Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Dr. Bob Prescribes

Dr. Bob Prescribes: Chick Corea and Béla Fleck

My Dr. Bob Prescribes post of December 25, 2018 was dedicated to one of my very favorite jazz pianists, the late, great, Dave McKenna. During the course of that post, I offered up a short list of those jazz pianists who have most powerfully influenced my own playing. (I am a designated Steinway Artist based on my abilities as a composer and as a jazz pianist, and certainly not based on my abilities – what that they are – as a concert pianist.) That short list featured, in no particular order, Erroll Garner, Dave Brubeck, Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Armando “Chick” Corea, Phineas Newborn Jr., Roger Kellaway, Lennie Tristano, Sal Mosca, and Dave McKenna. For our information: sooner or later, I will write posts on all of these wonderful pianists. As I pointed out on December 25, two things distinguished the jazz pianists on my list. The first is that they are all two-handed pianists who use the entire keyboard when they play. The second distinguishing factor is that these pianists are, in my opinion, at their very best when playing solo. Now don’t get me wrong: playing with a good bassist and drummer is great fun, but – pianistically… 

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Doctor Bob Prescribes: Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35

As I know I’ve mentioned all-too-many-times, my paternal grandmother, Bessie Hurwitz Greenberg, graduated in 1916 with a degree in piano from the New York Institute of Musical Art (renamed the Juilliard School in 1926). For the next fifty-plus years, she tortured generations of piano students from her studio in Queens, New York, including my father and myself. She had been born in Brooklyn New York in 1894, about 12 years after her family immigrated to the United States from the Russian Empire (Minsk, in modern Belarus), as a result of the pogroms that erupted after the assassination of Tsar Alexander in 1881. While my paternal grandfather, Sidney Greenberg – Bessie’s husband – was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey (Exit 13) in 1891, he also grew up in Brooklyn, New York. Like my grandmother’s family, Sidney’s family fled Belarus in the 1880s. Unlike my grandmother the musician, my grandfather was a jock: a fairly high-end track-and-field athlete and semi-pro baseball player who, according to family legend (myth?) turned down an invitation to the 1912 Olympic Trials because he couldn’t get the time off from work. My grandfather went on to a successful career as an executive for a fabric company called… 

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Béla Bartók: Concerto for Orchestra

I am frequently asked “who is my favorite composer?” My typical response – flippant but not insincere – is that I am a musical slut: I love whomever I’m with at the moment. I mean, really: when listening to Sebastian Bach’s St. Matthew Passion or playing the Goldberg Variations, how in heaven’s name would it be possible for any of us to favor any composer over Bach? Ditto when listening to Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro; a Beethoven Symphony; Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov;a Brahms Piano Quartet; Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde; Schubert’s Wintereisse; Haydn’s Creation; Verdi’s Otello; Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto; and a thousand-and-one other works by a hundred-and-one other composers. So much great music; so little time. How can we possibly choose favorites among such a wealth of extraordinary work? On seemingly the same lines, I am also not-infrequently asked, “who is my favorite twentieth century composer?” Now: that is, in fact, a very different question. It’s a different question because starting around the first decade of the twentieth century, the vast majority of young composers began taking it upon themselves to create their own musical languages, partly if not wholly divorced from the melodic, harmonic, and formal traditions of seventeenth, eighteenth, and… 

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Richard Strauss – Four Last Songs

There are fighting words, and then there are FIGHTING WORDS. As for the former, small-case version of “fighting words” I would lump political discourse (which can, admittedly, get pretty hot these days; I trust none of you are put off by the fact that I keep politics out of this site, not because I am an apolitical wuss but because I want this to be a safe place for everybody); the question as to whether steroid-era baseball superstars like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Mark McGuire belong in the hall of fame; or whether Certs should be considered a breath mint or a candy mint. As someone writing on topics musical, I would list but one category of true, all caps FIGHTING WORDS, and that topic/category is singers. I have found that you can say pretty much anything about someone’s children, mother, pets, and car (okay; maybe not their car), but mess with that person’s favorite singer(s) and you will be in for a world of hurt. For example. In last week’s Music History Monday, I extolled the glories of Giacomo Puccini’s opera Tosca. In the course of the post, I indicated that my favorite recording of the opera features… 

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: A Franz Liszt Trilogy

But first, we have a cat named Teddy. Ted is a rescue cat. He spent the first years of his life roaming the mean streets of Fresno, California. We got him (or more appropriately, he got us) in February of 2009, almost ten years ago. Based on the wear on his pads, the vet figured he was two or three years old at the time of adoption, making him 12 or 13 years old now. While he won’t chase the red dot from a laser pointer the way he used to, he’s hardly lost a step and, as the recent photo above attests, he still looks mahvelous. The Tedster is a Maine Coon: a landrace (or “natural breed”) native to the state of Maine. (A landrace is a type plant or breed of animal that over time naturally adapts to its environment. In the case of the Maine Coon that environment is a cold, snowy, and icy one, necessitating long, thick hair; big feet; and a huge, bottlebrush-like tail.) He is extraordinarily friendly to everyone – family, friends, and strangers – without being needy or clingy. In the presence of other cats and the occasional dog (visitors to our house),… 

