How to Listen to and Understand Great Music, 3rd Edition

Course No. 700
Professor Robert Greenberg, Ph.D.
San Francisco Performances
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Course No. 700
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Examine the contributions of nearly every major composer, including Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Stravinsky, and more.
  • numbers Go deep inside the most magnificent pieces of Western concert music with the aid of digitally recorded musical passages.
  • numbers Gain an outstanding grasp of musical forms, techniques, and terms - and finally become fluent in the language of music.
  • numbers Discover the powerful influence of social context on musical creation from ancient Greece to the 20th century.
  • numbers Learn the characteristics of every major concert music form that developed in Europe over the last 2,000 years.

Course Overview

Learning how to appreciate the unmatched beauty, genius, and power of concert music can permanently enrich your life. Why is this so? As award-winning composer and Professor Robert Greenberg explains, "Music, the most abstract and sublime of all the arts, is capable of transmitting an unbelievable amount of expressive, historical, and even philosophical information to us, provided that our antennas are up and pointed in the right direction. A little education goes a long way to vitalizing and rendering relevant a body of music that many feel is beyond their grasp.

"And why is an understanding of concert music worthwhile? I would suggest a few reasons:

“The skills one brings to listening to music—imagination; abstract, nonconcrete thinking; intuition; and instinctive reaction and trusting those instincts—have gone uncultivated in our educational system and culture for too long.

“Music, as a universal, nonverbal language, allows us to tap into the social, cultural, and aesthetic traditions of different cultures and historical eras. We become more aware of our shared humanity and the wisdom and vision of others.

“Music allows us to transcend our own world and partake in utterly different realities.

“Last, but certainly not least, good music is fun to listen to, relatively inexpensive—we can do it by ourselves or with others—and there are any number of ways to expand our knowledge and appreciation of the art."

The Tools, the Times, the Composers, and Their Music

Grammar: Professor Greenberg gives you an outstanding grasp of musical forms, techniques, and terms—the grammatical elements that make you fluent in the language of music. These are not dull concepts. Professor Greenberg alerts us to the need for them:

"Music, like any pseudoscience, requires an adjectival palette by which we can isolate events that without proper terms we might not even be able to notice. It's an interesting question to what degree language allows us to perceive things that are not language-associated. I'm a strong believer that if you've got the right word to identify something, you can perceive it. I think my favorite pseudoscience when it comes to this kind of thing is wine-tasting, where one has to come up with an adjectival palette that is almost a cartoon unto itself. But silly as these phrases may be—'Oh, this has a hint of young tobacco, and old oak fragrant with raspberries'—silly as these terms are, they allow us to draw distinctions without which we may not be able to draw at all. So we will create a useful vocabulary."

Rich Context: Professor Greenberg teaches the powerful influence of social context on musical creation. Bestselling author James Collins, writing in Inc. magazine, explains: "The Greenberg series combines a history of Western civilization with a history of great music from ancient Greece to the 20th century. Greenberg's 48 lectures come alive with passion and knowledge. The course illustrates the interplay between societal change and innovation and offers a unique perspective on the acceleration of change wrought by the 20th century."

Professor Greenberg's lectures show how musical creativity has provided, throughout the history of our civilization, a vibrant means of expression for grand spiritual, intellectual, political, social, and economic forces.

Whether it's the profound influence of Lutheran spirituality on Bach or the effect of the French Revolution on Beethoven (to give just two examples), you'll see how such forces have swirled through the lives of music's creators and listeners in various historical epochs. You'll also grasp how these forces have stimulated the creation of musical masterpieces that are both transcendent works of art and compositions deeply rooted in their respective eras, telling us something central about the human condition in each one.

The Composers: The course examines the contributions of nearly every major composer. But one of Professor Greenberg's aims is to make their music accessible, and, for this, we must accept that every one of them was human and no more. (He observes at one point that an English translation of the name Giuseppe Verdi would be simply "Joe Green.") You will remember their music, and you will never forget the composers who are brought to life throughout the lectures. Consider Professor Greenberg's introduction to Berlioz:

"Hector Berlioz begins writing the Symphonie fantastique in 1829 and he completes it in 1830, the same year he graduates from the conservatory, so he's only 27 years old and still learning his craft.

"The Symphonie fantastique is an experimental artwork if there ever was one. It is an absolutely avant-garde piece of music. It attempts to unite the four great loves of Berlioz's life, as he felt them then and as they continued to be throughout his life. Those four great loves, in no particular order, are: first, Shakespeare's plays and Shakespeare's sense of drama; second: Beethoven's symphonies, which Berlioz worshipped; third: opera, which Berlioz lived for; and we must not forget the fourth great love of Berlioz's life: himself. It's a very autobiographical work. Again, we have to understand that autobiography is very typical of the self-involvement and expressive self-indulgence of the 19th- and indeed, the 20th-century artist."

