The Great Works of Sacred Music

Course No. 7316
Professor of Musicology Charles Edward McGuire , Ph.D.
Oberlin College
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Course No. 7316
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Trace the roots of sacred music, beginning with the history of chant and how it evolved into polyphony.
  • numbers Delve into the religious reformations of the 16th century, and see how the underlying theology shaped sacred music.
  • numbers Study how composers mixed sacred styles with secular genres like opera to create music that was reverent and modern.
  • numbers Look the profound influence of sacred music on Bach, Handel, Mozart, and more.
  • numbers Explore music designed for yuletide religious services, as well as musical works that became associated with Christmas.

Course Overview

Western classical music is one of humanity’s most sublime artistic traditions. Significantly, this great musical language—encompassing genres from symphonic and instrumental music to choral works and opera—was created through the meeting of art and faith.

The first music schools in Europe were associated with the Catholic Church. Originally, the Church commissioned music, as composers and the clergy used the power of music to exalt God. The lineage of sacred works not only forms a glorious tradition within Western music, but also ultimately produced some of the greatest masterpieces in Western art, and created the foundation of the Western musical canon as we now know it. This phenomenal tradition includes works of genius such as:

  • Josquin des Prez’s Ave Maria, gratia plena, an exquisite polyphonic motet, and one of the first masterworks of sacred music;
  • Claudio Monteverdi’s Vespro della Beata Virgini, whose vocal pyrotechnics evoke the immensity of heaven;
  • Mozart’s Requiem, the final composition of the Classical master, and a work of astonishing dramatic power;
  • Mendelssohn’s Elijah, a remarkable distillation of the history of the oratorio, and a grand vision of what the oratorio might become; and
  • Faure’s Requiem, a deliberately anti-monumental work, written as a quiet expression of individual wonder.

In The Great Works of Sacred Music, you’ll study these extraordinary creations and many more, taking in a rich panorama of Western sacred music and its most magnificent artistic landmarks. Studying the milestone works in this tradition not only introduces you to a repertoire and a legacy of extraordinary musical greatness, but also provides a vivid and essential view of how Western music came to be. As you’ll discover, many of the forms and structures that underlie all of Western music, as well as many of the compositional techniques through which music conveys meaning, were pioneered by composers of sacred music.

Studying the great sacred works also shows you how the musical components of Christian ritual developed, illustrates the interplay between music and Christian worship, and reveals how music’s unique capacities have been used to amplify the meaning and significance of religious texts.

Finally, the lineage of sacred music includes major masterworks of Bach, Handel, Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms, Elgar, and many others. Exploring these works within the context of their creation shows how sacred musical expression fits together as a tradition, and forms a beloved and hugely meaningful current within Western art.

Speaking to all of these matters and more in The Great Works of Sacred Music, Professor Charles McGuire of the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music takes you on a deep dive into the history and evolution of sacred music in the West. Professor McGuire, a celebrated musicologist with a richly detailed knowledge of this tradition, fills these 16 engrossing lectures with essential insights and stunning musical excerpts, covering over 1,200 years of music, from medieval chant to the massive sacred works of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. An accomplished musician himself, Professor McGuire sings excerpts and examples for you throughout the course. This is music for the religious and the non-religious person alike—a tradition of compelling universality, beauty, and humanity in art.

Witness the Remarkable Evolution of Sacred Musical Expression

In the course’s opening, you’ll learn the origins of Western sacred music in Catholic prayer services, where it served a specific liturgical function. Here, you’ll study the beauties of medieval chant—a way of singing prayer—and how the single musical line of chant evolved into polyphony (music with multiple simultaneous melodies), which you’ll hear gloriously exemplified in masses by composers such as Guillaume de Machaut and Guillaume Dufay.

Through superlative sacred works by William Byrd and Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, you’ll discover how the religious reformations of the 16th century compelled composers to create new musical genres and to make religious text settings more communicative. And you’ll observe how 17th-century sacred music composers such as Monteverdi and Heinrich Schütz competed with the increasing popularity of secular music by blending sacred styles with secular genres such as opera, producing music of dramatic and unforgettable beauty.

