The Symphony

Course No. 7210
Professor Robert Greenberg, Ph.D.
San Francisco Performances
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Course No. 7210
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Course Overview

The great Bohemian-born composer Gustav Mahler once said, "A symphony must be like the world. It must embrace everything." Over the course of its nearly 300-year life, the symphony has indeed embraced almost every trend to be found in Western concert music.

Humble Beginnings, Unmatched Achievement

The symphony evolved from the 17th-century Italian opera overture and the Baroque ripieno concerto.

By the mid to late 18th century, the symphony became the single most important genre of orchestral music.

In 300 years—with backdrops ranging from the French Revolution to the Soviet Empire, the Enlightenment to the Roaring Twenties—the symphony would arrive at where it stands today: one of the longest lived, and perhaps the most expressively inclusive, genres of instrumental music.

In this series of 24 45-minute lectures, Professor Robert Greenberg guides the listener on a survey of the symphony. You'll listen to selections from the greatest symphonies by many of the greatest composers of the past 300 years. You'll also hear selections from some overlooked works that, undeservedly, have been forgotten by contemporary audiences.

Origins (Lectures 1–2)

The simultaneous development of the orchestra and the opera were crucial to the birth of the symphony as a genre. By the 1730s, the orchestral genre of the Italian-style opera overture had developed to such a point that those overtures were substantial enough to be performed separately from the operas themselves.

The Symphony Emerges (Lectures 3–5)

The earliest true symphonies were exponents of the galant style that emerged in the period between the High Baroque and Viennese Classicism. Chief composers of this period included Sammartini, and two of J. S. Bach's sons, C. P. E. Bach and Johann Christian Bach.

The outstanding Mannheim Court Orchestra paved the way for a great series of symphonists in the 18th century—Stamitz, Richter, Holzbauer, and Cannabich.

By the late 1770s and 1780s, Europe boasted an enormous number of first-rate symphonists, including Gossec, Michael Haydn, Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf, Vanhal, and Boccherini.

Haydn and Mozart: Titans of the Classical Age (Lectures 6–8)

Franz Joseph Haydn wrote at least 108 symphonies. We examine his Symphony no. 1 in D Major (1759), and later symphonies, no. 77 in particular, revealing Haydn's ongoing development as a symphonist.

Haydn's Symphony no. 104, his last symphony, reflects the consummate technical skill of an experienced master—mastery still melded with the fire and passion of youth.

Unlike Haydn, Mozart never made symphonic composition as much of a priority as opera and the piano concerto. Yet he created some of the most important symphonies of the Classical era, among them his Symphony no. 41 in C Major—the Jupiter Symphony. We explore this symphony, which, in the words of one musicologist, "climaxed and fixed an age."

Beethoven, Romanticism, and the Reconciliation with Classicism (Lectures 9–12)

Beethoven's Fifth Symphony is the single most famous work in the orchestral repertoire—a tale of musical birth and growth, destruction, regrowth, and ultimately, triumph.

The sublime and iconoclastic Beethoven, in Professor Greenberg's words, "came to believe in self-expression and originality above all else a symphony was no longer an aristocratic amusement, but a multifaceted musical statement, an instrumental genre operatic in its degree of contrast, conflict, and resolution."

We study how Schubert's Unfinished B Minor and Great C Major symphonies demonstrated that the lyric and the colorful could coexist with the Beethoven-inspired vision of the symphony as a vehicle for profound self-expression.

In Symphonie Fantastique, Berlioz adopts the extreme emotions and drama of the opera house, and explicit, intimately autobiographical narrative, telling the story of a young, unhappy, and ultimately suicidal lover (Berlioz himself). The piece is bound together by a recurring, representative musical theme—the famous fixed idea.

We learn how the symphonies of Mendelssohn and Schumann merged Classical tradition with elements of Romanticism within very personal and innovative expressive frameworks.

National and Local Development (Lectures 13–22)

France. In the 1860s and 1870s, French composers re-established a tradition of symphonic music in Paris, led by Cesar Franck and Camille Saint-Saens.

