The 30 Greatest Orchestral Works

Course No. 7330
Professor Robert Greenberg, Ph.D.
San Francisco Performances
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Course No. 7330
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Take apart the thematic structure of the first and final movement of Mozart's "Jupiter" symphony.
  • numbers Study the musical "voices" of Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade."
  • numbers Investigate the opening melodies, continued themes, and complex architecture of Rachmaninoff's "Symphony No. 2."
  • numbers Compare and contrast Copland's "Appalachian Spring" with Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring."

Course Overview

From the majesty of Baroque and Classical era masterpieces to the daring visions of modernism, orchestral music is undoubtedly one of the supreme artistic traditions of Western culture. And, over the centuries, this amazing medium has given us a special category of works that stand apart from the rest as transcendent expressions of the human spirit.

These "greatest of the great" orchestral pieces share several compelling features:

  • They have the uncanny ability to express humanity's dreams, struggles, tragedies, and triumphs in the most stunning and unforgettable terms.
  • They ingeniously challenged, at the time of their creation, the traditional forms and conceptions of orchestral composition, extending both the creative resources available to composers and the expressive content of the music itself.
  • They remain hallmarks of the orchestral repertoire and continue to transfix audiences, not infrequently in the face of carping by critics and musicologists.

In The 30 Greatest Orchestral Works, Great Courses favorite Professor Robert Greenberg of San Francisco Performances takes you on a sumptuous grand tour of the symphonic pieces he counts, as a highly respected composer and music historian, as being among the very greatest ever written—inviting you to an in-depth contemplation of what makes these works so memorable, and why they live at the center of our musical culture. These 30 masterworks form an essential foundation for any music collection and a focal point for understanding the orchestral medium and deepening your insight into the communicative power of music. While seasoned music lovers will find the lectures a fascinating and revealing journey through the repertoire, the course welcomes newcomers to orchestral music, offering a very accessible point of entry to this magnificent repertoire.

A Deep and Far-Ranging Exploration

In 32 richly detailed lectures, you encounter symphonies, concerti, tone poems, symphonic poems, and suites, covering over 200 years of music history and delving into the works through extensive musical excerpts. As a broad-based exploration of the literature, the course covers the major eras and stylistic periods in Western music from the early 18th to the mid-20th centuries and highlights a wide range of European and American composers. With his trademark brilliance as a lecturer, Professor Greenberg guides you in a direct and dynamic engagement with the music, opening you to the profound enjoyment and meanings of these landmark creations. In the design of the course, each lecture is a stand-alone entity. You can enjoy the lectures in sequence, as a full musical-historical survey, or use them individually, as preconcert talks or audio program notes.

The Heights of an Astonishing Repertoire

The 30 focal works of the course expose you to an extraordinary diversity of style and expression. Your journey through the literature includes these masterpieces:

  • Haydn's Symphony no. 104: Penned by the "father of the symphony," Haydn's no. 104 stands as a glorious realization of the Viennese Classical style. Compared on its premiere to "what Apollo and the Muses compose," you study the elements of Haydn's mature symphonic writing and its superlative balance of head and heart.
  • Beethoven's Ninth Symphony: Living at the pinnacle of Western art, Beethoven's magnum opus redefined the genre of the symphony, daringly incorporating solo voices, chorus, and poetry. You study its dramatic, grand-scale musical narrative, leading through heroic/tragic struggle to its ultimate, utopian vision of the future.
  • Dvorák's Concerto for 'Cello: The passionate lyricism of the solo 'cello, the symphonic richness, and deep intimacy of its writing make this one of the great monuments of the repertoire. You contemplate its brilliant musical architecture, its haunting beauty, and its poignant personal meanings to the composer.
  • Strauss's Thus Spoke Zarathustra: Richard Strauss's magisterial tone poem, based on Friedrich Nietzsche's poetic/philosophic masterpiece, is a sonic canvas of awe-inspiring power. You delve into Strauss's hypnotic rendering of Nietzsche's "sermons," incarnating the spiritual quest of the ancient Persian sage.
  • Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring: This explosive, revolutionary work, written for the celebrated Ballets Russes, caused a riot at its premiere in 1913. You uncover the mold-breaking compositional techniques that made this the single most influential musical creation of its time.
  • Shostakovich's Symphony no. 5: A smoldering response to the political terror under Joseph Stalin, Shostakovich's deception of the Soviet authorities allowed this work to be heard, to devastating effect. You grasp the musical means whereby Shostakovich managed to "speak" unforgettably of the unspeakable.

