Music as a Mirror of History

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating Analysis Prof. Greenberg does a masterful job of tying beloved musical compositions to the historical events going on when they were created. I learned a lot, as the course added an important dimension to the music I love.
Date published: 2020-08-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from History! The history lessons are well-told, almost as if Dr. Greenberg were more interested in the history than in the music part of his presentation. To me, that's the only drawback to this set of lectures. I would have appreciated more music!
Date published: 2020-04-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding! I’ve listened to every one of Professor Greenberg’s Teaching Company courses. He is consistently outstanding. His style and sometimes off-beat sense of humor may not be for everyone, but it certainly works for me. If he gave a course on beetle dung, I’d probably buy that too. Unlike his other courses, this one is less about music and more about history. The lectures are probably 80-90% history, and 10-20% music. I’ve taught history at the college level, and I still learned a lot from this course’s very wide historical sweep. What little musical technical knowledge I have comes mostly from Professor Greenberg’s other Teaching Company courses, but it’s not needed here. The snippets of music are all too brief, to illustrate the connections being made with the history and the other points in the lecture. If anything, those snippets left me wanting to hear more, and will inspire me to seek out some of these pieces for further listening. Altogether, an outstanding course.
Date published: 2020-02-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Absolutely Fascinating Robert Greenburg presents in his outstandingly entertaining manner the fascinating impulses behind the music compositions you grew up hearing in the background or if a musician what you actually studied and practiced. If you are a music history novice, or a history aficionado, you will be thoroughly entertained by this thought provoking series of presentations.
Date published: 2020-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wish there were more courses combining 2 genres The setting of various pieces of music in their historical context made me appreciate the music much more. Music that I would have turned off when hearing it for the first time, without knowing the context, became more appealing and worthy of a listen. The proportion of time allocated to the history/background vs the music/author was about right.
Date published: 2019-10-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant Professor Greenberg presents historical data and links with musicians and their music in a manner that not only informs but entertains and consumes many evenings with outstanding enjoyment.
Date published: 2019-09-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fun to watch! This instructor is not only knowledgeable about what he's teaching, but he's truly enjoyable to watch! He is animated and makes the teachings relate-able to nearly any generation that is watching. It is much more a focus on history than music and composers but for anyone who had to take a Music History class, this course picks up where that left off and then fills in all the gaps. Wonderful, marvelous, and I'm so glad I've watched it!
Date published: 2019-08-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Novel approach Professor Greenberg took a novel approach with this course. It was, as are all his courses, very informative.
Date published: 2019-06-20
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Music as a Mirror of History
Course Trailer
Music and History, Madrigals and Maps
1: Music and History, Madrigals and Maps

Begin to contemplate the connections between composers and specific historical events. Grasp how Thomas Morley's madrigals in praise of Queen Elizabeth I engaged with English national self-perception and myth, and how Leon Janacek and Frederic Chopin responded to political events in key works. Take account of how the magnified emotions stirred by human conflicts feed artistic ...

47 min
Handel: Water Music (1714)
2: Handel: Water Music (1714)

Discover how music and history intersected in the remarkable career of George Frederick Handel. Trace the extraordinary circumstances in which the German prince George Ludwig of Brunswick-Lüneberg became King George I of England. Learn about his patronage of Handel, whose phenomenal success as a composer in England led to the creation of numerous musical masterpieces written for the English r...

44 min
Mozart: The Abduction from the Harem (1782)
3: Mozart: The Abduction from the Harem (1782)

Here, learn how political events in Europe directly shaped Mozart's music and personal circumstances. Investigate the long-term threat posed to Europe by the Ottoman Empire, and observe the paradoxical Turkish vogue in European art and fashion. Study the Turkish elements in both the plot and musical content of Mozart's opera The Abduction from the Harem, and grasp how the economic fallout from Aus...

44 min
Haydn: Mass in the Time of War (1797)
4: Haydn: Mass in the Time of War (1797)

Take stock of how events that began in revolutionary Paris inspired the expressive content of Haydn's Mass in the Time of War. Delve into the dramatic unfolding of the French Revolution, the subsequent rise of Napoleon, and the impending threat his war machine posed to Vienna. Hear the dramatic, martial character of Haydn's mass within this context-a triumphant musical exhortation to victory again...

