The Concerto

Course No. 7270
Professor Robert Greenberg, Ph.D.
San Francisco Performances
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Course No. 7270
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Course Overview

Ready for thrills? A concerto is exciting in ways that no other instrumental music can match. Where a symphony enthralls us with themes that are contrasted, varied, transformed, and developed, a concerto adds the extra dimension of human drama—the exhilaration of a soloist or group of soloists ringing forth against the mass of the orchestra.

Little wonder, then, that the concerto grew out of the same musical setting in 17th-century Italy that gave birth to opera. And like opera, the concerto is a vehicle for the depiction of every human emotion and relationship imaginable, from the gentlest and most tender to the most violent and confrontational, and everything in between.

The concerto is also an extreme sport for soloists, representing musical life lived at the edge, as instruments and the musicians who play them are pushed to the very limit of what is possible by composers exploring the extremes of instrumental virtuosity.

Best of all, the concerto repertoire is huge! The genre was invented long before the symphony. As a result, Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Corelli, and Telemann composed hundreds of concerti, but among them not a single symphony. Mozart's great concerti far outnumber his great symphonies; Beethoven wrote almost as many concerti as symphonies; and Brahms composed equal numbers of both. During the 18th and 19th centuries, at least as many concerti were composed as symphonies. And during the 20th century, in terms of sheer quantity, the concerto was by far the single most important genre of orchestral music.

Thrills, drama, emotion, virtuosity, and a vast repertoire—what more could a music lover ask?

300 Years of Concerti

In this series of 24, 45-minute lectures, Professor Robert Greenberg gives you a guided tour of the concerto from its conception as a child of Renaissance ideals, through its maturation in the Classical age, its metamorphosis in the Romantic era, and its radical transformation in the 20th century. The course closes with a look into the future at concerto composers who are now in mid-career and poised to carry this vibrant musical tradition well into the 21st century.

These lectures are musically rich, including selections from nearly 100 concerti representing more than 60 composers—from Gabrieli to Gershwin, from Schumann to Shostakovich.

Along with the bedrock of the repertoire, represented by Vivaldi, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, Rachmaninoff, Bartok, and many others, you will be introduced to superb concerti by Hummel, Vieuxtemps, Wieniawski, Moszkowski, Paderewski, Ginastera, and other less-familiar masters.

The many pieces you will explore in depth include:

  • Mozart's Concerto for Flute in G Major, K. 313: For one who claimed to detest the flute, Wolfgang Mozart composed some of the most gorgeous music ever written for the instrument.
  • Haydn's Concerto for Trumpet in E-flat Major: Often heard on today's concert stage, this stirring piece was nearly lost forever. It was only found in 1929—120 years after Joseph Haydn's death.
  • Beethoven's Piano Concerto no. 4 in G Major, op. 58: Ludwig van Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto is one of his greatest works in the genre—filled with compositional, pianistic, and expressive innovations that changed the course of Western music.
  • Chopin's Piano Concerto no. 2 in F Minor, op. 21: Disdaining large-scale form, Frederic Chopin strove for achingly beautiful themes and an amazing harmonic palette. The spectacular third movement of this piece is a Polish mazurka gone wild.
  • Grieg's Piano Concerto in A Minor, op. 16: The most beloved and recognizable concerto to early 20th century audiences was not by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, or Brahms; it was this piece by the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg.
  • Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D Major, op. 35: In Professor Greenberg's estimation, this concerto is Peter Tchaikovsky's single greatest work and one of the greatest concerti of the 19th century.

Other highlights of the course include virtually an entire lecture devoted to Johannes Brahms's Piano Concerto no. 2 in B-flat Major, op. 83; and another lecture focusing on Antonin Dvorak's Concerto for Cello in B Minor, op. 104, "the greatest cello concerto ever written," says Professor Greenberg. You also explore some notoriously esoteric and difficult 20th-century composers, including Arnold Schoenberg and Elliott Carter, learning how their music is much more accessible than it appears.

Concerto Play-by-Play

As in his many other courses for The Teaching Company, Professor Greenberg has put together a fascinating itinerary that will surprise, delight, and instruct you, introducing you to new realms of music and also teaching you how to appreciate familiar pieces in new ways.

