Bach and the High Baroque

Course No. 720
Professor Robert Greenberg, Ph.D.
San Francisco Performances
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Course No. 720
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Course Overview

Underappreciated in his own time, Johann Sebastian Bach has ascended to Olympian heights in the estimation of generations of music lovers. But what is it about his music that makes it great? Composer and musicologist Robert Greenberg helps you hear the extraordinary sweep of Bach's music and understand his compositional language—whether you're a devoted admirer or a casual listener.

How Did Bach Become Bach?

Professor Greenberg sets Bach in context by tracing the musical traditions and composers from whom he drew his inspiration, and explaining how Bach absorbed these influences to become the transcendent composer of the High Baroque. According to Professor Greenberg, no other composer is more representative of the period and its aesthetic of emotional extravagance and technical control.

You will also learn how Bach's background—at least 42 of his relatives were professionally involved with music—and his strong German Lutheran heritage shaped his development as an artist.

A Musical Feast

But above all, you will hear music—lots of it. Professor Greenberg devotes extensive discussions to the following Bach pieces, from which he plays major excerpts:

  • Brandenburg Concerto no. 2
  • Cantata no. 140, "Wachet auf, uns ruft die Stimme"
  • Coffee Cantata
  • Fugue in C-sharp Major from The Well Tempered Clavier, Book I
  • Goldberg Variations
  • Partita no. 5 in G Major for Harpsichord
  • St. Matthew Passion
  • Toccata and Fugue in D Minor
  • Violin Concerto in E Major.

You'll hear selections from other Bach works, such as Orchestral Suite in D ("Air on the G String"), B Minor Mass ("Hosanna" from the Sanctus), and Concerto in D Major for Harpsichord.

In addition, you'll be able to compare Bach with musical examples from Bizet, Chopin, Corelli, Couperin, Handel, Haydn, Lully, Palestrina, Pergolesi, Purcell, Rossini, Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi, and other composers both before and after his time.

What Makes Bach Bach?

The music of Bach, especially when compared to what came before, is extravagant and unbridled. Yet every aspect of it—beat, melody, melodic repetition, interaction, and harmony—is also magnificently controlled. His output is encyclopedic, encompassing every form then current in Western music. With Professor Greenberg's instruction, you will understand precisely how Bach's genius raises these forms to their pinnacle, achieving an unprecedented fullness of artistic realization within each of them, and why Bach's death in 1750 also marks the end of the Baroque period.

What You'll Learn

Part I gives an overview of Bach's life and the stylistic trends present in the music of the High Baroque.

  • Lecture 1 lays out the goals of the course and also introduces the truly extraordinary sweep of Bach's music, in terms of compositional genres and expressive content.
  • Lecture 2 introduces Bach the man at a critical juncture in his life, Christmas 1722.
  • Lectures 3 and 4 provide an introduction to the Baroque aesthetic and that most quintessential Baroque musical procedure, fugue.
  • Lecture 5 provides a historical overview of both the Baroque era and the years leading up to it.
  • Lectures 6–8 offer a musical glossary of the style features of High Baroque music.

Part II explores the diverse world of Baroque Europe with an ear for those elements—musical and nonmusical—that together constitute Bach's inheritance. Among the influences in Bach's life, the Lutheran Church must be considered the most important and profound.

  • Lecture 9 deals with the tremendous social upheavals and wars of religion that were the Protestant Reformation.
  • Lecture 10 examines Lutheranism and the new Lutheran liturgy, with particular attention paid to the role of music, especially the Lutheran Church chorale and its role in the Lutheran liturgy. Second only to the influence of Lutheranism on Bach was the Italian musical style, the pre-eminent musical style of the High Baroque. Based in equal measure on the Italian language, vocality, and the dramatic practices of opera, the Italian style powerfully shaped Bach's approach to melody, genre, and musical form.
  • Lectures 11 and 12 explore the development of the Italian style from the Renaissance through the Baroque, and how Bach joins the melodic fluidity and drama of Italian style with the spiritual power and profundity of German Lutheranism in the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.
  • Lectures 13–16 examine the concerto, the most important orchestral genre of the High Baroque, with special attention paid to the life, times, and concerti of Antonio Vivaldi; Vivaldi's influence on Bach; Baroque concerto types; and Bach's intensification and expansion of the Italian concerto models in his own concerti.

Part III continues with an in-depth examination of the influence on Bach of the French style and Italian opera.