The Music: Using digitally recorded musical passages to illustrate his points, Professor Greenberg will take you inside magnificent compositions by Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Verdi, Wagner, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, and more. You have listened to many of the illustrative pieces all your life—you will never hear them the same way again after Professor Greenberg has opened them up. Look at the titles of the lectures in this course to see how much you'll learn.

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48 lectures
 |  Average 45 minutes each
  • 1
    Music as a Mirror
    This opening lecture introduces themes, concepts, and terminology that will be used throughout the series. The nature of concert music as a living, breathing entity and not a fossil of the past is introduced. Important definitions and distinctions are discussed, including: concert music, classical music, popular music, and Western music. The concept of music as a mirror is introduced. Lastly, using Ludwig van Beethoven as an example, the composer is discussed as a person describing some aspect or aspects of his life and world in his music. x
  • 2
    Sources—The Ancient World and the Early Church
    This lecture introduces the ancient world as a 4,000-year period of extraordinary cultural richness and variety. From this long ancient era only 40 or so fragments of music have survived. In this lecture we discuss the cyclical, rather than linear, nature of art and music. Ultimately, this lecture focuses on the role of music in the ancient Greek and Roman worlds and concludes with a brief examination of the role of music in the early Christian Church. x
  • 3
    The Middle Ages
    This lecture focuses on the changing role of music in the medieval world. First we examine the liturgical plainchant of the so-called Dark Ages, its role within the Church, and its musical characteristics. The rebirth of Europe during the High Middle Ages and the attendant development of polyphony are examined. Finally, we explore the violent disruptions of the 14th century—the so-called Babylonian Captivity, the Great Schism, the Black Plague, the Hundred Years War—and their affects on the arts and music of the time. x
  • 4
    Introduction to the Renaissance
    This lecture examines the impact of the rediscovery of ancient Greek and Roman culture on Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries. Important Renaissance trends—from Humanism to Classicism—are defined and discussed. The ancient Greek ideal of music as a humanistic art powerfully influenced the music of the Renaissance, an influence that is examined both theoretically and musically (through the works of Josquin des Prez). x
  • 5
    The Renaissance Mass
    This lecture introduces the mass as the most important compositional genre of the Renaissance. The mass itself is defined and the ceremony is discussed in detail, in particular the nature and content of the Proper and Ordinary. We then examine the Renaissance musical setting of the Ordinary of the mass and the three types of Renaissance masses: the Cantus Firmus or Tenor mass, the Paraphrase mass, and the Imitation mass. We then discuss the Protestant Reformation and the subsequent impact of the Counter-Reformation and the Council of Trent on the nature of Catholic liturgical music in general and the mass specifically. x
  • 6
    The Madrigal
    This lecture focuses on the madrigal, the most important genre of Italian secular music of the late Renaissance. We examine the heightened poetic content of the madrigal and the Petrarchian revival. Then we examine the role played by word-painting in the genre of the madrigal. Three madrigals are examined for the progressive development of the genre from the mid-16th century to the very early 17th. x
  • 7
    An Introduction to the Baroque Era
    This lecture introduces the brilliant and exuberant Baroque era. We differentiate between the measured elegance of Renaissance music and the extravagant emotionalism of Baroque music. Special attention is paid to the scientific and investigative spirit of the Baroque and its impact on the arts of the era. The Baroque artistic duality of emotional extravagance and intellectual control is examined as a manifestation of the scientific and philosophical currents of the time. The lecture concludes with a musical example the genre of French overture. x
  • 8
    Style Features of Baroque-era Music
    In this lecture we build listening skills and a descriptive vocabulary and discuss style and features of Baroque music. A vocabulary for addressing sound aspects of music is presented, defining and discussing discrete sound, frequency, pitch, melody, motive, theme, and tune. The advent of instrumental music during the Baroque era is examined. Essential musical elements as pulse, meter, scales, and harmony are examined in light of the Baroque predilection for scientific investigation, systemic organization and codification. x
  • 9
    National Styles—Italy and Germany
    This lecture describes the rise of German music during the Baroque. The Protestant Reformation put a new emphasis on the German language in worship, and the music with it followed the idiosyncratic cadences of the German language, as opposed to Latin/Italian. We also explore the Lutheran view of music and composition as a spiritual act, a view that altered the history and nature of German music. x
