Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Dr. Bob Prescribes

Dr. Bob Prescribes Ludwig van Beethoven – Fidelio

In referring to Fidelio as Beethoven’s only opera, we often overlook the fact that for all its preliminary versions it was also his first opera.  As such, it has been pointed out that Fidelio, which Beethoven began composing when he was 34 years old, is “the best first opera ever written.”  Writes Paul Robeson in The Cambridge Opera Handbook: Fidelio: “Certainly, it surpasses the first efforts of better-known opera composers: Wagner’s Die Feen, Verdi’s Oberto, Puccini’s Le Villi, and Richard Strauss’ Guntram.” (We would observe that the little whippersnapper, Wolfgang Mozart, composed his first opera – La finta semplice – at the age of 12, so comparisons to Beethoven here are inappropriate.  We’d further observe that he was just 30 years old when he composed The Marriage of Figaro; 32 years old when he composed Don Giovanni; and 33 years old when he composed Cosí fan tutte.  Freak.) As his “first” opera and as a slow worker, Beethoven labored long and hard on Fidelio.  It began its life with the title Leonore, oder Der Triumph der ehelichen Liebe (meaning “Leonore, or The Triumph of Marital Love”). The opera is a setting of a German-language libretto by Joseph Sonnleithner which was based […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Giuseppe Verdi – Rigoletto

Giuseppe Verdi and Teatro la Fenice Yesterday’s Music History Monday post – entitled “The Phoenix Rises” was about Venice’s fabled opera house, the Teatro la Fenice, “The Phoenix Theater.” Among the many operatic premieres that the Fenice has seen on its boards are five – count ‘em, five – by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901): Ernani (1844); Attila (1846); Rigoletto (1851); La Traviata (1853); and Simon Boccanegra (1857).   These operas are no strangers to this Patreon page. My Music History Monday post for March 6, 2017, focused on the 164th anniversary of the (disastrous) premiere of La Traviata, which took place at the Fenice on March 6, 1853.  My Dr. Bob Prescribes post for May 11, 2021, focused on Verdi’s fifth opera, Ernani, which received its premiere at the Fenice on March 9, 1844.  Today’s post will focus on yet another of Verdi’s Teatro la Fenice premieres, that of Rigoletto, which took place on March 11, 1851.  Specifically, this post will focus on how Verdi managed to get a highly charged political story past the Venetian/Austrian censors and into production.  (For our information: Austria ruled Venice and its home province of Veneto until 1866 when, after the Third Italian War of […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes El Amor Brujo

This is the third of three posts celebrating the Spanish director Carlos Saura’s spectacular “Flamenco Trilogy”, his set of three movies in which the stories are told primarily through flamenco music and dance. My Dr. Bob Prescribes post for March 7 of this year addressed the first of these movies, Bodas de Sangre (“Blood Wedding”), of 1981. On April 5 we tackled the second of the trilogy, Carmen, of 1983. For today, it’s the third and final film in the trilogy, El Amor Brujo (“Love, the Magician”, or “Spell-bound Love”, or “The Bewitched Love”). The post of April 5 – on Carmen – offered up brief biographies of the director Carlos Saura (born 1932); the choreographer and dancer Antonio Gades (1936-2004); and Gades’ principal female dancers: Cristina Hoyos (born 1946) and Laura del Sol (born 1961). With that biographical info out of the way, we will focus for a bit the brilliant Spanish composer Manuel de Falla (1876-1946), whose ballet El Amor Brujo is the basis of the film. My Music History Monday post for November 23, 2020, was a birthday tribute to the Spanish composer and conductor Manuel María de los Dolores Falla y Matheu (“y Matheu” because Spaniards customarily add their […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Thomas “Fats” Waller: “Ain’t Misbehavin”

