Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Patreon

Dr. Bob Prescribes Absurdity

“The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” As hoary old aphorisms go, this one is right up there on the tiresome scale with “a penny saved is a penny earned”, “you miss 100% of the shots you do not take”, “when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping:” and “insinuations are lavender, nearly.” Nevertheless, I have a particular fondness for “the grass is always greener on the other side” because its sentiment cuts so closely to my own life, psyche, and existential feelings of victimization: well, duh, of course everyone else’s life is better than mine, of course I’m missing out on something everyone else has, of course everything always happens to me, of course I’m a fraud and everyone else is not. “The grass is always greener on the other side” addresses, perfectly, that generative emotion held so dear by so many composers, authors, poets, painters, sculptors, architects, musicians, singers, and actors (to say nothing for the rest of the population) and that is envy. What we might call “the grass-is-always-greener syndrome” is surely as old as humanity itself: “the cave is always bigger on the other side.” For our information, the first […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes George Gershwin, Concerto in F

A statement I’ve made before and will gladly make again: George Gershwin is among the handful of greatest composers the United States has produced, and his death at the age of 38 (of a brain tumor) should be considered an artistic tragedy comparable to the premature deaths of Schubert (at 31), Mozart (at 35), and Chopin (at 39). He was born Jacob Gershovitz (though his birth certificate reads “Jacob Gershwine”), the child of Russian Jewish immigrants, on September 26, 1898 at 242 Snediker Avenue in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. (For our information: in 1963, a bronze plaque commemorating Gershwin’s birth was affixed to the building. By the 1970s, the neighborhood had fallen on very hard times: the plaque was stolen – it is still MIA – and the building vandalized. It burned down in 1987, and all that remains of the neighborhood today is a blighted area of warehouses and junkyards.) Rarely has a major composer begun his life in an artistically less promising manner. Tall, athletic, and charismatic, Gershwin was the leader of various tenement gangs, played street ball, roller skated everywhere and engaged in petty crime. By his own admission, he cared nothing for music […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes THE CONCERT and Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy

Thomas Kelly’s book First Nights – Five Musical Premieres is outstanding: well researched, beautifully written, and highly entertaining. It tells the stories behind five musical premieres, premieres that by their inclusion in the book implies that Kelly considers them to be the most important/interesting premieres in Western music history. Those premieres are Claudio Monteverdi’s Orfeo, on Saturday, February 24, 1607; George Frederick Handel’s Messiah on Tuesday, April 13, 172 (at 12 noon); Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 on Friday, May 7, 1824 (at 7 pm); Hector Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique on Sunday, December 5, 1830 (at 2 pm) and Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring on Thursday, May 29, 1913 (8:45 pm). I know it’s all-too-easy to criticize anyone’s “top ten” list (or in this case, “top five”). Furthermore, I am loath to criticize a scholar as distinguished as the American musicologist Thomas Forrest Kelly (born 1942), who is the Morton B. Knafel Professor of Music at Harvard. Nevertheless, I must humbly assert that Professor Kelly missed the boat with his list (and not just missed the boat but fell into piranha-infested waters without his pants on), because nowhere in his book (including the preface and introduction) does he mention […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Sergei Nakariakov

We routinely decry the death (or near death) of music education in public schools, slowly and incrementally over the last few decades. However, if my experience is any indication, I would suggest we temper our outcry in the unvarnished light of reality. Growing up in the South Jersey township of Willingboro and attending public schools there from Kindergarten through high school (1959-1972), my experience was that classroom instruction in “music appreciation” was a joke; no teachers or subject matter were treated with greater, more extravagant disrespect than were these. However. I do (and always will) rue the demise (or near demise) of band and chorus programs in public schools. In my experience, these were taught by no-nonsense professionals who by their teaching and personal example had a tremendous impact on their young charges. Every fourth grader in my school district (and I imagine in pretty much all public-school districts at the time, nation-wide), had to choose and play an instrument through fifth grade. Even the delinquents got into it, and for at least that (brief) period of time, every one of these kids had the opportunity to personally make some sort of music, which I believe to be among the […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Charles-Valentin Alkan

Yesterday’s Music History Monday post acknowledged the anniversary of the birth of Charles-Valentin Alkan on November 30, 1813. A contemporary (and friend) of both Chopin and Liszt, Alkan was – in his lifetime – considered their equal as a pianist and by those (few) who knew his mature music, their near-equal as a composer. Like Chopin, Alkan’s compositional output consists almost entirely of solo piano music. (Alkan did indeed complete a “piano concerto” and a “symphony”, though both are “scored” for solo piano!) However, unlike Chopin and Liszt, Alkan’s music fell into obscurity in the mid-nineteenth century – during Alkan’s lifetime – not to be resurrected until the 1960s. Let’s hear it for resurrections: it is wonderful music! Alkan died in Paris on March 29, 1888, by which time he was already considered an enigma. In 1877, eleven years before Alkan’s death, Antoine Marmontel – the head of the piano department at the Paris Conservatoire – wrote of the then 64-year-old Alkan: “If there were a strange, eccentric artistic personality to study it must surely be that of Ch-V Alkan, in whom interest is quickened by a screen of mystery and enigma which surrounds him.” Alkan’s “eccentricities” came to dominate […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Manuel de Falla, El Amor Brujo

