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Great Music of the 20th Century

Travel into the lives of the great 20th-century composers and immerse yourself in the era's sublime musical masterworks.
Great Music of the 20th Century is rated 4.0 out of 5 by 79.
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Rated 2 out of 5 by from A lot of bad music. Besides a lot of bad (yes Bob, it's bad) music the URL thing doesn't work. You need to be in front of a computer to follow the course. The theme of most for most of the composers is: If you listen to this music long enough, you may start to like it". Every Greenberg course is five stars.
Date published: 2024-02-01
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Worst Bob Greenberg course by a country mile This is a course for people who don't understand the irony of E.W. ("Bill") Nye's saying that "Wagner's music is better than it sounds". No musical excerpts are provided, and it's just as well. All great music will be popular eventually; most 20th century concert music never will be. FYI, the greatest composer of the 20th century was Duke Ellington. Peace, out.
Date published: 2024-01-02
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A disappointment My only prior Prof Greenberg course was his "How to listen to and Understand Great Music", and it was based on my enjoyment of that course that I chose to view this one. They are very different courses, perhaps in part to the lack of the ability to share the music during as so many have commented. But to me the virtue of the earlier course was Prof Greenberg's breaking apart the music so that a beginning appreciator of music like myself could understand it - two lectures for example on Beethoven's 5th. I was hoping for the same here, and yes I got it from time to time particularly in the first set of lectures through Schoenberg. But this course was more a whirlwind of snapshots where Prof Greenberg sketched out the trajectory of the changes in music in the 20th century but without fully fleshing out at least some details. I was a little surprised that this was only 24 lectures while the earlier course was 48 - yes the other covered a much longer time frame but as even he noted there were so many musical changes that happened in the 20th century. To me one positive however, was his explanation of serialism and ultraserialism as an outgrowth of the horrors composers felt during WWII. I can only recommend this as a very quick overview of the many styles of art music that were written during this period, and very much hope that someone else takes another stab at putting together another one.
Date published: 2023-10-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I like the course but am disappointed that some of the URLs were not working. Specifically the URL on Stravinskis Puchnilo. I would like hear it but an error message comes up saying something about copywrite issues.
Date published: 2022-11-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Satisfies instead of inspires This is a review of Robert Greenberg’s course on 20th century music that is really a question about how to judge such a course. We often think that education should inspire, but what if education also sates? Let me start with this: easily 75% of what I know about orchestral concert music—what is often simply called “classical music”—comes from Robert Greenberg. I have listened to over two dozen of his courses, and have discovered music, composers, and styles of music I would not have discovered otherwise. From him, I learned to love the concerto; I have a mix on my iPod called “Greenberg All Music Suggestions” filled with concerti and other songs I learned of from him. Because he claimed that opera was the greatest integration of lyrics and music, I spent a year and a half studying and going to operas. I learned that I did not like opera. This course was a typical Robert Greenberg course in that he discussed the composers and their music. He gave history, background, biography, and directed my attention to presumably representative works by the composers he discussed. This is what he always does. The problem is, I discovered no new music and no new composers that I wanted to explore. Not only didn’t I like any of the music Greenberg included, Greenberg did not inspire me to branch out and explore music he didn’t discuss. One might consider this a failure; a good professor is supposed to inspire. What if, however, a good teacher can also sate your interest in a topic? We are not equally interested in everything, and it stands to reason that sometimes a course may succeed because it answers the questions you already had. I don’t have to like all music, and if after being exposed to some of the best 20th century concert music I don’t like them, then I just don’t like the concert music of the 20th century. There’s plenty of other music. There’s plenty of other music Robert Greenberg has interested me in. He’s still one of my Great Courses crushes.
Date published: 2022-08-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Learned much, but wanted more music to listen to! As the lecturer himself knows, the great weakness of this course is its scarcity of actual music to listen to. I have a large record collection that includes, for example, some of the Schoenberg mentioned in the lectures. But I wish there had been more music within the course.
Date published: 2022-08-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb survey Another superb course by Professor Greenberg. He masterfully ties together musical theory, cultural influences, historical context, biography, and trivia – all with his characteristic sense of humor. Many reviewers have commented on a drawback of this course – because of copyright issues, one cannot hear the pieces themselves in the lecture. One needs independently to follow links on YouTube (many of which are no longer working) to hear them. Although this quirk is annoying to people who are familiar with Professor Greenberg’s other classes, it can, in fact, allow you to hear much more of the music (provided one has the patience for the piece in question). My one quibble is the word “Great” in the Title. I would have preferred the title “Classical Music of the Twentieth Century” because I don’t think many of the selections were in fact “great” – the most egregious examples being musique concrete and ultra-serialism. So many of the selections were pedantic, tedious, pretentious, and simply unenjoyable. Professor Greenberg is balanced in his assessment: “Like chemotherapy, post–World War II modernism can be seen…as supremely distressing and nausea-inducing. But like successful chemo, it went a long way toward revitalizing the body of Western concert music, by purging it of the mindsets and aesthetic premises of the past and thus clearing the way for the development of a host of new musical languages.” Even if we were to accept the necessity of this purge, no one goes though chemo once it is no longer required. Can we finally put behind us that dreadful “middle piece” in the concert program, the atonal academic assault on one’s ears, nestled between two much more enjoyable pieces? Professor Greenberg talks about the fanatical close-mindedness of modernist professors in academia during the 70s; removing the word “Great” from the title of this course would be a small step in making a survey of 20th century classical music more objective.
Date published: 2022-08-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good stuff! Dr Greenberg is such a knowledgeable, engaging, and articulate lecturer that I was inspired to watch his course simply from the excited look he gave in one of the stills I saw of him. His sojourn through the history of 20th century music, its composers, and the tumultuous world they lived and worked in is such a fascinating story. I highly recommend Dr Greenberg for any student of music or even cultural history.
Date published: 2022-08-19
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Overview

