The Music of Richard Wagner

Course No. 7290
Professor Robert Greenberg, Ph.D.
San Francisco Performances
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Course Overview

Richard Wagner was one of history's greatest composers, a theater artist of extraordinary genius and vision, and one of the most controversial characters in the entire pantheon of Western art. More than a century after his death, his legacy is still debated, his influence still felt in our very conception of Western music and in the contemporary forms of opera and the complete spectrum of theater and literary arts.

  • As a composer, he rewrote the rules for opera—reenvisioning its musical forms and creating dazzling and unforgettable dramatic tapestries that melded orchestral magnificence with the soaring beauty of the human voice.
  • As a theater artist, he pioneered the "Gesamtkunstwerk" or "total artwork" that incorporated music, drama, poetry, philosophy, myth, and ritual, building a theater of revolutionary design and creating musical dramas on a scale never before attempted in history.
  • And, as a self-styled theorist, he pursued an agenda of militant German nationalism, anti-Semitism, elitist prejudice, and unbounded self-glorification in his often troubling philosophical tracts and essays.

Grappling with all of this in the 24 lectures of The Music of Richard Wagner, Great Courses favorite Professor Robert Greenberg of San Francisco Performances returns with a rich and multifaceted exploration of the trailblazing works and outsized life of this historically pivotal figure.

A Confounding and Double-Edged Legacy

In addition to the seminal importance of his works, the phenomenon of Wagner presents a persistent and thorny conundrum. His fierce nationalism, megalomaniacal egotism, and disturbing philosophies have tempted some to say that we must consider the man and the music as two separate things. Yet, Professor Greenberg shows in compelling detail that to try to separate the two is ultimately impossible—that a very strong case can be made that the man is the music, the music the man.

But what a combination! Dr. Greenberg, with his expert grasp of both the music itself and the human dimensions of Wagner's life story, demonstrates that those willing to engage with Wagner as a total package will find themselves in the presence of one of the most visionary creators civilization has ever produced.

Tracing Wagner's melodramatic life, from his desperate escapades outrunning creditors to his obsessive personal relationships, his utopian artistic schemes to his fanatical and voluminous writings, Professor Greenberg places the greatness of Wagner's music and theatrical creations within the context of his grandiose, extreme, and uncompromising approach to living.

In The Music of Richard Wagner, Professor Greenberg offers you a highly incisive and in-depth investigation of Wagner's art and life, reckoning with the unsettling dichotomies of one of Western art's most brilliant, influential, and unusual figures.

A Composer's View of Wagner's Genius

Professor Greenberg's rare breadth and depth of experience make him uniquely qualified to present the complexities of Wagner. An award-winning composer of international recognition—in addition to his acclaimed work as a music historian—he gives you a composer's insight into Wagner's music writing, as well as a historian's discerning perspective on Wagner's life and character.

Dr. Greenberg structures these lectures as an accessible, hands-on introduction to Wagner's celebrated works that form a core part of the standard operatic repertoire throughout the world. Your study of the musical riches, text, and dramatic action of each work leaves you free to enjoy them in performance with a full-bodied awareness of what you're hearing and seeing and with the tools to appreciate these great creations with increasing depth over time.

Your immersion in Wagner's art includes the following:

  • The Flying Dutchman: The haunting score and poetry of Wagner's first masterwork, based on the legend of an accursed sea captain, feature several of Wagner's key innovations. Investigate the Dutchman's groundbreaking musical structure, Wagner's new conception of dramatic text, and his growing self-liberation from the traditional operatic divisions of aria and recitative.
  • Tannhäuser: The saga of a medieval knight torn between two worlds reveals the flowering of Wagner's sublime music. Track the musical narrative through passionate and richly melodic solo arias, the gripping "festival of song," and the extended conclusion during which Wagner's music achieves divine transfiguration.
  • Tristan and Isolde: Wagner's crowning masterpiece, this searing exploration of human desire ranks as one of the most influential musical works of the 19th century. Probe the splendor of its vocal writing and orchestral textures, culminating in the iconic "Liebestod," perhaps the composer's greatest achievement.
  • The Ring of the Nibelung: Arguably the single most ambitious theater work ever created, Wagner's magnum opus comprises four grand-scale music dramas, set in an imagined world of magical beings, fallible gods, and heroic mortals. Dig deeply into The Ring's mythic and philosophical roots, its dramatic narrative, poetry, and breathtaking score—all of which reveal Wagner's mature greatness.
  • Parsifal: Wagner's allegory of the Knights of the Holy Grail jarringly sets a text propounding Aryan ethnic purity to some of the most glorious music in Western art. Study the creation of Parsifal in relation to Wagner's late writings, the drama's complex text, and its transcendent musical highpoints.

Reconceiving the Art of Opera

Tracing the remarkable arc of Wagner's career, you investigate his early operas, the key influence of Weber, and the emergence of a distinctly German operatic tradition as fundamental to his inspiration. You follow the stunning evolution of his art, as he rejects the conventions of popular opera and becomes the only major operatic composer to also write his own texts, laden with myth and symbol, redefining his later works as "music dramas."

  • You also grasp his defining musical innovations, including
  • his obliteration of the distinction between recitative, aria, and ensemble in favor of nonstop dramatic action;
  • his integral use of leitmotivs (short musical ideas directly associated with a character, object, or idea), developing them and linking them as compelling musical subtext;
  • his use of the orchestra in a grand, symphonic partnership with the singers, evoking action and psychological conditions through the music alone.