Original Broadway cast performance, directed by Richard Maltby, Jr., broadcast on NBC-TV on June 12, 1982: No matter the source, the word that keeps coming up in any description of Thomas “Fats” Waller is “irrepressible”, the synonyms for which include “lively”, “energetic”, “unstoppable”, “buoyant”, “uncontrollable”, and “boisterous.”  He was all of that, and lots more: a virtuoso pianist and organist; a composer and songwriter; a violinist, singer, and a comedic entertainer.  As a songwriter, Waller’s closest collaborator was the lyricist Andy Razaf, who provided Waller with the lyrics for, among other songs, Ain’t Misbehavin’, Honeysuckle Rose, The Joint is Jumpin’, Willow Tree, Keeping Out of Mischief Now, and (What Did I Do to Be So) Black and Blue.  Razaf aptly described Waller as being: “the soul of melody. A man who made the piano sing… both big in body and in mind.  Known for his generosity, [he was] a bubbling bundle of joy.” I like that: “a bubbling bundle of joy.”  Speaking for myself, I can use a bundle of joy right about now (hell, a thimble-full would do). So here goes.  Waller’s performance of his own Ain’t Misbehavin’ linked below comes from the movie Stormy Weather (1943), which starred […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Johann Sebastian Bach, St Matthew Passion

A Bit O’ Review To recap something of yesterday’s Music History Monday post, Sebastian Bach’s St Matthew Passion is a massive, roughly three-hour-long sacred oratorio that sets to music the story surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection as told in chapters 26 and 27 of the Gospel of Matthew.  Musically, it is a full-blown religious opera presented in concert form, with a narrator, a cast of characters, two adult choruses and a separate boys’ choir, eight vocal soloists and two orchestras. It is replete with arias, recitatives, choruses, and action music of every stripe.  With a libretto by Bach’s long-time collaborator Christian Frederic Henrici (known as “Picander”, 1700-1764), the St Matthew Passion features 68 different musical numbers, divided into two acts, or parts: Part One featuring 29 numbers, and Part Two 39 numbers. In terms of its scope, spiritual and expressive power, range of expression, and sheer (frankly inexplicable) beauty, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is, as a work of art unique, sui generis, one-of-a-kind: an artwork defined only by itself, comparable only to itself.   Bach biographer Karl Geiringer writes: “The St Matthew Passion represents the climax of Bach’s music for the Protestant Church. His own conception of its importance is […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Carmen

This is the second of three posts celebrating the Spanish director Carlos Saura’s spectacular “Flamenco Trilogy”, his set of three movies in which the stories are told primarily through flamenco music and dance. My Dr. Bob Prescribes post for March 8 of this year addressed the first of these movies, Bodas de Sangre (“Blood Wedding”) of 1981. On May 19 we will tackle the third of the trilogy, El Amor Brujo (“Love, the Magician”, or “Spell-bound Love”, or “The Bewitched Love”) of 1986. For today, it’s the second film of the trilogy, Carmen, of 1983. The Flamenco Trilogy was a collaboration between Carlos Saura and the superb and justly famous flamenco dancer and choreographer Antonio Gades. Here’s how this post will be structured. First, I’ll offer up quick biographical sketches of Carmen’s principals: Carlos Saura, Antonio Gades, Cristina Hoyos, Laura del Sol, and the lead guitarist Paco de Lucía. Second, I’ll outline the overall action of the movie, drawing our video examples from the dance episodes. A final point before moving on: I really, really, really want you to watch the entire film; it is freaking brilliant. So please understand that the video excerpts offered up in this post constitute but a small […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Rachmaninoff, Symphony No. 2

Rachmaninoff in America Like so many Russians of his time and of his class (what was then called in Russia the “lower nobility”; what we would call today the upper middle class), Sergei Vasilyevich Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) and his family lost everything but their lives in the Russian Revolution of 1917.  He, his wife Natalia, and his daughters Tatiana and Irena escaped Russia on December 22, 1917, with what they could carry in their small valises.  After having spent nearly a year in Sweden and Denmark, the family arrived in New York City on November 10, 1918.   (The list of so-called “first wave” Russian émigrés who fled the Revolution represented a brain-drain of what was to then an unprecedented proportion.  In just the arts, that list of émigrés included, aside from Rachmaninoff, Léon Bakst, Yul Brynner(!), Oleg Cassini, Marc Chagall, Feodor Chaliapin, Serge Diaghilev, Peter Carl Fabergé, Michel Fokine, Wassily Kandinsky, Tamara Karsavina, Vladimir Nabokov, Vaslav Nijinsky, Sergei Prokofiev, Nicolas Roerich, and Igor Stravinsky.) On arriving in New York City in 1918, Rachmaninoff made his headquarters on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.  His first long-term residence was an apartment at 33 Riverside Drive, at 75th Street and Riverside.   In 1926, […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes The String Quartets of Beethoven

