Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Patreon

Dr. Bob Prescribes: Hummel: Piano Concertos Opp 89 & 85

Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837) Hummel was born in Pressburg – what is now Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia – on November 14, 1778. He died in Weimar, in what today is central Germany, on October 17, 1837, where he held the position of Kapellmeister for eighteen years.  Hummel was a spectacular child prodigy as both a pianist and as a violinist. His father, Johannes, was a string player, conductor, and the director of the Imperial School of Military Music in Vienna, a position that gave his amazing young son access to the highest levels of Viennese musical culture.  In 1785, at the age of seven, Hummel played for Mozart. Mozart was so impressed that not only did he insist on giving Hummel daily piano lessons for free, but, as was standard procedure for the best students back then, Hummel moved into Mozart’s place on the Grosse Schulenstrasse, where he lived for two years. The two became (and remained) close friends, and it was through Mozart that Hummel met and performed for the cream of Viennese aristocracy. Further piano lessons with Muzio Clementi, organ lessons with Joseph Haydn, vocal composition lessons with Antonio Salieri, and even a few piano lessons with… 

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Vocal Sampling

You’re going to thank me for this It was Wednesday, September 18, 2002 (I didn’t remember that date; I looked it up). I was stuck in the car, driving somewhere. (Generally but accurately speaking, when you’re driving anywhere in the San Francisco Bay Area, you are very like stuck in the car, meaning stuck in traffic.) In those days before GPS and Waze and Google Maps and such, the only way to find out what the traffic was like was to turn on the car radio and listen to your local all-news station. Of course, by the time you actually heard that traffic report, you were likely already caught in traffic or were about to be. Since there are few things more maddening then being stuck in traffic and then being told via the airwaves that hey, guess what?, you’re stuck in traffic, I did what I always did under such circumstances, and that was tune in our local NPR affiliate, KQED. All Things Considered was on the air. The stories aired that afternoon described a depressing litany of the world’s problems at the time, and included stories on the Congressional hearings on Iraq; school vouchers in Maine; pre-September 11… 

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Dr. Bob Prescribes J. S. Bach, Brandenburg Concerti nos. 1-6

A couple of weeks ago, my Patreon patron Lorenze Fedel responded to my battlefield conversion in favor of the fortepiano (Dr. Bob Prescribes, October 23) with the following comment, slightly edited for content. “These [Brautigam recordings of the Beethoven Piano Sonatas] are now in my growing Amazon wish list. Next stop, Dr. Bob, a re-evaluation of the harpsichord? I freely admit that I cannot listen to the Goldberg variations on the piano. Harpsichord it should be!”  Mr. Fedel is clearly familiar with my occasionally disdainful attitude towards the mechanical harp (i.e. the “harpsichord”) and my propensity to recite the conductor Sir Thomas Beecham’s already over-quoted description of the sound of the harpsichord as being akin to: “Two skeletons copulating on a tin room during a thunderstorm.” My response to Lorenzo Fedel was facile, as is usually the case when I am confronted by my own biases: “Lorenzo: Gad! A re-evaluation of the harpsichord? Yes, I suppose all things are possible, but as someone who grew up in a household in which there was a lot of whispering and yelling, I cannot yet fathom falling in love with an instrument that can neither whisper NOR YELL, if you know what I mean.” … 

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Jan Woloniecki: Opera Fanatic of the Decade

We ponder – for a bit – the nature of hobbies: those avocational pursuits that run the gamut from harmless amusement to life-dominating passions. I will confess up front that I am a collector, and so I’ve got a certain insight into this hobby-thing that a non-collector/non-hobbyist will not have. My first wife, bless her, was a non-collector, which is, I think, one of the primary reasons why she numbers as having been my “first” wife. She couldn’t understand my “materialistic” desire – neigh, my passion – for acquisition. Indeed, she saw no distinction between collecting, accumulating, and hoarding. (FYI, according to yours truly, “accumulating” is the act of merely acquiring objects without theme, rhyme, or reason. Hoarding is the indiscriminate accumulation of objects, to the degree that the hoard itself – the stockpile, the mass – is the point of the assemblage rather than the particular objects within the assemblage. “Collecting” is a very different sort of thing. Collecting is the selective acquisition of like objects, chosen, researched, and arranged in such a way as to describe some sort of narrative.) To my mind, collecting is an attempt to give structure and shape to the chaos that surrounds us;… 

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Beethoven: The Complete Piano Sonatas – Ronald Brautigam, fortepiano

I am presently looking for recipes for the best way to prepare crow. Sadly, there seem to be any: I’m told that crow meat smells bad and tastes worse (the things eat carrion, after all). Consequently, I fear that I’ll have to eat mine raw, crow tartare, as it were. (Does anyone out there want the eyes? The beak?) What, pray-tell, has forced me into such a wretched gastronomic situation? Alas, as is usually the case when one must eat crow, it is my own ignorance and hubris. To wit. For lo these many years, I have always looked down on the fortepiano: those early pianos distinguished by their wood-framed (as opposed to metal-framed) harps, built between 1700 and 1825. In my ignorance, I have long considered wooden-harped pianos to be transitional instruments, prototypes, transiting the temporal space between the invention of the piano by Bartolomeo Cristofiori to the Erards and Pleyels of the 1830s and finally to the Steinways of the 1860s (now THAT’S a piano!, or so I thought).  A couple of months ago, we engaged here on this site in what was a spirited and most constructive discourse on HIPs (historically informed performances, meaning “original instrument” recordings)… 