A Toweringly Complex Character

The sheer outlandishness of Wagner's life makes for an endlessly intriguing story.

You learn about the backstage fistfight that derailed the opening of his opera The Ban on Love, and about his disastrous mismanagement of money, leading to his completion of the opera Rienzi in a Paris debtor's prison. You follow his involvement in revolutionary politics in Saxony, forcing his daring escape to Switzerland in disguise.

You witness the tragicomic fiasco of Tannhäuser's premiere in Paris, and the miraculous intervention of the "mad" king Ludwig of Bavaria, who saved Wagner from the jaws of creditors and bankrolled the writing of his late masterworks.

In his writings and letters, you probe deeply into Wagner's thought, philosophical views, and public actions. You also study his evolving views on art and his own mission—his aversion to opera as "entertainment"; the influence of Schopenhauer's philosophy on his music; his core belief in myth as essential to an art that would revitalize and redeem human civilization.

Reflecting on his essays, including "Art and Revolution," "Jewishness in Music," and "Opera and Drama," you investigate the often contradictory—and hypocritical—aspects of his personality: his self-identification as a political revolutionary and simultaneous deep links to aristocrats; his virulent anti-Semitism and simultaneous identity as a free-thinking, liberal artist. And, reflecting the nationalist spirit of his time, you track his core desire to make "German Art in the service of a German national identity," even as he created a body of works whose communicative power transcends any national boundary.

With Professor Greenberg's passionate and razor-sharp commentary, you plumb the fabulous mystery of this man who—notwithstanding his own extreme narcissism, grandiose posturing, and often inhumane views—gave the world something of deeply compelling and universal resonance: a music of great genius and a poetry that reveals the human psyche in the most unflinching terms. An art in which, if we look deeply, we inescapably find ourselves.