As a fascinating counterpoint to the music itself, you’ll explore the sociological background of its writing and performance. You’ll learn how sacred musical works were often commissioned by important clerical and aristocratic patrons, and how sacred music composers were challenged to write works that were not only religiously edifying, but also entertaining and publically successful. And you’ll observe how, through time, sacred music moved beyond the church walls to become appreciated in secular venues as autonomous works of art.

Experience the Greatest Masterworks of the Sacred Tradition

At the heart of this course, you’ll look deeply into the keystone works in this lineage, including:

  • Bach’s Mass in b minor: Discover, through key musical excerpts, how Bach blended ancient and modern musical styles, and recast material from his earlier compositions, in creating a work of grandeur and universality that is one of the high points of all music.
  • Handel’s Messiah: Grasp Handel’s genius in musically realizing the oratorio’s remarkable text, explore a range of its most exceptional musical passages, and learn how his Messiah became one of the most celebrated works in the Western musical canon.
  • Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis: Explore Beethoven’s motives for writing this complex masterpiece, and study how he infused the score with historical styles reaching back to the Renaissance and earlier, portraying the mystical and the human in a highly personal expression of spirituality.
  • Edward Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius: In this remarkable British masterwork, learn how Elgar transformed the genre of oratorio by imbuing it with modern compositional elements such as Wagnerian orchestration and narrative continuity.
  • Verdi’s Quattro Pezzi Sacri: In an era when institutionalized faith was increasingly questioned, witness how Verdi conjured a majestic spiritual vision, but one which culminates in a distinctly ambiguous ending.

Gain Deep Insights into Musical Creation

As a highly memorable benefit of Professor McGuire’s teaching, you’ll learn not only about the development and the repertoire of sacred music, but about the extraordinary compositional ingenuity and brilliance that give these works their penetrating expressive power.

In Haydn’s Creation, you’ll grasp how the composer portrays the majesty of the rising sun through simultaneous ascending and descending instrumental lines in different registers of the orchestra. In Mozart’s Requiem, you’ll observe how Mozart uses specific vocal scoring and compositional tropes to evoke the emotions of grief and despair. And in Faure’s Requiem, you’ll study the musical means by which the French master creates an otherworldly atmosphere of comfort, stillness, and light.

Professor McGuire’s illumination of these magnificent works rests on his lifelong experience of the sacred music tradition as a dedicated performer, conductor, scholar, and award-winning teacher. Throughout the lectures, he performs key musical excerpts in the studio, with on-screen scrolling sheet music so you can follow along. His expressive singing of important passages and clarifying examples adds another dimension to your learning experience, helping you understand and connect with the music on a deeper level.

In The Great Works of Sacred Music, you’ll encounter many of the supreme achievements of the Western classical tradition, compositions that demonstrate the roots of our musical heritage in passionate spiritual expression. Join a brilliant musicologist in discovering these unique masterpieces—works, as Professor McGuire says, “that elevate music to the sphere of prayer, as an elegant and transcendent devotional gift.”

