In this course of 48 lectures, we will cover the history of Western music and its connection to the social, political, and religious events and aesthetic ideals of its time. The course opens by exploring the ancient Greek Doctrine of Ethos, based on the Pythagorean view of music. The Greeks recognized the power of music to heighten the expressive power of words and used music in their drama for that reason. We then move to Rome, where the decline of the municipal authority of the Roman Empire has led to the Roman Catholic Church becoming a temporal and spiritual power, fostering the ideal of music as a “servant” of religion. Out of the tradition emerged plainchant, a monophonic genre of music that was cultivated virtually unchanged for centuries until the development of composed polyphony in the High Middle Ages, circa 1000-1400. Having explored the foundation of all Western music to come, we move through the developments of Machaut, Desprez, and Palestrina, to the restrained music yielded by the Renaissance, and the expression of the Baroque Era. The rise of opera and public concerts lead us into the era of humanism and the 19th century Romantic Era story-tellers, like Beethoven and Berlioz. We end by looking at those who changed the course of Western music history by inducing riots and breaking rules: Schoenberg and Stravinsky. Throughout the course students will write reflections based on their close-listening of musical excerpts from each genre covered.

This course identifies and celebrates 30 of the greatest orchestral works in the concert repertoire. Each lecture presents learners with a historical and biographical context for each work via a guided tour of the work itself. These musical tours include both piano demonstrations of the piece’s compositional structure and selected excerpts drawn from recordings. The course is designed to serve learners as a series of expanded program notes that explores a broad range of orchestral music composed over the last 300 years: From the baroque era, the classical era, the romantic era, and the 20th century, the works featured in the course include some of the most well-known, best-loved, and most frequently performed pieces in the standard repertoire in the forms of symphonies, concertos, tone poems, symphonic poems, and suites. By the course’s end, we will understand why each featured piece is considered “great”; how each reflected, reinvented, and/or broke from contemporary musical conventions; how each reflected the individual spirit and nature of its composer; and to what extent contemporary historical circumstances affected the composition.

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.