Join us, in The Music of Richard Wagner, for this extraordinary encounter with art, history, and the dimensions of the human spirit.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 47 minutes each
  • 1
    The Escape from Riga
    Wagner's grandiose, difficult character and massive achievements constitute a fascinating and controversial legacy. First, consider Wagner's outsized egotism, material self-indulgence, and fanatical philosophies as ultimately inseparable from the grandeur, length, and fantasy of his music dramas. Then, enter the events of his life through his early musical career, his volatile marriage, and his debt-ridden struggles as an opera conductor. Finally, conclude with his daring escape by land and sea from Riga, fleeing creditors. x
  • 2
    London, Paris, and Rienzi
    Trace the professional disappointments of Wagner's stay in London, followed by the extreme financial hardships of his years in Paris, as he composes, sustained by a dogged belief in his own predestined greatness. Then study his opera Rienzi—the key musical content of its overture and "Almighty Father" aria, and its story elements as they mirror Wagner's heroic self-conception. Follow the composer's return to Germany and Rienzi's triumphant premiere in Dresden, which established his career. x
  • 3
    What to Do about Germany?
    Wagner's music and ideals were fired by the German nationalism that emerged from the Napoleonic wars. Chart the dramatic events of Napoleon's continental conquest, his crushing defeat, and the power shifts leading to a united Germany. Continue with Wagner's early life and the issues surrounding his paternity that found expression in the plot of Siegfried. Learn also about Wagner's infatuation with the theater and the "epiphanies" that led to him becoming a composer. x
  • 4
    The Rise of German Opera
    This lecture explores Wagner's early operatic works in the context of the newly emerging German operatic tradition. Study the elements of Weber's landmark Der Freischütz, incorporating Germanic folklore and the melodic sensibility of German folk song. Then trace Wagner's metamorphosis from "wastrel" student to opera composer through his early music writing and attempts at theatrical works. Focusing on his early opera The Fairies, identify his extraordinary craftsmanship and the influences of Rossini and Weber. x
  • 5
    The Flying Dutchman, Part 1
    First, learn about Wagner's voluminous prose writing, used to develop and prioritize his creative agenda, views, and philosophies. Also track the creation and disastrous premiere of his second opera, The Ban on Love. In his first masterwork, The Flying Dutchman, consider his conception of its text as a poem rather than a libretto, his integral adoption of leitmotiv, and the Dutchman's entrance scene as it leaves behind the conventional operatic constructs of recitative and aria. x
  • 6
    The Flying Dutchman, Part 2
    Wagner's deep identification with the displaced, misunderstood figure of the Dutchman gives the opera the quality of a spiritual diary. Follow in detail the unfolding of the narrative and the opera's groundbreaking structure rooted in four main musical "events." Study the poetry and rich musical textures of the heroine's ballad, the lovers' contrapuntal duet, and the "moment of truth" culminating in the protagonists' transfiguration through love, a theme that was to become central to Wagner's work. x
  • 7
    Dresden and Tannhäuser, Part 1
    Consider Wagner's working methods and the compositional processes with which he brought a score to life. Then trace his struggles in Dresden following his first success, leading to the creation of Tannhäuser, based in the legend of a medieval minnesinger or poet/minstrel. Study the opera's first act, highlighting the soaring melodies of the anti-hero Tannhäuser's renunciation of the love of Venus, and the musical unfolding of his return to earth to seek a destiny of another kind. x
  • 8
    Tannhäuser, Part 2
    You continue with a scene-by-scene study of the dramatic and musical events of the opera, depicting the minstrel knight's inner battle between the profane lure of Venus and his earthly love, Elizabeth. Explore the musical riches of Elizabeth's passionate aria, the central "festival of song" and the "Pilgrim's Choir," one of Wagner's iconic creations, as Elizabeth offers her own life to redeem Tannhäuser as the music itself carries us to a glorious, divine realm. x
  • 9
    Lohengrin, Part 1
    Wagner began work on Lohengrin with his reputation as a trailblazer firmly established. Begin your study with the groundbreaking overture, with its "celestial" melody evoking the Holy Grail. Continue with act I as the mythic knight Lohengrin arrives to fight a "trial by combat," defending the falsely accused Elsa. Highlighting Elsa's heartfelt prayer to God, Lohengrin's entrance, and his "swan song," this lecture elucidates the dramatic continuity of Wagner's writing, as he increasingly blurs opera's traditional conventions. x
  • 10
    Lohengrin, Part 2
    For the conclusion of Lohengrin, this lecture focuses on the character development and dramatic action that propel the opera. Explore the masterful interchange between the disgraced knight Telramund and his wife, Ortrud; their deception of the heroine Elsa; and Elsa's unwitting betrayal of Lohengrin, as well as the opera's complex denouement, as Wagner brings "real-time" immediacy to the majestic musical narrative. Learn also about Lohengrin's premiere under the auspices of the great pianist/composer Franz Liszt. x
  • 11
    The Escape from Dresden, Exile, and Essays
    Focusing on Wagner's five-year hiatus from composing, trace his political activities amid the revolutionary turmoil of 1848–1849, which led to his escape to safety in Switzerland. During his years of exile in Zurich, he wrote a series of seminal essays, expressing currents of thinking that deeply influenced his later works. In particular, explore his views on art and society, his anti-Semitism, and the ideas that encapsulate his path from opera to "music drama." x
  • 12
    Tristan and Isolde, Part 1
    Track Wagner's intense "spiritual communion" with a young married woman in Zurich and how this passion is mirrored in his masterwork, Tristan and Isolde. Then define Wagner's key innovations with leitmotiv and his use of the orchestra. In Tristan's overture and act I, grasp his use of harmonic tension and dissonance to express sexual tension and unconsummated passion. Focus on the musical dialogue of the "drink-death" scene between the two lovers, culminating in their sublime duet. x