  • Lectures 17 and 18 focus on the preeminence of dance and opera in French Baroque music and the birth and development of the French overture and the orchestral suite.
  • Lectures 19 and 20 continue to focus on music born of the French Baroque, examining first the keyboard suite in France and then in Germany.
  • Lectures 21–22 discuss the Lutheran Church Cantata No. 140, Wachet Auf ("Sleepers, Wake!"), as a Lutheran religious composition permeated with the compositional techniques and human drama of secular opera.
  • Lectures 23–24 deal with Bach's Coffee Cantata. These lectures introduce and discuss the work as a forward-looking comic opera (opera buffa), firmly within the same Italian comic operatic tradition as the Italian-language operas of Pergolesi, Mozart, and Rossini.

Part IV features two of Bach's greatest masterpieces: the St. Matthew Passion and the Goldberg Variations. No works by Bach are more transcendent.

  • Lectures 25–28 examine the St. Matthew Passion, a massive and deeply moving work that has no model, no precedent, and no equal in the Baroque era. Matthew's dark and very human telling of the trials and crucifixion of Jesus is brilliantly realized by Bach in a work set for two full choruses, two full orchestras, and two sets of vocal soloists. It is a work at once magnificent and intimate, despairing and filled with faith.
  • Lectures 29–32 deal with the Goldberg Variations, probably the most singularly unified, most spiritually esoteric work created during the Baroque. In this intimate keyboard work, consisting of a theme, 30 variations, and a reprise of the theme, worlds of numerical, religious, and metaphysical symbolism have been found. The Goldberg Variations is a work of almost unbelievable substance, a whole infinitely greater than its 32 constituent parts.
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32 lectures
 |  Average 46 minutes each
  • 1
    The goals of this course are to learn something of the life and personality of J. S. Bach, to learn something of the musical traditions and composers from whom he drew his inspiration, to understand Bach as a man of his time who was influenced by trends and traditions, and to get to know a good sampling of Bach's music. x
  • 2
    Christmas, 1722
    This lecture provides background on Bach's early career, the death of his first wife and his remarriage, and his decision to go to Leipzig. x
  • 3
    Introduction to the Baroque Aesthetic
    The Baroque era, from 1600, the birth of opera, to the death of J. S. Bach in 1750, was a diverse period that saw great change, characterized in vocal terms by opera, and in instrumental terms by fugue. These two genres epitomize the dichotomy of emotional extravagance (opera) and technical control (fugue) that formed the Baroque aesthetic. x
  • 4
    Fugue, from the Latin fuga, meaning flight, is a polyphonic work for a fixed number of parts combining statements of one or more subjects with countersubjects derived from the subject material, in imitative patterns that follow established procedures. The Bach fugues combine overwhelming compositional technique with profound emotional and spiritual depth to a degree that is transcendent, making Bach without peer in this genre. x
  • 5
    Historical Overview from Constantine through the Great Thinkers of the Baroque
    We learn more on the background and history of the Baroque era, and political, religious, scientific, and philosophical developments contributing to the Renaissance. x
  • 6
    Style Features of High Baroque Music, Part I—A Musical Glossary
    J. S. Bach was born into an age when the materials and syntax of music were already developed and codified to a high degree. Six important elements were rhythm and meter, instruments and instrumental style, Baroque-style melody, musical texture, tuning systems, and functional harmony. x
  • 7
    Style Features of High Baroque Music, Part II—A Musical Glossary
    Bach did not so much evolve new styles as perfect existing ones, fusing and synthesizing national styles in both vocal and instrumental genres. In the Baroque era, beat became more regular; rhythms tended to be well-defined and were often based on dances. Instrumental music appeared, even as the vocal genre of opera was developed. x
  • 8
    Style Features of High Baroque Music, Part III—A Musical Glossary
    The demand for a more expressive musical system gave rise to more scale pitches from the Pythagorean model, and new tuning systems arose to handle this, including meantone, equal temperament, and well-temperament. Functional harmony was developed and codified, and it was supported by the convention of basso continuo or thorough-bass as both a rhythmic and a chordal device. x
  • 9
    Bach's Inheritance, Part I—The Protestant Reformation and the Rise of Lutheranism