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16 lectures
 |  Average 44 minutes each
  • 1
    Hallelujah, Amen: The World of Sacred Music
    Begin by exploring the contexts in which Western sacred music developed, from its use in religious ritual to its emergence in the concert hall as edifying entertainment. Then encounter three distinct eras in sacred music, hearing excerpts from medieval chant, Handel's iconic Hallelujah chorus, and Edward Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius. x
  • 2
    From Chant to Early Sacred Polyphony
    Trace the roots and origins of sacred music in the Christian West, beginning with the history of chant, a way of singing prayer unaccompanied by instruments. Using diverse musical examples, learn about the structure and styles of chant, and how it evolved into polyphony (music with more than one melody sounding simultaneously). x
  • 3
    The Golden Age of Polyphony
    Follow the rise to prominence of both the composer and their patron, observing how sacred music adapted to musical fashions. Explore polyphonic innovations in masses by Guillaume de Machaut and Guillaume Dufay, and in Josquin des Prez's superlative motet, Ave Maria, gratia plena, one of the first great works of sacred music. x
  • 4
    The Age of Reformation: Who Will Sing?
    Delve into the religious reformations of the 16th century, and learn how the underlying theological debates shaped sacred music. In particular, grasp how changes in Christian ritual impelled William Byrd, Martin Luther, and Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina to pioneer new musical genres and ways to make sung texts more intelligible and communicative. x
  • 5
    Sacred Music in a Secular World
    By the 17th century, fashionable music began to be equated with secular music. Through studying Claudio Monteverdi's masterpiece, the Vespro della Beata Virgini, and Heinrich Schutz's extraordinary Musikalische Exequien, learn how both composers mixed sacred styles with elements from secular genres like opera to create music that was both reverent and modern. x
  • 6
    Man and Meaning: Bach's Cantatas
    Bach's sacred works are perhaps the most celebrated in Western music. Learn about the chorale and cantata, musical forms famously used by Bach. Study his great Cantata No. 80, a beautiful example of Bach's ingenious blending of the traditional (a chorale by Martin Luther) with the new (elements of recitative and aria). x
  • 7
    Art for Art's Sake: Bach's Mass in B Minor
    Trace the convoluted compositional history of the magnificent Mass in b minor, and explore Bach's motives for composing a work with no real practical function. Study how Bach blends older and newer musical styles and recasts musical material from his earlier works in creating a stunning compendium of his own style as a composer. x
  • 8
    Handel's Great Oratorio: Messiah
    In the first of two lectures on Handel's Messiah, study the genre of oratorio, and see how Handel adapted it for his own purposes. Investigate the lives and partnership of Handel and Charles Jennens (the Messiah's librettist), and discover some of the glorious music from this most beloved of oratorios. x
  • 9
    Messiah: From Entertainment to Ritual
    Learn about the sources and meanings of the Messiah's text, and witness the remarkable realization of the text in Handel's music. Explore Handel's brilliant compositional ingenuity in the oratorio, and follow the story of how the Messiah rose to become one of the centerpieces of the Western canon of classical music. x
  • 10
    Mozart's Requiem: Praise and Memory
    Learn the mysterious and romantic story behind this extraordinary masterwork. Study the musical traits of the Classical Era and the genre of the requiem mass, as ingeniously embodied in Mozart's music. Then investigate Mozart's musical rhetoric," the technical means through which he portrays the drama of life, grief, and the hope for consolation." x
  • 11
    Haydn's The Creation
    Take account of the influence of Handel in this beloved oratorio, and discover the integral role played in its creation by a noble patron and two Viennese institutions. Explore the range of Haydn's powerful musical language, evoking the Chaos before the Creation, the rising sun, and the triumphant annunciation of the Fourth Day. x
  • 12
    God, Man, Music, and Beethoven
    In the first of two sublime sacred works by Beethoven, his oratorio Christus am Olberge, grasp how he uses dramatic expressive means to emphasize the suffering of Christ - suffering with which he personally identified. In the great Missa Solemnis, follow how Beethoven mines the musical past in creating a monumental spiritual vision. x
  • 13
    Mendelssohn's Elijah
    In Elijah, Mendelssohn created a compendium of what the oratorio had been, balanced against what it could be. Through listening to compelling excerpts, observe how he includes evocations of Handel, Bach, and Haydn, framed within his own unique musical rhetoric, aiming to compose a work that would outlive him within the canon of sacred music. x
  • 14
    Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius
    Learn about the creation of Elgar's exquisite and very Catholic oratorio, against the musical and religious backdrop of 19th-century Britain. Study how Elgar infused The Dream of Gerontius with Wagnerian operatic elements such as continuous musical narrative, leitmotif, and lavish orchestration, transforming the genre of oratorio into something new. x
  • 15
    Sacred Music in the Late 19th Century
    Beginning in the late 19th century, composers of sacred music began to question institutional conceptions of faith. Here, study one monumental yet very personal work, Brahms's Ein Deutsches Requiem; one very anti-monumental expression, Faure's Requiem; and one that seems monumental, yet ends in a deliberately equivocal manner, Verdi's Quattro Pezzi Sacri. x
  • 16
    Come, All Ye Faithful: Music of Christmas
    Conclude with a look at the rich tradition of Christmas music. Explore music designed for yuletide religious services, as well as musical works that became associated with Christmas. Learn how 19th-century composers created a beloved legacy of Christmas carols by resurrecting older ones, writing new ones, and making hybrids of old texts and new music. x