  • 10
    This lecture examines fugue, defined as a typically monothematic, polyphonic work in which a theme is examined, broken down, reassembled, etc., in as many ways as possible. Drawing on fugues by Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frederick Handel, this lecture introduces and examines the parts of a fugue: the exposition, subject restatements, and episodes. This lecture also seeks to define and discuss the various tuning systems used up to and during the Baroque era. x
  • 11
    Baroque Opera, Part 1
    We discuss the evolution of opera from the late Renaissance through the early Baroque. Believing that ancient Greek drama was entirely sung, members of the Florentine Camerata sought to create their own music dramas, and, in doing so, they invented opera around the year 1600. These lectures discuss two early operas—Jacopo Peri's Euridice and Claudio Monteverdi's Orfeo—and describe and demonstrate the musical content of these early operas. x
  • 12
    Baroque Opera, Part 2
    We continue the evolution of opera from the late Renaissance through the early Baroque. We discuss the transition of Italian opera from courtly to popular entertainment and the development of the aria around 1660. x
  • 13
    The Oratorio
    This lecture and the next focus on the adaptation of Baroque operatic elements to the world of Baroque sacred music. This lecture introduces the oratorio and Lutheran Church cantata, and briefly discusses and defines the Baroque Mass, Magnificat, Passion, and sacred Motet as well. The oratorio is then examined in detail, from its modest beginnings as a musical setting of some Biblical text through its growing popularity as an operalike entertainment, particularly during Lent, becoming ultimately an opera on a religious subject. The lecture concludes with a discussion of the career of George Frederick Handel and a brief examination of his English language oratorio, Messiah of 1742. x
  • 14
    The Lutheran Church Cantata
    This lecture continues the examination of Baroque sacred music, focusing now on the Lutheran church cantata, which evolved as a musical commentary on a particular Bible reading, becoming known as the musical "sermon before the sermon." We also examine the operatic ideals of the Lutheran librettist Erdman Neumeister, and Johann Sebastian Bach's Cantata No. 140, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme. x
  • 15
    We introduce the concept of instrumental musical form—processes that organize musical materials into recognizable structures without the presence of, or need for, words. The advent of instrumental music during the Baroque indicated that parts of musical speech—melody, rhythm, harmony, form—had developed enough to provide a satisfying, although "abstract," musical experience. We then focus on Baroque musical forms based on the process of variation: passacaglia, ground bass, or chaconne (or ciaconna). Such variations are demonstrated in works by Henry Purcell and Johann Sebastian Bach. x
  • 16
    Ritornello Form and the Baroque Concerto
    The discussion of Baroque instrumental form begun in Lecture 15 now focuses on ritornello form and the Baroque concerto. We first differentiate between chamber and orchestral music. Next, we discuss the degree to which the opera house was responsible for the development of the orchestra, as well as genres such as overture, suite, and concerto. The three types of high Baroque concerti are defined and discussed. Finally, the concerto grosso is examined in detail, with special attention paid to the ritornello form, first movement of Johann Sebastian Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 5. x
  • 17
    The Enlightenment and an Introduction to the Classical Era
    This lecture introduces the Age of Enlightenment and its impact on musical style. The dramatic difference between the music of the late Baroque and Classical eras is brought into high relief—differences that are a function of societal change during the 17th century. This lecture discusses Enlightenment-inspired and Classical trends such as cosmopolitanism and the rise of musical amateurism. x
  • 18
    The Viennese Classical Style, Homophony, and the Cadence
    This lecture seeks to further build listening skills and vocabulary regarding cadence, or musical punctuation. The four cadence types are defined, demonstrated, and discussed. We examine the geographical and social importance of the city of Vienna for the origin of the Classical style. x
  • 19
    Classical-era Form—Theme and Variations
    This lecture initiates a discussion of Classical instrumental musical form that will continue through Lecture 25. We examine the theme and variations form, an adaptation of Baroque variations to the expressive and musical needs of the Classical era. The Classical theme and variations form uses a tune as its theme rather than a bass line or harmonic progression. Wolfgang Mozart's Variations on "Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman" is an example. x
  • 20
    Classical-era Form—Minuet and Trio: Baroque Antecedents