  • 13
    Tristan and Isolde, Part 2
    The musical and dramatic conclusion of Tristan and Isolde is one of Western art's greatest moments. Begin with the lovers' extended "conversation" in act II, as they create a shared vision of final ecstasy and union in death, carried by the rich, constantly shifting harmonies of Wagner's mature musical language. In act III, focus on Tristan's emotional interior monologues and finally Isolde's transcendent "Liebestod," revealing their transfiguration. Conclude with assessments of the nature and magnitude of Wagner's achievement. x
  • 14
    Miracles
    In tracing Wagner's tumultuous personal journey of the 1860s, learn about the disastrous premiere of Tannhäuser in Paris and the unraveling of the composer's first marriage, followed by years of hardship spent seeking performances and fleeing creditors. Then delve into two life-changing events: Wagner's professional dreams flourish under the patronage of King Ludwig II of Bavaria, allowing him to create his late masterworks; and he meets Cosima von Bülow, daughter of Liszt, beginning a pivotal relationship. x
  • 15
    The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, Part 1
    Now, follow the genesis of The Mastersingers as it took shape as an artistic and autobiographical tract amid further personal upheavals for the composer. Enter the culture and history of medieval "mastersinging" and the unfolding plot of the drama, centering on a singing competition for the hand of the heroine Eva. Study the knight Walter's pointedly avant garde aria, as he receives the exact criticism from the mastersingers that Wagner himself had endured over the years. x
  • 16
    The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, Part 2
    Wagner's self-identification with the characters of mastersinger Hans Sachs and the knight Walter drives the narrative of The Mastersingers. In act II, study the musical action of Wagner's comic set piece in which the villain-buffoon Beckmesser attempts to serenade Eva as Sachs "judges" his preposterous singing. In the conclusion of the drama, witness the events leading to the final song competition, pitting Beckmesser against Walter and ending with Walter's resplendent "Prize Song," redeeming him (and Wagner) as an artist-innovator. x
  • 17
    The Ring, Part 1
    This lecture charts the creation of the monumental Ring cycle and the extraordinary story of Wagner's struggles to build a unique theater for its presentation in Bayreuth. Also study the narrative structure of the Ring's first drama, The Rhinegold, and its stunning orchestral prelude. In the opening scene, track the musical confrontation between the three Rhine maidens and the dwarf Alberich as he learns of the power of the gold they guard and acts to steal it. x
  • 18
    The Ring, Part 2
    Now follow the unfolding action of The Rhinegold as the devious god Wotan pays the builders of his castle Valhalla by seizing the stolen gold of Alberich—and the power-granting ring Alberich made from it. Explore the key musical episodes, including the fire god Loge's "Narration," the comic sequence in which Wotan and Loge outwit Alberich, and Alberich's bitter curse on the coveted ring that Wotan takes from him. x
  • 19
    The Ring, Part 3
    The Valkyrie, second drama of The Ring, introduces Wagner's iconic warrior princess, Brünnhilde. Track the narrative scene by scene, focusing on numerous examples of Wagner's musical storytelling, as Brünnhilde determines to help illicit lovers Siegmund and Sieglinde, crossing her father, Wotan. Hear the dramatic power of Wagner's writing for the "heldentenor" Siegmund, the famous "Ride of the Valkyries," the passionate interchange between Brünnhilde and Sieglinde, and the poignant parting of Wotan and Brünnhilde. x
  • 20
    The Ring, Part 4
    As a prelude to Siegfried, the third drama, reflect on the integral role of myth and symbol in Wagner's works. In the drama's opening, encounter the uncouth, "unmoral" figure of Siegfried, orphaned son of Siegmund and Sieglinde, as he discovers his true identity. Study Siegfried's brilliant "Forging Song," where he recasts the broken sword of his father, and the "Forest Murmurs" sequence, as he waits to test himself against the dragon Fafner, present holder of the ring. x
  • 21
    The Ring, Part 5
    In the compelling conclusion of Siegfried, the hero faces trials leading him to destroy the old world order of his predecessors. Encounter musical highlights, including Siegfried's highly charged confrontation with Wotan and the exquisite duet of Siegfried and Brünnhilde. In the opening of The Twilight of the Gods, The Ring's final drama, follow Siegfried's journey to the kingdom of the Gibichungs, where he is duped by the evil Hagen—who covets the ring—into betraying Brünnhilde. x
  • 22
    The Ring, Part 6
    Concluding The Ring, this lecture investigates the complex resolution of the drama, as the deception of Siegfried sets in motion the ultimate undoing of Hagen, the house of Gibichung, Siegfried himself, and finally the kingdom of the gods. Grasp the musical heart of the denouement, from the dark "Oath Trio" to the final, majestic solo of Brünnhilde, revealing her as the true protagonist, redeemer, and bringer of a new "Age of Man." x
  • 23
    Parsifal, Part 1
    Wagner's final music drama combines some of Western art's greatest music with a text representing a seething tract on Aryan racial purity. First, learn about Wagner's deranged and irrational late writings, as related to the genesis of Parsifal. Then, study the complex narrative—as the young innocent Parsifal enters the corrupt kingdom of the wounded Amfortas, guardian of the Holy Grail—highlighting the thematically rich prelude and Amfortas's dramatically beautiful "Blood Solo." x
  • 24
    Parsifal, Part 2
    In the resolution of Parsifal, discover the dramatic action and sublime musical highpoints of the work. Delve into the critical scene between Parsifal and the seductress Kundry, focusing on her glowing, lyric aria. In the final act, witness the return of Parsifal as a Christ-like figure and hear the musical "passion" of Amfortas and the otherworldly orchestral postlude. Conclude with reflections on the interpretation of Parsifal, the death of Wagner, and the provocative questions surrounding his legacy. x

