Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Dr. Bob Prescribes

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. 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, […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Jessye Norman

Death comes for us all, even the goddesses among us.  Pardon me such a lachrymose opening line, but Jessye Norman died on September 30, 2019 at the age of 74 and how can that be.  I had planned to write today about Johannes Brahms’ glorious vocal quartets (for soprano, alto, tenor, and bass voices and piano), 12 in number and published as Opuses 31, 64, 92, and 112. Like so much (if not most) of Brahms’ music for multiple voices and chorus, the vocal quartets are buried treasures, hidden gems, superb works generally unknown by the listening public and as such, a perfect subject for Dr. Bob Prescribes.  But our exquisite Ms. Norman’s passing has prompted a necessary change of course. So instead, I ask that you join me on Patreon as we explore one of my favorite recordings of Ms. Norman’s. Robert Greenberg Courses On Sale Now

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Robert Schumann

I have been asked to write a brief program note for the Library of Congress, and it just so happens that they have asked me to write about one of my favorite performing ensembles performing some of my absolutely favorite music. Talk about two birds with one stone! I will adapt this Dr. Bob Prescribes post for the LOC. But to our post first. By way of explanation. The National Recording Registry is a list of 25 recordings issued annually by the Library Congress. The Registry now totals some 525 recordings. According to the LOC: “Each of these recordings has been chosen by the Librarian of Congress, with input from the National Recording Preservation Board. Each of these recordings have been deemed so vital to the history of America — aesthetically, culturally or historically — that they demand permanent archiving in the nation’s library.” There are certain actors whose fan-bases are so deep that their mere presence in a film will, by itself, guarantee its success. Tom Hanks, Jennifer Lawrence, Harrison Ford, Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, Scarlett Johansson, Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep, Brad Pitt, Samuel Jackson, Sandra Bullock, Tom Cruise: put ’em on the screen and watch the moolah roll in. There are […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Felix Mendelssohn

It is cliché but true: the older we get, the more most of us realize how little we know and how much there is still to learn. Getting older has a way of humbling us if, indeed, we are lucky enough to get older. Now, I am aware that some “older” people – particularly older academes who, believing they have mastered that narrow range of information they call their “field” – swell with arrogance when dealing with the uninformed novices that are their students and the ignorant hoi-polloi, which qualifies as everybody else. But such irksome creatures are, in my experience, relatively few and far between, and we need pay them no mind (unless we work for one or, heaven forbid, are married to one!). I bring this up because 25 years ago even I, your humblest of intellectual servants, suffered from the sin of informational pride: I believed that I was familiar with the great bulk of the Western concert repertoire. How wrong I was. What I “knew” were the staples, the chestnuts, and a number of sleepers, and while no one can possibly “know” the entire repertoire – it is almost inconceivably vast – it turns out that […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Anne Rice

Given all of its terminological pitfalls, referencing music is notoriously difficult for non-musicians. I read a lot, both fiction and non-fiction, and far more often than not music references are bungled by both authors and their editors (who allow those bungles to slip through).   (It has only just now occurred to me that I should have been keeping a list of such musical miscues; we’d have some real boners to discuss about had I done so. Things like referring to a Beethoven symphony as a “song”; assertions that Mozart “waltzed through the night” at a time when the waltz was not yet danced in urban areas; references to Frank Sinatra’s “scintillating tenor voice”; he was a baritone, etc.) If the occasional music reference can be problematic for non-musicians, then actually writing about music can be a downright disaster. In correspondence with my Patreon patron, the professional writer (and musical patron) Howard Jay Smith (whose own historical novel – Beethoven in Love; Opus 139 – I, pathetically, have yet to read), we discussed how ripe for literary depiction was the Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann, Johannes Brahms ménage a trois. In the course of our correspondence I mentioned two books that […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Górecki: Symphony No. 3

I recorded a course entitled Music as a Mirror of History for The Great Courses/Teaching Company in 2015. The concept behind the course was to feature works composed in direct response to historical events, and to discuss those musical works in the context of the events that inspired them. The resulting course was as much – if not more – a history course than a music course, and topics and music spanned a gamut from pro-Elizabeth I propaganda in early seventeenth-century English madrigals to the war in Vietnam as exemplified in George Crumb’s Black Angels for amplified string quartet. (The course garnered for me one of the highest compliments I ever received. At a speaking engagement a couple of years ago a gentleman who introduced himself as an academic and a writer told me how much he enjoyed Music as a Mirror of History. He asked me how long it had taken me to write the thing – it runs about 120,000 words – and I told him a solid seven months. It was then that he inadvertently paid me my compliment, by inquiring as to how many research assistants I employed in writing the course. I laughed out loud; […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Symphonic Dances from West Side Story