    This lecture continues the examination of Classical instrumental musical form with an investigation of Baroque minuet and trio form, the antecedent of Classical minuet and trio form. The importance of courtly dance in 17th-century France is discussed, as is the development of stylized dances. This lecture lists the most important and popular dance types to come out of 17th-century France, among which the minuet and trio was pre-eminent. The French minuet and trio form is demonstrated with a movement by Jean-Baptiste Lully. x
  • 21
    Classical-era Form—Minuet and Trio Form
    This lecture continues the discussion of minuet and trio form begun in Lecture 20 with an examination of Classical minuet and trio form. Late 18th-century composers extended the formal structure and the expressive content of minuet and trio to create movements appropriate for the multimovement instrumental genres of the Classical era. With minuet and trio movements by Mozart and Haydn as examples, we examine the highly stylized minuet and trios of the Classical era. We discuss the meaning and origin of Köchel numbers as they apply to the music of Mozart, and examine the reputation and personality of Joseph Haydn. x
  • 22
    Classical-era Form—Rondo Form
    This lecture continues the examination of Classical instrumental musical form with a discussion of rondo form. We discuss the antecedents of rondo form—the French rondeau and the Baroque ritornello (or refrain) form. In a Classical rondo form movement, the rondo theme is the central musical element, not the departures from that theme. Movements by Beethoven and Haydn are demonstrated as examples. x
  • 23
    Classical-era Form—Sonata Form, Part 1
    In Lectures 23 and 24 we examine sonata-allegro form, but first, we observe the life and personality of the extraordinary Wolfgang Mozart. We discuss the many meanings and uses of the word "sonata." The fourth movement of Mozart's Symphony in G Minor, K. 550, is analyzed and discussed in depth as an example. x
  • 24
    Classical-era Form—Sonata Form, Part 2
    In Lectures 23 and 24 we examine sonata-allegro form, but first, we observe the life and personality of the extraordinary Wolfgang Mozart. We discuss the many meanings and uses of the word "sonata." The fourth movement of Mozart's Symphony in G Minor, K. 550, is analyzed and discussed in depth as an example. x
  • 25
    Classical-era Form—Sonata Form, Part 3
    This lecture completes the survey of the Classical instrumental musical forms with a continuation of sonata-allegro form. Two additional sonata-allegro form movements are analyzed and discussed: the first movement of Haydn's Symphony No. 88 in G Major, and the overture to Mozart's opera Don Giovanni. Regarding the overture, we examine the long, tragic introduction that precedes the brilliant and comic sonata-allegro form and question its meaning here at the onset of the opera; it is an element to be discussed at length in Lecture 29. x
  • 26
    The Symphony—Music for Every Person
    This lecture explores the Classical symphony as both an orchestral genre and a social phenomena—it had become by the early 19th century the musical property of the rising middle class. The Baroque antecedents of symphony are described and discussed; a Baroque, Italian-style overture by Handel is compared directly to an early Classical symphony by Johann Stamitz. We then examine the tremendous influence of opera on the genre of symphony. x
  • 27
    The Solo Concerto
    This lecture examines the Classical solo concerto. We discuss the perfection of the violin family and the invention of the piano during the Baroque era, primary instruments for the concerto repertoire during the Classical era. We discuss the invention of the piano and compare the sound of an early piano to a harpsichord. Mozart's incredible piano concerti—27 in all—are discussed as a pinnacle of his compositional output. The first movement of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 17 in G Major is examined as an example of both the Classical solo concerto and double exposition form. x
  • 28
    Classical-era Opera—The Rise of Opera Buffa
    Lecture 28 explores the development of Classical opera buffa: the ideal operatic genre for the Classical era's more realistic plots, more "natural" music, and more common characters, over the Baroque era's formulaic nature in opera seria and the domination of these operas by singers and virtuosic singing. We will consider Jean-Jacques Rousseau's objections to Baroque opera seria and his unqualified support of the new opera buffa as the ideal opera for the Enlightenment. Finally, we will sample Giovanni Battista Pergolesi's opera La Serva Padrona, a work embraced by Rousseau as a model for operas of the future. x
  • 29
    Classical-era Opera, Part 2—Mozart and the Operatic Ensemble
    We discuss the operas of Mozart with special attention to Don Giovanni. We then discuss the nature and content of an opera buffa finale. As an example of Mozart's unparalleled ability to sustain a musical-dramatic line, this lecture features a hearing and discussion of Act I, Scene 1, of Don Giovanni. We examine the Act II finale of Don Giovanni, when the tragic music that initiated the overture returns with the entrance of the statue and the Don's subsequent (and fiery) demise. x
  • 30
    The French Revolution and an Introduction to Beethoven