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Video DVD
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  • Download 16 video lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
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Instant Audio Includes:
  • Download 16 audio lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE audio streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
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DVD Includes:
  • 16 lectures on 4 DVDS
  • 152-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
  • Closed captioning available

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 152-page printed course guidebook
  • Photos & illustrations
  • Suggested readings
  • Suggested listening

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Your professor

Charles Edward McGuire

About Your Professor

Charles Edward McGuire , Ph.D.
Oberlin College
Charles Edward McGuire is Professor of Musicology at the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, where he has taught since 2001. He earned a B.Mus. in musicology from the Oberlin Conservatory and a B.A. from Oberlin College with high honors in history, and received his A.M. and Ph.D. in music from Harvard University. At Oberlin, Professor McGuire teaches music history, including courses on 19th-century music, Ludwig van...
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The Great Works of Sacred Music is rated 3.8 out of 5 by 47.
Rated 2 out of 5 by from ok but not great I found the course fairly weak. It flew over topics before Handel. And focused on classical composers we all know anyway. There is a lot more to say about Gregorian Chant and its role in the monastery and churches. And polyphony. And how the protestant reformation changed all the later. What was Luther and the other reformers up to? Where did they get the music we now know? How did all that evolve. The council of Trent did a lot more to music then discussed. More on Tallas and Palestrini and their work. The rest is well covered in other courses.
Date published: 2018-04-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from This is truly a college level course in sacred music. I will go back and take notes. So far I have not seen references to commercial music sources for music played.
Date published: 2017-10-09
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Unable to Watch Instructor reads his material very well. The camera direction and the instructor's following of the camera is very distracting. I had to do other things while "listening" to the lectures. And did he really have to sing?? These are the things I think of first before thinking of the information presented. But then, I've been spoiled by Professor Greenberg's lectures.
Date published: 2017-08-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very Interesting & Informative Despite my tin ear I enjoyed this course tremendously. The historical background and commentary on the composers was quite interesting. Somebody more into actual music would certainly get more out of the professor’s remarks about the various styles of the music. My reluctance to give five stars is because of the poor closed captioning.
Date published: 2017-08-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful overview of the history of Sacred Music This course is presented by Professor Charles Edward McGuire of Oberlin College Conservatory of Music. In it he traces the history of sacred music from the monastery to the church to the concert hall, showing how the styles of music have both evolved over time, but at the same time they have reached back into the past, using the styles and techniques of the past, to present a fresh musical performance in the present. He brings out the very interesting point that, until the Reformation, singing in church was by the monks, not by the people, and one of the great innovations that Luther and the reformers brought in was to bring the singing to the people as participation, rather than simply reception. He focuses primarily on "Great Music" (Handel, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, etc.) and also points out that, over time, these men did not write their music for church worship, but for public presentation (and income!). And yet, even though performed in the concert hall, the religiously edifying benefit of the music was expected – even demanded, and if it wasn't received, it was protested against. This is a very interesting course, very informative (and at the end I picked O come, O come Emanuel as being in the form of a chant), although it would have been good if he had also gone into the history of hymnody, but maybe that would have made it too long. Perhaps they will do another one.
Date published: 2017-07-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Course for the Faithful and Skeptical Professor McGuire presents a fine course on Sacred Music that any lover of choral music should take, regardless of her religious bent. After an almost obligatory introductory lecture with a predictable focus on Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus and an unexpected inclusion of Elgar he shifts to an historical approach toward sacred music, beginning with chants and ending with sacred music of the 19th century. The last lecture shifts from the historical narrative to an overview of Christmas music. The lectures include excerpts of the music that he discusses and he sometimes sings an excerpt, usually with the score included as a subtitle. A welcome aid (at least for me) was that he often played an excerpt several times, emphasizing the portions that illustrated his teaching points. This really helped me to hear specific things that I missed the first time through. So what is not to like? For starters, it is hard to