Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Composer

Music History Monday: A Critical Voice

We recognize the birth on November 25, 1896 – 123 years ago today – of the American composer and music critic Virgil Thomson in Kansas City, Missouri.

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Music History Monday: Tōru Takemitsu

Today we mark and celebrate the birth in Tokyo – 87 years ago yesterday on October 8, 1930 – of one of the greatest composers of the twentieth century: Tōru Takemitsu. Some historical background called for, as no East Asian country adopted Western music more rapidly and at an earlier date than did Japan. After more than 200 years of isolation, Japan opened its doors to the outside world with the advent of the Meiji Restoration in 1868. What the “restoration” saw restored was the full Imperial power of the Emperor Meiji following the demise of the Tokugawa Shogunate, the feudal military government that ruled Japan between 1600 and 1868. Having fallen far behind the West during their isolation, the leaders of the restoration – from Emperor Meiji on down – insisted that Japan embark on a crash program of industrial and economic modernization. According to historian Ian Toll: “Japan’s two generation rise from feudal and pre-industrial origins to the status of a major economic and military power was more than remarkable – it was (and remains) unprecedented in the entire course of human history.” Japanese education and performing arts were “modernized” as well. According to New Grove Dictionary of […]

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Music History Monday: Our Kind of Musician

Today we recognize and celebrate the birth, 207 years ago today, of someone who can rightfully be called “a musician’s musician”: the violinist, composer and teacher Ferdinand David. We will get to the specifics of Maestro David’s life and career in a moment. With your indulgence, a brief bit of editorializing. Marlon Brando (1924-2004). Yes, Marlon Brando: actor, director, activist, and father of at least 16 children (at least 16 children). A movie with Marlon Brando wasn’t a movie in which Marlon Brando played a role so much as a movie in which Marlon Brando played Marlon Brando playing a role. Accordingly, I would suggest that in The Godfather, Marlon Brando portrayed Marlon Brando playing Vito Corleone; in Apocalypse Now, Marlon Brando portrayed Marlon Brando playing Colonel Walter Kurtz. Brando was so brilliant, his persona so pronounced, his affectations so uniquely individual, that his personal brand always seemed to overshadow the characters he played. So it is with certain musicians as well. The pianist Yuja Wang, for example. She is brilliant, but so are lots of other elite pianists. Ah, but those other pianists don’t come out on stage like Ms. Wang wearing micro-micro-miniskirts and 6-inch stiletto heels. Then there’s […]

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Compositions Now Available on Sheet Music Plus!

My music is now being digitally published by Sheet Music Plus. By September 1, 18 pieces will be “live” with scores and parts available for digital download. In addition, a recording of each piece can be heard free-of-charge on the website. For those pieces that have also been recorded in video, links are provided to those videos. Works currently “live” (and on sale!): Suite Revelation for cello and piano (2014) 180 Shift for piano trio (2013) Invasive Species for piano quintet (2012) Lemurs are Afraid of Fossas for cello and piano (2011) South Bay Angle for violin and piano (2011) So Let Us Live – Really Live! For baritone and piano (2009) Tempus Fugit for piano (2008) Anything you Can Do . . . for violin and vibraphone (2006) String Quartet No. 4: Snappy Rejoinder (2005) Funny Like a Monkey for piano quartet (2001) Rarefied Air for B-flat clarinet, violin and piano (1999) Behavioral Science for trombone solo (1998) Pluck for guitar solo (1996) String Quartet No. 3: Among Friends (1995) Iron Balconies and Lilies for soprano, piano and chamber ensemble (1992) String Quartet No. 2: Child’s Play (1988) Quasi un Madrigale for soprano and piano (1985) Prayer for the […]

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Behind a Composition – Technology Conversation Continues

I was pleased as punch by the discussion generated by my last post regarding digital technology, digital-shortcuts, the piano and composers. A number of correspondents argued that digital notational programs like Finale and Sibelius are simply “the next thing”, and that the limits placed on one’s creativity by actually composing on one of these programs is little different from the limits imposed by composing at a piano. I would pick up the ball right there, because these assertions are incorrect for a number of reasons. Reason one. Keyboard instruments began consistently employing a full chromatic keyboard (using the same layout as the modern piano) by the late fifteenth century. This was in response to growing pitch resources of the evolving tonal system, a system based on the primacy of the triad and the concept of harmonic consonance and dissonance. The invention of the harpsichord in the late fourteenth century was due in no small part to the growing demand for a portable yet more resonant keyboard instrument capable of clearly articulating and “broadcasting” the new harmonic vocabulary. The point: the emergence and development of keyboard instruments was not merely a technological event but an ORGANIC EVENT, one tied inextricably to […]

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Behind a Composition – Technology

I am fond of saying (overly fond, frankly) that “technology is our friend, except when it isn’t.” We all know that this is true although it is tiresome to repeat. Nevertheless I have repeated this truism as a reminder that our techno-toys often actually hinder progress and creativity. Technology. We were led to believe that computers would reduce the amount of paper we waste. Hah. We were told that cell phones, email and texting would bring us “closer together”. Please; the absurd ease with which we can now communicate has in fact lowered the standard and meaning of our interaction. Meanwhile, an entire generation spends its waking hours “cyber multi-tasking”, which is a euphemism for “not doing any one thing particularly well.” Dang, I do sound old. I bring all of this up because modern technology has impacted mightily on how composers actually compose. For what it’s worth, here’s how I do it. My compositional methodology is decidedly old school: my basic tools are pencils and paper. Specifically, Music Writer pencils made by Pacific Music Papers and Passantino No. 85 spiral music notebooks. (When I started seriously writing music around the age of 14, I discovered music manuscript notebooks made […]

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