A Dynamic Grappling with Musical Substance

At the heart of the course, you experience each of the 30 works in a fresh and direct investigation of the music. Importantly, you learn about the major musical forms found in orchestral writing and how they're used in conveying expressive meanings. The primary forms include these:

  • Ritornello: A refrain-type form in which a musical theme is stated and then returns periodically in fragments
  • Minuet and Trio: An A-B-A musical form in which a minuet (a stately dance) is presented, followed by a contrasting minuet or "trio," and concluding with a return to the original
  • Sonata: A structure in which two or more contrasting musical themes are presented, creatively explored, and ultimately reconciled to each other.

Knowing how these forms work offers two critical benefits: One, it allows you to grasp the structure of the music as you hear it, giving you a solid basis for deeper, nuanced listening. Two, understanding these forms allows you to appreciate, in specific musical terms, how the greatest composers used them, extended them, and finally departed from them in sublimely original ways. And it's here, in the rich details of composition and expressive substance, that you witness the genius and the human greatness of this music.

In Strauss's Zarathustra, you take apart the structure of the famous "Nature theme," grasping the harmonic elements that make this one of the most monumental passages in the repertoire.

In Beethoven's radical Symphony no. 3, you see how a single four-phrase theme creates a masculine "character"—a musical "personality" that carries within it both heroic affirmation and the seeds of ruin and despair.

In Charles Ives's Three Places in New England, you study the composer's deeply evocative musical "landscape," poetically imbued with echoes of American folk song.

Rich Contexts, Culture, and History

As another core element of the course, Professor Greenberg develops a full and layered background for each work, taking you deeply into the composers' lives, the circumstances of their works' creation, and the evolutionary unfolding of music history. You learn how Haydn's and Mozart's music embodied the philosophical ideals of the Enlightenment, and how Beethoven forged a path of personal expression that fired the spirit of Romanticism. You learn, perhaps surprisingly, that many of these symphonic works were directly influenced by political events, including the currents of nationalism that shaped the music of Smetana, Tchaikovsky, and Debussy.

While we may think of concert music as highly abstract, Professor Greenberg uncovers numerous concrete meanings that drive these works, giving you deeper access to them as a listener. You study the musical narrative of many "program" (storytelling) symphonic works, from Vivaldi's depiction of the forces of nature in The Four Seasons to Smetana's evocation of Bohemian landscapes to Rimsky-Korsakov's sensuous tales from The Arabian Nights. And you discover personal, interior meanings: Schumann's mystical awe of Catholic ritual, which permeates his "Rhenish" Symphony; the deep personal loss behind the sublime coda of Dvorák's Concerto for Cello; Gustav Mahler's meditation on death, grieving, and rebirth in his Symphony no. 5.

Musical Creation and Human Genius

Finally, in Professor Greenberg's incisive presentation, your encounter with these works unfolds as a simply incredible story—a story of fierce struggle and aspiration, of unyielding commitment to grand ideals, and of the vulnerable human vehicles of great art. You ponder Mozart's desperate circumstances as he scrawled out the great "Jupiter" symphony, and Beethoven's artistic self-reinvention out of suicidal despair. You hear of the young Franz Schubert's poignant dying wish, of Schumann's descent into madness, and of Tchaikovsky's inner torment that found release in his Symphony no. 4.

You trace Rachmaninoff's triumphant comeback from devastating failure, and you see how Shostakovich drilled his own signature, "spelled" with musical tones, into his Symphony no. 10, defiantly declaring his survival from a murderous political regime.

With his rare combination of musical and historical insight, Professor Greenberg offers you a uniquely memorable gift: He brings alive, in visceral and penetrating terms, the amazing human dimensions of these incomparable works and their writing. In The 30 Greatest Orchestral Works you encounter both the works themselves, in their phenomenal power and beauty, and also that fragile interface—alternately astounding, mystifying, and heart-rending— between flesh-and-blood musical geniuses and their creations that stand among the most universal and revelatory expressions of the spirit. Join one extraordinary teacher in experiencing these works that speak to and reveal the finest, the most life-giving, and the most visionary in ourselves.