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Your professor

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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Reviews

The Music of Richard Wagner is rated 4.0 out of 5 by 55.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wagner: Out of the gilded cage! This is not just another course. This is an event. While Greenberg pays his homage to Richard Wagner, the Great Courses grabs the opportunity to pay their own tribute to Mr. Greenberg, easily making this among their greatest achievements. The Course: This course, as clarified by Mr. Greenberg, should more appropriately be called 'the operas and music dramas of Richard Wagner'. It deals with the development of Wagner the man and the artist and focuses on seven of his operas/music dramas in great detail: in quintessential Greenberg style. The Professor: I know it's a bit of a cliche but I want to say it anyway- he's a genius! No one has revealed his level of talent in this medium of recorded lectures, be it Feynman with his 'Messenger Lectures', Bernstein with his 'Concert for Young People' or Scorsese with his 'My Voyage to Italy'. Professor Robert Greenberg is a man with a mission. He always treats you like an equal and arms you with all the musical 'street talk' you need. His main goal is to take western music out of the gilded cage and make it accessible to everyone. For this he uses more analogies than P.G. Wodehouse and is a bit like the genie in Disney's 'Aladdin'. The Production: This time TGC is not just the host, but an active partner. I like the new set very much, with it's mahogany walls and marble floor, it's spacious and regal. The lighting is top class, the walls are embellished with posters of the operas, there is a bust of Wagner in one corner and a big piano in the middle, which is used quite often. TGC used the best film making techniques to make this an unforgettable experience - the camera pans and tracks and crabs, not just for glitter, but to capture Greenberg's magic from every angle, and to add another dimension to the course. The online-editing team, always in a tight spot, also did a commendable job; I feel the invisible 'straight cuts' are much better than the 'dissolves', as it helps you stay in focus. All the lectures are full of audio excerpts mostly from live performances, accompanied by on-screen transliteration of the German text along with an English translation, and each time the lines are highlighted in sync with the 'song', like a karaoke. This was very helpful, especially in cases where there are ensemble numbers; in that case the texts are put side-by-side in two columns, and highlighted accordingly. Moreover, the photographs are used so intelligently, and there are hundreds, that even Ken Burns would be happy. The Lectures: These lectures are not just passive accounts but ' a composer's view of Wagner's genius', as stated clearly in the course description: these are Greenberg's essays on musical analysis. Unlike the other new courses, these lectures are each 45 minutes long. The first few lectures are used to pave the way for the task ahead, and we learn a lot about Wagner and his art. While we do not know why Wagner turned out the way he did, but he gives us enough information to get us started. From Lecture 5 he spends two lectures on each of the operas, except for 'The Ring' on which no less than six lectures are devoted. Mr. Greenberg loves structures, along with contemporary analogies, that's his primary tool, and the lectures are neatly organized into numerous sections and subsections which he recaps on a regular basis. He plays out all the characters in the operas himself, with different voices, with the timing of Jack Benny. The lectures are so delicious, you are completely unaware of the gargantuan information conveyed. That's his magic. The Guidebook: TGC is certainly toning down their guidebooks, making them briefer and 'cutting to the chase', but I like the new prose style guidebook, it has its own merit. I was most happy to see the 'discography and dvd recommendations', but I must add that Greenberg is a bit discreet here and you will have to do some work to figure out which dvds are he actually referring to. At the end there is a special thanks to Sarah Evans. Trivia: Apart from being a composer, music historian, teacher and music commentator, Mr. Greenberg is a wonderful writer of comedy. These are just a few examples. 'For every reverential Wagner freak, there is an equally adamant Wagner phobe' 'Reportedly Richard Wagner might have been, in the unkind word of one wag - a shovel faced dwarf '. 'Wagner eagerly sent his score to the conductor, but it was an unwanted score from yet another unknown composer. Conductors to this day, my friend, have entire storage units filled with such unsolicited scores- no small number of them bearing my own name' (makes a sad face). Overview: It is true that Greenberg is strongly critical of Wagner the man, such that some fans might take offense. But he did his homework, because he knows that he cannot afford to make mistakes, always giving references - 'He's the most arrogant composer of all-time. Don't you believe me? Check it up in The Guinness Book of Music Facts and Feats!' To say that he deliberately designed the course to put Wagner down is not only absurd but ridiculous. One has only to see the exclusive on-set interview with Greenberg, released on TGC's Facebook page, to know that he not only loves Wagner's music, but also has deep admiration for Wagner the artist. Although this course expects no prerequisite, one would get more pleasure out of this by watching 'How to Listen to and Understand Opera', which is also excellent, like everything else of Greenberg's output. I know that I want to get all the recommended opera dvds and view the lectures over and over again. This course embodies the joy of lifelong learning!
Date published: 2011-02-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Wagner, my favourite composer Prof. Greenberg is a gifted lecturer and he has done an admirable job putting together this course. I am grateful to him and to TGC for fulfilling my request for a course on Wagner. It was a while in coming but very much worth the wait! Prof. Greenberg's style of lecturing is engaging (especially in the DVD version that I have), enthusiastic, and fun. I like his sense of humour. I LOL'd several times during these lectures. I wouldn't want him to be any other way. While his humour is sometimes ironic, that does not make it low-brow. I think this course is just about exactly as long as it should be: 24 lectures. I sometimes complain of courses that are, for me, too long. But that observation does not apply to this course. It was, admirably, kept to 24 lectures, albeit each 45 minutes (which doesn't really bother me, since Prof. Greenburg is able to keep my attention). I have but a few criticisms, and narrow. The lectures are mostly that, lectures, and, in *some* (but only some) of the lectures, there aren't enough musical excerpts, if you ask me. Prof. Greenburg elected not to cover what Wagner called his "melodic moments of feeling, " i.e. leitmotifs. While he gave good reasons, I still think there should be at least a few examples, presumably from the Ring, since this is a course on the *Music* of Wagner, not, primarily, the plots of his operas or the plot of his life. I still hope to see a course devoted entirely to the Ring. While having six lectures