The 20th century was a breeding ground of musical innovation and transformation unlike any other era in history. Within this course, you'll discover the genius of composers such as Debussy, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Webern, Bart?k, Ligeti, Ad?s, and many others. In Great Music of the 20th Century, you'll experience the superlative musical art that so vividly and unforgettably speaks to the life of our times.

About

Robert Greenberg

For thousands of years cultures have celebrated themselves through their music. Let us always be willing and able to join that celebration by listening as carefully as we can to what, through music, we have to say to one another.

INSTITUTION

San Francisco Performances

Dr. Robert Greenberg is Music Historian-in-Residence with San Francisco Performances. A graduate of Princeton University, Professor Greenberg holds a Ph.D. in Music Composition from the University of California, Berkeley. He has seen his compositions-which include more than 45 works for a wide variety of instrumental and vocal ensembles-performed all over the world, including New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, England, Ireland, Greece, Italy, and the Netherlands.

He has served on the faculties of the University of California, Berkeley; California State University, Hayward; and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and has lectured for some of the most prestigious musical and arts organizations in the United States, including the San Francisco Symphony, the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Van Cliburn Foundation, and the Chicago Symphony. For The Great Courses, he has recorded more than 500 lectures on a range of composers and classical music genres.

Professor Greenberg is a Steinway Artist. His many other honors include three Nicola de Lorenzo Composition Prizes and a Koussevitzky commission from the Library of Congress. He has been profiled in various major publications, including The Wall Street Journal; Inc. magazine; and the London Times.

You can find more music content from Robert Greenberg on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/RobertGreenbergMusic.

By This Professor

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Great Music of the 20th Century

Trailer

20th-Century Music: Be Afraid No Longer!

01: 20th-Century Music: Be Afraid No Longer!

Look first at the goals of this course, as it will explore the principal trends in 20th-century concert music, and the historical issues and events that shaped them. As background, delve into the history of musical notation as it gave rise to composed music, and take account of the upheavals, political and social catastrophes, and paradigm shifts that affected music in the 20th century.

47 min
Setting the Table and Parsing Out Blame

02: Setting the Table and Parsing Out Blame

Examine historical and social factors that influenced 20th-century composers’ abandonment of tradition and obsession with originality. Then learn about the influence of 19th-century German art on the French, and the new French nationalism in music that followed the Franco-Prussian War. Take a first look at Claude Debussy, whose revolutionary music created a new musical syntax.

44 min
Debussy and le français in Musical Action

03: Debussy and le français in Musical Action

Investigate the qualities of Debussy’s music that connect it to French art and poetry as well as to the sensuality of the French language. Learn how his landmark work, Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, began musical modernism. Study the wealth of compositional innovations in his piano Prelude #10, and note how his impact on 20th-century music mirrors Beethoven’s in the 19th century.