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32 lectures
 |  Average 46 minutes each
  • 1
    Game Plan and Preliminaries
    What defines a great orchestral work? Is it a piece’s enduring expressive impact? Its compositional achievements? Find answers in this lecture, which tracks the evolution of the orchestra from its beginnings in accompanying operas to its flowering as a free-standing artistic medium. Then define the stylistic eras you’ll encounter in this course, survey the seven predominant musical forms used in orchestral writing, and look at orchestral “genres” such as the symphony, concerto, and tone poem. x
  • 2
    Vivaldi—The Four Seasons
    Antonio Vivaldi ranks as one of the great geniuses of concerto writing, and The Four Seasons is one of his most enduring masterpieces. Start by exploring Vivaldi’s life and musical innovations in Baroque-era Venice. Then, delve into the four separate concertos of The Four Seasons, depicting humanity’s relationship to nature. Using extensive musical examples, study Vivaldi’s dynamic use of the solo violin and orchestral textures to evoke the characteristics of spring, summer, autumn, and winter. x
  • 3
    Bach—Brandenburg Concerto No. 2
    Follow Bach’s career as he navigates the challenges of musical life in Baroque Germany. Also learn about the writing, loss, and rediscovery of the six beloved Brandenburg Concerti. In the Brandenburg No. 2’s opening movement, discover Bach’s brilliant interpretation of ritornello form, using four solo instruments in complex interactions with each other and the orchestra. Study key passages of the second-movement “nocturne” and the majestic concluding fugue, with its echoes of the ritornello theme. x
  • 4
    Bach—Violin Concerto in E Major
    In reviewing contemporary criticism of Bach’s music, reflect on the ways in which the very originality and complexity we prize in Bach made him controversial in his own time. Highlighting the first two movements of the E Major violin concerto, see how Bach pushes the limits of both ritornello and passacaglia forms, transcending the episodic nature of these forms to create a compelling sense of dramatic narrative. x
  • 5
    Haydn—Symphony No. 104
    Learn about Haydn’s “on the job” musical education, his illustrious life in the court of Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, and the creation of his celebrated “London” symphonies. In his great, final symphony, grasp important elements of Haydn’s masterful symphonic writing. Study his creation of contrast and variety from a minimum of thematic strands, the lilting elegance and beauty of the inner movements, and the intertwining themes of the finale. x
  • 6
    Mozart—Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor
    Consider Mozart’s relationship with the piano concerto, where his urge to self-expressive originality became a prime moving force. Explore the jarring opening theme, Mozart’s use of the piano as an “operatic” character, and the ways in which he breaks the conventions of Classical style. Uncover the structure of the exquisite larghetto and of the final theme and variations, ending the work in a dramatic dialogue between soloist and orchestra. x
  • 7
    Mozart—Symphony in C Major, “Jupiter”
    Ponder Mozart’s astounding facility for composing, as he routinely “wrote” masterworks entirely in his head. Continue with the circumstances surrounding the creation of his renowned final symphonies, amid great personal hardships. In the “Jupiter” symphony, take apart the thematic structure of the first and final movements, grasping Mozart’s extraordinary inventiveness with sonata form, which unites “masculine” and “feminine” melodic material and a huge diversity of musical interplay in a joyously expressive whole. x
  • 8
    Beethoven—Symphony No. 3
    Beethoven’s Eroica symphony is deeply linked to critical events in his life. Reflect on his identification and later disillusionment with Napoleon, and his “heroic” self-reinvention following the overwhelming trauma of his hearing loss. Study the narrative arc of the Third Symphony and the brilliant musical means by which Beethoven expresses heroic struggle in the first movement, followed by death, rebirth, and final apotheosis, as the composer dramatically reconceives both himself and the spirit of Western music. x
  • 9
    Beethoven—Piano Concerto No. 4
    Consider Beethoven’s explosive impact on Vienna as a pianist and the thought process that led to his innovations in this concerto. See how he creates a melodically splendorous opening movement by introducing the solo piano alone and altering the traditional “exposition” form. Across all three movements, witness how Beethoven uses the full symphonic resources of the orchestra while establishing the piano as a full and equal expressive partner. x
  • 10
    Beethoven—Symphony No. 9
    Learn about three critical moments where Beethoven “reinvented” himself in the face of terrible hardships, leading to his redefining the genre of the symphony in this historic, monumental work. Study the Ninth Symphony’s musical architecture and dramatic narrative, from its depiction of the struggle between the heroic and the tragic to the final resolution of that struggle in a utopian vision of the future, realized in the celestial “Ode to Joy.” x
  • 11
    Schubert—Symphony No. 9
    In the brief life of Franz Schubert, contemplate the composer’s astonishing creative output, the interconnections between Schubert and Beethoven, and the effect on Schubert’s music of his tragic ordeal with syphilis. Savor the musical treasures of the “grand” Ninth Symphony, including the melodically original introduction, the vivacious scherzo, and the majestic finale, fusing Classical lyricism with tremendous expressive power. x