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Shostakovich Symphony No. 10

After Dmitri Shostakovich’s death in August of 1975 and his “posthumous rehabilitation” by the Soviet authorities (do you love that phrase “posthumous rehabilitation” as much as I do?), the Soviet authorities declared that their dear, departed Dmitri Dmitriyevich was: “Soviet Russia’s most loyal musical son.”  Back in 1975, who could argue with them? The “public” Shostakovich – the Shostakovich we read about in newspapers and saw on his rare trips outside of the Soviet Union – said whatever he was told to say and did what he was told to do by the Soviet authorities. He publically debased himself and begged forgiveness for his “artistic sins” after having been censured in both 1936 and 1948. In 1960, at the age of 54, he joined the Communist Party when Khrushchev told him to do so. He allowed his name to be signed at the bottom of anti-Western rants and editorials, while he fidgeted, twitched, and, literally, smoked himself to death. Shostakovich’s censure in 1948 was particularly agonizing. Just seven years before he had been proclaimed “A Hero of the Soviet People” for having stayed in Leningrad during the beginning of the siege and for having composed his Symphony No. 7, the… 

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: A Book?

This is my 21st Dr. Bob Prescribes (“DBP”), a post I began on August 6 of last year (that would be 2018). Up to now, each of these DBP posts has recommended (“prescribed”) something musical. Atypically, today’s prescription has nothing to do with music per se. However, the thought process that lead to offer up this recommendation did indeed begin on a musical note; it is a thought process I will share with you in a moment. But first, a preliminary moan-and-groan. Generally speaking, I prefer not to receive books as gifts and only rarely will I give a book as a gift. Here’s why. I have always considered the giving and receiving of books to be a temporal mugging. If I give someone a CD, it can be listened to whole or in part in a car, at home, wherever. You do not necessarily need to give that CD 100% of your attention while listening to it, and even if you do, the maximum amount of time a CD can suck from your life is 79 minutes. But a book? A 391-page novel – like the one recommended here – can, depending upon the individual reader, take days, weeks,… 

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Dave McKenna

If you are among those who just said “Dave who?”, THIS IS YOUR LUCKY DAY! I am about to offer up a gift more lasting, more aesthetically pleasing and more spiritually enlightening than any you have likely received during this “season of getting”. That gift? The pianism of Dave McKenna. Indulge me some first-person info. Along with untold millions of others of my generation, as a little shaver I took piano lessons. By the time I was thirteen I could play a handful of Beethoven Sonatas, Bach’s Two and Three-Part Inventions, some Mozart, Chopin, Schubert, Schumann, etc., etc. But: with my puberty entering hyperdrive, I became bored with the “classics”, and while I spent a good bit of time writing my own, primarily rock ‘n’ roll flavored ditties, I stopped practicing the piano (and my parents subsequently cut off the lessons). And then I was hit by a bolt of musical lightning, my epiphany, a life changer: at the age of 14, I discovered jazz. Here was a music with all the rhythmic intensity of rock ‘n’ roll but magnified – to my ear, a gazillion fold – by the polyrhythmic magic that is swing. I was gob-smacked by its… 

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Dr Bob Prescribes: Gustav Holst – The Planets

Oh my. This was going to be a straightforward review of my favorite recording of one of my favorite orchestral works, Gustav Holst’s The Planets. However, having done my research I have come face to face with an issue and an attendant moral dilemma that has caused me to question whether (or not) I should have recommended this recording and, having done so, by what justification. Gustav Holst Gustavus Theodore von Holst was born on September 21, 1874 and died on May 25, 1934, four months short of his sixtieth birthday. Despite his dauntingly Teutonic name, he was an Englishman through and through: born in Cheltenham and educated at the Royal College of Music in London, where he lived most of his life and where he died. The biographical substance of Holst’s life can be outlined with shocking ease. A small, frail, short-sighted and asthmatic child, he had to abandon his ambition to be a professional pianist due to neural inflammation in his right arm. Instead, he became a composition student of Charles Stanford at London’s Royal Academy. He failed to win a scholarship and was, according to Stanford: “hardworking but not at all brilliant.”  After graduating he took a… 

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Adventures in Geekdom

I am, uncharacteristically, presently screaming with joy; alternately dancing and weeping and generally making a scene in the thankful privacy of my home office/studio. What – pray tell – should have inspired such a broad and sustained outburst of emotion? Have I won the Lottery? Been the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Grant? Finally binge-watched “The Complete Gilligan’s Island” DVDs (complete with secretly filmed NC-17 outtakes of the Professor and Mary Ann playing doctor)? As you have no doubt guessed, my present euphoria cannot – sadly – be attributed to any of the above (boy, I’d love to see those outtakes). Rather, it has been caused by a new (and incredibly inexpensive) music playback system I installed on my computer last month, a system that has already changed my life. Before I spill the beans and tell you about this miracle app, I would reveal some unbelievably geeky autobiographical info. A thousand apologies if I bore the living daylights out of you, but it’s important that you get a sense of my hi-fi bona fides before I offer up this week’s prescription. I would confess that from a young age I have had pretentions to audiophilia. (No; that is not… 

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