    This lecture discusses the life of Ludwig van Beethoven and the revolutionary times in which he lived. In comparing Haydn's Symphony No. 88 and Beethoven's Symphony No. 5, we emphasize the fact that Beethoven's symphony does not reflect a period style but is, rather, a self-referential art work. We explore Beethoven's early life and progressive hearing disability to understand the sources of his rage, alienation, and independence. We also explore the elements of heroism, radical change, revolution, and Napoleon that helped to inspire Beethoven's music and allowed its acceptance. x
  • 31
    Beethoven's Symphony no. 5 in C Minor, op. 67, Part 1
    Lecture 31 describes Beethoven's mature compositional innovations and artistic beliefs through the example of his Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67 (1808). Beethoven's four compositional periods are described and discussed, as are his great compositional innovations. These innovations are all a function of Beethoven's essential artistic tenet that music composition is self-expression above all. We rapidly but vigorously examine his Symphony No. 5, paying special attention to his idiosyncratic use of Classical musical form and his remarkable motivic development. x
  • 32
    Beethoven's Symphony no. 5 in C Minor, op. 67, Part 2
    Lecture 32 continues describing Beethoven's mature compositional innovations and artistic beliefs through the example of his Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67 (1808). Beethoven's four compositional periods are described and discussed, as are his great compositional innovations. These innovations are all a function of Beethoven's essential artistic tenet that music composition is self-expression above all. We rapidly but vigorously examine his Symphony No. 5, paying special attention to his idiosyncratic use of Classical musical form and his remarkable motivic development. x
  • 33
    Introduction to Romanticism
    This lecture introduces the Romantic era. The difference between Classicism and Romanticism has to do with expressive content, as Romantic composers sought to express more and more in their music: to paint pictures, describe complex emotions, and tell stories in instrumental terms. This lecture also examines the legacy of Beethoven's vision of music as self-expression. Finally, we introduce and examine four Romantic trends that will be studied in detail over the next few lectures. x
  • 34
    Formal Challenges and Solutions in Early Romantic Music
    This lecture explores a paradox encountered by many early Romantic composers: the spontaneity and creative freedom of the composer being at odds with the preordained musical form. This lecture discusses the formal solutions embraced by composers who chose to abandon Classical form, and focuses on two miniatures: lieder or German language songs, and instrumental miniatures. Works by Franz Schubert and Frédéric Chopin are used as illustrations. x
  • 35
    The Program Symphony—Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique, Part 1
    This lecture is the first of two to explore a great Romantic original—Hector Berlioz. In 1830 at age 27 he wrote his Symphony Fantastique, a work that combines his four great loves: the drama of Shakespeare, the musical storytelling of opera, the symphonic genre of Beethoven, and himself. We examine the gestation of the symphony, the fixed melodic idea that is heard in each movement and that represents the "beloved image," and the final two movements. x
  • 36
    The Program Symphony—Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique, Part 2
    This is the second lecture to explore Hector Berlioz. In 1830 at age 27 he wrote his Symphony Fantastique, a work that combines his four great loves: the drama of Shakespeare, the musical storytelling of opera, the symphonic genre of Beethoven, and himself. We examine the gestation of the symphony, the fixed melodic idea that is heard in each movement and that represents the "beloved image," and the final two movements. x
  • 37
    19th-Century Italian Opera—Bel Canto Opera
    This lecture begins a four-lecture examination of 19th-century opera. In this lecture, early 19th-century Italian opera is examined as a popular art, the product of a highly profitable media industry. The style of this opera is called bel canto; its essential composers were Gaetano Donizetti, Vincenzo Bellini, and Gioacchino Rossini. Rossini's opera Il Barbieri de Siviglia (The Barber of Seville), is used as an example of the bel canto style. x
  • 38
    19th-Century Italian Opera—Giuseppe Verdi
    This lecture continues the examination of 19th-century Italian opera with the life and music of Giuseppe Verdi. Verdi was not an innovator or reformer; his operatic style evolved as he sought ever-greater refinement of dramatic line, singing technique, and literary truth. He elevated the role of the orchestra and favored characterization and dramatic truth over the vocal prettiness of the bel canto style. The final scene from Verdi's opera Aida is heard and discussed. x
  • 39
    19th-Century German Opera—Nationalism and Experimentation