  • 12
    Mendelssohn—“Italian” Symphony
    Mendelssohn’s record as a musical prodigy—surpassing even Mozart—played an ironic role in his later life. Regarding this symphony, track the “Mendelssohn problem,” the controversial perception that his mature style showed an increasing conservatism. Through the four movements of this work, find the heart of Mendelssohn’s extraordinary musical voice—its lyric beauty, formal lucidity, and ideal of communicative directness. x
  • 13
    Schumann—Symphony No. 3
    Trace the movement of Romanticism as it shaped Robert Schumann. Also learn about the “program” or storytelling symphony, and about Schumann’s fascination with the landscape and history of Germany’s Rhineland. In his Third Symphony, experience the rich textures of Schumann’s impressions of the Rhine and the life surrounding it, highlighting the warm grandeur of the opening theme, the fourth movement’s evocation of Cologne’s Cathedral, and the glowing, exuberant finale. x
  • 14
    Brahms—Symphony No. 4
    Investigate the difficult unfolding of Brahms’s career, complicated by Schumann’s early pronouncement that Brahms was the new messiah of German music. In the celebrated Fourth Symphony, track Brahms’s genius in the opening movement, with its endless metamorphosis of a single musical idea, and in the final passacaglia, where he uses a restricting, Baroque-era form as the foundation of a resplendent Romantic vision. x
  • 15
    Brahms—Violin Concerto
    First, trace important elements of Brahms’s development, including his fanatical perfectionism, the damaging circumstances of his early musical life, and his bond with the violinist Joseph Joachim, who played a critical role in the creation of the Violin Concerto. Among the concerto’s riches, hear Brahms’s brilliant structuring of the opening movement, giving the violin the chance to gloriously elaborate the main themes. Savor the aria-like lyricism of the adagio and the hot-blooded gypsy heart of the finale. x
  • 16
    Tchaikovsky—Symphony No. 4
    The musical content of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, mirroring events in his life, is directly explained in his letters. As background, reflect on his difficult youth, his disastrous marriage, and the pivotal support of his longtime benefactress. Through his letters, chart the symphony’s narrative “story,” from the struggle against relentless fate in the first movement, told through dramatically contrasting musical material, to the passionately affirmative finale, which incorporates a deeply symbolic Russian folk song. x
  • 17
    Tchaikovsky—Violin Concerto
    Here, investigate key elements of Tchaikovsky’s musical sensibility: his adherence to Western compositional principles, his Slavic temperament, and his dazzling melodic gifts. In the Violin Concerto’s opening, hear his soaring use of the solo instrument and his unusual interpretation of sonata form, allowing him to bask in the central theme through creative restatement and variations. Then, enjoy the pyrotechnical rondo, a supreme achievement in violin writing. x
  • 18
    Bedrich Smetana—Má Vlast
    Written by the “father” of Czech music, the grand symphonic poem Má Vlast evokes Bohemia’s landscape, history, and people. Learn about Smetana’s life in turbulent political times, and his role in the “musical nationalism” that sought an authentic Czech musical style. Focusing on four of the six movements, hear Smetana’s extraordinary tonal “painting,” his precise musical evocation of historical events, the great Vlatava River, and the majesty of the Bohemian countryside. x
  • 19
    Dvorák—Symphony No. 8
    Another Czech icon, Dvorák melded the forms of Classicism with the expressive thrust and nationalist spirit of Romanticism. In the symphony’s opening, study the tonal shifts between major and minor—a hallmark of Czech folk music—as well as the composer’s evocative use of birdsong. Discover Dvorák’s unique voice in the enigmatic expressive extremes of the funeral march, the singular beauty of the third movement, and the melodically compelling theme and variations. x
  • 20
    Dvorák—Concerto for ’Cello
    Learn about Dvorák’s life in 1890s New York and the origins of this superlative work, inspired by the ‘cello writing and symphonic textures of Victor Herbert’s second ‘cello concerto. Explore unforgettable passages and personal meanings in the Dvorák concerto, including the solemnity and lyric passion of the opening, the idyllic second theme, and the intimate significance to the composer of the adagio and the concerto’s final moments. x
  • 21
    Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov played a pivotal role in the development of Russian concert music in the 19th century. Learn about his unusual entry into Russian musical life, his vast influence as a teacher, and the literary base of Scheherazade. In this tour-de-force of program music, study the musical “voices” of the Persian princess Scheherazade, the despotic Sultan Shahryar, and the sonic unfolding of four exotic Persian folk tales. x
  • 22
    Richard Strauss—Thus Spoke Zarathustra
    Strauss’s majestic tone poem is based on the philosophical masterwork of Friedrich Nietzsche. Begin by tracing Strauss’s musical education, his points of connection with Nietzsche, and the philosophical underpinnings of Nietzsche’s work. In Strauss’s musical rendering, grasp the structure of the famous “Nature theme” and follow Strauss’s interpretation of eight “sermons” from Nietzsche’s original, dramatizing the sage Zarathustra’s quest to enlighten and elevate humanity. x
