Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for piano

Dr. Bob Prescribes Mozart Piano Sonatas

My Dr. Bob Prescribes post for October 23, 2018, was titled “Fine Dining”. The post featured Ronald Brautigan’s revelatory performances of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas recorded on modern copies of late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century pianos built by Paul McNulty (born in Houston in 1953). (These early pianos are often referred to as “fortepianos”, which simply means “loud-soft.” By definition, a fortepiano is an early piano that employs thin, harpsichord-like strings; leather-covered – as opposed to felt – hammers; a wooden harp; and lacks any metal bracing. The term fortepiano, then, designates pianos built from the invention of the instrument by Bartolomeo Cristofori sometime before the year 1700 to approximately 1825, when larger metal harped and thicker stringed pianos – proto-modern pianos, as they were – began to become the norm.) The title of that post – “Fine Dining” – referred to the crow I was obligated to eat as a result of Brautigam’s recording of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas. I wrote: “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 […]

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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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In Praise of South Korean Pianism

During the course of some correspondence, my Patron Cory-Paul Allen mentioned his love for the piano playing of Yeol Eum Son. For those of you who are not familiar with her, she is a 32 year-old miracle (born 1986) from South Korea. Here’s a link to a live performance of her playing Chopin’s Etudes Op. 25.   Ignore, please, the handful of wrong notes she plays over the course of her 32-minute performance. This is the real world of live performance, a world in which mistakes are made. (Although based on her body language, Ms. Son is not so forgiving of herself.)  The fluffs make no difference. Yeol Eum Son’s artistry is what counts, and her artistry is superb. And in this, she is not alone. For a country of 50 million people, Korean’s presently make up a disproportionate percentage of some of the best young pianists currently plying their trade. I discussed my friend, the wonderful Joyce Yang (born 1986) in my first Dr. Bob Prescribes post. I hired three pianists to perform the piano excerpts for my “23 Greatest Solo Piano Works” course made for The Great Courses. Two of the three are South Korean: Woo Bin Park (born […]

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Music History Monday: There’s No Software Without the Hardware!

Today we celebrate the birthday of the piano builder and composer Ignaz Joseph Pleyel, who was born in Ruppertsthal, Austria on June 18, 1757: 261 years ago today. It’s entirely understandable if you’ve never heard of Pleyel or his music, because his music – despite being extremely attractive and technically sound – has fallen into almost total obscurity. But if one had to pick a single, “most popular composer” in the years between 1800 and 1820, it would be Pleyel: more popular than Haydn, than Mozart, and yes, most certainly more popular that that curmudgeon Beethoven. A review published in 1791 in the Morning Herald of London states that Pleyel: “is becoming even more popular than his master [Haydn], as his works are characterized less by the intricacies of science.” (The reviewer is saying that because Pleyel’s music was easier to play and less complicated – less “scientific” – than Haydn’s, Pleyel was attracting a wider popular base than Haydn.) In Brussels, the contemporary and most influential music critic, musicologist, composer, and teacher François-Joseph Fétis outright marveled at Pleyel’s popularity, writing: “What composer ever created more of a craze than Pleyel? Who enjoyed a more universal reputation or a more absolute […]

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Music History Mondays: Steinway Concert Hall

On October 31, 1866 – 150 years ago today – Steinway Hall opened on East 14th Street, between Fifth Avenue and University Place in New York. (As a native of New York City, I would tell you that when a New Yorker says “New York”, she is referring specifically to the island of Manhattan. You got a problem with that?) Steinway Hall, which cost $90,786 to build there in 1866, served two mutually reinforcing purposes. Purpose one: to provide the city of New York with a state-of-the-art concert hall. To that end, Steinway Hall contained a concert hall with 2500 seats and a stage that could accommodate a 100-piece symphony orchestra. It was – at the time it opened – among the largest and certainly the most opulent and prestigious concert venue in New York City. It was the home of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra for 25 years: from the day it opened its doors in 1866 until 1891, when the orchestra moved to the newly built Carnegie Hall. Purpose two: to sell pianos! Steinway Hall’s grand showroom was big enough to display over 100 pianos. According to the president of Steinway & Sons, William Steinway (born Wilhelm Steinweg, […]

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Robert Greenberg Recommends: Roger Kellaway

It’s been a while since I blogged about my favorite jazz pianists. A new crush calls me back to the (computer) keyboard. That pianistic crush is the magnificent, in-every-way spectacular Roger Kellaway. Roger who? Roger KELLAWAY (born in Waban, Massachusetts on November 1, 1939), thank you very much. In fact, whether we’re aware of it or not, most of us have heard Kellaway play, as his performance of his song “Remembering You” concluded the classic Norman Lear-produced TV show “All in the Family” (which ran from January of 1971 to April of 1979). I first became aware of Roger Kellaway in the very early 1970’s when I acquired his album “Roger Kellaway Cello Quartet”. The album featured Kellaway on piano, Joe Pass on guitar, Chuck Domanico on bass, and – yes – a cellist named Edgar Lustgarten. I liked the album okay, but I sold it – along with most of my records – when I moved to California in 1978. Maestro Kellaway promptly fell off my radar and – boohoo for me – remained thus until about 6 months ago, when a friend came to dinner. The friend is a super guy named Lenny Paul, who at 86 years […]

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