    In this lecture we examine early 19th-century German opera, which developed rather late compared to Italian and French opera. Genuine German opera evolved from native German roots, not by imitating and adapting Italian operatic plots and singing style. The lecture discusses the rise of German literature and musical theater in the late 18th century in the works of Goethe and Mozart. It examines 19th-century German opera as an experimental tradition, using as an example Carl Maria von Weber's Der Freischütz. x
  • 40
    19th-Century German Opera—Richard Wagner
    We continue to review 19th-century German opera with an examination of the life, ideas, and music of Richard Wagner. Wagner was a revolutionary who sought to radically reinterpret the function and substance of music drama in the mid-19th century. This lecture explores his early life and his paternity, an issue of great importance to Wagner's emotional development. We observe Wagner's ideas about opera, music drama, and Gesampkunstwerke (synthesis of the arts). We turn to the overture and Act I of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde as an example of Wagner's use of the orchestra, leitmotif, and the impact of the ideas of philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer on his own vision of music drama. x
  • 41
    The Concert Overture, Part 1
    We return to the realm of instrumental music, specifically late 19th-century orchestral program music. We will define and discuss major genres of 19th-century orchestral program music and Shakespeare's importance to 19th-century music. We introduce the life and personality of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and conclude with an in-depth examination of his Overture-Fantasy to Romeo and Juliet. x
  • 42
    The Concert Overture, Part 2
    In this lecture we continue to discuss major genres of 19th-century orchestral program music. We discuss Shakespeare's importance to 19th-century music. We introduce the life and personality of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and conclude with an in-depth examination of his Overture-Fantasy to Romeo and Juliet. x
  • 43
    Romantic-era Musical Nationalism
    This lecture examines the trend of folkloric musical nationalism during the second half of the 19th century with a brief history, followed by a discussion of musical exoticism. Ultimately, the lecture turns to Franz Liszt, perhaps the most representative instrumental virtuoso/composer of the 19th century, and his composition Totentanz. x
  • 44
    Russian Nationalism
    We turn to 19th-century Russian musical nationalism with a brief history of St. Petersburg, a city built by Czar Peter I as his window on the West. Russia's entry into the greater European community as a result of the defeat of Napoleon and the Decembrist Revolution of 1825 are discussed, as is the growing conviction that the language and native music of Russia were capable of the highest artistic expression. The music and ideas of the Russian Five—Balakirev, Cui, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Borodin—are discussed and illustrated, with special emphasis on Rimsky-Korsakov and his Russian Easter Overture. x
  • 45
    An Introduction to Early 20th-Century Modernism
    This lecture seeks to explain the historical inevitability of early 20th-century modernism by surveying musical and expressive trends from the Baroque era through the late 19th century. With an expressive language pressed to the breaking point, with a new scientific and technological world at hand, and the thrill of a new century about them, will the best young composers be content to work within the same melodic and harmonic language as their great-great-grandfathers? Clearly, they were not. x
  • 46
    Early 20th-Century Modernism—Claude Debussy
    This lecture explores early 20th-century modernism with an examination of the life and music of Claude Debussy. We discuss the alienation of French artists from Austrian/Germanic models and the increasing French cultivation of the French language in the arts, both visual and musical. We observe and analyze the music of Claude Debussy, a French-language-inspired music that represented an extraordinary break with the past in compositional and expressive content. x
  • 47
    Early 20th-Century Modernism—Igor Stravinsky
    We continue our exploration of early 20th-century modernism with a discussion of Igor Stravinsky. He gained almost instant fame in Paris with The Firebird in 1910, which displays aspects of tradition and innovation, the latter marked by Stravinsky's idiosyncratic use of rhythm. Stravinsky's early experiments with rhythmic asymmetry and layering reach a pinnacle in Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) (1912), an experimental high point discussed and examined during this lecture. x
  • 48
    Early 20th-Century Modernism-Arnold Schonberg
    In this lecture we conclude our exploration of early 20th-century modernism with Arnold Schonberg. He saw himself not as a revolutionary but as the next inevitable step in the history of German/Austrian music. To that end, we discuss the elements of German music from the Protestant Reformation through the 19th century. We explore and discuss Schonberg's "emancipation of dissonance" through which he attempted to free his music from the shackles of traditional tonality while maintaining the traditional elements he considered his birthright. As examples of Schonberg's "freely atonal" music, we discuss three songs from his seminal Pierrot Lunaire (1912). x