not compare Professor McGuire to Dr. Robert Greenberg (at least if you have listened to as many of Greenberg’s course as have I). To be sure Greenberg’s presentation style is controversial, but Professor McGuire, though knowledgeable and through, lacks humor and passion. Clearly he does love his subject, but that love does not come through to the viewer and I’d love at least one or two bits of humor to lighten the mood. Professor McGuire acknowledges that copyright restrictions keep him from exploring contemporary music, but I’d spend a few more dollars so he could expand the course to the 20th and 21st centuries. While I did not expect anything other than Christian music, “sacred” music consists of much more than this one area. Overall, the lecture format and aids are quite helpful and sufficient to overcome the few drawbacks. I was especially pleased with the lecture centering on Elgar’s “The Dream of Gerontius”, a work with which I was unfamiliar. The only bad news is that I now have another piece to purchase. The historical flow, usually setting the music in its historical and cultural context was quite effective. A must course for choral music fans. Others might be bored, but I expect that this course is self-selecting.
Date published: 2017-03-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from One mis-pronunciation colors my opinion of course This is not really a review but a comment. Handel has an umlaut above the H and is pronounced Handel to rhyme with HAND not Hahndel to rhyme with JOHN. Every time I hear the professor do this - and it seems Handel's name is brought up in every lesson - I cringe. Otherwise, the course is fairly dry and a lot less interesting than the subject warrants.
Date published: 2017-01-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Theory and History This course is highly suitable to listen to and learn from when the mind needs something because the hands are engaged in the routine. The professor presents the information in a stylistically dense manner, but successfully keeps it from being overwhelming by cleverly blending music theory with anecdotal history, speech with song with instrumentation, and reverent enthusiasm for the subject with amusement at its foibles. Chiefly, this course concerned itself with the history of sacred music in Christianity, as developed from the Middle Ages to the late 1800s. (If anyone was looking to this course for information on a world scale, it might prove a disappointment not to hear devotional music from, say, India, where there was also something of a patronage system, but the professor's biography makes very clear what his specialties are so disappointment is avoidable.) The professor went to a lot of effort to make the course accessible to someone who has not studied music, by relying on concepts applicable across many subjects, diligently defining all musical terms, and freely singing demonstrations of his points where possible and supplying high quality sound clips where necessary. He has a lovely voice. Within the last fifteen minutes of every lecture, he makes certain to stretch the listener a little, by discussing a work uncommonly known or by introducing an unfamiliar anecdote or contemporaneous composer. Over the set of lectures, he builds a cohesive picture of how sacred music moved out of the monasteries, developed institutional and personal patronage, became beloved entertainment, and survived the diminish mentioned of the patronage system. Most of the lectures follow certain composers through time, showing the influences upon and development of their work. The whole treatment puts a wonderfully personal face on music history. Surprisingly, I learned more music theory from this course than I did from an entire year's class I spent on the subject. The professor of these lectures, while focusing on history, deftly wove the basics of melody, polyphony, intervals, time signature, key, and symmetry into the very first three lectures. It took me a while to realize I was learning about it. Bravo! After that, he freely (and slyly) mentioned what characteristics defined the sounds of different musical styles, showing how they built from and referenced each other. It made perfect sense. This set of courses is one that I would recommend for any library, and hope will end up in most high schools and undergraduate colleges.
Date published: 2016-11-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Lots of new background information This course contains interesting info about sacred western music, including much about the times in which the pieces were composed. I enjoyed hearing about what was happening in the composers lives and what other people collaborated on the works.
Date published: 2016-09-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Comprehensive review of an unusual topic of music. A very comprehensive and academic review of a musical subject seldom reviewed. The lecturer has a academic approach to the subject that may take some effort to grasp and one may need to repeat some sections to completely understand the specifics of his discussion.
Date published: 2016-08-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Introduction This is a nice introduction to sacred music. McGuire is obviously very knowledgeable about the subject. He is not as analytical as Robert Greenberg. Unlike some others, I enjoyed McGuire's singing.
Date published: 2016-08-02