on the Ring is wonderful (and I'm grateful!), I still think the Ring, and the market, can support a full course. In it, there could be examples of leitmotifs, indeed abundant examples of them, since they are so important to the music of the Ring. Perhaps Deryck Cook's lectures could serve as an overall model. If I had my druthers, I'd ask Prof. Greenburg to change his policy on using English names and pronunciations instead of German ones. He pronounces Wagner's first and last names in German, and it just sounds funny when he doesn't use the German pronunciation of names like Wotan and Woglinde. And eschewing the German titles of operas like Götterdämerung does, I think, over-anglicize the language of discourse on Wagner. There may be a few cases where it is well to use English versions or pronunciations, but I don't think the overall usage should be dictated by a few such instances. I don't like the very beginning. I think a course on Wagner should begin either with something Wagner composed or wrote, or with a statement of a theme for the course. Now that I'm on gripes, I think Wagner should be given more credit for being a polymath. He was a great architect and one of the finest conductors of his age, in addition to being a masterful composer and a talented writer. Let me end with an encomium to Prof. Greenburg for handling, in a remarkably tactful but truthful way, two things: (1) the "problems" with Wagner the man, and especially (2) his, as he got older, increasingly rabid antisemitism. Wagner was a wonderful composer, but no overall role model for kids, and Prof. Greenburg does a fine job communicating why.
Date published: 2011-02-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What a jerk The title refers to Wagner, of course, not Greenberg. In the late 1950's my favorite teacher, Edna Kraus, took the entire 7th and 8th grade classes through the ring cycle, one opera each semester. (We did two other operas so I got one two operas a year throughout junior high ... everyone should be so lucky!) I fell in love with the music, but even then I thought the concept behind Sigfried was somehow evil. Dear Mrs. Kraus only said, "you must judge Wagner's music as music: he wasn't a very nice man." Well, now I know my judgement wasn't wrong, this course showed me why I love certain of Wagner's works (the Ring and the Flying Dutchman) and dislike others (Lohengrin and Parsifal). Greenberg relates Wagner's life and the state of his philosophy (to say nothing of his nuttiness) to each of his works. This is valuable to someone who knows something of Wagner's music. Those who are completely unfamiliar will probably wish that more of the actual music had been included. I often stopped the lectures and playing the entire section under discussion. Greenberg is always entertaining, once you become accustomed to his style of delivery. And he separates the music from the man, while still explaining the connection. The most negative side I can state is that listening to the biography of Wagner is like sitting through a course in pathology. It's useful, and it may be entertaining, but the subject is unpleasant. nonetheless.
Date published: 2011-02-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another Superb Greenberg Course Another excellent course combining Prof. Greenberg's musical insight and appreciation, insightful historical scholarship, and his witty, lighthearted and, as the occasion demands, thoughtful presentation. My music knowledge and appreciation (admittedly, quite small at the outset) have increased by orders of magnitude after listening to all of Prof. Greenberg's courses. This one has the most historical context and tackles an enormous and unique body of work. He has done a superb job. It has the added benefit of giving you all you need to know to appreciate Richard Wagner and his work, whether you are a devotee of Wagner, or like me, are merely curious to understand more about the Wagner works. The course makes clear that high moral character is certainly not a prerequisite for great artistic success. Wagner was clearly a first class jerk, but composed memorable and innovative works of music.
Date published: 2011-01-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Not the best Greenberg course Professor Greenberg is great, as always. I did not know much about Wagner or his music prior to this lecture series, so for me these lecture were full of new information. The professor was interesting, informative, and humorous. His material is well organized and well presented. Some reviewers accuse the professor of being a Wagner-hater. I disagree. He described Wagner as he was known to his contemporaries. He obviously did not make things up, since there are plenty of historical records regarding Mr. Wagner. So any negative descriptions and comments were not the result of his personal antipathy, but the reflection of the historical truth. He may not like the man (I certainly did not), but that does not make him a Wagner-hater. He clearly loves the man’s music. He mentioned it on many occasions, using terms like magnificent, sublime, etc. I listened to all the other Greenberg’s courses about various composers and their lives. This course is much longer, 24 lectures instead of 8, yet somehow it feels as if it contains less music than the other courses. There is plenty of biographical information, but the musical excerpts were very brief, so I didn’t really get a good idea of the music. It was not like in the Operas of Mozart, for example, where there is plenty of music. Plus, the music was recorded at a lower volume than the professor’s voice, so I had to turn the volume up every time he played something only to turn it back down when he started to talk again, otherwise it became too loud. Because of these deficiencies I rated this course as 4. I think it is worth listening to so as to get a general idea of Wagner and his music.
Date published: 2011-01-20
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointment Fulfilled I have ordered many lectures from The Teaching Company over the years. Some,I have listened to numerous times, and a few I should have returned , but didn't. This one will be returned! After several petitions to The Teaching Company to deliver a course on Wagner, I was delighted when they finally came through, but I was afraid Professor Greenberg was not the man for the job, and my non-expectations were fulfilled. The lectures have very little insight and appear to have only one goal, and that is to debunk Wagner. The humor is low-brow,tiring, and embarrassing. The musical selections would turn anyone against Wagner ! The performances chosen are not the best and the sound quality is as if someone had a tape cassette lying on a table recording from stereo speakers! Even that could be forgiven if there was anything of value to be gleaned from this interminable lecture series. Greenberg speaks of Wagnerian "longeuers!" He should have to endure this lecture series! So many opportunites were missed. Here is but one simple example: Greenberg is speaking about the Wotan/Fricka encounter, which he could have connected to the well known conflicts between Hera and Zeus. Instead, he chose to trivialize it by connecting it to Wagner/Minna marital conflicts. An opportunity to show that there are universal themes in "The Ring" and to charge his lectures with some intellectual stimulation was thrown away for a Jerry Springer moment. I would suggest a counter to this presetation by another scholar. What I think might have been a good compromise would have been to let Greenberg deliver his "straight forward" chronological presentaion in half the number of lectures and let another scholar, or several, present the ideas in Wagner's work that have fascianted the world for over a hundred years. Greenberg could have made his case contra Wagner on one DVD instead of on six.