Russia. What could Peter Tchaikovsky, a hypersensitive, cross-dressing homosexual with a penchant for pederasty, and Antonin Dvorak, a happily married family man, have in common? Few composers utilized the symphony to explore national identity more than these two extremely different men, drawing on the music of their homelands for inspiration.

Vienna. Anton Bruckner and Johannes Brahms both achieved fame in Vienna—both were inspired by Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. But you'll see that is where their similarities end.

Bohemia. Learn how Gustav Mahler's upbringing in a Jewish, German-speaking household in Bohemia intensified his pathological sense of alienation. Mahler's symphonies are, in Greenberg's words, "philosophical tracts, spiritual musings, musical reflections on the great, unanswered questions." We focus on his Symphony no. 2 in C Minor (Resurrection) of 1895.

Scandinavia. The key to Carl Nielsen's music is its directness of expression, inspired by the rustic simplicity of his Danish homeland. Jean Sibelius's Finnish homeland also exerted a strong influence on his creative palette.

Later Russian Development. Nationalism played a crucial role in the 19th-century emergence of a Russian symphonic tradition, with composers such as Glinka, Balakirev, Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Glazunov.

In the 20th century, the "steel-fisted modernist" Prokofiev never ceased to shock and surprise—even with his First Symphony, which, ironically, pays homage to the Classical style.

America. An all-American kid, Charles Ives became one of the 20th century's greatest symphonists, while refusing to take royalties for his work and choosing to make his living as an insurance executive. His Symphony no. 4, his "crowning achievement," epitomizes Ives's transcendental belief in the "interrelation of all things."

Aaron Copland epitomized the pan-American musical spirit of the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, remaining the most representative American composer of the 20th century. Samuel Barber's Symphony no. 1 is a beautifully constructed work of great and enduring power.

Discover Roy Harris, one of the pre-eminent American symphonists. Born in a log cabin, Harris created symphonies marked by a primitive simplicity underlain by great emotional depth and expressive sophistication. William Schuman's Third Symphony heralded a period when American composers became accepted, performed, and appreciated in their own country.

Britain. At the end of the 19th century Britain made significant contributions to the international symphonic repertory. While Elgar's symphonic music was not explicitly nationalistic, Vaughn Williams's symphonies drew heavily from England's folk heritage.

Two Concluding Ovations (Lectures 23–24)

Olivier Messiaen's Turangalila Symphony of 1948 is the sole symphony Messiaen produced. It is organized around 10 movements, based on Hindu scripture, and united by a number of themes that reappear from movement to movement. It is a unique contribution to the history of the symphony.

Dmitri Shostakovich was used and abused by the Soviet powers during much of his life. Somehow, he survived. His Tenth Symphony, composed immediately after Stalin's death in 1953, became, in Professor Greenberg's words, "a model for what the new, post-Stalin Soviet music might aspire to be—a more personally expressive, less explicitly programmatic work, one that both engaged and challenged its listeners."

