Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Dr. Bob Prescribes

Dr. Bob Prescribes Fluids of Choice and Drinking Songs

We pick up where we left off in yesterday’s Music History Monday. May 13th – yesterday’s date – has been designated by those fine people who designate such things as “World Cocktail Day” (as well as the first day of “American Craft Beer Week”).  I used the occasions to begin a discussion about the drinking habits of some of our favorite composers.  As I pointed out yesterday and would point out again today, I am in no way promoting the consumption of alcohol, especially in excess.  Rather, as is my usual schtick, I am seeking to render human composers who have been pedestalized and, as such, de-humanized. Franz Schubert (1797-1828) Franz Schubert always liked to hoist a glass (or two, or three).  His favorite wine was a rosé called “Schilcher.” It was (and still is) produced in the Austrian region of Western Styria from Blauer Wildbacher grapes. Sadly, “self-medication” due to illness put his drinking well over the top. It was sometime in the late summer of 1822 that the 25-year-old Schubert contracted syphilis, almost certainly from a male prostitute during a pleasure-jaunt with his friend and periodic roommate, the homosexual and sometime female impersonator Franz von Schober (1796-1882). The first symptoms of the […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington

My Music History Monday post back on June 15, 2020, marked the death on June 15, 1996, of the the “First Lady of Song,” the “Queen of Jazz,” “Lady Ella”: of Ella Jane Fitzgerald, at the age of 79.   Music History Monday for April 29, 2024 (just last week!), marked the birth of “The Duke”: Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington, on April 29, 1899. Ella and Duke.  They knew each other, loved each other, and performed and recorded music together for half a century.  They were, the cliché, be damned, a musical marriage made in heaven.  And thus, in my self-proclaimed “Year of Popular American Song,” this album of songs associated with Duke Ellington – which, BTW, is one of the greatest recordings ever made (no hyperbole that; just fact) – just screams to be examined and prescribed.   And so we shall. Ella and Duke Up Close and Personal I would introduce you all to Leonard Geoffrey Feather (1914-1994). He was a London-born jazz pianist, composer, and producer, who nevertheless is best known today for his books and essays about jazz and his jazz criticism (he was the chief jazz critic for the Los Angeles Times from the 1960s until his […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Duke Ellington

Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington (1899-1974) was an American jazz pianist and composer, someone who led his eponymous jazz band (or “orchestra,” as he preferred to call it), for what was a record-making 51 years: from 1923 until his death in 1974. He was born and raised in Washington D.C.  He moved permanently to New York City in 1923, and it was there that he became famous: as the leader of the house band at Harlem’s Cotton Club from 1927 to 1931. A brilliant composer of songs – many of which are today standards of the Great American Songbook – Ellington began composing extended works (what he generally referred to as “suites”) in the mid-1930s.  By the time of his death in 1974, he had written and collaborated on over one thousand musical works, by far the single largest body of written work in the jazz repertoire. When we left off in yesterday’s Music History Monday, Ellington had just become a household musical name thanks to his band’s weekly national broadcasts from the Cotton Club in New York City.  Ellington remained at the very top of the American musical heap through the 1930s and mid-1940s.  And then. And then came the late-1940s and […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Yehudi Menuhin

Monday’s Music History Monday post marked the birth – on April 22, 1916 – of the distinguished American-British violinist, conductor, and teacher Yehudi Menuhin (1916-1999).  During the course of that post, I wrote that Menuhin: “was a man of unwavering moral integrity and courage: a soft-spoken, kind, gentle, and elegant man, a role model for everyone who knew him.” In support of that statement, I would offer up two of the many examples of his integrity and courage.  But first, an anecdote that sets the stage for those examples. Menuhin was born in New York City to a family of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants.  His given name – “Yehudi” – literally means “Jew” in Hebrew.  In an interview published in the British magazine New Internationalist, Menuhin described how he got his name: “Obliged to find an apartment [in New York City], my parents searched the neighborhood and chose one. Showing them out after they had viewed it, the landlady said: ‘And you’ll be glad to know I don’t take Jews.’ Her mistake made clear to her, the antisemitic landlady was renounced, and another apartment found. But her blunder left its mark. Back on the street my mother made a vow. Her unborn […]

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Music History Monday: One of the Really Good Guys

We mark the birth on April 22, 1916 – 108 years ago today – of one of the really good guys of twentieth century music: the American-British violinist, conductor, and teacher Yehudi Menuhin. A reminder: because of my trip to Vienna, I am still – for this week – posting abbreviated Music History Monday and Dr. Bob Prescribes posts.  I can assure you that this hurts me more than it does you; not presently having the time and wherewithal to expand (as is my chronic wont) on Maestro Menuhin is causing me no small bit of spiritual and emotional damage. I will cope, but poorly. Yehudi Mnuchin was born into a family of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants in New York City on April 22, 1916. In 1918, the family moved to San Francisco and in the following year, 1919, the Mnuchins became American citizens and changed their name to Menuhin. It was in San Francisco (and here in Oakland, where at the age of seven he made his professional debut at the Oakland Auditorium, on February 29, 1924) that Menuhin grew up as a spectacular child prodigy violinist.  He made his New York debut at the age of nine on March 17, 1926, and his first solo recordings in […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Bob Dylan: the Television Commercials

