Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Robert Greenberg composer

Music History Monday: The Daughters of Atlas

I am aware – nay, more than aware – that this present post is an example of unconscionable conceit and vanity. Of this I stand justly accused; my head droops in shame and my present auto-flagellation will continue for minutes – perhaps for even the half-an-hour – to come. What, you rightly ask, could have prompted this pre-emptive outburst of self-loathing? (“Pre-emptive” in that having abused myself, it is my hope that you will feel no need to do so as well.) What has brought this on? Just this: I am dedicating this week’s “Music History Monday” to an event that at the time of this writing has not yet occurred and once having taken place – on Monday evening, April 8, 2019 – will almost certainly not qualify as “music history.”That event? The world premiere of my piano trio, The Daughters of Atlas this evening in Berkeley, California. Talking about your own music is like talking about your children or, worse, your grandchildren: it is almost impossible to do so without becoming a soporific bore, inducing drooling paralysis in those within earshot. Nevertheless, I am asked constantly how I go about writing a piece of music. Since I know […]

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The Premiere of “180 Shift”

I had a premiere in Stockton, California on November 2 and now, with video in hand, I would take the opportunity of sharing it with you. The name of the piece is “180 Shift”; it is scored for violin, ‘cello, and piano. The piece was composed for and dedicated to a wonderful group called Trio 180 on a commission from the Pacific Arts and Lectures Committee of the University of the Pacific. The premiere performance was outstanding. The rehearsals were excellent as well, though I have learned over the decades that great rehearsals do not guarantee a great first performance. It is, I think, one of life’s truisms that we never really “know” anything (which includes playing a piece of music) until we have done it in front of other people (or, on the same lines, until we have taught it to other people). There was a time when premieres made me downright nauseous. I was worried that the players were going to botch the piece; I was worried that the audience was going to hate the piece (and me and my entire genome by extension); I was worried that I was going to vomit, etc. As it turns out, […]

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Behind a Composition – Technology Conversation Continues

I was pleased as punch by the discussion generated by my last post regarding digital technology, digital-shortcuts, the piano and composers. A number of correspondents argued that digital notational programs like Finale and Sibelius are simply “the next thing”, and that the limits placed on one’s creativity by actually composing on one of these programs is little different from the limits imposed by composing at a piano. I would pick up the ball right there, because these assertions are incorrect for a number of reasons. Reason one. Keyboard instruments began consistently employing a full chromatic keyboard (using the same layout as the modern piano) by the late fifteenth century. This was in response to growing pitch resources of the evolving tonal system, a system based on the primacy of the triad and the concept of harmonic consonance and dissonance. The invention of the harpsichord in the late fourteenth century was due in no small part to the growing demand for a portable yet more resonant keyboard instrument capable of clearly articulating and “broadcasting” the new harmonic vocabulary. The point: the emergence and development of keyboard instruments was not merely a technological event but an ORGANIC EVENT, one tied inextricably to […]

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Behind a Composition – Technology

I am fond of saying (overly fond, frankly) that “technology is our friend, except when it isn’t.” We all know that this is true although it is tiresome to repeat. Nevertheless I have repeated this truism as a reminder that our techno-toys often actually hinder progress and creativity. Technology. We were led to believe that computers would reduce the amount of paper we waste. Hah. We were told that cell phones, email and texting would bring us “closer together”. Please; the absurd ease with which we can now communicate has in fact lowered the standard and meaning of our interaction. Meanwhile, an entire generation spends its waking hours “cyber multi-tasking”, which is a euphemism for “not doing any one thing particularly well.” Dang, I do sound old. I bring all of this up because modern technology has impacted mightily on how composers actually compose. For what it’s worth, here’s how I do it. My compositional methodology is decidedly old school: my basic tools are pencils and paper. Specifically, Music Writer pencils made by Pacific Music Papers and Passantino No. 85 spiral music notebooks. (When I started seriously writing music around the age of 14, I discovered music manuscript notebooks made […]

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South Bay Angle (A Twisted Tango)

On Sunday, March 17 a piece of mine for violin and piano will receive its rather long-awaited premiere under the auspices of “Sounds New” at 3 p.m., at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley at 1 Lawson Road, Kensington. It should be a blast. My program reads as follows: South Bay Angle (A Twisted Tango) 1991/2011 Titles can, like mold-scum atop month-old cottage cheese, take on a life of their own. South Bay Angle was originally composed in 1991 during an Astor Piazzolla-inspired fit of tango-madness. While a more appropriate title for the piece would have been something on the lines of “I Can Do That!” or “This Gringo’s Token Tango”, circumstances conspired in another titular direction. The piece was originally intended for performance on a program produced by Composers, Inc., a new-music collective in which I was (and remain) an artistic director. Composers Inc. was then in its seventh season. In those days when newspapers still mattered, Composers, Inc. sought to receive as many print reviews as possible. To that end, the organization invited Paul Hertelendy, who was then the music critic for the San Jose Mercury News, to cover its concerts. He said he would do so provided […]

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