And, as always, his musical analysis is a vivid play-by-play, mixing technical information (which he always explains) with a connoisseur's appreciation for the grand effect, the crucial detail, and the telling anecdote that help bring a piece of music to life. For example:

  • Bach's Brandenburg Concerto no. 3 in G Major, BWV 1048: "One could argue quite persuasively that rather than feature no soloist at all, Brandenburg 3 demands that virtually every player become a soloist."
  • Mozart's Concerto for Piano no. 21 in C Major, K. 467: "Mozart creates for the piano a persona that is a rakish bon vivant that stands in contrast to the orchestra's grandeur. The piano is 'escorted' on stage, Dean Martin-like, by what I imagine to be three lovely ladies: a sultry redhead, portrayed by a solo oboe; a husky-voiced brunette, portrayed by a solo bassoon; and a ravishing blonde, portrayed by a solo flute."
  • Bartok's Piano Concerto no. 2: "Bartok's music is precisely what all 21st century music should aspire to be: personal, powerful, and brilliantly crafted; music that somehow manages to reconcile diverse aspects of our global environment into a whole greater than its parts. Bartok is, truly, a composer for our time."
  • Richard Strauss's Oboe Concerto in D Major: "Strauss's Oboe Concerto is a masterwork of elegance, melodic grace, and concision, though it begins with a passage that strikes fear and dread in the heart of every oboist. To play the passage, an oboist has to use a technique called circular breathing, during which she must exhale air held in the cheeks while simultaneously inhaling through the nose."

A Thrill in Every Sense

Professor Greenberg observes that the same qualities of drama and conflict that make concerti exciting experiences for the audience also create the prospect for real-life conflict among the musicians. "The performance of a concerto is ripe with potential for interpersonal conflict that goes beyond the usual conductor versus orchestra warfare," he notes. "By adding an outsider—a featured soloist—to the mix, we are witness to an exponential increase in the likelihood for interpersonal rivalry, resentment, envy, and sabotage." Professor Greenberg gives a behind-the-scenes glimpse at several incidents that illustrate the fragile egos and turf wars that seem to be an inevitable part of the business of making great music.