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A great subject but poor presentation I guess I have been spoiled by Professor Robert Greenberg, who has presented multiple wonderful Great Courses music series. I am personally a fan of great sacred music and so bought this course eagerly--and was disappointed. It is a bad mistake for a professor to sing music a cappella when notes go flat--oh my--this is really not good. This course was also much more poorly organized than Greenberg introductory courses that I had already listened to--what were the dates, what are the musical definitions, what is the context...this course was just not well organized. I wished that the course could have extended to music somewhat later in time, although I do understand that copyright issues may preclude including later pieces. I gave 2 stars rather than 1 because much of this music is truly gorgeous and Great Courses should include a section on Great Sacred Music. Maybe....Greenberg could do a parallel series on Great Sacred Music? I would be very interested in this.
Date published: 2016-07-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good course--well presented and good content I very much enjoyed the Great Works of Sacred Music--it was a good, if brief, overview of 500 years of sacred music, and both the content and the presentation of the material was quite good. If I had any complaints, I would say that the focus on some of the minute details of a composer or his world to the exclusion of the actual music would be a negative. I found myself more than once wishing that I could simply hear more of the music and less of the historical background or musical rhetoric of it. While we certainly need some context for the music, the 85% /15% talking/music breakout should be modified so that we can hear both more and more extended musical samples of each piece. Otherwise, good product--and very informative as well.
Date published: 2016-07-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from sacred music I have not appreciated this as much as now with the explanations of the writings and how the Why is clear---all to praise God which is what was the goal for centuries The money and materialism were relegated to other priority. I sang lots of these with local and college Choruses. They were uplifting then but now---- even more so. Live presentation has extra magic...--so do that whenever possible. Yet CD is a great second place. Great idea
Date published: 2016-06-28
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Dry on Latin Works; Better on English and German This course begins with several lectures on Gregorian chant and mediaeval organum. The coverage of this beautiful music seems dry. In addition, there were several errors in the use of the Latin and ecclesiastical terms pertaining to this repertoire. When the course turned to the English period of Handel and the German period of Mendelssohn and Brahms, the coverage was much more informed and enthusiastic than that on the earlier Latin liturgical works. The treatment of Elgar's "Dream of Gerontius," especially energetic and perceptive, was the highlight of the series. Although one cannot cover everything within the limitations of such a course as this, it is regrettable that there was no mention or examples of the role of the pipe organ in Sacred Music.
Date published: 2016-06-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Too much lecture-- not enough music The lecturer primarily focused on technical terminology and explanations little of which is memorable, He illustrated his points by singing and although his voice was not all bad it fell far short of an orchestra and chorus. There was very little on the appreciation of sacred music and what to look for when listening to it. The best part for me was on the oratorios -- Handel and Beethoven. Here again, there was not much listening to the music. I would also like to have had a suggestion on how to build a library of sacred music.
Date published: 2016-06-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good if you're really inteersted This course frankly intimdidated and discouraged me when I started it because of all the technical musical info it offered. I WAS really interested, however, and continuied with it although I've had to watch each lecture at least twice. It't a good course if you're genuinely interested in the subject matter and willing to give it a good bit of time and thought.I
Date published: 2016-06-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Yay for Sacred Music! I wasn't sure what to expect from this course. I was very pleased with the way it was presented by the professor. There are interesting differences in wheather it was composed for church services or a secular concert. It should be of interest to anyone who an interest in sacred music.
Date published: 2016-06-04
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disappointed We were so looking forward to such a course as this. However, we were very disappointed in the actual course. The professor is "wooden", reads everything and expresses no feeling for the material being presented. The presentation is, in our opinion, illogically presented with no sense of a developmental format. In some cases the visual content was out of sync with the professor's presentation.
Date published: 2016-05-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exactly what I was looking for! I recently purchased a 29-CD box set of Sacred Music put out by Harmonia Mundi. I had been listening to that set when I saw this course was just released by The Great Courses. I read through the contents of the course and thought it would be a great help in learning more about the music I was enjoying. It turned out to be the perfect complement to the CD box set! I purchased the audio-only version of this course, so I can't comment about the professor's appearance (looking at the camera or not?) or use of visual aids as some others have. In the audio-only version, I found his presentation to be excellent. He spoke very clearly, provided the information that was needed, and provided appropriate musical excerpts to demonstrate the points he was trying to make. In my case, I did find that actually having the music available to me was very helpful because after each lecture I frequently found myself stopping to listen to the whole piece of music on my own. As some others have suggested, this course serves primarily as an overview of sacred music. I would also welcome future courses that go deeper into specific subjects within the field of sacred music.. This course was exactly what I wanted, and it succeeded in making me want to learn even more in the future.
