Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Patreon

Dr. Bob Prescribes: Walter Piston

There was a time not long ago when you could not turn over a musical rock without finding a copy of Walter Piston’s book Harmony underneath. First published in 1941, Piston’s Harmony was ubiquitous; my first copy was a yellow-jacketed third edition, published in 1969. (It is now in its fifth edition; the fourth and fifth editions have been “revised and expanded” by Mark Devoto, a music professor emeritus of Tufts University). When I was in high school, I did my level best to teach myself harmony out of that third edition of Piston’s Harmony. At the time, I thought I had sort of succeeded, though looking back I realize that I failed miserably. In kindness to myself, though, my failure was not entirely my fault; it was just as much the fault of the nonsensical (if traditional) assumption that the study “harmony” (the simultaneous sounding of different pitches) was somehow separable from melody, counterpoint, phrase structure, and form, which as I’ve come to realize in my maturity it is most certainly NOT. The composer and music theorist Walter Piston (1894-1976) was a professor of music at Harvard University from 1926 until his retirement in 1960. Despite some dabbling with… 

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Erroll Garner

Erroll Garner performs Col Porter’s I Get a Kick Out of You, circa 1960: Erroll Louis Garner (1923-1977) was a 5’2” miracle: a virtuoso jazz pianist whose performances had the nuanced textures of big band charts; whose sheer, overpowering and contagious joy could not help but overwhelm listeners; who created a style of playing that was and remains his and his alone. The official Erroll Garner website contains the following, rather breathless though entirely accurate paragraph: “Garner released music on over 40 labels, received multiple Grammy nominations, and recorded one of the greatest selling jazz albums of all time, Concert By The Sea. His published catalog contains nearly 200 compositions including Misty, which was named #15 on ASCAP’s list of the top songs of the 20th century. He scored for ballet, film, television, and orchestra. One of the most televised Jazz artists of his era, Garner appeared on TV shows all over the world: Ed Sullivan, Dick Cavett, Steve Allen, Johnny Carson, and many others [including the Jackie Gleason show, Perry Como’s Kraft Music Hall, the Garry Moore show, London Palladium show, the Andy Williams show, the Joey Bishop show, the Flip Wilson show, the Pearl Bailey show, the Mike… 

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Piano Duets

Transcriptions Today, we take for granted our ability to hear any music at any time. We live in the golden age of the couch potato; we have merely to flick our fingers (or thumbs!) and almost anything is available to us, much of it for free. Ah. But in 1840, there was only one way to hear on demand orchestral, operatic, and chamber works, and that was to either play them in four-handed arrangements or listen to someone else play them four hands.  It was thanks to transcriptions that four-handed piano music truly went viral. By the mid-nineteenth century, the demand for new four-handed piano music was, like my 10-year-old son Daniel’s lust Legos, insatiable. Even as pianos were mass-produced and mass-marketed to an ever-wider demographic base, so the business of making and marketing piano transcriptions took on industrial proportions. For example, between just 1852 and 1859, seven different and competing four-handed transcriptions of Mozart’s symphonies were published.  Things got to the point that the public demand for four-handed transcriptions came to be considered by some as unhealthy: as an obsession, as even an addiction! The Erotic Message For those disposed to see the popularity of four-handed playing in terms… 

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Chick Corea and Béla Fleck

My Dr. Bob Prescribes post of December 25, 2018 was dedicated to one of my very favorite jazz pianists, the late, great, Dave McKenna. During the course of that post, I offered up a short list of those jazz pianists who have most powerfully influenced my own playing. (I am a designated Steinway Artist based on my abilities as a composer and as a jazz pianist, and certainly not based on my abilities – what that they are – as a concert pianist.) That short list featured, in no particular order, Erroll Garner, Dave Brubeck, Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Armando “Chick” Corea, Phineas Newborn Jr., Roger Kellaway, Lennie Tristano, Sal Mosca, and Dave McKenna. For our information: sooner or later, I will write posts on all of these wonderful pianists. As I pointed out on December 25, two things distinguished the jazz pianists on my list. The first is that they are all two-handed pianists who use the entire keyboard when they play. The second distinguishing factor is that these pianists are, in my opinion, at their very best when playing solo. Now don’t get me wrong: playing with a good bassist and drummer is great fun, but – pianistically… 

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Doctor Bob Prescribes: Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35

As I know I’ve mentioned all-too-many-times, my paternal grandmother, Bessie Hurwitz Greenberg, graduated in 1916 with a degree in piano from the New York Institute of Musical Art (renamed the Juilliard School in 1926). For the next fifty-plus years, she tortured generations of piano students from her studio in Queens, New York, including my father and myself. She had been born in Brooklyn New York in 1894, about 12 years after her family immigrated to the United States from the Russian Empire (Minsk, in modern Belarus), as a result of the pogroms that erupted after the assassination of Tsar Alexander in 1881. While my paternal grandfather, Sidney Greenberg – Bessie’s husband – was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey (Exit 13) in 1891, he also grew up in Brooklyn, New York. Like my grandmother’s family, Sidney’s family fled Belarus in the 1880s. Unlike my grandmother the musician, my grandfather was a jock: a fairly high-end track-and-field athlete and semi-pro baseball player who, according to family legend (myth?) turned down an invitation to the 1912 Olympic Trials because he couldn’t get the time off from work. My grandfather went on to a successful career as an executive for a fabric company called… 