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Tuning Systems and Key Selections

Patreon Patron, Mr. Franklin, asks: “Dr. B – how about a post/lecture discussion about WHY certain composers or genres chose specific major or minor keys. To state the obvious, the intervals between the pitches in all major keys are the same whether the tonic is C or Ab. Why choose one over the other? Thanks.” This is an excellent question, one I am asked rather frequently. I would take this opportunity, then, to go on the record with response. To my mind, there are – different issues here: tuning systems; pitch levels; and the nature and physical demands of different musical instruments. Tuning Systems Ron Franklin correctly observes that in the equal tempered tuning system that is standard today, the intervals in all the major (and minor) keys are exactly the same. However, despite its adoption here and there during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, equal temperament did not become the gold standard, default tuning system in Europe until the mid-nineteenth century. The “system” that existed to that time was something called “well temperament”, which in fact is not a single tuning but rather, an umbrella term for various tunings in which certain keys were rendered incrementally brighter… 

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: My Parsifal Conductor – A play in two acts by Allan Leicht

My Parsifal Conductor opens October 11, 2018 for a limited engagement at the Marjorie S. Deane Little Theater at the West Side Y, 10 West 64th Street, New York, NY; presented by The Directors Company. Starring Eddie Korbich, Claire Brownwell, Geoffrey Cantor, Carlo Bosticco, Logan James Hall, Alison Cimmet, and Jazmin Gorsline, and directed by Robert Kalfin. About three weeks ago, I received an email from Matt Sicoli, a media marketer who is promoting a new, off-Broadway play entitled My Parsifal Conductor, written by the Emmy and Writer’s Guild Winner Allan Leicht. Mr. Sicoli generously offered tickets in exchange for advertising and promotion. I informed him that I am keeping both my Facebook and Patreon sites free of advertising (for now), but that I’d be happy to read the script and, pending an enthusiastic response, write about the play. I am most enthusiastic and thus this post. Here is a synopsis provided by Mr. Sicoli: “Musical genius Richard Wagner (Eddie Korbich) and his ever-faithful wife, Cosima (Claire Brownell), find themselves in a moral, political and musical dilemma when King Ludwig II of Bavaria (Carlo Bosticco) insists that Hermann Levi (Geoffrey Cantor), the son of a rabbi, conduct Wagner’s final masterpiece,… 

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Exploring the Dissonant C-sharp in Beethoven’s “Eroica”

Patreon patron, Mr. Sullivan, recently asked the following question: “In several of your courses you have also referred to the C# in the Eroica as implying a modulation to G minor. I have never understood that statement. Would you be so kind as to enlighten me about that?” Mr. Sullivan refers to a (dissonant!) C-sharp that appears out of nowhere in measure 7 of the first movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3; a dissonance that is to have huge ramifications later in the movement. I have prepared a four-minute video explanation that I hope will do the trick. Watch it now on Patreon Courses on Sale

Dr. Bob Prescribes: Tempo and Metronome Marks

My recommendation last week of John Eliot Gardiner’s complete recording of Beethoven’s symphonies elicited a series of really wonderful comments. When, in the course of responding to those comments I rather offhandedly recommended that Otto Klemperer’s recordings of Beethoven’s symphonies (made circa 1961 for EMI) be allowed to fade into obscurity (or a shredding machine), I was soundly and eloquently thrashed.  Underlying the conversations around my recommendation was the issue of tempo: that is, the speed at which Beethoven’s symphonies (or any music, for that matter) should be performed. For performers, tempo is not just one issue among many; it is THE ISSUE: that performance parameter that must be determined before any other. Thus, I’m dedicating this week’s post to this issue of tempo and metronome marks, which, since 1816 (or so) have been a way for composers to indicate – exactly – how fast (or slow) a piece of music should be performed. If this conversation strikes some of you as being totally geeky, you are totally correct. Patron Frederic Patenaude writes: “I have a question about the tempo used by Gardiner in Beethoven’s 5th. Are you aware of the debate stirred up by Wim Winters, pianist, regarding the… 

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Reporting from the Apollo Academy and Ratna Ling

I returned on Sunday, September 9 from a four-day retreat called the “Apollo Academy for Health and Humanism.” It was held at a magnificent facility called “Ratna Ling” in the coastal mountains of northern Sonoma County, about three miles east of the Pacific Ocean.   The following is going to sound like a sales pitch. IT IS NOT A SALES PITCH. It is, rather, an attempt to set the stage for what was, primarily, a musical retreat at one of the coolest places I’ve ever been privileged to visit. Ratna Ling means “land of jewels” in Tibetan, and was so-named by its founder, the Tibetan Buddhist teacher Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche because of his vision that the precious jewels of the teachings brought from Tibet would touch hearts and open minds. Visit their site at http://ratnaling.org Touch hearts and open minds his teachings have done, but the designation “precious jewel” applies equally to the facility itself. Set on 100 acres, Ratna Ling consists of the main lodge, which houses all of the retreat facilities; 14 two-bedroom “cabins” (which are, in fact, luxurious, beautifully furnished roughly 1200 square-foot homes with fully appointed kitchens, air conditioning, etc.); and a wellness center for massage… 

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