music royalties and licensing from my perspective as a composer and as a content producer for The Great Courses. Listen to the standard version for free, or hear the full, “director’s cut”, podcast on her Patreon channel. My own Patreon patrons will also be able to hear the full podcast. Thank you to Ms. Frankel for having me on, and for allowing me to share!   Final day on sale for many of these courses:

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Music History Monday: Mily Balakirev

A happy 180th birthday to Mily Balakirev, the man who became – virtually – the Tsar of nineteenth century Russian music. More than anyone else, it was Mily Balakirev who postulated and promulgated precisely what Russian nationalist music should be. Balakirev was born in the city of Nizhny Novgorod – which was known as “Gorky” from 1932 to 1990 – about 240 miles east of Moscow. He was a child prodigy as both a pianist and conductor and began composing at the age of 15. Among his early compositions was a virtuosic piano fantasy based on themes from Mikhail Glinka’s groundbreaking opera, A Life for the Tsar. Thanks to his two operas: A Life for the Tsar (known during the Soviet era as “Ivan Susanin”) of 1836 and Ruslan and Lyudmila, of 1842, Glinka was embraced (and continues to be embraced) as the “Messiah of Russian music”, that single composer credited with having lead Russian concert music out of the wilderness of Western European domination to a place of paradisiacal narodnost’, of Russian musical authenticity. In 1855, at the age of 18, Balakirev moved to St. Petersburg, where he met and played piano for his hero, Mikhail Glinka. Glinka – […]

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Music History Monday: Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich

Last week’s “Music History Monday” was about the premiere of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13 on December 18, 1962 and the official Soviet silence that greeted that premiere on December 19, 1962. We’re going to stay with Shostakovich this week because on January 21, 2017 the Alexander String Quartet and I are going to begin a two-season, nine-concert perusal of the string quartets and chamber music of Dmitri Shostakovich in San Francisco’s Herbst Theatre. Along with Shostakovich’s 15 string quartets, we will examine and perform as well Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in G Minor, Op. 57 (1940), Piano Trio in E Minor, Op. 67 (1944), and his Viola Sonata Op. 147 (1975). The lessons to be learned from Shostakovich’s life, his times, and his music are as real and relevant today as they were when Shostakovich was alive. Russian repression and adventurism are alive and well today in the kleptocracy of Tsar Vladimir the First as they were under the Soviets. “Mistakes that were made” are once again being made, and Shostakovich’s life and music offer a degree of insight into these current events that few other things can. Art and politics can be problematic bedfellows, but they are an indivisible […]

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