Yesterday’s Music History Monday post addressed two anniversaries: the 337th anniversary of the birth of Johann Sebastian Bach on March 21, 1685, and the 196th anniversary of the premiere of Ludwig van Beethoven’s String Quartet in B-flat major, Op. 130, on March 21, 1826.  That quartet, like so very much of Beethoven’s late music, demonstrates explicitly the influence of Bach’s music on Beethoven’s own in its sixth (and final) movement fugue. That sixth movement fugue is the key to Beethoven’s conception of the piece, as the preceding five movements of the quartet are related not so much to each other as they are to the culminating fugue.    Sadly, Beethoven’s late-in-life infatuation (obsession would not be too strong a word) with both fugues and the High Baroque/Sebastian Bach-inspired aesthetic they represented, was not shared with most members of his contemporary musical community. For all his cantankerous individuality, Ludwig (aka Louis/Luigi) van Beethoven (1770-1827) was still part of a musical community, and it was a community that had long before rejected the Baroque era musical style that had preceded it. Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) – one of the intellectual pillars of the Enlightenment – wrote apropos of fugues and the High […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Georg Philipp Telemann: Concerti per molte stromenti 

In his lifetime, the composer Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) was considered the single greatest composer living and working in the German-speaking world. (Whereas his contemporary, Johann Sebastian Bach [1685-1750], was perceived as being a composer of third-rate importance, if that.) By the late-nineteenth century, Telemann’s music had come to be considered by many “authorities” – when it was considered at all – to be the work of a fifth-rate talent, hardly better than a charlatan. By the mid-twentieth century, his work had been reappraised once again, and a more balanced and frankly more fair evaluation had been made, one we can live with today. A few quotes will establish nicely these “changing views” of Telemann’s music. In the eighteenth century, Telemann’s music was universally admired, as the following quotes attest. The famed German composer, singer, lexicographer, and music theorist Johann Mattheson (1681-1764) wrote this bit of doggerel in 1740: “A Lully is renowned;Corelli one may praise;But Telemann alonehas above mere fame been raised.” In 1754, the German writer and editor Friedrich Wilhelm Zachariae (1726-1777) opined: “Yet who is this ancient, who with flowering pen, full of holy fire, the wond’ring temple charms? Telemann, none but thou, celestial music’s sire.” The […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Bodas de Sangre (“Blood Wedding”)

The Enduring Magnificence of Flamenco On Sunday, February 27, my Patreon Zoom session (which goes by the rather precious title of “The Dr. is In!”) focused on Spanish music for the piano that has been transcribed for the guitar. Co-lead and largely created by my patron Joe Sullivan, the session featured music by some of the greatest of all Spanish composers: Joaquin Turina (1882-1949), Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909), Enrique Granados (1867-1916), and Manuel de Falla (1876-1946). What all of the music we examined had in common was that it was inspired by the flamenco tradition of Andalucía, in southern Spain. The last piece on the program was the “Ritual Fire Dance” from Manuel de Falla’s ballet El Amor Brujo (“Love, the Magician”, or “Spell-bound Love”, or “The Bewitched Love”, 1925), which has been transcribed for two guitars by the husband/wife guitar duo, the “Duo Kupinski.” Before playing a video of the Duo Kupinski’s two guitar version, I wanted us to hear de Falla’s original, orchestral version of the “Ritual Fire Dance.” Specifically, I wanted to play the flamenco ballet version from director Carlos Saura’s film El Amor Brujo (of 1986). That film (and the “Ritual Fire Dance” in the film) features the awesome flamenco […]

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