For the second week in a row, I’m offering up a different sort of Dr. Bob Prescribes (DBP) post.  Yesterday’s Music History Monday marked the private ceremony, held on April 1, 2017, during which Bob Dylan received his Novel Prize for Literature.  Typically, if I were to follow my usual modus operandi in today’s DBP, I would now be prescribing for you my favorite Bob Dylan album (or albums). But circumstances force a confession: with the exception of “Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits,” (pictured above), I don’t own any of Dylan’s albums.  In fact – and I trust his will not affect your good opinion of me – I’ve never been much of a Bob Dylan fan.  And while I recognize and acknowledge his greatness, I personally have never thought much of his attitude, his voice, or even, with a few exceptions, his songs. Okay, color me a barbarian; you wouldn’t be the first. I can handle it. But as for the various “personas” Dylan has concocted/projected over the course of his 60-plus year career: those personas have always fascinated me.  Cool to the point of detachment, Dylan is, in fact, a middle-class Jewish nebbish from Hibbing Minnesota crossed with a […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Arturo Toscanini

Today’s Dr. Bob Prescribes post takes a different tack than usual.  Rather than prescribing/recommending a particular CD (or DVD, or book), today’s post will feature a series of links to various video performances of Arturo Toscanini conducting the NBC Symphony, interviews with people who knew him, and audio recordings of a very few of his legendary temper tantrums! Instant Fame The story of Toscanini’s rise to almost instant fame is the stuff of legend. At the age of eighteen, he was living at home and contributing to his family’s finances by working as a freelance cellist.  He looked younger than his years, so he grew a mustache in an attempt to look older. During the 1885-’86 opera season, Toscanini played cello at the Teatro Regio in Parma (where, for our information, he had begun performing as a cellist cello at the tender age of thirteen). Over his time in the pit, Toscanini had memorized all of his parts, which allowed him to watch the action on stage without ever having to look at the music on his stand. He later remembered: “I never had to turn a page.” Toscanini’s prodigious memory annoyed the conductor of the Teatro Regio – Nicola […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov – Scheherazade

We begin where we left off in yesterday’s Music History Monday post, with what was the closing statement: “It’s a fact: the very history of twentieth century Russian, Russian expatriate, and Soviet composers starts with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908), whose own roots trace back through The Five to Glinka and the awakening of Russian musical nationalism in the 1830s, all of which was an outgrowth of Napoleon’s defeat in Russia in 1812!” During his lifetime, Rimsky-Korsakov was best known for his thirteen operas.  However, he is best known today for three spectacularly popular orchestral works, all of which were composed within a span of 18 months, between the winter of 1887 and August 1888: the Capriccio espagnole, The Russian Easter Overture, and Scheherazade. Scheherazade – the Story The literary story behind Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade comes from a collection of Middle Eastern and South Asian folk tales initially compiled during the 9th century, a compilation entitled One Thousand and One Nights.  Among the best-known of the folk tales in this compilation are “Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp,” “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” and “The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor.” Many different versions of One Thousand and One Nights have come down to us, […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Giuseppe Verdi – Rigoletto

A Lurid, Depraved Tale! Put in contemporary terms, the plot of Rigoletto is, frankly, revolting: a sixteenth century version of the Jeffrey Epstein/Ghislaine Maxwell story. The opera tells the tale of a rich, slimy, powerful, utterly amoral man (the Duke of Mantua/Epstein) who, among his many carnal sins, rapes and traffics in teenaged girls, abetted by his court jester, Rigoletto (Maxwell). Rigoletto himself only begins to regret the duke’s penchant for youngsters when he discovers that his own teenaged daughter, Gilda, is on the duke’s “defile bucket list.” She is indeed abducted and delivered to the duke’s bed, where he has his way with her, and where – like a hostage suffering from Stockholm Syndrome – she “falls” for her captor, the duke! Beside himself with grief and rage, Rigoletto hires a hit man named Sparafucile to whack the duke, but Rigoletto has been cursed, and instead, it is Gilda whose adolescent bosom receives the business end of Sparafucile’s stiletto! Game Plan Here is the game plan for this double-length post. We will occupy ourselves with the two, opening episodes of the opera. The first of these episodes is the “prelude,” (or overture), the music of which anticipates the maledizione […]

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Music History Monday: An Opera Profane and Controversial: Verdi’s Rigoletto

We mark the first performance on March 11, 1851 – 173 years ago today – of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Rigoletto at Venice’s storied Teatro la Fenice: The Phoenix Theater. We set the scene.   The year was 1849.  Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi (1813-1901) was – at the age of 36 – the most famous and popular composer of opera living and working in Italy.   Living in his hometown of Busseto, in the Parma region of northern Italy, Verdi spent the last days of 1849 and the first weeks of 1850 considering future opera projects.  He sat down and drew up a list of stories that captured his interest, a list filled with literary masterworks old and new.  At the top of the list were Shakespeare’s King Lear, Hamlet, and The Tempest.  There was Kean, by Alexander Dumas pere and Victor Hugo’s Marion Delorme, Ruy Blas, and Le Roi s’amuse (“The King’s Jester”).  Among other works on the list were Lord George Gordon Byron’s Cain; Jean Baptiste Racine’s Phedre; Pedro Calderon de la Barca’s A Secret Grievance, a Secret Revenge; Vicomte Francois Rene de Chateaubriand’s Atala; and Count Vittorio Alfieri’s Filippo (which would eventually become the opera Don Carlo). Stifellio […]

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