Presentations on Music and Music History
The presentations and classes listed below were created for students in continuing education and lifelong learning classes. The topics I have taught most recently are listed at the top of the page. Students attending those topics should click on the title of the presentation and the link will provide a page containing supplemental materials for what I covered in class.
Music for Baby Boomers
Links to music from the 50s, 60s, and 70s that should evoke a variety of memories, thoughts, and emotions for baby boomers.
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony: Brotherhood, Peace, and Joy
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is one of the most analyzed and influential pieces of music ever composed. In providing an epic story of human suffering that ends with a vision of utopia, it is also one of the most popular symphonies in music history. The presentation for this class will help listeners identify the key elements of the symphony and how Beethoven used the symphony to express his views on the uncertainty of life and his hope for a future based on brotherhood, peace, and joy.
Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony: Fate Knocks on the Door
As one of the most popular and well-known symphonies in history, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony marked the high point of his "heroic" period as a composer. This presentation examines the ways in which the famous four-note motif that begins the symphony in darkness and despair is set against more optimistic motifs, creating a conflict that runs throughout the symphony. The reconciliation of the conflict provides the narrative of this musical masterwork.
Beethoven’s Third Symphony: A Revolution in Music
As a revolutionary composer living during a revolutionary time, Beethoven used music as a means of helping audiences divorce themselves from the past and take themselves into a new era. This presentation provides an analysis of Beethoven's Third Symphony and how that symphony changed music history.
Mahler's Ninth Symphony: Farewell
Mahler's Ninth Symphony contains profound and complicated metaphors about loving this world while also recognizing the absurdity of the world while desperately trying to hold on to life. In what might be described as art that is quite personal, yet universal in its message, the Ninth provides a passionate and touching farewell to life that ends with music becoming silence.
Mahler’s Fourth Symphony: The Heavenly Life
Mahler’s Fourth Symphony is full of irony and what Mahler called "humor." Even though the music is often cheerful and serene, it also evokes the feeling that something bad is about to happen. In Mahler’s own words, “It is only that it seems suddenly sinister to us — just as on the most beautiful day, in a forest flooded with sunshine, one is often overcome with a shudder of panic.” This class provides an analysis of each movement of Mahler's most traditional — and possibly most accessible — symphony.
Mahler’s Second Symphony: The Resurrection
In the words of music critic Norman Lebrecht, “Mahler’s Second Symphony has been performed in the Vatican as a Christian affirmation, at Masada as a token of Jewish renewal, and in Communist China, where atheism is the state doctrine. It may be a mark of greatness that it can mean all things to all faiths.” This class analyzes each movement of Mahler’s Second Symphony in hopes of helping students come to their own conclusions about it’s story and meaning.
The Ubiquitous Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach composed almost 1200 pieces of music in every significant genre of the Baroque style. Known primarily in his lifetime as a keyboardist, his compositions were generally overlooked and forgotten for almost 75 years after he died. Today his music is ubiquitous, and his importance to the development of western classical music has led many to rank him as history’s greatest composer. This class examines Bach’s life and provides an analysis of some of his most significant works.
The Symphony as the World
Symphonies are often considered the “cathedrals” of music, providing composers an opportunity to experiment with sound and make musical statements that can be thought-provoking and inspirational. This class will provide an overview of the traditional four-movement structure of the symphony and how that structure has changed over time from the 1700s to the present. Students will listen to snippets from a variety of symphonies and watch videos of a few works in their entirety preformed by the world’s great orchestras.
Classical music can feed the soul and calm a cluttered mind. It can cause people to shed tears of joy without even knowing why a piece of music is so moving. This class explores a potpourri of classical masterworks that have been selected for their ability to create goose bumps and cause a tingling feeling in the spine, pieces of music that rank among the most beautiful ever composed. Students will learn to understand the musical elements of these pieces, as well as the historical context of how those elements developed. The music listened to in class will include works by composers such as Beethoven, Strauss, Debussy, Ravel, Rachmaninoff and others.
Gustav Mahler and the Deification of Program Music
During the nineteenth century, composers such as Berlioz, Liszt, and Strauss used “program” music to tell a story or paint a picture. In the hands of Gustav Mahler, however, program music became a means of expressing deep philosophical thought and providing listeners with an experience that would link them to something eternal and spiritual. Mahler’s symphonies are well known for taking listeners on emotional journeys through life’s struggles and torments to the exhilaration of peace and the healing power of love. As Mahler said, “A symphony must be like the world — it must contain everything.” This class provides an introduction to program music and an explanation of how Mahler transformed program music during the late 1800s and early 1900s.
