Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Dr. Bob Prescribes Emil Gilels

This post continues the celebration of Beethoven’s upcoming semiquincentennial (250th anniversary of his birth) by featuring what is, for me, my out-of-the-ballpark favorite performance of what is, for me, my favorite Beethoven Piano Concerto.

We contemplate, for a moment, youth, innocence, and the inevitable loss of both.

Lillian Patricia Clymer Greenberg
Lillian Patricia Clymer Greenberg, age 13, heaven help us all

I am writing this post on October 14, 2019. Today is my daughter Lillian Patricia’s 13th birthday; for not the first time in my life I have a teenaged daughter under my roof. Lily is still – may it long last – as sweet as can be, as the picture to the right (taken last night in her Halloween outfit) attests. But. But as experience has taught me, I am (painfully) aware that some point in the next two years she will suddenly and inexplicably disappear, to be replaced by an irrational, cynical, hypersensitive, over-emotional, easily angered, appearance-obsessed clone, someone pathologically hostile towards my jokes and given to door-slamming exhibitions of pique. I am additionally aware that it could take up to five or even six years to find my real daughter, during which time the rest of us will have to tread as if walking on glass. 

Lillian’s childhood is almost over, but I do believe that she’s accumulated a requisite critical mass of childhood experiences that will inform her sense of wonder for the rest of her life. Because if my own experience is any guide, those things we learn and experience for the first time as children print themselves on us as nothing else can and in doing so, become fundamental to who we are. 

I grew up – gratefully – in a house full of records and books. The records were my father’s, and bless him, he wasn’t particular about them, so even as a child I was allowed to play whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. My father’s records “formed” me as surely as did school, television, and Pop-Tarts (blueberry, or whatever chemicals were used to simulate blueberry). Toscanini’s recordings of Beethoven’s Symphonies with the NBC Symphony. Joan Sutherland (my dad adored “the thundah from down undah”), and he had her opera recordings as well as her recital recordings). Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier. Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops (on RCA; great-sounding records even on my father’s modest monaural rig). Erroll Garner’s Concert By The Sea. Nathan Milstein’s epic performance of Tchaikovsky’s Concerto for Violin (no doubt a future Dr. Bob Prescribes subject). Jascha Heifetz’s recordings of the Beethoven and Brahms violin concerti and Bach’s works for solo violin; and scads of recordings of Vladimir Horowitz, Sviatoslav Richter, and Artur Rubinstein. And while I could go on (and on), it’s time to cut to the chase, because among my favorite records, one that printed itself on my ear, heart, and mind for all time, is the subject of today’s post on Patreon. Join me on Patreon for the full post and links to the recording.

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