Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Dr. Bob Prescribes – Page 2

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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Dr. Bob Prescribes “After the Ball”

Year of the Song As I’ve mentioned in previous Dr. Bob Prescribes posts, I’ve unilaterally designated this campaign and election year “The Year of the Song,” so desperate am I for the distraction and solace only the best popular American songs can provide. We began with Barbara Cook’s wonderful Disney Album on February 6, and my intention is to do at least one such popular American song-oriented Dr. Bob Prescribes post every month until January 2025. Today’s post is as much about introducing you to two very special performers as it is hawking their first album, After the Ball, of 1974. They are the mezzo-soprano Joan Morris (born 1943), and her husband, the composer and pianist William Bolcom (born 1938). I will be prescribing no small number of their albums over the course of this year, so I figure we should get to know them a bit before all of these prescriptions commence. Smarter Than the Average Boor I have, if you’ll pardon me, always been a bit smarter than the average boor. For example. It was in either late 1978 or early 1979. I remember the date because I had just come to California for graduate school, and was […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Carmen

Reruns I don’t know about you, but personally, I have mixed feelings about reruns. On one hand, I will never tire of seeing of watching the original Star Trek, which ran for 79 episodes spread over three seasons, from 1966 to 1969. I have seen every one of those 79 episodes so many times that I can – no exaggeration – speak the dialogue along with the actors. Why my infatuation with this show, and why am I willing to revisit – over and over again – these manyepisodes? Perhaps it’s because I associate the show with my childhood and the “race to the moon” that so galvanized us all in the 1960s; perhaps it’s because the show was then so fabulously camp and today so magnificently retro; whatever: it was a vision of the future with actors and stories of which I never seemed to tire. And yet, on the other hand, I often dislike and avoid reruns. I’m not talking about the life-preserving flight from reruns of such bottom-dwelling shows as The Beverly Hillbillies; Petticoat Junction, Green Acres, and Gilligan’s Island, but rather, reruns of stuff I loved the first time around. For example, Garry Trudeau’s editorial comic […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Sergei Nakariakov

Yesterday’s Music History Monday focused on the crime of passion that was the murder of the be-bop trumpet player Lee Morgan (1938-1972), a crime committed on February 19, 1972, by his common-law wife, Helen Moore. Morgan was an extraordinary player, someone who recorded prodigiously and who – being only 33 years old when he was killed – should have had a long and storied career in front of him. Morgan didn’t get his first trumpet until he was 13. Nevertheless, by the time he was 18, he was already making records and performing as a member of the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band. Given that he died at 33, I suppose we should be grateful that he wasn’t a late bloomer, as he likely would have left little by way of a recorded legacy behind him! The subject of this post is another trumpet player who made his mark as a youngster: Sergei Nakariakov, who was born in 1977. Nakariakov was a crazy child prodigy, and he has grown nicely into his maturity: today he must be considered among a handful of greatest living trumpet players. I first introduced you to Maestro Nakariakov back in 2020, and it is time to […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Joseph Haydn: Six String Quartets, Op. 76

Haydn’s six string quartets published in 1799 as Opus 76 are his supreme works of chamber music, works that show him at the very peak of his craft and imagination. The quartets were composed between 1796-1797, soon after Haydn’s return from his second residency in London. Haydn dedicated the set to his patron, the Hungarian nobleman Count Joseph Georg von Erdődy (1754-1824). The famed English music historian Dr. Charles Burney (1726-1814) first heard Haydn’s Opus 76 string quartets in 1799, and he could not contain himself when he wrote that: “They are full of invention, fire, good taste, and new effects, and seem the production, not of a sublime genius who has written so much and so well recently, but one of the highly cultivated talents, who has expended none of his fire before.” (“Expended none of his fire before”? Okay; whatever.)  Haydn’s Op. 76 string quartets are, indeed, brilliant; works that were – as we will soon observe – powerfully inspired by the late quartets of Haydn’s beloved and recently departed friend, Wolfgang Mozart (1756-1791). Mozart’s own string quartets aside, it is Joseph Haydn who, through the example of his 68 string quartets, is rightly credited with establishing the […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Barbara Cook

Songs and Singers As I discussed in Dr. Bob Prescribes on January 16 of this year, I intend to make 2024 a “year of the song” here in Dr. Bob Prescribes, specifically, the year of the “popular song.” As I mentioned in January, I’m doing this out of emotional and spiritual self-preservation, as I expect 2024 to be a dumpster fire to rival the COVID and election year 2020. Few things musical thrill me and uplift me as immediately as a great song, and IU assume many – if not most of you – feel the same way. Heavens knows, we’re going to need thrills and uplifting this year. I’m using the phrase “popular song” in its broadest sense: songs intended for popular entertainment, be they theater songs, songs from movies, or stand-alone pop songs; songs as performed by a variety of singers, be they popular entertainers, jazz singers, cabaret singers, theater actor/singers; etc. I do not intend to feature rock ‘n’ roll songs, because as a genre, rock is primarily about rhythm. Great and memorable melodies, complex harmonic progressions, and sophisticated lyrics are, for better or for worse, generally not the province of rock ‘n’ songs, with exceptions – […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Wolfang Mozart: Idomeneo

Mozart’s Operas Wolfgang Mozart (1756-1791) composed 21 operas (three of them left incomplete) across the span of his all-too-brief life, from the modest Apollo et Hyacinthus (Apollo and Hyacinth, composed in 1767 when he was 11 years old) to La Clemenza di Tito (The Mercy of Titus, completed in August of 1791, some 3½ months before Mozart’s death). Mozart’s operas fall into four main categories: opera seria (“serious opera,” also referred to as dramma per musica), works set in Italian; dramma giocoso (“drama with jokes”), works set in Italian; opera buffa (“comic opera,” also referred to as commedia in musica, commedia per musica, dramma bernesco, dramma comico, and divertimento giocoso), works set in Italian; and singspiel (opera with spoken dialogue), works set in German. The seven complete, multi-act operas Mozart composed in the 11 years between 1780 and his death in 1791 must be considered as being the greatest, single most significantset of operas ever composed by any individual composer in such a short period of time: Idomeneo (1780); The Abduction from the Seraglio (1781); The Marriage of Figaro (1786); Don Giovanni (1787); Cosi fan tutte (1789); The Magic Flute (1791), and The Mercy of Titus (1791).   Idomeneo, King of Crete: Characters, Voice Types, […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Johannes Brahms, Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor

Yesterday’s Music History Monday post marked the premiere of Johannes Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor. Nearly five years in the writing, the concerto received its premiere on January 22, 1859, in the German city of Hanover. Brahms himself was the soloist, supported by the Hanover Court Orchestra and conducted by Brahms’ great friend, the violinist Joseph Joachim. As we observed in yesterday’s post, Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 is bound up entirely with his reaction to his friend and mentor Robert Schumann’s suicide attempt; his feelings towards Robert and his wife, the pianist Clara Wieck Schumann; the years he spent with Clara and her children as both a surrogate husband and father during Robert’s institutionalization; Robert’s death; and Brahms’ decision that he could not marry Clara after Robert’s death. No wonder Brahms was consumed by the piece: it was a virtual diary of his feelings, experiences, and musical growth from the time he met the Schumanns in 1853 to the time he left Clara and returned to his hometown of Hamburg in 1856. As such, the concerto took on a terribly outsized degree of importance to Brahms. The consequences of this emotional investment in the concerto were, […]

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