Date published: 2016-05-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating! In this series of 16 lectures, Professor Charles Edward McGuire covers the evolution of Christian sacred music from the Middle Ages to the 19th century, from plainchant all the way to Elgar touching of course among others Bach, Haydn and Mozart. This is very much complementary to the numerous Great Courses on musical topics by Professor Robert Greenberg who never discusses this particular field. Though perhaps less entertaining than Robert Greenberg’s, Professor McGuire’s lectures are well researched and extremely substantial. Pleasantly, the last one discusses Christmas music which many of his listeners certainly consider fondly. Overall, this course is recommended to all interested in music, even if only vaguely.
Date published: 2016-03-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good--But Could Be Better As an amateur singer of sacred music for many years, I found it most rewarding to gain from this course new insights into pieces (e.g. Messiah, Mozart's Requiem, Elijah) that I was already familiar with, and to learn about others that I'd heard of but never sang. At only 16 lectures, the course necessarily passed over entirely some names that should have been covered (e.g. Vaughan Williams, Poulenc), and gave limited attention to others (Brahms, Verdi, Faure--while devoting an entire lecture to Elgar). The only really negative aspect of the course was the subtitles; in many cases they were distractingly erroneous (i.e. tried and failed to track phonetically with the instructor's verbal commentary). The viewer should have the option of doing without them, or they should be deleted entirely. Given that much of the viewing time in this course is spent on extracts from musical compositions, where there are no subtitles other than "music playing," what is the point of having them? Thank you for your attention.
Date published: 2016-03-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Worth it for the musical excerpts I was excited to see this course come out after reading the lecture titles, and while it delivered, it could have been a little better. The lecturer starts with ancient and renaissance origins of sacred music, and explains why the term chant is preferred to Gregorian chant or plainchant. This course is great for those who are interested in religion, in renaissance history, in choral music, in Christmas music, or in great works of music in general. I am a fan of both early and modern music, running the range from chant to motets to Bach, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. You get great examples of chant, Bach, Haydn's Creation, Handel's Messiah, Mozart Requiem, and Beethoven Missa Solemnis, which alone were worth the price of the course. But you also get Mendelssohn Elijah, Brahms German Requiem, Faure Requiem, Verdi 4 sacred pieces, and even Christmas music. The musical examples are the heart and soul of the course, and I wish there were more instead of the professor attempting to sing himself. He no doubt has a great voice and plenty of singing experience, but a solo voice cannot do justice to the works discussed. Plus, he has to switch between lecturing and singing instantaneously without any transition, and may be nervous. I wish he could have gone into more depth in the music rather than the history surrounding the works, particularly Handel's Messiah, Mozart's Requiem, and Beethoven's Missa Solemnis. Also, Bach alone has enough material for a course, and I wish he had done more.
Date published: 2016-03-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I was very surprised that the Great Works of Sacred Music was released, it was not being taught by the Teaching Company’s resident musicologist Robert Greenberg. I have been so accustomed to his courses and teaching style that I could not imagine the Teaching Company having any one else.Professor Charles Edward McGuire turned out to be a fresh voice to the Great Courses Staff. I got into sacred music last year after I saw Disney’s new musical production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey in the Spring of 2015. Its score was steeped in Medieval music and Latin liturgy. After the show, I began to start investigating religious music from the Medieval and Classical periods of Western music. This course was released at just the right time for me. Professor McGuire does not use a lot of musical anecdotes, or have the boundless and exciting personality as Greenberg, but he comes off as a more humble and down to earth professor. The course feels like I am sitting down to a private conversation with just the two of us rather than in a lecture hall with other people. There were some pieces which I was excited to learn more about, including Mozart’s Requiem and Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. I had heard the former but knew little about the latter. Having the background to both allowed me to understand Mozart and enjoy the Missa Solemnis. I wish that there were more lectures to look at the other great sacred works from 19th century Romantic era composers, like Rimsky-Korsakov’s Easter Overture and Verdi’s Requiem. It could easily have been twenty lectures. Overall, it was a very fine course from a new professor. Professor McGuire wetted my appetite to listen to more sacred music.