  • 23
    Mahler—Symphony No. 5
    This groundbreaking work fuses the musical language of Romanticism with an entirely modern expressive content. Explore Mahler’s cultural milieu (including the influence of Freud and the ethos of Expressionism) as he develops the symphony as a medium for philosophical/spiritual contemplations. Track the Fifth Symphony’s unusual musical narrative, which depicts the rituals of death and the progressive states of the grieving process—its penetrating evocation of sadness, grief, intimate serenity, and ultimate rebirth. x
  • 24
    Rachmaninoff—Symphony No. 2
    Rachmaninoff’s music is controversial, both for its independence from the modernism of his times and for its popularity in the face of criticism from scholars. In this symphony, investigate the opening melodic idea, as it ingeniously infuses successive themes throughout the work. Experience Rachmaninoff’s richly beautiful melodic art and orchestration, and grasp his brilliant thematic “architecture,” linking each movement to preceding elements. x
  • 25
    Debussy—La Mer
    Debussy’s revolutionary music flowed from his fascination with timbres and colors of sound, as well as from the movement to create an authentically French music that followed the Franco-Prussian War. In La Mer (The Sea), enter the world of Debussy’s dazzling musical language; his sensuous instrumental textures depicting the shimmering play of light and color, the surging motion and awesome natural force of the oceans. x
  • 26
    Stravinsky—The Rite of Spring
    Created for the legendary Ballets Russes, this trailblazing score was the single most influential musical work of its time. Learn about Stravinsky’s development as a composer, his “discovery” by the theater impresario Diaghilev, and the genesis of the Rite. In the work’s two parts, see how Stravinsky incarnates Bronze Age tribal rituals and the creative power of Spring, by studying his use of musical effects including “accumulation,” asymmetrical rhythmic accents, and bitonal sonorities. x
  • 27
    Saint-Saëns—Symphony No. 3
    As a prodigy who began playing the piano at age two, Camille Saint-Saëns’s musical life spanned the decades of the post-Beethoven era to the beginning of the jazz era. Learn why Saint-Saëns—one of the most popular composers of his time—is often misrepresented as an arch-conservative who never lived up to his potential, and examine how his Danse macabre achieves its intentionally devilish effect. Conclude with an analysis of his four-movement Symphony no. 3 in C Minor, a piece generally considered his great orchestral masterwork. x
  • 28
    Holst—The Planets
    Holst’s popular symphonic suite enchants through its exquisite orchestration, sheer tonal beauty, and expressive directness. Your investigation assesses the character of Holst the man, his music, and the astrological basis of this work’s conception. In the suite’s seven “mood pictures,” identify each movement’s core thematic material and the way each depicts the zodiacal character of the individual planets, from the warlike fury of ”Mars” to the ineffable mysticism of ”Neptune.” x
  • 29
    Copland—Appalachian Spring
    In approaching this extraordinary work, trace the development of American concert music and the economic, social, and political reasons it emerged only in the 20th century. Learn also about Copland’s influences and his desire to create a distinctly American musical voice. In the concert version of this ballet score, study the elements of Copland’s unique style—his widely spaced melodies, “Stravinskyan” rhythms, and folklorist colorings—movingly evoking a rural couple’s rite of passage into married life. x
  • 30
    Shostakovich—Symphony No. 5
    The writing of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony was inextricably linked to the horrific political repression in Russia under Stalin and the terror of the composer’s condemnation by the Soviet authorities. Grasp his philosophical-artistic triumph in this symphony—its menacing representation of brutality in the opening, its impassioned third movement, and psychologically harrowing finale, communicating through music what could not be spoken without risking death or exile. x
  • 31
    Shostakovich—Symphony No. 10
    Track the murderous postwar purges by the Soviet government, Shostakovich’s second political condemnation, and the writing of the Tenth Symphony in the wake of Stalin’s death. In the symphony’s metaphoric confrontation between the artist and the despot, experience Shostakovich’s self-revelation in the first movement, his wrenching depiction of Stalin, and the poignant recurrence of his own musical “signature”—its implacable, visceral proclamation that, after everything, “I am alive!” x
  • 32
    The Ones That Got Away
    Finally, reflect on the rich scope of the orchestral literature. In concentrated excerpts, taste the greatness of Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler and of symphonies by Bizet, Prokofiev, William Walton, and Ralph Vaughn Williams. Conclude with Professor Greenberg’s proposals for surmounting the survival challenges facing modern orchestras—the specific actions available to orchestral managements, conductors, composers, the media, and the public itself in seeding new music and safeguarding the magnificent orchestral tradition. x