Yesterday’s Music History Monday post offered up a heart-felt happy birthday to the Spanish composer and conductor Manuel María de los Dolores Falla y Matheu (“y Matheu”, because Spaniards customarily add their mother’s maiden surname to their own), who was born on November 23, 1876 in the Andalucían port city of Cadiz. Falla (when only the surname is used the de is omitted) died “in exile” on November 15, 1946 in Alta Gracia, Argentina, eight days short of his 70th birthday. (Falla had fled to Argentina in 1939 after Francisco Franco’s victory in the Spanish Civil War.) Andalucía – the southernmost region of Spain – is the birthplace of flamenco, a genre of Spanish song and dance that we celebrated together in my Dr. Bob Prescribes post on June 9, 2020. I said it then and I’ll say it again now: in my humble (but well-informed) opinion, flamenco is – along with jazz – the most viscerally exciting music to be found on this planet. I would go so far as to suggest that if Andalucía were a media giant equal to the U.S. of A., we’d all be singing and dancing to flamenco and not that North American-born hybrid called rock […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Dmitri Shostakovich, Complete String Quartets

Question: is it true that only by working directly with a composer can an ensemble deliver a “definitive” performance? Answer: no. Composer supervision guarantees nothing. Beethoven, for one, oversaw the premieres of every one of his nine symphonies (though the deaf Beethoven’s “oversight” of his Ninth Symphony in 1824 was much more a hindrance than a help). His supervision notwithstanding, we can be assured that he never heard a single one of his symphonies played with the sort of precision and expressive sympathy we routinely hear today. Generally but accurately speaking, modern professional orchestral players – like modern athletes – are simply better than their early nineteenth century counterparts, and they have the advantage of having played Beethoven’s symphonies since they were children. Consequently, we would hazard to say that in his lifetime, Beethoven never heard anything close to a “definitive performance” of any one of his symphonies However, when it comes to chamber music, particularly string quartets, the presence of a composer will consistently make a difference – often a huge difference – in a performance. A chamber group has many fewer working parts than an orchestra, allowing specific issues to be addressed directly and more easily. And a […]

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Celebrating an Anniversary and Some Changes on Patreon

My Dear Patrons, My two-year anniversary on Patreon is here and changes are afoot. I will tell you all about them. Permit me, though, a little background first. My original intention here on Patreon was to blog and vlog once, perhaps twice a week, and in doing so build a body of patron-only posts and a patron base. Despite the fact that the Patreon model is based on delivering tiered content and benefits based on the level of patron contribution, I chose to democratize my site by making all posted materials available to all patrons, whether they were contributing at the $2 level or the $100 level. Thanks to our friendly, neighborhood pandemic, the manner in which I make a living – lecturing, teaching, and performing – has, for the foreseeable future, gone the way of dial-up. Given the nature of my work, applying for unemployment is not an option. Thus – as those of you who have been with me for a while are aware – I am now posting four to six times a week, depending. Patreon has become my primary occupation, in which I’m presently investing roughly 30 hours a week. It is necessary, then, that I […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Louise Farrenc

Soon after I opened up shop on Patreon, I was asked to comment on the music of Louise Farrenc (1804-1875). Not for the first time and certainly not for the last, I was brought up short . . . Louise who? I’m not sure I was brave enough to admit my ignorance, but as I recall I promised to look into her music. I have indeed “looked into” her music and have been properly gobsmacked by what I have heard: symphonies of great power and pathos, dazzling piano music and, in particular, chamber music on par – on par – with that of her contemporary Felix Mendelssohn. She was born Jeanne-Louise Dumont in Paris on May 31, 1804 and died there on September 15, 1875. The Dumont family was blessed with high-end artistic genetics, as Louise came from a long line well known sculptors and artists (which included several women painters); her older brother August-Alexandre Dumont (1801-1884) was a Prix de Rome-winning sculptor, whose work graces several important Parisian monuments to this day.  Like the aforementioned Felix Mendelssohn, Farrenc (her married name) was a child prodigy as both a visual artist and a musician. By her early teenage years, she was […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Flamenco

“Flamenco” is a genre of Spanish song and dance that originated in the southern Spanish region of Andalucía. It is an utterly remarkable, physically and expressively thrilling hybrid/synthesis/melding of native Spanish, North African, Arab, and especially gypsy influences. In my humble (but well-informed) opinion, Flamenco is – along with jazz – the most viscerally exciting music to be found on this planet. I would go so far as to suggest that if Andalucía were a media giant equal to the U.S. of A., we’d all be singing and dancing to Flamenco and not that north American-born hybrid called rock ‘n’ roll. (For our information: on November 16, 2010, UNESCO – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – declared Flamenco to be one of the “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.”) Damn straight. For reasons geographic and cultural, Flamenco could only have evolved in Spain. A Country Apart With the Pyrenees (topping out at 11,168 feet high) to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the West and the Mediterranean Sea to the south and east, Spain (and its Iberian sibling Portugal) stands physically apart from the remainder of Western Europe. In terms of the abundance, variety, and […]

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