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24 lectures
 |  Average 45 minutes each
  • 1
    Let's Take It From the Top!
    Beginning in the orchestral overtures of opera and the concertos of Baroque Italy, the symphony would emerge as its own genre in the 18th century. x
  • 2
    The Concerto and the Orchestra
    The simultaneous development of the orchestra and the opera were crucial to the birth of the symphony as a genre. By the 1730s, the orchestral genre of the Italian-style opera overture had developed to such a point that those overtures were substantial enough to be performed separately from the operas themselves. x
  • 3
    The Pre-Classical Symphony
    The earliest true symphonies were exponents of the so-called galant style that emerged in the period between the high Baroque and Viennese Classicism. The chief composers of this period included Giovanni Sammartini, and two of J. S. Bach's sons, Carl Phillip Emanuel Bach and Johann Christian Bach. x
  • 4
    Mannheim
    In the unlikely city of Mannheim, Germany, the formation of the outstanding Mannheim Court Orchestra paved the way for a great series of symphonists in the 18th century—Stamitz, Richter, Holzbauer, and Cannabich. x
  • 5
    Classical Masters
    By the late 1770s and 1780s, Europe boasted an enormous number of first-rate symphonists, including Francois-Joseph Gossec, Michael Haydn, Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf, Johann Baptist Vanhal, and Luigi Boccherini. x
  • 6
    Franz Joseph Haydn, Part 1
    Franz Joseph Haydn wrote at least 108 symphonies. We examine his Symphony no. 1 in D Major (1759), and later symphonies, no. 77 in particular, revealing Haydn's ongoing development as a symphonist. x
  • 7
    Franz Joseph Haydn, Part 2
    Inspired by the Sturm und Drang movement in the early 1770s, Haydn's symphonies begin to reflect experimentation with minor keys, abrupt changes of dynamics, and a greater degree of thematic contrast. x
  • 8
    Mozart
    Unlike Haydn, Mozart never made symphonic composition as much of a priority as opera and the piano concerto. Yet he created some of the most important symphonies of the classical era, among them his Symphony no. 41 in C Major—the Jupiter Symphony. x
  • 9
    Beethoven
    The sublime and iconoclastic Beethoven, in Professor Greenberg's words, "came to believe in self-expression and originality above all else. ... A symphony was no longer an aristocratic amusement, but a multifaceted musical statement, an instrumental genre operatic in its degree of contrast, conflict, and resolution." x
  • 10
    Schubert
    Schubert's Unfinished B Minor and Great C Major Symphonies demonstrated that the lyric and the colorful could coexist with the Beethoven-inspired vision of the symphony as a vehicle for profound self-expression. x
  • 11
    Berlioz and the Symphonie fantastique
    In his Symphonie fantastique, Hector Berlioz adopts the extreme emotions and drama of the opera house, and explicit, intimately autobiographical narrative, all bound together by a recurring, representative musical theme—the famous "fixed idea." The personally and creatively controversial Berlioz goes on to inspire a rising generation of Romantic radicals. x
  • 12
    Mendelssohn and Schumann
    The symphonies of Felix Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann merged Classical tradition with elements of Romanticism within very personal and innovative expressive frameworks. x
  • 13
    Franck, Saint-Saens, and the Symphony in France
    In the 1860s and 1870s, French composers re-established a tradition of symphonic music in Paris, led by Cesar Franck and Camille Saint-Saens. x
  • 14
    Nationalism and the Symphony
    Few composers used the symphony to explore national identity more than Peter Tchaikovsky and Antonin Dvorak—two extremely different men, yet both conservative Romantics drawing on the music of their homelands for substance and inspiration. x
  • 15
    Brahms, Bruckner, and the Viennese Symphony
    Anton Bruckner and Johannes Brahms both achieved fame in Vienna—and both were inspired by Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. But that's where their similarities end. x
  • 16
    Gustav Mahler
    Gustav Mahler's symphonies are, in Robert Greenberg's words, "philosophical tracts, spiritual musings, musical reflections on the great, unanswered questions." We focus on his Symphony no. 2 in C Minor (Resurrection) of 1895. x
  • 17
    Nielsen and Sibelius
    The key to Carl Nielsen's music is its directness of expression, inspired by the rustic simplicity of his Danish homeland. Jean Sibelius's Finnish homeland also exerted a strong influence on his creative palette, in which musical nationalism was expressed with a highly individual flavor. x
  • 18
    The Symphony in Russia
    Nationalism played a crucial role in the 19th-century emergence of a Russian symphonic tradition, with composers such as Glinka, Balakirev, Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Glazunov. In the 20th century, the "steel-fisted modernist" Prokofiev never ceased to shock and surprise—even with his First Symphony, which, ironically, pays homage to the Classical style. x
  • 19
    Charles Ives
    Charles Ives synthesized classical training, a love for American music of every kind, the New England of his childhood, radical experimentation, and his abject belief that music was the common language that bound together all humanity. x
  • 20
    Aaron Copland and Samuel Barber
    Aaron Copland epitomized the pan-American musical spirit of the 1920s, '30s, and '40s, remaining the most representative American composer of the 20th century. Samuel Barber's Symphony no. 1 is a beautifully constructed work of great and enduring power. x
  • 21
    Roy Harris and William Schuman
    Roy Harris created symphonies marked by a primitive simplicity underlain by great emotional depth and expressive sophistication. William Schuman's Third Symphony heralded a period when American composers became accepted, performed, and appreciated in their own country to a previously unprecedented degree. x
  • 22
    The Twentieth-Century British Symphony
    It was not until the end of the 19th century that Britain would make a significant contribution to the international symphonic repertory. While Edward Elgar's symphonic music was not explicitly nationalistic, Ralph Vaughn Williams's symphonies did draw heavily from England's folk heritage. x
  • 23
    Olivier Messiaen and Turangalila!
    Olivier Messiaen's Turangalila, organized around a number of cyclic themes, was hugely controversial—and a magnificent achievement, completely unique in the symphonic repertory. x
  • 24
    Dmitri Shostakovich and His Tenth Symphony
    Dmitri Shostakovich was used and abused by the Soviet powers during much of his life. Somehow, he survived—even as his Tenth Symphony made dangerously implicit criticisms of the Soviet government. x