44 min
Beethoven: The Farewell Sonata (1810)
5: Beethoven: The Farewell Sonata (1810)

In the first of two lectures on Beethoven, learn how the composer identified, almost mystically, with the figure of Napoleon. Study the events of the continuing clashes after the French Revolution, and witness the progressive military conflicts between Napoleon and the Austrian Habsburg empire. Grasp the highly personal meanings in Beethoven's Farewell Sonata, which depicts the departure and absen...

45 min
Beethoven: Wellington's Victory (1813)
6: Beethoven: Wellington's Victory (1813)

The Napoleonic Wars-and Beethoven's conflicted feelings toward Napoleon-were elemental in another important episode in the composer's life. Trace Beethoven's increasing animosity toward the French, and observe the unfolding debacle of Napoleon's Peninsular War against Portugal and Spain. Learn how Beethoven came to compose Wellington's Victory, celebrating the British commander's triumph over the ...

46 min
Berlioz/de L'Isle: "La Marseillaise" (1830)
7: Berlioz/de L'Isle: "La Marseillaise" (1830)

In this lecture, envision the evolution of Paris from the 17th century to the 19th, and grasp how the city became a magnet for artists and intellectuals, and the spawning ground for the age of European revolutions. Witness the political events from the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy following Napoleon's downfall to the revolutionary movement of 1830, which inspired Berlioz's monumental settin...

44 min
Chopin: Etude in C Minor, Op. 10, No. 12 (1831)
8: Chopin: Etude in C Minor, Op. 10, No. 12 (1831)

In 1831, a failed political insurrection in Warsaw left a permanent mark on the music and spirit of Frederic Chopin. Beginning in the 17th century, explore the history of invasions, "partitions," and occupations of Poland by neighboring European powers, which effectively destroyed the Polish Commonwealth. Learn about Chopin's early life, and delve into the doomed "November Uprising" ...

46 min
Glinka: A Life for the Tsar (1836)
9: Glinka: A Life for the Tsar (1836)

Glinka's A Life for the Tsar was a landmark in the creation of Russian language opera. Learn about the origins of the opera's storyline in Russia's "Time of Troubles," an era of discord and invasions, and consider Glinka's role in a community dedicated to bringing Russian art and literature to prominence. Through compelling excerpts from the hugely successful opera, observe how A Life for the Tsar...

43 min
Strauss Sr.: Radetzky March (1848)
10: Strauss Sr.: Radetzky March (1848)

Uncover the story behind Vienna's beloved Radetzky March, which reflects the last glory of the Austrian Empire. As background, track the historical triumphs and tribulations of the Habsburg dynasty, leading to the 1848 rebellion in which the musical Johann Strausses, Senior and Junior, took opposing sides. Experience Strauss Senior's rousing March in its historical setting, celebrating the Field M...

45 min
Brahms: Piano Quartet in G Minor, Op. 25 (1861)
11: Brahms: Piano Quartet in G Minor, Op. 25 (1861)

As the prelude to a fateful episode in the life of Johannes Brahms, explore the 19th-century Hungarian nationalist movement, highlighting the revolutionary initiatives of Lajos Kossuth, icon of the 1848 revolt against Austrian domination. Witness how Brahms's meeting with the Hungarian refugee and violinist Eduard Remenyi ignited the composer's longtime love affair with Hungarian gypsy musi...

42 min
Gottschalk: The Union (1862)
12: Gottschalk: The Union (1862)

Louis Moreau Gottschalk was the first truly American composer. Delve into his early life in New Orleans, and observe the richly diverse cultures that shaped his music, encompassing European, Caribbean, Latin American and African influences. Follow his remarkable career as a touring composer-piano virtuoso, his tireless work for the Northern cause during the Civil War, and the events which sparked ...

47 min
Verdi: Nabucco (1842)
13: Verdi: Nabucco (1842)

In the creation of his opera Nabucco, Giuseppe Verdi played a key role in the movement for Italian unification. Study the series of 19th-century rebellions against Austrian rule that culminated in the two Italian wars of independence. Observe how the music and poetry of Nabucco came to be identified with the Italian people's quest for nationhood, ultimately leading the composer into a direct parti...

45 min
Wagner: The Ring (1876)
14: Wagner: The Ring (1876)

Wagner's operatic cycle The Ring functions metaphorically as a caustic critique of 19th-century European society. Learn about Wagner's embrace of anti-capitalist rhetoric in 1848 and 1849, a time when revolutions broke out across Europe, and his writing of revolutionary articles and manifestos. Grasp how the Ring's human and godlike characters represent the ills of industrial societies, and how Wa...