45 min
Russia and Igor Stravinsky

04: Russia and Igor Stravinsky

In the first of two lectures on this giant of 20th-century music, trace the early life of Stravinsky, the environment in which he grew to maturity, and his musical education and influences. Follow Stravinsky’s relationship with the impresario Sergei Diaghilev, their legendary partnership in the ballets The Firebird and Petrushka, and grasp the striking musical originality of those works.

42 min
Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring

05: Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring

Relive The Rite of Spring’s riotous premiere, and examine the qualities that made it the most influential musical work of the 20th century. Observe how Stravinsky evoked ancient pagan rituals through stunning rhythmic asymmetry, bi-tonal harmony, and other daring compositional techniques. Take account of how the Rite changed the way composers thought about rhythm, melody, and orchestration.

43 min
The Paradox of Arnold Schoenberg

06: The Paradox of Arnold Schoenberg

Schoenberg was both substantially misunderstood as a composer, and one of the greatest influences on 20th-century music. Learn about the enormous enmity and dissent that greeted his compositions, as they challenged tradition and offended musical conservatism. Trace his early life and music, his vision as a composer, and the achievements of his most “popular” work, Transfigured Night.

45 min
The Emancipation of Melody!

07: The Emancipation of Melody!

Learn about Schoenberg’s friendship with Gustav Mahler, who defended Schoenberg’s groundbreaking compositions. Study Schoenberg’s remarkable metamorphosis in which he sought to free melody from the limits of functional tonality, as exemplified in his Six Little Pieces for Piano. Examine events in Schoenberg’s personal life that may help explain his final break with musical tradition.

43 min
The Second Viennese School

08: The Second Viennese School

Here, take the measure of the Viennese triumvirate of Schoenberg and his students Alban Berg and Anton Webern, who advanced a historically new, non-tonal music. Delve into the most representative work of this era, Schoenberg’s song cycle Pierrot Lunaire, and experience Schoenberg’s stunning compositional language. Investigate the extraordinary works and contributions of Berg and Webern.

47 min
The “New” Classicism

09: The “New” Classicism

The 1920s saw both an explosion of new compositional languages and a conservative backlash against modernism. Follow the fortunes of Stravinsky, as he created a new ballet score for Diaghilev, incorporating themes from the Baroque composer Pergolesi. In Pulcinella, see how Stravinsky’s ingenious treatment of the score created a neo-Classic musical hybrid of astonishing modernist sensibility.

46 min
Schoenberg and the 12-Tone Method

10: Schoenberg and the 12-Tone Method

In 1925, Schoenberg developed a compositional system that would dominate Western concert music for 50 years. Study the elements of his “12-Tone Method,” based in the use of a “tone row” where all 12 musical pitches are used in a pre-determined sequence. Observe how this system allowed composers to write large-form, non-tonal music. Grasp its enormous influence, and its challenges for listeners.

45 min
Synthesis and Nationalism: Béla Bartók

11: Synthesis and Nationalism: Béla Bartók

Learn about Bartók’s early life and career as a pianist, and the imprint of Hungarian nationalism on his composing. Follow his remarkable travels, collecting and preserving indigenous folk music across Central and Eastern Europe. Witness these musical influences in some of his greatest compositions, and note how his works represent a musical synthesis of nearly global scope.

43 min
America’s Musical Gift

12: America’s Musical Gift

This lecture explores the rich diversity of American vernacular music, as it influenced and inspired American composers. Take account of the integral impact on America of West African musical forms, and their role in the development of blues, ragtime, and jazz. See how George Gershwin and Aaron Copland synthesized these forms in jazz-tinged masterworks that became icons of American music.

46 min
American Iconoclasts

13: American Iconoclasts

The composers under discussion here were nonconformists whose works stand virtually as separate genres of music. Begin with celebrated individualist Charles Ives, and his programmatic masterwork, Three Places in New England. Then contemplate the alternate tonal system of Harry Partch, the mega-polyphony of Elliott Carter, and the unique music scored for player pianos by Conlon Nancarrow.