American Classical Music: Composers Who Defined A Nation
In 1837 Ralph Waldo Emerson delivered a speech titled “The American Scholar” that called on Americans to break away from what he thought were the excessive influences of European culture. True to Emerson’s advice, Americans in the nineteenth century developed their own literary tradition through such distinctly American writers as Walt Whitman and Mark Twain. However, Americans had to wait until the twentieth century before establishing their own identity in cultivated classical music. In exploring the characteristics of the “American” sound in music, this class examines the music of such great American composers as Charles Ives, George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, Elliot Carter, Leonard Bernstein, and many others.
The Music of Charles Ives: The Sound of Genius in a Wasteland
Charles Ives was a musical pioneer, a composer ahead of his time in creating music that still challenges audiences to reevaluate their ideas about music. As the first American composer to understand that the soul of American society was found in its rich cultural diversity, Ives embraced the polytonality, polyrhythm, tone clusters, and dissonances of twentieth century music that would allow him to create a uniquely American sound. This class explores the story of the life and music of possibly America’s greatest composer.
The Music of Aaron Copland: Defining the Sound of a Nation
It has been said that art is the signature of civilization. If so, the American civilization has been signed with Aaron Copland’s signature. This class focuses on Aaron Copland and the indispensable role he played in defining the American sound.
An Introduction to Jazz: Improvising the American Sound
As a uniquely American art form, jazz reflects core elements of America’s culture and society. In its ability to express both individual freedom and communal cooperation, jazz is recognized as the sound of America. This class provides a beginner’s guide to understanding jazz, focusing on the different styles of jazz and what to listen for in each style.
Enjoying Classical Music: A Beginner’s Guide
Enjoying a sporting event requires a basic knowledge of the rules of the game. The same is true when listening to classical music. Basic knowledge of the “rules” that guide composers can heighten the musical experience. This class provides guidance in understanding the key elements of music, as well as an overview of different musical eras and the musical forms — or compositional “rules” — of each era. Anyone looking for a practical and down-to-earth explanation of how they might enhance their enjoyment of classical music should find value in this class.
300 Years of Classical Music Masterworks: From the Baroque to the Postmodern
Students in the class learn how to listen to and understand music from the Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Modern, and Postmodern eras. The class even contains a little opera and some music for the young at heart.
Form in Classical Music: Understanding the Rules and Expectations of Classical Music
Just as a fundamental knowledge of the rules of a sporting event is necessary to enjoying the event, a basic knowledge of the “rules” guiding composers is necessary to enhancing the experience of listening to classical music. This presentation provides guidance in understanding the different historical eras of classical music and the different musical forms—or rules—of each era.
Romantic Era Masterworks: “Storm and Stress” in Nineteenth Century Music
The dramatic social and political changes sweeping through Europe during the nineteenth century sparked a new movement in the arts known as Romanticism. As a revolt against authority and convention, Romanticism's driving force was the search for individual freedom. Romantic era artists elevated emotion and sentiment over reason and intellect, establishing an environment for creativity that let to some of the most enduring music ever composed. This class explores the fire and passion of romanticism in music and examines the works of such composers as Berlioz, Brahms, Liszt, Mendelssohn, Schubert, Strauss, Tchaikovsky, Verdi and Wagner.
Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique: An Episode in the Life of an Artist
According to Leonard Bernsteing, the first performance of Berlioz’ Symphonie Fanstastique gave the world a musical expedition into psychedelia. As a quintessential work of the Romantic era, Symphonie Fantastique provided listeners with a melodramatic piece of music that glorified nature, the supernatural, the struggles of being an artist, and the desire to destroy artistic boundaries. This class examines all five movement of the symphony with special attention given to the final two movements.
Romantic Era Tone Poems: Stories without Words
During the Romantic era in music (1815-1910), composers such as Berlioz, Liszt, Mahler, Mendelssohn, Saint-Saëns, Strauss, and Tchaikovsky used instrumental music to tell a story, paint a picture, or develop a philosophy of life. The music they composed was known as "program" music because listeners needed a written program to explain what it was about. This class provides an introduction to Romantic era "tone poems," a type of program music that brought drama and philosophy to orchestral music.
Nationalism in Classical Music: The Signature of Civilization
Why does some instrumental music have a national “accent,” making it sound Russian, Hungarian, French, or American? Why is nationalism in music such an important element in helping people establish a national identity? Those who attend this presentation will explore the answer to those questions by listening to such master composers as Antonín Dvořák, Frédéric Chopin, Giuseppe Verdi, Joaquín Rodrigo, Johannes Brahms, Franz Liszt, Modest Mussorgsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Charles Ives, and Aaron Copland.
Beethoven’s Nine Symphonies: The Search for Truth and Beauty
Beethoven’s Nine Symphonies rank among the most popular compositions in music history. Revolutionary on every level, his symphonies brought an end to the Classical era in music and ushered in the Romantic era. The music critic, Ernest Newman said, “It is the peculiarity of Beethoven’s imagination that again and again lifts us to a height from which we re-evaluate no only all music but all life, all emotions and all thought.” This class provides an overview of Beethoven's life and an analysis of his nine symphonies.