    Bach's music was a synthesis: of German language and seriousness; of Lutheran spirituality; of the national styles of France, Italy, and Germany; and not least, of the composer's own extraordinary genius. Bach's Lutheran Christianity shaped his entire world view and his work ethic, causing him to see all that he did as an offering to God. x
  • 10
    Lutheranism, the Chorale and the Chorale Prelude
    A central aspect of Lutheran life was the congregational hymn, or chorale, and chorale melodies are central to all Bach's church music. His harmonizations of them, and his chorale preludes for organ, are among the gems of Western music, and they remain the very paradigm of functional harmony in music education to this day. x
  • 11
    Bach's Inheritance, Part II—The Development of the Italian Style
    The music of Arcangelo Corelli is one of the best examples of writing from this period. His music distinguishes the orchestra from the chamber ensemble, with just one instrument per part. The pipe organ reaches a pinnacle of design during the Baroque never again reached until the latter 20th century. x
  • 12
    The Italian Style, The Operatic Ideal and Lutheran Spirituality are Joined
    The madrigal became the dominant Renaissance vocal form, mastered by the Italian composers; one example is Jacopo Peri's and Claudio Monteverdi's monodic settings for the mythological story of Orpheus and Euridice. The pipe organ reaches a pinnacle of design during the Baroque; no one knew organ design better than Bach, and no one has surpassed him in composing for the instrument. x
  • 13
    Vivaldi, Bach and the Concerto, Part I—Vivaldi and the Venetian Opera
    While a court organist in Weimar, Bach encountered the concerti of Antonio Vivaldi. Vivaldi, a fine violinist, wrote 500 concerti, 49 operas, and other sacred works. His style was greatly influenced by Venetian opera and Italian vocalism and language in general, which he transferred to the solo violin, the instrument most like the diva soprano. x
  • 14
    Vivaldi, Bach and the Concerto, Part II—Vivaldi's Model and Bach, Violin Concerto No. 2 in E Major
    The typical Vivaldi concerto had three movements with tempos that were fast-slow-fast respectively. His first movements were usually in ritornello form, his second movements cantabile and expressive, and his third movements either fugal or ritornello, and very upbeat. Bach elevated Vivaldi's model, combining it with his polyphonic processes to create a very rich and varied texture. x
  • 15
    Vivaldi, Bach and the Concerto, Part II—Bach Violin Concerto No. 2 in E Major (cont.)
    Bach's Brandenburg Concerti were six diverse pieces written between 1619 and 1621 for Prince Leopold's virtuoso orchestra at Coethen, and brought together by their dedication to the Margrave of Brandenburg, with whom Bach sought employment in March of 1621. x
  • 16
    Vivaldi, Bach and the Concerto, Part III—The Concerto Grosso and the Brandenburg Concerto No. 2
    Bach was unsuccessful in getting the job; the Margrave's little orchestra was probably overwhelmed by the complexity and difficulty of the pieces, but he left us with some of the very finest examples of the concerto grosso, a form in which a group of soloists, the concertino, is contrasted with the whole group. x
  • 17
    Bach and the French Style, Part I—Dance and the Orchestral Suite
    The popularity of social and courtly dance increased during the Renaissance. Two of the most popular dance types were the Pavanne and the Galliard. At no time was the influence of dance on music stronger or more pervasive than in the Baroque, and nowhere more than in the French court, which eventually became the center for dance music under Louis XIV. x
  • 18
    Dance and the Orchestral Suite (cont.)
    During the middle and late 17th century, the dances written for suites became more stylized, better for listening than dancing. Ballets de Cour, Masques, Balli, and Masqueratas were favorite late Renaissance/early Baroque court entertainments which combined staged and costumed dance performances with group dancing by the nobility, often led by Louis XIV. x
  • 19
    Bach and the French Style, Part II—The Keyboard Suite
    Much keyboard music of the late 17th and early 18th centuries is in the form of suites. French suites were collections of dances to be played in any order, at the performer's discretion. In France, orchestral suites were arranged for private performance, first for lute, and later for harpsichord. x
  • 20
    The Keyboard Suite (cont.)
    Bach wrote three large sets of keyboard suites, six complete suites in each set. They illustrate his genius in creating masterworks within a constrained form, using the harpsichord, an instrument of limited tonal resources. x
  • 21
    Bach and Opera, Part I—Cantata No. 140 Wachet auf, uns ruft die stimme