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Robert Greenberg

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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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How to Listen to and Understand Great Music, 3rd Edition is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 342.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent, clear and informative. This is a truly wonderful course. It is presented in a logical and useful fashion offering insight, clear introductions and the prof. is fun and easy to follow. It has deepened our enjoyment of music and helped us to listen better.
Date published: 2020-05-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The instructor shares his expertise in a witty, entertaining and enthusiastic manner. He provides the student a clear understanding of how western music evolves and how to actively listen to music, as well as anecdotal insights about the lives of the major contributors.
Date published: 2020-04-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from comprehensive and insightful This course makes for compelling listening and viewing. Both entertaining as well as informative. The lectures have held my attention for hours at a time. I am ready to listen to more classical music.
Date published: 2020-04-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Absolutely Enjoyable I'm a techie and never took the time to learn about music. Now that I'm retired I decided to take this course. I find the instructor enthiusiastic and entertaining. I appreciate the historical context. This course has been a pleasure to indulge.
Date published: 2020-04-16
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Decen content when unopinionated, bad presentation Content examples: 1) He rejects the term "classical music" in favor of "concert music". I understand the issue with calling everything in this genre classical music, but who in the world would know what you meant if you said "I'm learning about concert music"? 2) He also rejects the term "music theory". See above and reference every other university and music conservatory curriculum. Presentation: One needs to be careful with humor. In the "Timbre 2" episode, he offends every oboe player by questioning whether they were "---- retentive" before beginning to play or afterwards. His hand gestures are unrelated to what he is saying and distracting. I do puzzles while l listen so I don't have to watch him
Date published: 2020-04-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from My All Time Favorite Course I have had all three Edtions of this course. First on Tape (which I loaned to a friend who donated it to a library instead of returning it, second , CD version, which was missing from my car! And now the third. DVD. All different, All enjoyable and whoever said they thought it wasn't college level -- PHOOEY. My daughter has a master's degree in music history and performance on cello and I know her and know from my own many college music courses..this is EXCELLENT College level , like a course I took my first semeseter as a music major but much more fun. (except when some girl pronounced Dido DEE DOH. That was at the university and my neat professor cracked up) I am addicted to Dr Greenberg's courses for maybe 20 years now. Never disappointed.
Date published: 2020-02-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from If I have to listen to the narrator say "please" one more time I'm pulling my hair out! Otherwise an interesting course.
Date published: 2020-01-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Beautiful I wander why you issue certificates of completion of the courses
Date published: 2019-12-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Listen Here! The course is highly interesting to a person like me whose studied music more than 50 years. Good music hasmany attributes and the course helps everyone to understand them. I am a bit put off by consrant forward arm thrusting, so I prefer to listen more than watch.
Date published: 2019-12-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent instructor The instructor is incredibly knowledgeable about so many areas relating to music. As an instructor myself with a master's degree in adult education, I was very impressed with his personal presentation style and his ability to capture and hold the listener's attention!
Date published: 2019-12-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing The lecturer is superb, bringing music and history to light in a funny and informative way. The audio examples are perfect to illustrate the periods. You don’t have to read music to understand this.
Date published: 2019-11-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Greatest This is arguably the flagship course in The Great Courses Repertoire. It is the first TGC course I took – on cassette tape! In my opinion, this course established the standard of excellence to which all TGC courses aspire. This course is particularly valuable for those persons interested either in Western music or in Western civilization. This course traces the history of Western instrumental music from pre-history to the 20th century. (There are companion courses by Dr. Greenberg on the history of opera and understanding the fundamentals of music, which are mandatory courses for those interested in music. He also offers more than 120 other courses and sets in the TGC.) He shows how Western music parallels Western civilization with each topic providing valuable insight into the other. Dr. Greenberg is arguably the best teacher in the TGC stable. He is easy to follow, fun, funny, and extraordinarily insightful. I took this course on cassette and video. The audio is sufficient; video added little.
Date published: 2019-11-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Highly recommend I came to this course as a music student who plays both violin and piano. However, no prior experience seems necessary to understand, nor is it boring for those with some prior knowledge and experience. Professor Greenburg is an animated, entertaining professor who provides tools to listen to and appreciate 'classical' (concert) music. I would highly recommend this course to anyone interested in learning about the history of western music or interested in better understanding and appreciating concert music.
Date published: 2019-09-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Entertaining, Thorough, and Organized! I have absolutely LOVED this course, and Dr. Greenberg is a fabulous instructor. I believe I laughed out loud at least once during every lecture. He sprinkles similes, metaphors and analogies like droplets in a summer shower, and all the while is giving both music AND (some) political AND (some) social history--plus biographical information about the composers. I will definitely order more courses that Dr. Greenberg teaches.
Date published: 2019-08-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Dr. Robert Greenberg Lives his Courses !! Many of the Great Course professors read from the teleprompter, I seriously doubt that Professor Greenberg reads from the prompter much at all. He knows his material like the back of his hand and his passion is contagious. I know almost nothing about music, so this course is really expanding my knowledge and exposure. Although this type of music is very different from our current modern music, he really show us how it's constantly changing. I might even buy tickets to the symphony as a reward for finishing his courses.
Date published: 2019-08-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Phantastic Professor Greenberg is not only very funny, but also very knowledgeable. There is never a dull moment. He does a very thorough job of explaining the aspects of music with super examples