But great music it is—a thrill in every sense. The concerto is a genuinely theatric construct. Beyond its pitches, rhythms, and forms, it is about the aspirations of the individual—each of us, as we venture forth and make our way in a sometimes hostile, sometimes friendly, but always challenging environment.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 47 minutes each
  • 1
    The Voice in the Wilderness
    Alessandro Stradella was the first to compose works now recognized as concerti. His Sonata in D Major for Trumpet and Strings from around 1680 is really a concerto and shows how operatic technique is transferred to instrumental music. x
  • 2
    The Baroque Italian Concerto
    Giuseppe Torelli pioneered the three-movement concerto as well as ritornello form. Tomaso Albinoni elevated the solo oboe to a position approaching that of the solo violin, while Antonio Vivaldi made the concerto the most important instrumental form during the High Baroque. x
  • 3
    Baroque Masters
    In the first of his musical potpourris, surveying a wide range of concerti and their composers from a given era, Professor Greenberg examines Baroque works by Alessandro Mar'cello, Francesco Geminiani, Francesco Manfredini, Pietro Locatelli, Georg Muffat, Georg Philipp Telemann, and George Frederick Handel. x
  • 4
    Bach’s Brandenburg Concerti
    Johann Sebastian Bach composed transcendent music that married craft, imagination, spiritual depth, and expressive profundity with lyricism, grace, and delicacy. These qualities can be found in his six Brandenburg concerti—supreme masterworks that are unmatched by any concerti before those of Mozart. x
  • 5
    Mozart, Part 1
    The solo concerto became the predominant type of concerto during the Classical era. The era's brightest star, Wolfgang Mozart, was arguably the greatest composer of concerti who ever lived. This lecture focuses on his Concerto no. 4 in D Major for Violin, K. 218; and Concerto for Flute in G Major, K. 313. x
  • 6
    Mozart, Part 2
    This lecture explores Mozart's Oboe Concerto in C Major, K. 271k; Horn Concerto in E flat Major, K. 495; Sinfonia Concertante in E flat Major for Violin, Viola, and Orchestra, K. 364; Concerto in E flat Major for Two Pianos, K. 365; Piano Concerto no. 20 in D Minor, K. 466; Piano Concerto no. 21 in C Major, K. 467; and Clarinet Concerto in A Major, K. 622. x
  • 7
    Classical Masters
    The second of Professor Greenberg's musical potpourris examines the rich environment of pre-Classical and Classical-era concerti. Featured are works by Giuseppe Tartini, Johann Joachim Quantz, Frederick II of Prussia, Johann Christian Bach, and Joseph Haydn, whose Trumpet Concerto in E flat Major is considered the greatest of his surviving concerti. x
  • 8
    With its inherent principle of contrast, the concerto was an ideal vehicle for Ludwig van Beethoven, whose belief that expressive content should determine form resulted in an unheard of degree of formal flexibility. This lecture discusses his Triple Concerto for Violin, 'Cello, and Piano in C Major, op. 56; and Piano Concerto no. 4 in G Major, op. 58. x
  • 9
    The Romantic Concerto
    The Romantic era's focus on virtuosity resulted in the predominance of the soloist over the orchestra, exemplified in Niccolo Paganini's Violin Concerto no. 1 in D Major. With Franz Liszt's Piano Concerto no. 1 in E flat Major, even traditional double exposition form disappeared in the face of the "heroic" soloist. x
  • 10
    Hummel and Chopin
    Frederick Chopin considered his compositional style to have evolved from Mozart. Chopin's link to Mozart was Mozart's student Johann Nepomuk Hummel, whose Piano Concerto in B Minor, op. 89, is featured in this lecture. Of Chopin's two piano concerti, Piano Concerto no. 2 in F Minor, op. 21, is discussed. x
  • 11
    Mendelssohn and Schumann
    This lecture compares and contrasts two Romantic-era giants, Felix Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann. Featured are Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto in G Minor, op. 25; and Violin Concerto in E Minor, op. 64; followed by Schumann's Piano Concerto in A Minor, op. 54; and 'Cello Concerto in A Minor, op. 129. x
  • 12
    Romantic Masters
    Professor Greenberg's third musical potpourri discusses the work of seven Romantic composers, whose concerti are still current on the concert stage and in recording: Henri Vieuxtemps, Henryk Wieniawski, Max Bruch, Edvard Grieg, Moritz Moszkowski, Ignaz Paderewski, and Richard Strauss. x
  • 13
    Excoriated by colleagues and critics alike, Tchaikovsky's concerti ultimately triumphed to become cornerstones of the repertoire. This lecture explores his Piano Concerto no. 1 in B flat Minor, op. 23; Piano Concerto no. 2 in G Major, op. 44; and Violin Concerto in D Major, op. 35, arguably his single greatest work and one of the greatest concerti of the 19th century. x
  • 14
    Brahms and the Symphonic Concerto
    Johannes Brahms's compositional style is a synthesis of the clear and concise musical forms and genres of the Classical and Baroque eras, and the melodic, harmonic, and expressive palette of the Romantic era in which he lived. This lecture examines in depth his monumental Piano Concerto no. 2 in B flat Major, op. 83. x
  • 15
    Antonin Dvorak appreciated Mozart and the clear constructs of Classical-era music, infused with a Beethovenian expressivity, and a Romantic melodic and harmonic language. His 'Cello Concerto in B Minor, op. 104, is likely the finest 'cello concerto in the repertoire. x