    The high point of the Lutheran worship service was the sermon, which was preceded by a cantata, which Bach sought to make a sermon in music. Wachet auf, ruft uns die stimme (Sleepers wake, a voice is calling) for the 27th Sunday after Trinity, is based on the parable of the wise and foolish virgins in Matthew's Gospel, chapter 25. x
  • 22
    Cantata No. 140 Wachet auf, uns ruft die stimme (cont.)
    Bach used the chorale tune in three of the movements. A solo bass voice was used to represent Christ in dialogue with the Christian soul (or the Church), represented by a solo soprano. The orchestra was used effectively to evoke the festive pomp of a wedding in which Christ is the bridegroom and the Church is his bride. x
  • 23
    Bach and Opera, Part II—Opera Buffa and the Secular Cantata, The Coffee Cantata
    Coffee drinking was a popular and controversial pastime in Bach's day, illegal in parts of Germany. A 1727 satire on coffee provided a libretto that appealed to Bach, who owned many coffee pots and an expensive coffee-making machine. Bach also had several daughters, and the eldest had just passed through adolescence. The conflict between father and daughter portrayed in the libretto would have seemed familiar! x
  • 24
    Opera Buffa and the Secular Cantata, The Coffee Cantata (cont.)
    The important comic opera La Serva Padrona was then being written by Pergolesi. It used the same Italian opera buffa conventions, and it dealt with the same basic idea of a teenage girl outwitting a pedantic father character. x
  • 25
    Bach Transcendent—The Saint Matthew Passion, Part I
    The Saint Matthew Passion was a surpassing work unlike anything of its time. Written to be performed on Good Friday in Holy Week, 1727, the Passion followed a long tradition of musical devotions in preparation for Easter. Bach expanded the form of the work and the performing forces, using two choirs (each with its own orchestra), a boy choir, and continuo. x
  • 26
    Bach Transcendent—The Saint Matthew Passion, Part II
    In the course of the four-hour Passion, Bach uses every style and compositional device known in his time. His use of the Passion Chorale five times in the work, each time with a different text and harmonization, helps to unify the vast structure musically, while at the same time providing a vehicle for expressing his personal faith and the five wounds of Christ. x
  • 27
    Bach Transcendent—The Saint Matthew Passion, Part III
    Bach embedded much musical and numerological symbolism into the Passion. For example, the key of E minor which opens the work has one sharp; in German the sharp was called a Kreuz, the same word for cross, making E minor the key of crucifixion. The libretto divided the events into two prologues and 15 "actions" but Bach further divides them into 27 actions. The number 27 was one of his favorite symbolic numbers, being a Trinitarian symbol (three to the third power). x
  • 28
    Bach Transcendent—The Saint Matthew Passion, Part IV
    At the end of the Passion, Bach brings the soloists together in opera chorus fashion to comment on the completed action and deliver the moral of the story. As in the opening, a throbbing, grieving chorus mourns the sacrificed Christ, yet hidden within it is a tender lullaby that looks forward to the Savior's awakening from the sleep of death. x
  • 29
    Bach Transcendent—The Goldberg Variations, Part I
    Bach's Goldberg Variations towers above every other work of this genre; certainly the 18th century produced nothing like it. So carefully and symmetrically constructed are the Variations, and so filled with numerical concepts, that they have stimulated a great body of discourse and analysis that ranges from the sober to the bizarre. They were written for a nobleman to be played during bouts of insomnia by his harpsichordist. x
  • 30
    Bach Transcendent—The Goldberg Variations, Part II
    The work contains 32 movements; the first and last are the same. The remaining 30 variations are built on the same ground bass or its harmonies. They divide at Variation 15, which ends the first half, after which the second half begins with a French overture. The variations display the full range of Baroque compositional techniques and forms, including dance, canon, fugue, invention, toccata, overture, and quodlibet. x
  • 31
    Bach Transcendent—The Goldberg Variations, Part III
    Bach organized the variations into trinities consisting of a character piece, a toccata, and a canon. These marvelous canons form the heart and soul of the Goldberg Variations. They are all canons for two voices, in strict imitation, and all are elaborated over a third voice, the thematic ground bass, except for the Canon at the Ninth, which is for the two canonic voices alone. x
  • 32
    Bach Transcendent—The Goldberg Variations, Part IV
    Some of the canons are mirrors, in which the follower voice does the opposite of the leader. Most of the variations are in a major key, but those in minor keys are placed at crucial points in the cycle, and they are deeply affecting and profound. x