Date published: 2016-03-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Sacred Music lectures & professor very informative We are still enjoying this course, prefer to savor it slowly. Lecturer is very good, He breaks into bits of songs to illustrate his teaching points, which is fun & he has a fine voice as well. We highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2016-01-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Overview of Sacred Music The course started a little slowly but quickly got much more interesting and engaging. The examples were excellent and the history religion with its parallel developments in sacred music was fascinating. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2016-01-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Good Beginning to a New Genre of Music I have been enjoying this course for the last couple months, and finally finished it last week. While its too much a beginners course for me -- a general overview -- I still found things I'd never heard before and savored much of the content. The on-screen definitions of terms actually helped me understand a few concepts I've been struggling with, and the music samples were taken from what seem to me to be beautiful recordings. I liked how the professor addressed the particular segments of music that were played in the flow of the lectures. I have long been more interested in Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque sacred music than in the modern works, from Handel to Faure and Verdi, so I got more 'new' things out of this part of the course, though I enjoyed it as a whole--given that its a beginners course. I look forward to more courses on Sacred Music from this professor! I would love for there to be courses on the sacred music of particular periods that would go into more depth and even courses on particular composers of sacred music. I would recommend this course to anyone interested in Western sacred music. As a heads-up, I might suggest that a complete neophyte where music is concerned might want to watch a course on the fundamentals and/or history of music before taking this course. The TC has at least one that would probably suffice. Otherwise, it seems -- to me, at least -- very accessible. I've only been studying sacred music for about a year, though I've listen to it for about 30 years. The one problem I have with the course -- which kept it at four rather than five stars -- has nothing to do with the content of the course, but with the staging of the presentation. I was rather distracted for the first half of the course with the way the professor is constantly moving back and forth as if on a cue that does not seem to have anything to do with the content, the structure of the lecture or the anticipated attention of the audience? At its worst, I felt that I was watching a metal duck at an arcade which, being struck by an air gun at one end of the rally, turns suddenly and goes to the other end, back and forth, back and forth. I got used to it, but_ Could he not be allowed to stand still occasionally? Also, his constantly looking directly into the camera also put me off a bit. Having an audience in the room for him to engage with might alleviate some of this. _Just a suggestion.
Date published: 2016-01-23
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Great Expectations Shattered! This is the least satisfying course we have viewed. The presenter takes advantage of modern tele-promter aids and forgets to look at the camera. He is unable to keep his eyes off the display, a big turn off. His continued reading of material gives one the impression that he does not know his subject matter. At one-half way into the course program, we are unimpressed with scholarship so far. At 85 years old, and an instrumental and vocal musician for over 80 of those years we are extremely disappointed that Great Courses did not execute more editorial control presence before rushing this product to market.
Date published: 2016-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best Purchase Ever This is a course I will listen to again and again (3 times already) because I am learning so much and appreciate the professor's approach. Although I do not have a music education, the course is very understandable and it has increased my appreciation of great sacred music.
Date published: 2016-01-20
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Great course needs to be expanded How much value this course has for the student depends very heavily on the students current knowledge of music. I have a very poor knowledge of the technical aspects of music and therefore found it had high value in one sense. But in another sense I really needed a better explanation of many of the technical terms. I have mentioned several times all the courses should have a good glossary in the guide book; this one did not. The discussion of the history of sacred music was very educational . I have two of Professor Greenberg's courses from 20 years ago ! In hind sight I should have gone back and reviewed them before I listen to this course. That might have helped with understanding some of the technical terms. However, I was motivated enough to buy several CDs of the most important works mentioned by Professor McGuire. And I am glad I made those purchases. For a person at my level of understanding more discussion of the various types of music with more and longer examples would be a great improvement. My overall rating of 3 is based on my comparison to the many TC courses I have taken, the professor's presentation, and the lack of a good glossary. However, it still had high value to me.
Date published: 2016-01-16
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