Date published: 2011-01-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course! I listened to Prof. Greenberg's shorter course on Mahler's life and music, and I loved it. Even though I was already familiar with some of Mahler's symphonies and knew something about his life, Greenberg made the connections between the events in Mahler's life and their influence on his music. Yes, it took me a couple of lectures to appreciate his occasional use of borscht-belt humor, but it is never offensive and serves to lighten the tone. At the end of the Mahler lectures, I wanted more. When I saw the Wagner series, I immediately purchased it as an MP3 download and started listening to it right away. Since the series is longer, Greenberg is able to go into greater depth, spending sufficient time on each opera so that the listener gets to know it. Obviously, there's not enough time for lengthy musical selections in a lecture series like this. After each lecture on a particular opera, I found it helpful to listen to the entire opera before going on to the next one. With Greenberg's detailed plot description, I didn't even need to follow the libretto. For me, the best part of the series was Greenberg's coverage of the "Ring". I've been a fan of "Die Walkure" for years, but I admit that I never really understood the intricacies of the plot of the entire "Ring", nor was I always able to keep all the characters straight. Greenberg solved that problem by finally explaining the "Ring" in a way that focuses on what you need to know, without going off on tangents that would make it even more complicated. He introduces each character, explains the plot, and puts the whole thing in the context of the social and political statement that Wagner was making. Finally, Greenberg confronts Wagner's many character flaws, including his virulent anti-Semitism, and without dodging the issue, he constantly reminds the listener that this profoundly imperfect man created some of the greatest music ever composed. Greenberg's lectures are so good and so packed with information that I often listened to a lecture several times before moving on to the next one, not because I didn't "get it" the first time, but because they are so much fun to listen to. I highly recommend this series to anyone who is interested in Wagner.
Date published: 2011-01-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Love-Hate for Wagner It is hard to dislike anything that Greenberg does, and this Teaching Company series is no exception. Many of us waited for years for Greenberg to produce this set of lectures, as I'm sure it did not come easy to him. Throughout the lecture set, you sense a very strong love-hate relationship with Wagner and Greenberg. This feeling is reflected in the cynicism found throughout each and every lecture, though usually presented quite humorously, like suggesting, when the sword was named Notung, that perhaps Wagner even had a name for his pillow. In his animosity against the person of Wagner, Greenberg has forgotten his comments on the operas of other composers. Almost every opera has a silly if not ridiculous plot. Almost every opera is inconsistent with real life. No opera is believable. One could crack insults at Verdi for writing an opera where a larger-than-life character becomes fatally obsessed over a lost handkerchief, or a Puccini opera where ladies die of consumption at precise moments and heroes magically appear at the right moment to save tragedy, or Mozart operas where heads of state are made to look like bumbling idiots, Queens of the night appear out of no-where, etc., etc. Greenberg seems to love the music of Wagner, but writhes in agony at the consummate anti-semitism of the composer. Greenberg certainly is correct when he spends lengthy hours describing Wagner as inconsistent, arrogant, self-adoring, egotistical, impetuous, racist, mean-spirited, and any other possible negative epithet. All of these are correct, and would Wagner be alive today, he would be regarded as a despicable Arschloch. Greenberg is quite informative in showing how the thinking of Schöpenauer and virile anti-semitism is reflected in all of the music of Wagner, and this was most informative. Greenberg does a marvelous job of following the chronological history of Wagner. Of interest is his almost certain Jewish father, which Wagner probably was aware of in forming many opera characters with lost identity. Greenberg probably added too much comment regarding Wagner's desire for German unification. Most German intellectuals were desirous of unification, just as France had accomplished earlier, and Italy was in the process of accomplishing. It is wrong to presume that what was right for France, England, the United States and Italy was wrong for Germany, and perhaps the world wars came partially as a result of this prejudiced exceptionalism of the rest of the world to German unification. Wagner reflected a German ethos rather than a personal arrogance in desiring to see a unified country. Greenberg is correct when he repeats often that one cannot separate the man from his music. He is incorrect in not stating that perhaps the greatest insult to Wagner the man is for his music to performed by Jewish conductors (such as Levine) with absolute disregard for the "deeper" meaning in his writings. Such disregard is not only possible but necessary, so that even in an unforgivably flawed person like Wagner, there remains genius to be appreciated. I await the day when a Jewish conductor with an all-Jewish orchestra from Israel performs Parsifal at Bayreuth in a comic fashion.
Date published: 2010-12-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Greenberg's Greatest Course Ever Fans of Prof. Greenberg have been waiting years for him to do a Wagner course. The waiting has not been in vain. Greenberg on Wagner is a triumph. He gives us the unexpurgated version of Wagner's life (his affairs, his financial irresponsibility, his monstrous egotism, his repellant anti-Semitism) and explains how the composer''s biography and character is inextricably linked with his music dramas. Wagner IS Lohengrin, and Tannhauser, and Tristan, and Siegfried ... If only the course could have been another 12 lectures longer. To compress the Ring Cycle into a mere 6 lectures of 45-50 minutes means Greenberg has to miss some of the best music - and the extracts he plays are very short - but we can always listen to our favourite recordings after watching the lectures. The analysis of Parsifal, the last of Wagner's music dramas, is brilliant and VERY funny. I particularly enjoyed Greenberg's numerous jokes in this course. Finally, the Teaching Company is to be congratulated on (for the first time to my knowledge) disclosing the sources of the various recordings used. Thank you Prof. Greenburg for enriching my life yet again. Perhaps we can hope for future courses on the operas of Richard Strauss, and on Puccini and Verismo?
Date published: 2010-12-23