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Robert Greenberg

About Your Professor

Robert Greenberg, Ph.D.
San Francisco Performances
Dr. Robert Greenberg is Music Historian-in-Residence with San Francisco Performances. A graduate of Princeton University, Professor Greenberg holds a Ph.D. in Music Composition from the University of California, Berkeley. He has seen his compositions—which include more than 45 works for a wide variety of instrumental and vocal ensembles—performed all over the world, including New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles,...
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Bach and the High Baroque is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 101.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Intense music teaching I do not play an instrument or attend concerts anymore, but have in the past. I can appreciate the intense music theory and details of music structure, but the result is remarkable appreciation for the baroque period.
Date published: 2019-09-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Detailed Survey of Bach's opus and the Baroque I came to this with quite limited knowledge of musical history. I did have the sense that Bach was my favorite "classical" (actually, baroque) composer, and I should learn more about him. Robert Greenberg's course is lengthy. it comprises 4 boxes, each with 2 discs, each disc with 4 lectures, each lecture lasting 45 minutes, unlike the usual format of 30 minutes for The Great Courses. The longer lecture format made it possible to include multiple segments from related musical pieces, plus Dr. Greenberg's explanation what you're hearing. There's not enough time to play entire pieces, but he portrays all the styles of music Bach composed, as well as many related examples from prior musical history and from his contemporaries. Greenberg has enormous respect for Bach and does a fine job of explaining why. I not only learned a lot about Bach's personal history and about the construction of his various musical styles, but also heard many pieces of music by other composers which I had not heard before: some of them impressive enough that I had to obtain a recording of them. This is a great introductory course on Baroque music.
Date published: 2019-08-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative, entertaining, and amusing. Like all of Prof Robert Greenburg's Great Courses, Bach and the High Baroque is above all informative, it is also entertaining and amusing. He combines musicology, music history, and the history of the region to paint a picture of Bach as a man, a father, a husband and above all a composer and a performing musician. He paints a picture of Bach's music. and of the influence his music by that of Vivaldi and Corelli. His analysis of the pieces is done in a way that can be easily understood by yet be interestin to the musician, but also by the interested listener to music.
Date published: 2019-05-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wit and Depth You need to plan to focus on this course to extract the depth that Greenberg pours into 45 minutes. Perfect for a western U.S. car trip. I learned a ton about Bach (both music and man) and no longer see him as an organist memorialized in marble.
Date published: 2019-04-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Don't hesitate to get this! No doubt about it, this is a must-have for every fan of Bach. Thorough, entertaining, in-depth, and inspiring. I'm on my second go-round and I'm going to give it as a gift. So glad I have this. Plus, the convenience of having the course streaming let's me hear it whenever I want. Prof. Greenburg's knowledge of the subject, and his way of presenting sustains interest from beginning to end. Thanks for putting this on sale.
Date published: 2019-02-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another Greenberg Masterpiece! This is my fifth Robert Greenberg course, and probably his best! I had no idea of the depth and breadth of Bach's music until I listened to these lectures. I thought of Bach as an organ composer and harpiscord composer. I did not realize that he composed cantatas, opera, and passions based on the gospels. The St. Matthew passion, in my opinion, ranks as one of the best musical compositions. Despite the German lyrics, I enjoyed the two orchestras and choirs performing in unison and simultaneously. The Coffee Cantata is a frivilous piece spiced with humor. This course ended up costing me more than $100 in addition to the cost of the course I had to listen to more of the music and bought several recordiings to get the full compositions. Dr. Greenberg would be pleased. I have completed over 90 Great Courses. This one may be the best--at least among the top five. If you are a music lover, or want to expand your knowledge, buy this course.
Date published: 2019-01-15
Rated 1 out of 5 by from This is a great course BUT One star because of TC's new horrible customer service, crass commericalism (mixing academic courses with 'crafts' and 'popular' courses, etc without distinction), and failure to honor their promise of unconditional return: I have requested to return this item 6 times, WITHOUT RESPONSE, TWO DAYS AFTER I BOUGHT IT because I have the audio course already from the GREAT Professor Greenberg and was disappointed to find that not much at all was added in the video version - no scores, etc. This used to be a good company - now, not so much.
Date published: 2018-12-31
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Professor has a foul mouth Much of the course content is good, but it is punctuated by filthy, blasphemous, and gutter language by the professor. Great Courses should disclose that the professor has a foul mouth before people buy the course. The course cannot be recommended for minors or for adults who don't want to hear such filthy language.
Date published: 2018-11-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course! I listened to this course twice, several years apart, on the cassette tapes originally purchased. I took advantage of a recent sale to buy the course on CDs, as I fully expect to listen to it again. It is wonderful to listen to specific lectures before going to a performance of a major work, such as the St. Matthew Passion.