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  • 24 lectures on 6 DVDs
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  • 224-page printed course guidebook
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Your professor

Robert Greenberg

About Your Professor

Robert Greenberg, Ph.D.
San Francisco Performances
Dr. Robert Greenberg is Music Historian-in-Residence with San Francisco Performances. A graduate of Princeton University, Professor Greenberg holds a Ph.D. in Music Composition from the University of California, Berkeley. He has seen his compositions—which include more than 45 works for a wide variety of instrumental and vocal ensembles—performed all over the world, including New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles,...
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Reviews

The Symphony is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 46.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent--As Always Professor Greenberg is always excellent. I've lost count of how many of his classes I've listened to over the last several years. Prof. Greenberg has an exceptional talent for making classical music understandable and approachable. He could very easily make this a snobby course for those of us with limited knowledge of classical music. However, he uses humor and clear explanation to make this course enjoyable and educational.
Date published: 2019-11-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A superb, still-definitive survey course This survey course covers the concert work we know as the symphony from its origins in the mid-18th Century to the middle of the 20th Century. Professor Greenberg, in my mind the most polished, authoritative, skillful, and interesting among the 63 presenters whose courses I have watched to date—especially among those still currently active—discusses the composers and their times, in order to place the works in proper context, but focuses here primarily on the symphony itself, and its evolution as a musical form over the last 300 years. Like many “classical music” fans, I trained on an instrument in high school and studied both music history and music theory in college, before heading off into a different profession for my career. Typically, my familiarity with symphonies has been heavily weighted on the Classical and Romantic repertory, particularly by German-speaking composers, with a smattering of French, Russian and 20th Century works thrown in. In this course Dr Greenberg covers those works in detail, but also goes to commendable lengths to fill in the huge gaps in such a background. Welcome examples are the pre-Classical symphonies of composers like Sammartini and CPE and JC Bach, and of Stamitz and his successors in Mannheim, as well as those of Classical composers other than Haydn and Mozart. Important symphonies from French, Scandinavian, Russian, and British composers are also covered, as are those by American symphonists Ives, Copland, Barber, Harris, and Schuman. The final two lectures, on Messiaen and his Turangalila symphony, and on Shostakovich and his 10th Symphony, complete the survey and are especially outstanding. With this subject matter, superbly presented, the fact that this course is now 15 years old is entirely irrelevant.
Date published: 2019-09-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Symphony Great instructor. Well paced. I like Greenburg's dry sense of humor.
Date published: 2019-06-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great background information Extremely educational and informative presentation
Date published: 2019-05-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I have over 30 courses going back to audiotape I've been stocking up on courses still available on CD; I'm not really into streaming so I probably won't be ordering any more on audio. The CDs are so easy to use in the car. So I was very disappointed when I found out that they were no longer going to be available!!!!!
Date published: 2019-03-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Love Robert Greenberg :) Every lecture with Professor Greenberg is a party The only course missing now is his: HOW TO WRITE FOR A REAL ORCHESTRA + How to Write a Symphony
Date published: 2017-11-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A great review of a topic known to all. Although everyone knows of music played by a symphony few know its historical development and structure. Dr. Greenberg presents this information in a manner that can be well understood by all.
Date published: 2017-07-09
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
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