Date published: 2019-06-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So enjoyable! I already have a collection of music from all eras with a pamphlet to go with each one. I wanted more than a paragraph on history, composer, society, and politics of the composer's time. I found it! This course is college level and is greatly enhancing my previous exposure to my classical collection. The professor is animated and witty. I'm only through the first disc, but after I watch, I replay the discs while I'm sewing. I am thankful for this quality course; it is truly enhancing the quality of my life!
Date published: 2019-06-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course I took music appreciation in college and then did my my son’s course when he was in college. I have been listening for years. But I learned so much more that I didn’t know from this course. Very entertaining too.
Date published: 2019-04-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great information expertly presented I wanted to know more about how to listen to music in context and I was delighted to find out that this course blends the evolution and analysis of music with historical events over the centuries. As a history buff, that totally locked me in. The lectures are well structured, keep one’s attention with an expert blend of definitions, musical samples and explanations. The professor is very knowledgeable yet witty and down to earth, a gifted presenter.
Date published: 2019-04-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Engaging lectures As a college professor, I am very impressed with the captivating delivery of the audio lectures: clear, thorough content is very engaging.
Date published: 2019-02-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Guy is a Genius! Robert Greenberg is knowledgeable and humorous...a great combination. His very dry, subtle humor, along with numerous excerpts from great classical music, holds attention and reinforces his presentation.
Date published: 2019-02-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The best 45 minutes to spend every day! When your children ask what you want for birthdays, Christmas etc., have course all picked out and tell them to buy you a “ Great Course!”. I have enjoyed six courses and have listened on my iPhone while in the hospital, sitting waiting for whatever, and while enjoying my other hobby that is glass painting. So, pick a course, there are so many of interest, and fall in love with learning again with no pressure.
Date published: 2019-02-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I have been very pleased with this course. I have learned a great deal and am only on lecture 14. I am completely unschooled in "classical" music, this course gives me context and vocabulary to start to enter a world that is, at this point of my life, hard to access. It is pretty dense material, but I can always go back and re-listen and the course guide is helpful as well. I like Dr. Greenberg's delivery, a little corny at times, but entertaining and engaging. I have done some teaching and I like the way he repeats ideas in context and at different parts of the lecture, helps to reinforce info.
Date published: 2019-02-16
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Not off to a good start I started with the first lesson and was very unhappy. It starts with definition of "Classical" and "Concert" music which is basically is an annoying technical point that is never used in common conversation. There are literally no "concert" music stations, they are all called "Classical" music. Starting off with such useless information that would only make you seem like a jerk to mention was deflating. The dramatic and over exaggerated posturing and posing of the instructor against a backdrop that looks like an 80's bad movie set is distracting and takes focus away from his message. The first lesson also never lives up to the title. I hope the others are better. "Course books" are cheap tiny shrunk-down small print nearly useless additions, it would be more useful to make them actually book size.
Date published: 2019-01-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating and fun to listen to I am now about 1/3 of the way through this course and am delighted. I'm learning so much! Already, classical music is a lot more interesting to me. Also, the professor is amusing, and links music to other cultural developments. Really happy I'm doing this course!
Date published: 2019-01-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb course. Professor Greenberg explains everything carefully, thoughtfully, and with great enthusiasm. He is knowledgeable and engaging. A thoroughly enjoyable course.
Date published: 2018-11-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I have been pretty indifferent to music most of my life. But got a couple of Prof Greenberg's courses from the library and got hooked on his analysis of concert music I actually bought this course and love it. And because of this teacher's inspirational style and enthusiasm, I have attended and thoroughly enjoyed one of our local orchestra's symphony programs (which included one brand new piece.) I would recommend getting this course first if you are a novice.
Date published: 2018-10-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Witty, informative, and fun! Of the many Great Courses that I have taken, Bob's is my favorite. He obviously loves the topic area, and he updates the course on a regular basis to stay current. I learned a tremendous amount about both music and history. Bob's credo is that "music is a reflection of history." After taking the course, I agree. The course is clear, logical, and factually based. Well done Professor Greenberg!
Date published: 2018-10-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A landmark course I have listened to almost all of Professor Greenberg’s courses on classical music. Almost each and every one of them is a masterpiece in and of itself, although there is significant overlap and some downright repetition between them. This course stood out for me as one of the best simply because it is broad and foundational in its analysis – it goes into some quite technical descriptions of musical forms, and if one looks at the gross description, at musical form evolution. It starts with the first written music and gets us all the way into the middle of the Twentieth century. Unlike many of Greenberg’s other courses in which the composers are the protagonists, in this course the forms themselves are the central subject and the composers are introduced much more superficially than is usual. The main discussions are in depth descriptions and analyses of musical form structure, harmonic technique, and rhythm as manifested in music over history. Professor Greenberg, as always, is absolutely brilliant: funny, knowledgeable, and fascinating. The length of the course (36 full hours) allows a relatively patient and thorough survey, and one feels satisfied that enough has been covered by the end of the course. I wish I had taken this course as one of the first courses on music because it really is foundational for understanding other topics in music.
Date published: 2018-06-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent introduction to music I've spent years in the field of music and this course is really good, not just for the beginner but for those of us who know a bit about music. It fills in a lot of blanks that we either forgot or we never knew. For the novice it raises the listening level to a new high, in my opinion. And, I get a kick out of the instructor who has a very interesting, if not humorous presentation style.
Date published: 2018-06-23
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