Date published: 2018-11-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very good, if one is interested in learning about fugues, etc Interesting hippos w he used tradition but in his ow N way
Date published: 2018-10-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic This course has been an-eye opener for me in several different respects. The first has to do with Bach’s biography. I have heard countless times that Bach was considered anachronistic in his own era, not a first-rate or even a second-rate composer – writing polyphonic music when everybody else had already moved on to music that was much more melodic. Professor Greenberg provided quite a lot of Bach’s biography, his disputes with his employers about his employment terms (to the extent that he was thrown in jail in one instance), his humor, his tendency to be somewhat quarrelsome – all of this really helped to penetrate through us modern’s almost supernatural image of Bach, and to think of him as a flesh and blood person. Finally, the description of how many of his manuscripts were sold as paper for wrapping meat and butter, or for protecting fruit hanging from trees (some sold by his own sons and wife), made me realize that – yes – apparently, he had not been very highly regarded as a composer during his time. The second point had to do with Bach’s repertoire. I have been an avid listener of Bach’s keyboard works for decades and I have always thought them to be divine. I was also familiar with the Brandenburg concertos, the violin concertos and suites for violin and cello solo. I was not at all familiar with his religious works – certainly an important and central aspect of his creative career. I tried to hear the Matteus Passion several times but found it quite inaccessible. Professor Greenberg’s quite extensive explanation of this piece was beautifully done, and I feel that now perhaps it will find it easier for me to understand and enjoy it. The same applies to the Cantatas. Finally, and this is perhaps the most satisfying aspect of the course for me, he explained in some depth what makes his music tick… I always found his music absolutely beautiful, but it was very hard for me to put a finger on what his mechanisms for making the music work are. Professor Greenberg, in some of the lectures (particularly the ones about the fugue from the Well Tempered Piano, the Partitas, and on the Goldberg variations), went into some depth as to his technique of using counterpoint, polyphonic techniques along with other numerical symmetries. Some of the techniques are so sophisticated that one wonders how a human could even have conceived of them, much less made them so aesthetically compelling and beautiful. This was analogous perhaps to seeing an MRI image of his music – it showed how all of the “internal” workings that enable the outer part to appear beautiful and whole. One knows that there are inner parts in play but can’t see them or understand their exact function… Professor Greenberg was much younger in this course than I am used to hearing him (the course is quite old). It seemed that since he made these recordings, he has adopted a much more casual lecturing style. But the great wit and huge wealth of historical and musical knowledge were there just as in all of his other courses. This has been a truly remarkable and wonderful course.
Date published: 2018-03-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from What the Baroque is All About So little is known about Johann Sebastian Bach, who was not particularly famous in his lifetime and forgotten for 70 years after his death, that a full biographical course is impossible. Instead, Professor Greenberg takes what we do know about Bach as a springboard to present the high baroque period. He goes back to the origins of music and follows the social, national and political developments that led to baroque music and beyond. His historical sweep may irritate some who just came for J. Sebastian; I personally loved it. Greenberg cemented in my mind exactly how baroque and classical music came to be, and why. As for Bach himself, Greenberg makes him a more likeable person than any source I've encountered. Yes, he clashed with the Leipzig town fathers over and over. But Greenberg shows how Bach was justified to do so. From the evidence that is left to us emerges a clear picture of Bach the musician, Bach the performer, Bach the family man who -- no small achievement in the 18th century or for that matter today -- had two happy marriages in succession and a loving home life. Do you think of Bach's music as mechanical, mathematical, rigidly rules-bound? You won't after Greenberg finishes with you. Bach may not have broken all the rules, but there are few he didn't bend as far as they would go and maybe beyond. Far from tight-laced, Bach was as creative and ground-breaking within the bounds of his time as Mozart, Beethoven, and for that matter Buddy Holly and the Beatles were in theirs. Banned from writing "opera" for the church, he composed cantatas and oratorios that were as operatic in all but name. He composed an entire string concerto (Brandenburg #6) without a single violin. He composed a cantata based on the letters of his surname. He composed a cantata -- virtually an opera buffa, Greenberg argues and it's hard to disagree -- about coffee, of all things. He wrote 32 variations, the so-called Goldbergs, on a single theme that are so creative that you can listen to them over and over and still find something new each time. Speaking of which, this course will take you through a number of pieces in depth, including the St. Matthew Passion, the Goldberg Variations, and the cantata Wachet auf. That may be overkill for some, but there's a reason Greenberg has a lot to say about these. Let him guide you through the gems and surprises Bach has set throughout these pieces. A couple of criticisms. Greenberg has a couple of irksome pronunciations, like putting a Z in the middle of "renaissance" and rhyming Couperin (in a trying-too-hard French accent) with "dawn." He propagates the nonsense that Italian is somehow better suited to music than German or French. German is not a "harsh" or particularly "guttural" language except when Greenberg snarls "Gute Nacht!" in a very non-German way to create that impression. Look, for social and economic reasons, Italy is where the Renaissance took place that gave birth to opera and what would come to be called classical music. Classical music is suited to Italian because that's where it was invented and that's the language the music styles were created to suit. I was disappointed that for the texts of the St. Matthew Passion and some others were given not in translation or even paraphrase, but in the rival English texts written to the same music. "O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden" ("O head covered in blood and wounds") does not translate to "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded"; that's just the English text that fits the same music. If you're suspicious that Bach's texts somehow manage to rhyme so neatly in English, you have a right to be. And -- as is often the case with Greenberg -- I was disappointed with his choice of performances. He prefers the Wagnerian re-imaginings of Bach's (and Handel's, and Mozart's) music that attempted to drag it kicking and screaming into the Romantic Era. That means bloated orchestras and over-warbly singers dragging the music along at an excruciatingly slow pace so that every note may be savored. Yeah, that's great for Brahms and Liszt, but that's now how Bach or Handel meant for their music to be experienced. This penchant of Greenberg's even hit an absurd note when he tried to show how Handel used a French overture to open his oratorio "Messiah." Greenberg used a recording that smoothed the dotted figures out into eighth and even quarter notes, sabotaging his own point by removing every feature he was trying to demonstrate. His recording of the St. Matthew Passion was almost painful to endure; the repeating chorus was played at an excruciating 30 beats per minute! But we forgive Greenberg his quirks because his information is so darned good, and so well presented. I don't get people who are put off by Professor Greenberg's energy, sass, and humor. For me it makes the material come alive. This is a long course and on the expensive side. But if you are interested in baroque and classical music at all, you won't be sorry you invested in it.
Date published: 2018-02-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from informative and entertaining Professor Greenberg is as informative and entertaining as ever. I have never been disappointed by any course that is presented by him. I get the audio version. I don't want my commute to end!
Date published: 2018-01-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Teacher Forty years ago I took Music theory in college and it was a very dull and difficult class. So I was delighted with the energy and clarity of Prof. Greenberg's lectures. He is good at making the material understandable, repeating passages at times so that I could hear in the music what he was talking about. I will definitely take other classes from this professor.
Date published: 2017-12-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thorough and comprehensive After listening to the course material, I found much more pleasure in listening to Baroque pieces than I had before. The course helped me understand the various types of baroque music, how they are put together, and how to listen to them. The biographical and historical aspects were incredibly interesting to me as well. I'm very glad I purchased this course.
Date published: 2017-10-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Comprehensive discussion A very comprehensive and detailed review of one of the great composers of western music. Dr. Goldberg has a unique ability to both cover the personal characteristics of a person as well as a broad coverage of his music in great detail.
Date published: 2017-08-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A very interesting course. I have really enjoyed this course. There is a great deal discussion of musical theory which I knew only vaguely from my own music lessons years ago. The Prof is good; at times he is a bit too "informal" in his remarks.
Date published: 2017-08-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fabulous presentation of Bach and his genius We have loved this lecturer and his marvelous skill in walking us through the genius and techniques of Bach, so much so, that we are purchasing all of the courses taught by Prof. Robert Greenberg. We studied piano, and had the opportunity to play a great deal of Bach, but nothing compares with walking through a piece to really get what Bach did to create the subtle beauty of his pieces, step by step. We are inspired by the knowledge imparted and we learn something new in each lecture each time we listed.
Date published: 2017-06-17
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Only for Music Majors Professor knows his material very well, but is a bit crude in some of his lecture language, which I don't expect from a college professor, and more importantly, he assumes you know a lot more about music than most. It is definitely for majors and only covers a very few of Bach's (admittedly major) works.
Date published: 2017-06-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Robert Greenberg Is the Best I'm posting the same review for the many courses offered by Robert Greenberg I have taken. He is superb at explaining music, how it works and why it feels the way it does when you hear it. His courses greatly enhance my appreciation of the music, not just soon after taking his course but over the years thereafter.
