The Symphony : The Great Courses: Fine Arts & Music

  • by The Great Courses
  • Narrated by Professor Robert Greenberg
  • Series: The Great Courses: Fine Arts & Music
  • 18 hrs and 10 mins
  • Lecture

Publisher's Summary

From its humble beginnings in the 17th-century Italian opera overture and the Baroque ripieno concerto, the symphony has evolved into one of the longest lived, and perhaps the most expressively inclusive, genres of instrumental music. Along the way, it has embraced nearly every trend to be found in Western concert music.
In this series of twenty-four 45-minute lectures, Professor Greenberg guides you 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.
Your tour of the symphony includes


an examination of how the simultaneous development of the orchestra and the opera were crucial to the birth of the symphony as a genre;
a look at the earliest true symphonies that were exponents of the galant style that emerged in the period between the High Baroque and Viennese Classicism;
an exploration of Haydn and Mozart, the titans of the Classical age;
the sublime and iconoclastic Beethoven and his Fifth Symphony;
a study of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, which combined the extreme emotions and drama of the opera house with an explicit, intimately autobiographical narrative; and
national developments in France, Russia, Vienna, Bohemia, Scandinavia, America, and Great Britain.
The course concludes with an investigation of Dmitri Shostakovich's Tenth Symphony, which 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."
PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Great way to grasp one of the finest art forms

Superb narrative, appropriate humour, wonderful exerts of the music. Never too complicated or over simplified. All round a masterpiece.
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- D. J. Pritchard

Great overview of the history of the symphony

This course covers the symphony as a musical form - how it was formed, the composers who had a major impact on it's subsequent development and it's impact on music generally.

Starting with the early antecedents of the symphony, the overtures to operas, we see how the symphony developed alongside the orchestra, and how composers took up this new form to create some beautiful music. The baroque forms are moulded by Mozart, Haydn and other classical composers to create what is now called the 'classical structure' of the symphony. Then Beethoven comes along and changes everything. From this point onwards, the content of the lecture seems to become fairly repetitive - a discussion of a composer's life, how many symphonies they wrote and then an more in depth look at one of these.

The composers covered range in nationality and period and go right up to Shostokovich. If you are already into music history, I'm sure a lot of this will be known to you. If like me you are fairly new to this, then it is very interesting listening and I was introduced to many new composers I had never heard of.

Now for my criticism, which is that Beethoven is given just one lecture. The lecturer says at the outset of this lecture that he has done a 34 lecture course on Beethoven's symphonies, which is fine but in this course he essentially brushes over the most important development in the history of the symphony, whilst Haydn gets two lectures?! Very strange and seems like a bit of self-promotion. In fact, the lecturer advertises his own other great courses probably six or seven times throughout, which is fine but don't use that as an excuse not to discuss something!

Of course what kind of music you like is subjective, but Beethoven's symphonies are important well beyond just how nice they are, they completely changed the genre and this is clear from various references and quotes given in the course, so it feels like a waste of an opportunity to only discuss them for one lecture.

As a lecturer, Prof. Greenberg is very enthusiastic, funny and engaging. I will be listening to other courses by him for sure.

Overall, I certainly recommend this course and enjoyed listening to it immensely.
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- Chris

Book Details

  • Release Date: 08-07-2013
  • Publisher: The Great Courses