  • 16
    Sergei Rachmaninoff displays a high degree of lyricism and drama, and a preference for the minor mode that often tinges his music with melancholy. This lecture explores his Piano Concerto no. 1 in F sharp Minor, op. 1; Piano Concerto no. 2 in C Minor, op. 18; and Piano Concerto no. 3 in D Minor, op. 30. x
  • 17
    The Russian Concerto, Part 1
    Music of Alexander Glazunov, who reconciled 19th-century Russian musical nationalism with German compositional style, is the foundation on which this examination of the Russian concerto is based. This lecture examines such works as his Violin Concerto in A Minor, op. 82, as well as concerti by Dmitri Kabalevsky and Aram Khachaturian. x
  • 18
    The Russian Concerto, Part 2
    Sergei Prokofiev had a wry and acerbic personality that found its way into his music. This lecture discusses his Piano Concerto no. 1 in D flat Major, op. 10; Piano Concerto no. 3 in C Major, op. 26; and Violin Concerto no. 2 in G Minor, op. 63, a work designed for performance in the Soviet Union. Dmitri Shostakovich, whose output of concerti is modest compared to his symphonies and string quartets, is represented by his Piano Concerto no. 1 in C Minor, op. 35; Piano Concerto no. 2 in F Major, op. 102; Violin Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, op. 77; and his 'Cello Concerto no. 1 in E flat Major, op. 107, a work composed for his friend Mstislav Rostropovich. x
  • 19
    The Concerto in France
    This lecture explores the concerti of French composers Maurice Ravel, Jacques Ibert, François Poulenc, and Henri Dutilleux. All were profoundly influenced by the French language in their love of sound, a penchant for long melodies, a tendency toward slow harmonic turnover, and an emphasis on thematic variation. x
  • 20
    Bela Bartok combined elements from Eastern European folk music, a love for Classical-era forms, a Beethoven-inspired mastery of motivic development and an innate sense of drama to create a viscerally exciting and intellectually rewarding music. This lecture discusses his Piano Concerto no. 2 and his Concerto for Orchestra, one of the great orchestral masterworks of the 20th century. x
  • 21
    Schönberg, Berg and the 12-Tone Method
    Arnold Schönberg was one of the most influential composers of the 20th century. As an example of his 12-tone music, this lecture looks at the viscerally powerful Piano Concerto, op. 42. Also examined is the haunting Violin Concerto of Schönberg's student, Alban Berg, whose use of the 12-tone technique in this work is stunningly expressive and lyric. x
  • 22
    Twentieth-Century Masters
    Professor Greenberg's fourth musical potpourri explores five composers and five concerto masterworks from the 20th century: Jean Sibelius's Violin Concerto in D Minor, op. 47; Carl Nielsen's Clarinet Concerto, op. 57; William Walton's Viola Concerto; Aaron Copland's Piano Concerto; and Albert Ginastera's Piano Concerto no. 1. x
  • 23
    Elliott Carter
    Elliott Carter's great achievement is his ability to meld completely different, simultaneous musical elements into a convincing and homogeneous whole. This lecture focuses on his incredibly complex Double Concerto for Harpsichord and Piano of 1961, which is also his greatest orchestral work. x
  • 24
    Servants to the Cause and Guilty Pleasures
    In the final lecture Professor Greenberg looks at the relationship between soloist, conductor, and orchestra in the performance of concerti. Next he focuses on some composers and superb concerti that have not been discussed thus far in the course. Finally, he lists composers to watch—living composers of concerti whose careers are well worth following. 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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The Concerto is rated 4.9 out of 5 by 55.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Concerto I just can't get enough of Greenberg---articulate, knowledgeable, and funny!!!
Date published: 2020-06-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Real Treat! I have taken several other TC courses with Professor Greenberg, but they have been treatments of individual composers (the best being that of Brahms). This is my first step into Professor Greenberg’s other course offerings. Though I thought I might have trouble following the inevitable technical aspects of ‘The Concerto’, I felt comfortable throughout, as Professor Greenberg is excellent in his explanations and lightens the lectures with his signature humor. Even more important is that the lectures contain generous selections from key works, enlivened by Professor Greenberg’s commentary. This 2006 TC course has twenty-four lectures, but as they are each forty-five minutes or more, not the usual thirty, this course is equivalent to thirty-six lectures. Professor Greenberg makes things interesting by not only bringing out the musical issues related to the development of the concerto, but also deftly weaves in a lot of history, biographical details (about the many famous and lesser known composers who produced concertos), discussion of how musical instruments developed, and even how poorly some composers and other musicians got along with each other. Significant for me is Professor Greenberg’s catalog of put-downs that composers used with each other, and how poorly conductors often treated concerto soloists: just like human beings! The Greenberg irony and humor are sprinkled throughout, examples being three good viola