Date published: 2017-05-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A life changer I wanted to learn about Bach because his music above anyone else really intrigues and moves me. Instead, I am learning about Bach, history, religion, culture, and music in such a fine detail that it has changed how I listen to the world around me. I was aware of the spiritual essence of Bach's music before starting the course because of how it affected me. But I am happy to have the affirmation from professor Greenberg that Bach was indeed a spiritualist when he composed his music. It does what a Great Course should do ; change the world around you.
Date published: 2017-02-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Hold on to your music stand This course is very academic, very detailed, but it suits what we are interested in. It requires close attention. It is an old course -- copyright 1925 -- but the material presented is timeless.
Date published: 2016-12-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful! I've enjoyed each course so far from Prof Greenberg; I gather that his course on Bach and the High Baroque is one of his earlier TC offerings but I just took it. It's wonderful, communicating clearly and with passion and humor Bach's music, Bach's times, and Bach as a person. Prof. Greenberg always adroitly covers the family, personality, and other personal issues of his course subjects, mixing that with discussions of the music, and this course is no exception. This is a long course (24 hours of lecture) with lots to cover. I learned a lot about Bach compositions that I had known for years, and about others unfamiliar to me. The course includes a fast, brief, but effective history of the West from Emperor Constantine through the Reformation to set the stage for Bach's Lutheran faith; a very good review of basic music theory; and some wonderful lectures on key influences on Bach such as Antonio Vivaldi. As with almost every Greenberg course, you can get huge value from it without knowing any musical theory. All in all this is a great course and I am so happy to have finally taken it.
Date published: 2016-11-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb Course! We have just completed this course and find it hard to express what we feel is the brilliance of Dr. Greenberg's presentation and the course itself. Thank you, Dr. Greenberg for this wonderful experience! It opened up whole new perspectives for us on the works covered. What a marvelous teacher!
Date published: 2016-08-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course This course is an excellent, in-depth look at not only the music of Bach, but how his music fits into the progression of Western music from the first millennium up through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The accompanying course materials are well written and a helpful adjunct to the lectures.
Date published: 2016-07-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wished For A Bit More and Less First let me say that I have taken other courses by Professor Greenberg and all we excellent to outstanding in presentation and value. I have read the other reviews and cannot write a long review without repeating what has already been said many times. As with the other courses I like the way Dr. Greenberg weaves history, the times, and biography into his lectures. I have one small brickbat in that there are times when the course was a bit more detailed than I would have liked and would have gladly traded a bit of detail and depth for coverage of some other material such as the Christmas Oratorio. This may sound a bit Juvenile but I would have liked a cursor moving through the lyrics so that I could associate certain elements of text with the accompanying musical expression - a bit like following the bouncing ball. That being said it is my full intention to take all of the Greenberg courses over time.
Date published: 2016-05-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Pure Joy! Bravo Professor Greenberg! The course is simply outstanding! I enjoyed the breadth and depth of the information provided within a fairly limited number of lectures on this vast topic. I appreciated the informative aspect of the presentation pertaining to the composer's biography and a very generous selection of musical abstracts accompanied by excellent comments. Not only they are always on point, the emphasis on the individual parts promotes a much deeper understanding of the entire piece thus making it even more enjoyable to listen to. As a classical music lover, I'm grateful for this feast to my senses in the form of a beautiful music and a captivating narration presented by a true Master.
Date published: 2016-03-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Bach and the high baroque I thought I knew a lot about Bach and the high baroque, but this course was a wonderful eye opener, especially because of the many listening examples from many periods. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2016-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I Loved This Course I have listened to and performed Bach for decades, but this course added enormously to my understanding of his music. The detailed description of the structure of the Goldberg Variations alone would make this course of value. The biographical details were also fascinating. I strongly recommend this course to anyone with an interest in Bach or Baroque music in general.
Date published: 2016-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Baroque as it Should be Taught! This is a remarkable course taught by a remarkable professor. Robert Greenberg always keeps one interested, even in the minutiae of musical theory, because his teaching style is engaging and full of interest. His use of historical background to help understand the musical style of the High Baroque is the same methodology that i think is necessary for just about any subject and have used in my own biology courses. However, the teacher has to present his or her material in a way that it is not just a dry recital of dates. They have to capture the imagination of the student with the power of the ideas and how they developed over time. Professor Greenberg does just that. Because I never had music appreciation when I went through college, I am very grateful to him for that! I recommend this course highly.
Date published: 2015-05-07
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