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Robert Greenberg

About Your Professor

Robert Greenberg, Ph.D.
San Francisco Performances
Dr. Robert Greenberg is Music Historian-in-Residence with San Francisco Performances. A graduate of Princeton University, Professor Greenberg holds a Ph.D. in Music Composition from the University of California, Berkeley. He has seen his compositions—which include more than 45 works for a wide variety of instrumental and vocal ensembles—performed all over the world, including New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles,...
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The 30 Greatest Orchestral Works is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 85.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Passionate! A great series. Robert Greenberg is an outstanding lecturer with a terrific sense of humor. He brings the music alive! This is not to be missed by all music lovers and others who want to learn more about music.
Date published: 2020-01-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Dr. Greenberg’s lectures are nothing short of outstanding
Date published: 2019-08-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Stupendous! This is my twelfth Great Course, and I did not think the professors could get any better than those of the previous eleven. Robert Greenberg exceeded my every expectation. It is almost trite to say this man is erudite, a great educator, and witty - so hilarious at times that I laugh out loud. It has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I wondered whether there were other Great Courses by him and I find 123! Where do I turn next? I wish he were my longtime friend and he could direct me along this path of music history and enjoyment. Thank you Robert Greenberg, and thank you Great Courses.
Date published: 2019-07-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from 30 Great Orchestral Work Professor Greenburg is always informative and entertaining. This set does not disappoint
Date published: 2019-03-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Easy listening A great opportunity to listen to and understand the background for some of the world's masterpieces.
Date published: 2019-03-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enhance your music appreciation I have taken at least 10 of professor Greenberg's courses and have only been disappointed once. This examination of his 30 favorite orchestral works provides marvelous insight into the form and structure of the pieces without being overly technical. He uses excerpts from the pieces to illustrate elements of compisitional form and structure. I also highly recommend his course on how to listen to and understand music. He is also one of the more entertaining of the great courses instructors with a dry, witty sense of humor.
Date published: 2019-01-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Meeting the challenge of continued originality This course is something of a compromise. Professor Greenberg has already covered the breadth of Western music history and music appreciation, in an impressively complete and comprehensive curriculum. At the time this course was released in 2011, his previous courses had already dealt specifically with the symphony, the concerto, “concert masterworks”, the works of 11 major individual composers, and the general broad topic of music appreciation. Here he had the challenge of presenting new material (or at least, with previously covered works, new perspectives), in a category that had been dealt with pretty thoroughly in earlier courses. In general he brings it off without undesirable redundancy, and a few of the lectures (eg, on Debussy’s La Mer and on Saint-Saens’s Organ Symphony) are truly outstanding. Several works that would likely otherwise have been included among the “30 Greatest”—such as Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto, Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, and Dvorak’s New World Symphony—had already been covered in detail in the other courses, which may explain several of the current selections. And, as Dr. Greenberg points out in the last lecture on “The ones that got away”, Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra belongs on the list but could not be presented because of copyright problems. As in his other courses, he provides an engrossing overview of the political and cultural contexts for each of the works, and he has planned the course so as to present a wide diversity both in these settings and in the pieces themselves. He is a master at this, and I probably should have bumped up my rating to a full 5 stars.
Date published: 2019-01-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Bravissimo Course instructor was witty, had a great sense of humor, and was passionate about his subject. He provided interesting biographical information and the reasons for and the forces that shaped a composer's work. Outstanding course.
Date published: 2018-11-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful presenter I have purchased several Greenberg courses and, so far, this is my favorite, primarily because of the pieces chosen. He is an excellent presenter, knowledgeable and a nice sense of humor. I've taken to listening to the relevant lecture before going to a classical concert--much better than the program notes at the concert.
Date published: 2018-09-20
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Professor Robert Greenberg is excellent in his delivery, story telling, and explanations. However, we ordered the DVD and there is absolutely no visual to this course. We have watched eight of the sessions and have yet to even see an orchestra or instrument, other than the piano. I suppose we were expecting to see the orchestra playing these great works, rather than just hearing short excerpts, with the same notes moving on the screen. We do enjoy hearing the life stories of the composers, and the professor is very animated in presenting this information. In fairness, we do not have a strong background in orchestral music, and maybe if we did, would find the breakdown of the works more interesting.