47 min
The World Turned Upside Down

14: The World Turned Upside Down

Following the horrors of World War II, note how many composers sought to create music that was purged of the past, based in intellectual and scientific rigor. Investigate Ultraserialism, a compositional system in which nearly every musical element is organized “serially,” as musical pitch is in the 12-Tone Method. Experience American Ultraserialism in the brilliant works of Milton Babbitt.

46 min
Electronic Music and European Ultraserialism

15: Electronic Music and European Ultraserialism

Learn how the advent of musical synthesizers and the tape recorder gave rise to both electronic music (using sounds created electronically) and musique concrète (manipulating real sounds with a tape recorder). Witness how Ultraserialism developed within Europe, leading paradoxically to hyper-complex music which in performance sounded random—a fatal problem for listener comprehension.

46 min
Schoenberg in Exile

16: Schoenberg in Exile

Trace Schoenberg’s period of great creative output and professional flowering in the late 1920s—years which coincided with the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party in Germany. Following Schoenberg’s self-exile to the United States, take note of his efforts on behalf of European Jews, and study two war-inspired masterworks; his Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte and A Survivor from Warsaw.

47 min
Stravinsky in America

17: Stravinsky in America

Delve into the singular aesthetic philosophy behind Stravinsky’s neoclassic music, in which he describes his compositional process as purely formal and objective. Learn about Stravinsky’s relocation to the United States, and how in his seventies he turned to writing 12-tone music. Grasp how his last major work, Requiem Canticles, functions as a musical retrospective of his career.

48 min
For Every Action an Equal Reaction

18: For Every Action an Equal Reaction

Discover the music of visionary composers who turned away from Serialism and Ultraserialism, beginning with Hans Werner Henze and Luigi Nono. Assess the place of postwar Ultraserialism, and the factors that led many to reject it. Explore the extraordinary Stochastic or “sound mass” music of Iannis Xenakis, and how his innovations prefigured and influenced the phenomenal works of György Ligeti.

47 min
The California Avant-Garde

19: The California Avant-Garde

The cultural environment of California produced some of the most original musical thinkers of the 20th century. First encounter Henry Cowell and Lou Harrison, composers of astonishing eclecticism whose works incorporated non-Western musical forms. Also meet John Cage and Morton Feldman, whose “indeterminate” music introduced new conceptions of unpredictability and a non-directional sense of time.

44 min
Rock around the Clock

20: Rock around the Clock

In approaching minimalism, trace the development of rock ‘n’ roll, and its integral impact on both American musical culture and 20th-century concert music. Grasp the musical ethos of minimalism—its rhythmic pulse, cyclical patterning and melodies, and hypnotic drive—through the groundbreaking works of the “triumvirate” of the style: Terry Riley, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass.

45 min
East Meets West; South Meets North

21: East Meets West; South Meets North

Cover global ground in this lecture, which looks at important 20th-century composers outside of the European/American orbit. Hear the fusion of Asian and Western traditions in the music of Tōru Takemitsu (Japan), Isang Yun (Korea), Chinery Ung (Cambodia), and Tan Dun (China). Discover the musical riches of Latin American composers Heitor Villa-Lobos, Carlos Chávez, and Alberto Ginastera.

48 min
Postmodernism: New Tonality and Eclecticism

22: Postmodernism: New Tonality and Eclecticism

Postmodernism in music represented both a return to the musical values of Romanticism and an amalgam of diverse musical influences. Investigate the music of George Rochberg and David del Tredici, both of whom embraced musical styles from the past. Then explore “pastiche”—direct quotation from earlier works—in the phenomenal music of Luciano Berio, Peter Maxwell Davies, and George Crumb.

46 min
The New Pluralism

23: The New Pluralism

The 20th century ended with a trend toward “pluralism”—the practice of employing a range of different musical languages within a single work or movement. Witness the incredible range of this musical inclusivity and synthesis in composers ranging from the Americans Joseph Schwantner, Martin Bresnick, Aaron Jay Kernis, and Jennifer Higdon to the British composer Thomas Adès.

44 min
Among Friends

24: Among Friends

Finally, as a firsthand, contemporary account of one composer’s life in music, Professor Greenberg discusses his own professional journey. Trace his performing arts family background, his musical education, career path, and the finding of his voice as a composer. Hear a range of his acclaimed works, highlighting his string quartets, song cycles, and concerti.

48 min