46 min
Dvorak: From the New World Symphony (1893)
15: Dvorak: From the New World Symphony (1893)

Explore the extraordinary industrial and economic rise of the United States in the 19th century, a phenomenon celebrated in the Chicago Columbian Exposition of 1893, one of the most spectacular world's fairs ever held. Witness the historic participation of Antonin Dvorak, and uncover the impact on American music of Dvorak's residency in the U.S., which produced his symphony entitled ...

47 min
Balakirev: Symphony No. 1 (1898)
16: Balakirev: Symphony No. 1 (1898)

Delve into the 19th-century movement within Russia to create a distinctively Russian national art. With his Symphony No. 1 as a point of reference, learn how Mily Balakirev personified the quest for an authentic Russian musical aesthetic. Observe how this quest reflected a geopolitical conflict within Russia between pro-Western and "Slavophile" schools of thought, and see how Balakirev gathered ar...

48 min
Janacek: Piano Sonata I.X.1905 (1906)
17: Janacek: Piano Sonata I.X.1905 (1906)

The life and music of composer Leos Janacek were profoundly shaped by the longtime enmity in Czech lands between the Germans and the Czechs. Study the history of German/Czech relations dating from the 17th century, and witness the Czech national revival of the 19th century, of which Janacek was a passionate advocate. Learn how the events of a political demonstration in 1905 inspired ...

47 min
Rimsky-Korsakov: The Golden Cockerel (1907)
18: Rimsky-Korsakov: The Golden Cockerel (1907)

This lecture reveals Rimsky-Korsakov's classic opera, The Golden Cockerel, as daring political commentary, directly reflecting the events surrounding the first Russian Revolution. Study the opera's fairy-tale plot, in parallel with the drama of Russia's devastating military encounter with the Japanese in 1905, and anti-Tsarist rebellion within Russia. Hear key excerpts from the opera, and observe ...

45 min
Holst: Ode to Death (1919)
19: Holst: Ode to Death (1919)

Gustav Holst's luminous Ode to Death responded to the immeasurable suffering of World War I. Learn about the underlying causes of the conflict, and grasp how the horrific human cost of the war reflected a tragic clash between archaism and modernity. In Ode to Death, experience the melding of Holst's music with Walt Whitman's elegiac text, and study the musical means whereby Holst evokes a haunting...

48 min
Berg: Wozzeck (1922)
20: Berg: Wozzeck (1922)

In assessing Berg's operatic masterwork, investigate the aftermath of World War I in Germany and its imprint on the opera-a psychological climate of rage, disillusion, and alienation in the wake of the war's barbarity and hypocrisy. Observe how Berg's own wartime experience linked him with the life of Franz Wozzeck, the opera's protagonist. In excerpts from the opera's first and third acts, hear h...

45 min
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 13 (1962)
21: Shostakovich: Symphony No. 13 (1962)

Take the measure of the terrors of the Stalinist regime in Soviet Russia, and uncover how many people, including Dimitri Shostakovich, were forced to lead double lives. Learn about the composition of the Symphony during the post-Stalin "Thaw," a less repressive period, and consider the composer's use of texts by courageous poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko. In the Symphony's powerful textures, grasp how th...

47 min
Copland: Symphony No. 3 (1946)
22: Copland: Symphony No. 3 (1946)

Trace the Depression-era movement of populism in American art, based in the notion that high art should speak to the broad, general population, and learn how Copland's Symphony No. 3 captured the euphoric mood of the country following victories over the Depression, fascism, and Japanese imperialism. Note also how the artistic politics of the postwar decades relegated the Symphony to temporary obsc...

50 min
Gorecki: Symphony No. 3 (1976)
23: Gorecki: Symphony No. 3 (1976)

As context for this modern symphonic masterpiece, investigate the nearly inconceivable atrocities committed against Poland during World War II by Hitler's and Stalin's regimes, encompassing efforts by both aggressors to destroy Polish nationhood. Learn about Henryk Górecki's life in wartime and in the repressive era that followed, and hear the sublimely beautiful "Symphony of Sorrowful Song...

49 min
Crumb: Black Angels (1970)
24: Crumb: Black Angels (1970)

Conclude with George Crumb's passionate anti-war string quartet. Trace the backdrop of its writing in the political climate and policy decisions that led the U.S. into the quagmire of the Vietnam War. Observe how the attempted U.S. policy of "containment" unraveled tragically in the face of the implacable will of the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong. In the extraordinary sonic textures of Black Ange...

51 min
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.


University of California, Berkeley


San Francisco Performances

About Robert Greenberg

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.