Some of the best music by the most renowned composers was inspired by religious devotion: to show the composer’s own piety, to help a patron impress peers, or to remember loved ones. Sacred music often has been the source of great compositional innovation and even greater emotional expression. In this course, we will examine masterful musical settings used by composers in the Western classical tradition to elevate music to the sphere of Christian prayer, an elegant and transcendent devotional gift. These lectures will span more than a thousand years of music history, examining both smaller works of personal devotion—such as chorales, hymns, and carols—as well as major public and concert genres, such as masses, oratorios, cantatas, and requiems.

The goal of this course is to introduce students to the world of opera. This is not a comprehensive history of opera, but an overview designed to impart knowledge of arguably the greatest, most complex art form on earth. The course opens with an analysis of perhaps the most famous aria in operatic history: “Nessum Dorma” from Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot. This aria exemplifies opera’s unique marriage of words, music, and visual art, before students are transported back to Monteverdi and the birth of opera. Students will track the various influences of opera including Neoclassicism, the Roman Catholic Church, Secularism, the Enlightenment, Postmodernism, and more in the operatic masterpieces of Gluck, Mozart, Verdi, Strauss, Wagner, Puccini, et al.