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Lowbrow Wagner Caveat: I'm half way through the course as I write this review. As always, Professor Greenberg is entertaining and knowledgeable, but there could be a lot more about Wagner's music in this course (compared, for example, to the course on the Beethoven symphonies or Bach and the High Baroque). Mostly it is biography intermingled with retelling of the plots of the operas, with too few musical selections thrown in. The good professor's sophomoric humor is in full flower, which does get old. It's a bit lowbrow even for a music appreciation class--you won't hear these lectures in the finest classrooms in the world. It's fun nonetheless.
Date published: 2010-12-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Greenberg on Wagner This is another excellent course from Prof. Greenberg. I used to disdain opera, but after listening to his course on opera in general and Mozart's operas it really opened my ears to what I was missing. This course provides an accessible mixture of music samples, plot lines, technical analysis, and biographic material to provide an understanding of Wagner and his music. Although I have listened to some of the the Ring cycle this whetted my appetite to now listen to this and other of his operas in full. I am now equipped to better appreciate and enjoy them. Frankly, before this course I felt like I needed a shower after being associated with anything by Wagner; as an individual he was really that loathsome. Prof. Greenberg deftly handles the dichotomy of Wagner the artist - visionary and great vs. Wagner the man - despicable. I now needn't deny myself of the pleasure of enjoying the music because of the man.
Date published: 2010-12-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from If you have some affinity for Wagner You can't be a Wagner hater and enjoy the course but you don't need to be well schooled in his music to appreciate this. I have heard his music over the years so I have become accustomed to the sound of the music. This trip through his life and the explanation of the general ideas and specific examples from his operas, done scene by scene is, in my opinion, one of Robert Greenberg's best offerings and I am a committed fan of his. He pulls no punches when he gives biographical details of a man lots of folks really despise but he will convince you that his genius in composing and orchestrating is worth your time. In addition he explains how Wagner related his operas to his own life experiences and wrote about psychological themes that are timeless.
Date published: 2010-12-13
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Bias and An Attempt to Trivialize the Subject The speaker has an obvious bias against Wagner and makes this clear on the grounds of ethnic differences. The kind of language he uses against Richard Wagner was not tolerated from myself the first time I submitted a review, for it was apparently censured. And there are obvious attempts to trivialize the composer's work, including silly comments such as "budda-bing" that no serious professional would employ to describe the serious nature of these dramas.
Date published: 2010-12-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Dr. Greenberg does well again!! This course is very well done and well presented like all of Prof. Greenberg's courses! I have most of them. I don't care for Wagner as much as I do other composers,so I did not enjoy this course as much as I have the others.Those who enjoy Wagner will no doubt find this course very rewarding. I don't feel there is another prof. with the teaching company that does as well with the presentation and the course content as does Dr. Greenberg. I very much agree with the reviewer who requested a detailed course on Antonio Vivaldi from Prof. Greenberg. I for one would welcome a 6-10 DVD course on this composer as he has 801 published works and was admired so much by Bach himself, that he copied and transposed many of Vivaldi's works. Dr. Greenberg, if you read this review, please consider a detailed Antonio Vivaldi course as your next project for the Teaching Co. Could the powers that be with the Teaching Co. also suggest this to Prof. Greenberg? That would be most appreciated by this reviewer and I suspect many others who enjoy Italian Baroque era music and the composer Antonio Vivaldi, as well as the lecture style of Professor Greenberg.
Date published: 2010-12-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Greenberg 5 - Wagner 1 It sounds like a soccer score, and it's an improvement. Before this course Herr Wagner would have rated zero in my book. The lectures are excellent. Professor Greenberg is at the top of his game. But even with his encouragement I still don't enjoy most of Wagner's music. The one saving grace is THE MASTERSINGERS OF NUREMBERG, which I found to be rather lovely. These lectures are themselves worth the price of the course. I rate this course a 5 because it's like watching a master chef at work-- he must get full credit even if you don't happen to like what he's cooking today. Please Professor Greenberg, give us a nice big course on Vivaldi. Pretty please...
Date published: 2010-12-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Prof. Greenberg Finally Delivers Wagner AUDIO DOWNLOAD 24 Lectures (45 minutes each) In another review, I speculated on when Prof. Greenberg would deliver a Wagner course. Personally, I wondered how he would manage it. Would he do a DVD-only format to give full appreciation for the works as music dramas? Would he focus primarily on the music and provide audio versions? (My preference since I listen to TC courses while driving.) And how would Prof. Greenberg manage the life of Wagner, who raises to an art form the path of personal repugnance? Would he separate the man from the music, like so many listeners? Well, Greenberg has chosen Wagner the musician, and he has chosen to reveal and demonstrate to us that Wagner the man and Wagner the composer cannot be separated, that in fact his music dramas are intimately woven into Wagner's consciousness as a man, that they are heavily autographical, and that even though Wagner the man was a fully narcisistic and repellent human being, he was a unique artistic genius. And I must say that Prof. Greenberg relishes his task. He revels in Wagner's weirdnesses and bizarre ideas, and he stands in awe of his musical accomplishments. All the while showing up the intimate connections between the two. Never has Greenberg been more insightful and entertaining than in these 24 lectures. I laughed out loud more than usual for a Greenberg course. He loves this bad boy and loves stripping away the psychological and musical layers in lecture after lecture. Perhaps one of the more compelling insights (borrowed but still wonderfully articulated by Greenberg, and isn't that why we come back to him time and time again?) is how Wagner is a dilletente (a mere dabbler in many art forms), but not just any dilletente. He raises being a dilletente to a level of genius and thereby we can grasp how it is that Wagner was able to combine so many arts to create his music dramas. The psychological study that Greenberg provides is essential (and quite entertaining) in helping us understand Wagner's artistic uniqueness. I could give many more examples, but all you need to know is that this is probably one of the most entertaining of all Greenberg courses, up their with the Mozart ones. 5 stars - Don't delay - Get it today.
Date published: 2010-11-04
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