Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

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Music History Monday: Day Gigs

“Don’t give up your day gig.” Along with “don’t eat yellow snow” and “fake it ‘til you make it”, “don’t give up your day gig” remains one of the oldest, hoariest, clichéd pieces of advice anyone can give or receive. But unless you were lucky/wise enough to heed the other greatest piece of advice any musician can receive, that being “marry rich”, “don’t give up your day gig” is still among the very best pieces of advice a musician can receive. Very few of us get our dream job right out of school; hell, very few of us ever get our dream job. All too rapidly, reality intrudes on youthful artistic idealism and no matter how much one wants to compose, or play violin, or sing, unless we can find someone willing to pay us to do so, we must all do something to make money. And then, as we get older and develop a taste for the finer things in life – like feeding, clothing, and housing our children – our day gigs become not just a matter of survival for ourselves but for those around us. Now, here and there and every now and then, someone gets very […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Sergei Prokofiev, Piano Concerto No. 2

Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) was a prodigiously gifted pianist and composer.  All in all, he composed 5½ piano concerti.  (That was not a typo; an explanation will follow in a bit.) The first two of his piano concerti were composed while Prokofiev was still a student at the Petrograd/Saint Petersburg Conservatory, which he attended from 1904 until 1914; from the ages of 13 to 23.  On May 11, 1914, Prokofiev performed his Piano Concerto No. 1 (composed in 1912) at his Conservatory graduation ceremony. The ceremony was nothing less than a Prokofiev lovefest, as he graduated with high honors and was awarded the prestigious Anton Rubinstein Prize in piano, a prize that included a brand new Shreder grand piano. (“Shreder” was a Russian-made piano that was “based” on American Steinway pianos, a not unfamiliar example of Russian appropriation of American technology.) Prokofiev chose to play his Piano Concerto No. 1 at his graduation ceremony rather than his Piano Concerto No. 2 (of 1913) because the premiere of that second piano concerto – 8 months prior, on September 5, 1913 – had created a scandal.  Prokofiev, ordinarily as sensitive to such things as a lump of basalt, decided that the Second: “would […]

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Music History Monday: A Debussy Discovery!

Before getting into the date specific event/discovery that drives today’s post, permit me, please, to tell the story of the greatest manuscript discovery of all time.  The ancient city of Jerusalem sits at nearly 2,700 feet above sea level.  Less than 15 miles south of Jerusalem sits the Dead Sea, which at 1,300 feet below sea level is the lowest point on earth.   In November of 1946, three Bedouin shepherds – Muhammed edh-Dhib, his cousin Jum’a Muhammed, and his friend Khalil Musa – were looking for a stray goat (or sheep; the story shifts) around the cliffs at the northern end of the Dead Sea.  According to the story they told, Muhammed edh-Dhib threw a rock into a cave on the side of a cliff, thinking the stray animal was inside and that the rock would chase it out.  Instead of a hearing a frightened bleat, he heard pottery breaking.  Lowering himself into the cave, he found three ancient scrolls wrapped in linen.  Having climbed out of the cave and shown them to his companions, the guys went back into the cave and found four more scrolls, seven in all.  They put them in a bag and, on returning […]

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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: 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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Music History Monday: With a Little Help from His Friends

We mark the birth on January 31, 1797 – 225 years ago today – of Franz Peter Schubert, in Vienna. He died in that city 31 years, 9 months, and 19 days later, on November 19, 1828.  Franz Schubert is no stranger to Music History Monday. However, we could not let his birthday pass without a post; no way, no how. Our angle today will be to focus on those friends without whom Schubert the man and the composer could not have survived. Schubert: Image and Reality  The short, pudgy Schubert was called by his friends “Schwammerl,” which means “little mushroom.” The fully-grown Schubert was 1.57 meters tall (about 5’1”) and as his portraits attest, he never lost his cherubic appearance. The following description of the adult Schubert was written by his friend Anselm Hüttenbrenner: “Schubert’s outward appearance was anything but striking. He was short of stature, with a full, round face, and was rather stout. His forehead was very beautifully domed. Because of his short sight, he always wore spectacles which he did not take off, even during sleep. Dress was a thing in which he took no interest whatsoever; consequently, he disliked going out into smart society. He […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Lennie Tristano

Let’s get this out of the way up front, because the pretext for today’s post on Lennie Tristano was yesterday’s Music History Monday which, for the large part, was about sightless musicians. Writes Tristano biographer Eunmi Shim (Lennie Tristano: His Life in Music; The University of Michigan Press, 2007): “Born with weak sight, Tristano’s vision grew worse and by the time he was nine or ten years old he became completely blind. According to Bob Blackburn [writing in the Toronto Telegram, July 22, 1964], it was ‘the result of glaucoma probably stemming from his mother being stricken in pregnancy by the post-World War I flu epidemic.’ Judy Tristano, Lennie Tristano’s first wife, recalled that Tristano’s parents tried unsuccessfully to cure his blindness: ‘they had tried everything to cure his glaucoma. Legitimate doctors, quacks, going to church and everybody praying en masse, praying for his sight. But of course, nothing worked. They couldn’t cure glaucoma or treat it.’” As an adult, when the subject of his eyesight came up, Tristano’s standard response was, “I’m blind as a motherf***er.” Brief Biography Leonard Joseph Tristano was born in Chicago on March 19, 1919, and died in New York City on November 18, 1978. […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross

The vocal ensemble that is Lambert, Hendricks & Ross grew from a long and storied tradition of vocal ensembles, going back over 500 years. As a public service, I would offer up a quick survey of that tradition, starting with an important distinction. Distinctions! Let us draw a necessary and important distinction between a “choir” and a “vocal ensemble” (with the understanding that not everyone is going to employ this distinction with the rigor that I, for one, would like to see and hear!). Like an (instrumental) orchestra, a choir is a vocal group in which some (or all) of the parts are “doubled”, meaning that some (if not all) parts will have more than one player/singer per part. Like an (instrumental) chamber ensemble, a vocal ensemble is one in which there is only one player/singer per part. This distinction between choirs and vocal ensembles began to come into focus in the late fifteenth century, in secular music written for both skilled amateur and professional singers. Generally but accurately speaking, music composed specifically for a vocal ensemble can have more individual parts and more complex parts than a chorus, where numbers can easily gum up and blur the music being […]

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