I am going to say it upfront; abuse me as you wish. In my humble but not entirely ill-informed opinion, West Side Story – with its story concept by William Shakespeare, “book” (play) by Arthur Laurents, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, choreography and direction by Jerome Robbins, and music by Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) – is very likely the greatest single work of musical theater thus far created in the United States. The story line, which deals with the confrontation of Hispanic and Anglo cultures on the streets of Manhattan, is as relevant today as it was when it opened at Broadway’s Winter Garden Theater on September 26, 1957. The story, play, lyrics and choreography of West Side Story are wonderful, but it is Bernstein’s remarkable music – jazzy and urban for the Anglos, characteristically Caribbean for the Puerto Ricans, and out-of-the-world heavenly for the lovers (Romeo and Juliet re-conceived as Tony and Maria) – that renders West Side Story the sublime masterwork that it is. Bernstein was, by any measure, a superb composer, someone who was equally comfortable composing for the musical theater, the opera theater, the ballet theater, and the concert hall. He also composed what is, to my mind, […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Beethoven Piano Quartet No. 3, WoO 36

The year 2020 will mark our adored Louis van Beethoven’s 250th birthday. As discussed in Dr. Bob Prescribes on July 23, among my contributions to the coming year-of-living-Beethoven hoopla will be a series of posts exploring some of Beethoven’s lesser-known works and/or performances we should all know about. On July 23, the object of our affection was Beethoven’s magnificent Mass in C of 1807. Today we turn to Beethoven’s Piano Quartet in C Major, WoO 36, No. 3 of 1785. (“WoO” does not signify a fist-pumped expression of approbation: “woo, WOO!”, but rather, “Werke ohne Opuszahl”, a “work without opus number.” Werke ohne Opuszahl is a catalog published in 1955 that lists most the works by Beethoven that did not receive an opus number or that survived only in fragmentary form.)  Beethoven composed the three piano quartets of “WoO 36” when he was but a wee shaver of 14. What makes the third of these piano quartets super-special is that despite its obvious debt to Mozart, it is the first work by Beethoven that sounds like Beethoven. For this we have one person to thank, the single person who allowed Beethoven to become “Beethoven”: his principal music teacher, Christian Gottlob […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: The Buddy Rich Big Band

A confession: when it comes to jazz bands large and small, I generally dislike drum solos. My bad; color me a bore. But here’s the thing: if I buy a Keith Jarrett album, for example, I want to hear Keith Jarrett and not, with all due respect to the brilliant drummer Jack DeJohnette, extended drum solos. Speaking generally, I find most drum solos to be monochromatic, lacking – as they do – a melodic and harmonic profile, and formally incoherent, as the phrase structure of the piece under performance is almost always abandoned during a drum solo. There are exceptions, of course, and for me those exceptions are Tony Williams and Buddy Rich. I’ve written recently about my friend and student Tony Williams, who played the drums as if his trap set was a full orchestra, so colorful and melodic and structurally coherent were his solos. And then there’s Buddy Rich: a skinny Jewish kid from Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, New York who had a black belt in Judo (as a United States Marine he taught Judo until he was Dishonorably Discharged from the corps); someone whose virtuosic drumming had the drive and power of a Formula One race car, […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Galina Ustvolskaya

I have been appointed the “dramaturge” (or “dramaturg”) of The Phoenix Symphony (TPS). As far as Scrabble words go, “dramaturge” isn’t worth a whole lot: just 14 points barring any Premium Squares (which double or triple the value of letters or words). It is, however, a rather more useful crossword puzzle word, with or without its final “e”; I have encountered it in puzzles a number of times over the years. The term was created in the eighteenth century for a German writer, philosopher, critic, dramatic, and public relations guru named Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-1781). In 1767, Herr Lessing was hired by the Hamburg National Theater (later the Seyler Theater Company) as the theater’s in-house critic of plays and actors. In time, he became known as the theater’s “dramaturge.” Today, there is no single job description for a dramaturge; it depends on the type of performing arts organization (theater company, opera house, orchestra) and the particular needs of that organization. Having said that, at very minimum a dramaturge is “a literary editor on the staff of a theatre, opera house, or symphony who liaises with authors, composers, and performers and edits texts.” My duties for TPS are as follows. One: […]

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