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Patreon Patron Forum: Mozart Piano Concerto No. 25

I have received an extremely thoughtful question from Patreon patron Leigh Harper. On the surface it might appear to be a technical question concerning the function of various sections of music relative to one another, the sort of question that appeals to music nerds like Harper and myself but might seem to be absurdly arcane for the rest of us.  However, Mr. Harper’s question is much more than that: it is one that cuts to the heart of how we use verbal/written language to describe musical events; events that, in fact, are not easily described using words. We will ruminate on this issue in a moment. But first, Leigh Harper’s question, ever-so-slightly edited. “Dear Dr. Bob – Relistening to your wonderful 1995 lectures Concert Masterworks… Stop A thousand pardons for interrupting Mr. Harper, but I must point out that he just got “A” in my class for having used a magic word: “relistening”. I have no doubt that Mr. Harper was indeed “relistening” (“rehear-sing”) to Concert Masterworks. Nevertheless, I am honor-bound to observe that survival among snobbish company requires a certain degree of intellectual bravado, and one of the easiest ways of affecting that bravado is to never say “I… 

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Richard Strauss – Four Last Songs

There are fighting words, and then there are FIGHTING WORDS. As for the former, small-case version of “fighting words” I would lump political discourse (which can, admittedly, get pretty hot these days; I trust none of you are put off by the fact that I keep politics out of this site, not because I am an apolitical wuss but because I want this to be a safe place for everybody); the question as to whether steroid-era baseball superstars like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Mark McGuire belong in the hall of fame; or whether Certs should be considered a breath mint or a candy mint. As someone writing on topics musical, I would list but one category of true, all caps FIGHTING WORDS, and that topic/category is singers. I have found that you can say pretty much anything about someone’s children, mother, pets, and car (okay; maybe not their car), but mess with that person’s favorite singer(s) and you will be in for a world of hurt. For example. In last week’s Music History Monday, I extolled the glories of Giacomo Puccini’s opera Tosca. In the course of the post, I indicated that my favorite recording of the opera features… 

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: A Franz Liszt Trilogy

But first, we have a cat named Teddy. Ted is a rescue cat. He spent the first years of his life roaming the mean streets of Fresno, California. We got him (or more appropriately, he got us) in February of 2009, almost ten years ago. Based on the wear on his pads, the vet figured he was two or three years old at the time of adoption, making him 12 or 13 years old now. While he won’t chase the red dot from a laser pointer the way he used to, he’s hardly lost a step and, as the recent photo above attests, he still looks mahvelous. The Tedster is a Maine Coon: a landrace (or “natural breed”) native to the state of Maine. (A landrace is a type plant or breed of animal that over time naturally adapts to its environment. In the case of the Maine Coon that environment is a cold, snowy, and icy one, necessitating long, thick hair; big feet; and a huge, bottlebrush-like tail.) He is extraordinarily friendly to everyone – family, friends, and strangers – without being needy or clingy. In the presence of other cats and the occasional dog (visitors to our house),… 

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Shostakovich Symphony No. 10

After Dmitri Shostakovich’s death in August of 1975 and his “posthumous rehabilitation” by the Soviet authorities (do you love that phrase “posthumous rehabilitation” as much as I do?), the Soviet authorities declared that their dear, departed Dmitri Dmitriyevich was: “Soviet Russia’s most loyal musical son.”  Back in 1975, who could argue with them? The “public” Shostakovich – the Shostakovich we read about in newspapers and saw on his rare trips outside of the Soviet Union – said whatever he was told to say and did what he was told to do by the Soviet authorities. He publically debased himself and begged forgiveness for his “artistic sins” after having been censured in both 1936 and 1948. In 1960, at the age of 54, he joined the Communist Party when Khrushchev told him to do so. He allowed his name to be signed at the bottom of anti-Western rants and editorials, while he fidgeted, twitched, and, literally, smoked himself to death. Shostakovich’s censure in 1948 was particularly agonizing. Just seven years before he had been proclaimed “A Hero of the Soviet People” for having stayed in Leningrad during the beginning of the siege and for having composed his Symphony No. 7, the… 

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Phoenix Symphony Hall

I will admit to being a baseball fan. However, to be honest, I am no longer a fan of attending baseball games. Don’t get me wrong; I used to love going to games, where I was happy to submerge myself into the Zen of things baseball: the slowing of time; the sudden spurts of activity; the seemingly endless metaphors between the action on the field and real life.  But that was before two things happened. The first was becoming a father and the second was getting older. One at a time. To my now jaded mind, the only way to attend a baseball game is to go with fellow fans. Moments of high performance can be appreciatively shared with a nod and a smile; the contemplative quiet called for during an extended dual between a pitcher and batter can be savored; the sudden explosive action of a great play in the field or a home run can be properly cheered and appreciated. None of this is possible when attending a baseball game with a small child or worse, small children. They are almost immediately bored. They are hungry, all the time. They need to use the potty at the most… 

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