What is this course about?
This course is a survey of classical music in the Western world from the Middle Ages to the present. Beginning with a unit on the various elements of music, you will then explore the history of classical music through its various stylistic periods. Anyone interested in classical music history training will benefit from this course. This online course is unique, constructed as a series of podcasts (averaging 15 minutes per segment; 4-5 lecture segments per section); with 32 sections / lectures, totaling over 130 segments.
On the most basic level in the course, we will be following a musical timeline through the periods that comprise the history of classical music as we know it: the middle ages, renaissance, baroque, classical, romantic and 20th century periods. The first three of these periods are sometimes collectively referred to as early music, as they are the periods that are perceived to require the most scholarship to bring them to performance and, in recent years, crops of performers have emerged who specialize in the performance practice of specific periods.
There is a source of possible confusion in the term classical, which is as it's used in the context of the classical period. This refers to the period in which the music of Haydn, Mozart and early Beethoven are most prominent. These period designations in the history of music are usually conveniences based on stylistic changes, which had counterparts in the other arts (visual arts, architecture, literature), but perhaps not always precisely concurrent. The terms used to describe these stylistic periods are usually identical across disciplines—e.g., medieval or middle ages to describe art, music and literature. So too the renaissance, baroque and romantic, but for some reason, the term classical, as it applies to that same period in music, is unique to music. The term used to describe this period in the other disciplines (art, architecture, literature) is neoclassicism.
This course is structured in 7 areas:
The first section is devoted to the elements of music in order to give you a detailed primer in melody, rhythm, pitch, harmony, texture, form, tempo and dynamics. Section 1 includes the Introductory lecture segment, as well as a short history of Rock and Roll.
After that, each area is devoted to the various broad eras of music, presented as a linear music timeline.
• The Middle Ages. Learn about early music beginning with monophony and how polyphony developed during the gothic period — the period of the building of the great cathedrals.
• The Renaissance. What was happening in music during the period in which Michelangelo was painting the Sistine Chapel? A return to some Ancient ideals led to a rediscovery of the science of acoustics, providing a basis for the theory of modern harmony; How the course of music changed as a result of the Reformation, beginning with Martin Luther’s break from the Church. The Counter-Reformation resulted in a tightening of the Church's restrictions, to which composers responded in several ways, principally, in new-found appeal of secular music and the madrigal.
• The Baroque. Here we have the full realization of the appeal of secular music, including the origins of opera, as well as a flowering of instrumental music, culminating in the works of Bach, Handel and Vivaldi.
• The Classical. In reaction to the florid complexities of the Baroque, and influenced by the Age of Reason, the Classical period focused on simplicity and elegance, producing such composers as Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven and saw the dominance of the symphony and chamber music.
• Romanticism. The Age of Reason was too “reasonable” for the the Romanticists. They valued heightened emotion over elegance. The music of Schumann, Chopin, Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Verdi and Puccini were some of its greatest accomplishments.
• The Modern Period. Formerly referred to as the 20th century period, it now needs to reflect its expansion into the 21st century. Some of the greatest composers of this period have been Stravinsky, Bartok, Schoenberg, Britten, Shostakovich, Ives, Copland and Barber.
• We conclude with a retrospective and some final remarks to wrap it all up.