Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Sal Mosca

Let’s say it upfront: Salvatore (“Sal”) Joseph Mosca (1927–2007) is the greatest jazz musician you’ve likely never heard perform. Readers of my posts have heard of Maestro Mosca, as I’ve mentioned him repeatedly as being among my favorite, best-of-the-best jazz pianists ever. But I would hazard to guess that the vast majority of you have never actually heard him play. That will all change during the course of this post. I would tell you that Sal Mosca has inspired me to do something I never, ever, have otherwise done, and that is to write reviews of his albums on Amazon. I have written and posted only two reviews on Amazon, both of them dealing with Mosca albums. One of those review is spectacularly positive; the other equally negative. The positive one deals with one of the prescribed recordings” Too Marvelous for Words. The negative one deals with an album that should never have been released. Writing under the nom-de-plume of “RMonteverdi”, here are those two reviews:  One Of The Very Best At His Very Best “Sal Mosca was without any doubt one of the greatest improvising musicians who ever lived, and this fantastic five-cd set shows him at the very […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes John Alden Carpenter, Skyscrapers (1926)

John Alden Carpenter was a lifelong Midwesterner: he was born in Chicago in 1876 and died there in 1951. He reached his compositional maturity in the twentieth century. He was a businessman and thus, a compositional amateur. (“Amateur” in the best sense: as a practitioner of something not for money but for love, which is what “ama-teur” means.) He adored American popular culture and music and he filled his compositions with aspects of both. As opposed to Paine, Buck, Foote, and MacDowell, all of whom came to their compositional maturity in the nineteenth century. (For our information, Paine and Buck were born almost 40 years before Carpenter.) Paine, Buck, and Foote were all born in New England; MacDowell in New York. They all had academic musical careers; they all worshipped at the altar of German music; and they were all embarrassed by what they perceived of as the provincial cretinism of American musical culture. As such, this stylistically schizoid album inadvertently tells us something of the “story” of late nineteenth and early twentieth century American concert music: the reliance on German musical models by academic composers working primarily in the nineteenth century, and the celebration of things “American” by some […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, Show Boat (1927)

World War One began on July 28, 1914. All of the warring parties – the Central Powers of principally Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Turkey and the Triple Entente of mainly France, the United Kingdom, the Russian Empire, and Italy – believed they would be victorious and home by Christmas. They were all very, very wrong. Across the pond, with the exception of a few hotheads, the American public and government wanted nothing to do with the “European war”. The prevailing public opinion and governmental policy was one of neutrality. The feeling was that if the dusty, old Euro-Empires wanted to destroy themselves, they should be allowed to do so. In the end, a neutral America could only benefit from Europe’s self-destruction, or so the majority of Americans believed at the time. It didn’t take long for American public opinion to turn against the Central Powers. That turn was triggered by the sinking of the British passenger liner the RMS Lusitania 11 miles off the southern coast of Ireland on May 7, 1915; the Lusitania was returning to port in England from New York. Torpedoed by the German submarine U-20, 1198 passengers and crew were killed, including 123 Americans. Though the German […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Beethoven’s Three String Trios, Op. 9

Yesterday’s Music History Monday post featured the composer, pianist, friend of everybody (including Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert), the Benedictine abbot Abbé Maximilian Stadler (1748-1833). During the course of that post, we observed that Stadler believed the music of Mozart to be the very last word when it came to artistry and expression. We also observed that the Abbé understood Beethoven’s music not a whit and that he was notorious for getting up and leaving a room when a work of Beethoven’s was about to be performed. (That Beethoven forgave him these indiscretions is an indication of the respect and affection Beethoven felt for Stadler, a measure of respect and affection shared by the larger Viennese musical community.) However, there was an occasion when Stadler stayed put for a performance of a work by Beethoven, an event rare enough to be singled out in Alexander Thayer’s monumental Life of Beethoven (originally published in 1866 but extensively revised and edited by Elliott Forbes and republished in 1967). “But once he stayed and not only listened to a Beethoven piece but praised it. It was the Trio for Strings, Op. 9, which had been composed nearly a generation before! [The violinist and […]

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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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