Date published: 2018-09-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Made Me Want To Listen To My Favorites Again In my view, Dr. Greenberg is a superstar lecturer which he ably demonstrates again in this, my fourth course from him. He lectures with enthusiasm, verbal facility, and remarkable knowledge of the orchestral works he covers in this course. I particularly appreciated his coverage of biographical details of the composers plus the historical context in which they worked, before he evaluates and discusses the particular orchestral work (usually the latter half of each lecture). Dr.Greenberg's discussion of the elements and patterns in each work was very enlightening, and made me want to listen again to the two-thirds of his selections I already have, and purchase the other one-third; although not being a musician made some of the analysis, e.g., closed cadence, compound meter, harder to grasp for someone like me. Any list of the 30 greatest, whether it's movies, baseball players, or orchestral works, is bound to generate differences in opinion, but of course that's what makes them so much fun. One might argue where are Handel or Wagner in Dr. Greenberg's list. On the other hand, I salute him for including Holst's "The Planets" and Copland's "Appalachian Spring", two popular works that I enjoy very much but that I suspect other music critics might not find "weighty" enough for inclusion in a thirty greatest. It's noteworthy, at least to me, that he didn't include a film score, some of which are brilliant pieces of music and have been part of orchestral repertoires. (I've read that Prokofiev's film score for "Alexander Nevsky" was so good that Eisenstein, the director, filmed the scenes around the music, rather than the other way around.) It appears that our lecturer is not enamored of film scores: he calls them glitzy (p. 160 of the Guidebook) and refers to Shostakovich doing "hack work" when he was relegated to composing film scores after the cultural repression of 1948; I hope it doesn't indicate he's a musical snob. Aaron Copland similarly viewed Leonard Bernstein's early forays into Hollywood and Broadway as a needless diversion from his true calling in classical music.In any event, Dr. G has forgotten more music than I've learned, or will ever learn!
Date published: 2018-08-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Perfect for adults and kids Very clear, didactic, gives fun background info, bright kids 10 and up can follow. Allows a much more informed appreciation of music.
Date published: 2018-06-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Even better than expected! While I am just into listening to the third CD of the set, I am thrilled with my purchase of "The 30 Greatest Orchestral Works." Not only am I learning more about many of my favorite orchestral works and their composers, but the process is even more enjoyable because of the entertaining and humorous way Professor Robert Greenberg teaches it. Add to that the music itself, played by wonderful orchestras, and it is pure delight. I couldn't be more pleased.
Date published: 2018-05-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of Greenberg's very best courses This course is very polished, clearly reflecting a wealth of lecturing experience as well as musicology knowledge. But more than anything else for me, the lecture 32 (The Ones That Got Away) was exceptionally powerful with Greenberg's view of classical music, modern music, and the role of the symphony orchestra in today's world, or rather what it could be and should be. Smartly placed at the end of a very long course where Greenberg has had plenty of time to develop and expand the viewer's musical mind, lecture 32 employs an extraordinary focus and insight into this musical genre. Amazingly with this, he very smoothly addresses one's reluctance and opens one's eyes to much more: modern/contemporary music.
Date published: 2018-05-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great instructor. Interesting back stories and theory explained along the way.
Date published: 2018-04-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another wonderful course by Dr. Grenberg Dr. Greenberg is always entertaining to listen to, and extremely knowledgeable. He gives the listener not only a sense of the music, but also the composer's life and times, and their relevance to the music. The one quibble I have with his courses is that you hear extracts from many different works, but the entire works are not included. For those of us who do not have all 30 (in this case) works in our collections, it would be useful to offer a companion set or an "interleaved" set with the complete works so we could put the teachings into the context of the entire work.
Date published: 2018-03-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Always good value Anything Robert Greenberg offers is good! This one doesn't disappoint. Still lots of information and humor. Picks up after How to Listen to and Understand Great Music, so is additional exposure.
Date published: 2018-03-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Somewhat Complicated - Needs Concentration Listen to this in the car while driving. Seems a bit more complicated than his others, so you really need to concentrate while listening.
Date published: 2018-01-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb Course That Reveals Much About Music I bought this course last summer to see what Professor Greenberg had to say about Orchestral works. The course is outstanding in every way. To understand my perspective, you must understand that I have an extensive knowledge of classical music and I had heard all 30 of the works in the course before I listened to the course. Professor Greenberg's perspective is particularly appealing to me. He does not pooh pooh works just because they are popular, such as the Saint Saens Organ Symphony or The Planets by Gustav Holst. Instead, he explains why those works have something to offer to the classical music tradition. Another of my favorite themes in Professor Greenberg's courses is his frequent discussion of how great composers were almost always panned and slammed by reviewers after they published path-breaking works. Only later would the listening public and the critics understand that what the work was all about. My favorite lectures were those discussing Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Dvorak, Rachmaninov, Stravinsky and Shostakovich. Greenberg changed my thinking on Shostakovich and convinced me that he is a major composer. This course is worth your time.
Date published: 2018-01-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One-of-a-kind Professor and Teacher This is the fourth course I have purchased by Dr. Robert Greenberg, who is one of a kind -- as a professor and as a teacher alike! Thus, I can listen to his lectures over and over without getting tired.