jokes (imagine that), and how the son of one composer who had fled Nazi Germany ended up playing Colonel Klink on the television series ‘Hogan’s Heroes’! The sweep of this course is breath-taking, starting in the late seventeenth century until the present (i.e., 2006). In fact, one could say that it goes even further, as Professor Greenberg points to several rising stars. He also is not shy about telling us about his favorite composers and concertos (including one by Beethoven he would want if stranded on a deserted island). I could agree with Professor Greenberg though much of the course, but I cannot share his high regard for Bartok and Elliot Carter, who he admits need much explanation to be appreciated. This course is accompanied by a fine 197-page course guide with ample lecture summaries, an extensive glossary of musical terms, a list of composers (with only birth and death dates), a timeline, and a bibliography. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2019-12-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from If you enjoy classical music, you know many concerti. There isn't a more eloquent and informed guide through this music than Prof. Greenberg who informs and entertains, and raises the standard of commentary everywhere music is played.
Date published: 2019-11-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another winner from Greenberg We have purchased almost all of Professor Greenberg's lecture series and have found them to be enlightening and entertaining. My background includes many academic hours in music, but no one is able to bring home the messages of music like Greenberg. I especially like his insightful knowledge and his not shying away from telling the true lives of the composers with the best of available material. My own concert going experiences have been deeply enriched with the ideas and explanations he has provided. Bravo!
Date published: 2019-09-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent!! My husband and I have learned so much from this course. We attend concerts regularly and have heard most of the concertos included in this course. The information from this course has added so much to our understanding and appreciation. Thanks
Date published: 2018-08-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazed at the History and Complexity of the Music I am enjoying the The Concerto more than The Symphony. Both are excellent. With no prior music background other than attending our local symphony orchestra concerts, I feel like a sponge absorbing all the interesting insight into the classical music. I would only suggest it could be improved by adding videos of actual orchestras playing the examples rather than static pages.
Date published: 2018-06-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Not Your Stodgy Classical Course Fair warning: If you like your music history dry and dusty, if classical music is your excuse to throw your nose in the air and trot out your pickle-juice face, if you prefer music lectures to come in tones that could lull a sugar-hopped third grader into slack-jawed stupor, give this course a miss. Scoot right on by, do not pass Gounod, do not collect 200 beats per minute. Because this course is not only informative, it's fun. Yes, Greenberg puts some people off. I am not one of them. His energetic, witty shtick is far more in line with the personalities and music of Mozart, Handel, Beethoven, &co. than the ponderous tones in which they are so often discussed. Greenberg walks us through the development of the concerto -- loosely speaking, a piece for solo instrument backed by orchestra -- and takes us on a journey inside masterworks stretching from the baroque to the modern era. You don't have to be an expert to appreciate this course. After hearing one lecture (audio download version), my wife pestered me each evening to hear more, and ended up acquiring some favorite composers about whom she previously knew little or nothing. Unless your taste in classical music is very wide-ranging, you may tire out at one end or the other. As much as I was willing to let Greenberg talk me into appreciating twelve-tone music, I just can't get excited about it. I understand it. I know my way around a tone row with the best of them. But even after Greenberg's Schoenberg lecture, twelve-tone still seems to me so much structure to produce such a random-sounding result. At the same time, Greenberg successfully proselyted me to a few composers (notably Bartok) that I had not paid much attention to previously. There are a few niggling bits; Greenberg, for example, keeps pronouncing "basso continuo" with Zs instead of S, which is odd because I can't tell that he does that in any other course. But on the whole, you really can't go wrong with "The Concerto." Unless, of course, you prefer your classical lectures dry and neither shaken nor stirred.
Date published: 2018-02-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Greenberg is one of the great lecturers I am in the process of listening to every single lecture by this man. Entertaining, hugely literate, wise, balanced, and one of the best historic and musical minds of the century - what a pleasure it is to be able to hear him. Every lecture is fresh, perfectly structured, fascinating, engrossing, inspiring, funny and vastly informed. What a treasure! I'd pay full price for everything I could lay my hands on by him but fortunately I haven't had to.
Date published: 2017-09-02
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