Date published: 2017-12-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Both Challenging and Rewarding I found this course to be both challenging and rewarding. To explain why, I need to tell you a little about myself. I had a bare minimum of musical training as a small child and I have hardly touched an instrument since. But I have listened to almost all of Robert Greenberg's other Great Courses (which I heartily recommend). In most of those, he focused on analyzing particular pieces of classical music. He does the same in this course. The real purpose of these lectures, however, is to serve and guides for listening to the selected works, one at a time. He plays the major themes and outlines the structure of each piece. Because I already had CDs of almost all of the works covered, I listened to the lecture on and then played each one--two, three, or more times. Sometimes I replayed the lecture, as well. All of that was necessary for me to be confident that I could follow the details of the music as Prof. Greenberg intended. But I came to appreciate and enjoy each piece at a new level, even though I had heard most of them many times before over the years. And I seem to have become better at the process of analyzing the music as a result of my practice in this course, even music not covered here. Like me, you do not need to have any technical knowledge of classical music at all to understand Prof. Greenberg's masterful lectures. He clearly explains or illustrates the few technical concepts that are necessary. The more knowledge you have of music the better, however, short of being a professional musician who knows these pieces by heart. What you do need is ready access to all of the works that Prof. Greenberg lectures on. Without that, there is really no point in your spending your money on this Great Course. Spend it on some classical music recordings instead!
Date published: 2017-11-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Professor Greenberg is a Landmark in Education :) If you ever wanted to be a scholar, teaching the hungry, Professor Greenberg is the mark to measure. He makes learning fun. My hope is that he soon will release the HOW TO WRITE A SYMPHONY course :)
Date published: 2017-11-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The 30 Greatest Orchestral Works If I had taken my first college music appreciation course under Professor Robert Greenberg, my perspective and understanding of classical music would have been much more enhanced and enjoyable. His lectures about music are above and beyond my expectation in terms of quality and technical expertise. In particular, I Prof. Greenberg's biographical sketches of each and everyone of these composers are most enjoyable; these sketches sweeten as well as spice up the technicality of the orchestral work he describes.
Date published: 2017-10-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from New information I've been attending orchestral concerts and listening to recording for 70 years and still learned new things and gained new insighs.
Date published: 2017-09-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding! Professor Greenberg's courses are always full of intelligence, enormous music's knowledge and even humor.
Date published: 2017-08-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Prof. Greenberg one of a KIND I wonder what other profession Dr. Greenberg would have been good at and its not a streach to believe he is a genius on some levels. I found his teaching incredibly backed to the nuclear core with information. Still I create on my own humble level orchestral works which as he said, even if good, might be listened to once and soon forgotten. Certainly this is true. Our public FM stations plays same old masters over and over and over. How much Beethoven can any normal mind take after you have already absorbed it. Well, you can pretend to be a musicologist and deconstruct the works of these ancient works. I find after a time this is a pathetic bore and gives a false sense I have even if I could deconstruct Brahms, makes me a village genius without any real sense of what music is all about. Not to detract from the professor, who I found a one of a kind gem. So, what is my next course? Well, I just can't bang my head hard enough so I just ordered mathematics and Music. But seriously musical form as Doctor Greenberg said in another series may need no form what so ever. Why is that? because Music is a brain stimulating experience, just by listening. Now shame on me, but this course showed me as much a genius as Mendelshon I still find his music bland and a bore. Give me Brahms any day .
Date published: 2017-07-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another winner for Robert Greenberg A great mix of the music, history and biography of the composers.
Date published: 2017-07-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Worth the wait I learned more from Professor Greenberg's 32 lectures than I have from listening to classical music radio stations for 32 years! Too bad the course was not available when I was a music major at Princeton (several years before he was).
Date published: 2017-06-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Superb Teacher of Music I'm posting the same review for the many courses offered by Robert Greenberg I have taken. He is superb at explaining music, how it works and why it feels the way it does when you hear it. His courses greatly enhance my appreciation of the music, not just soon after taking his course but over the years thereafter.
Date published: 2017-05-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Greenberg soars! This is the first Greenberg course I got, and in its early stages, I wasn't entirely sure what to make of this guy. He was up against stiff competition, as my music appreciation prof at UNC-Chapel Hill was Michael Zenge. While Michael Zenge is primarily a teacher of advanced professional pianists, he was a wonder teaching our gang of far from professionals, too. Greenberg's style of presentation seemed perhaps a bit too irreverent at times, until I had listened to him long enough to know that music is the last thing toward which he is irreverent. The man is possessed of encyclopedic knowledge about music, musicians, and composers, and he delivers that knowledge in a way that is entertaining and thought provoking, which in turn makes it effective. One is much more likely to retain information if one hasn't had to fight yawning at the same time, and Greenberg never makes one yawn. Though I was already familiar with most of the works featured in this course, Dr. Greenberg's presentation added both to the breadth and depth of my knowledge, and concomitantly, my enjoyment of the works. I have now completed five of Dr. Greenberg's courses, and am oh, so glad that there are so many more left in which to indulge!
Date published: 2017-05-11
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