The Great Works of Sacred Music

Rated 5 out of 5 by from All This and Christmas Carols Too If you are tempted to think that this topic is too thin for a full course, don’t be. The source material is rich, and Professor McGuire has chosen astutely. I confess I don’t have sympathy with the “too much lecture, play more music” sentiment of some reviewers. It’s a course, not a concert. Prof. McGuire provides very generous samplings of the music he is discussing. I for one would be irritated if there were more music at the expense of subject matter. McGuire walks us through the history of Christian sacred music — and only Christian music is discussed — from early medieval through the 19th century. Wisely, he leaves the sea changes of the 20th century for another day. The inescapable fact is that most people who are interested in learning about Gregorian chants and the oratorios and requiems of Handel, Mozart, Mendelssohn and the like are going to be either lost or turned off by a deep dive into Durufle, Messiaen, Gorecki and Ligeti. I was pleased that Professor McGuire included a nod to Beethoven’s undervalued “Christ on the Mount of Olives.” His analysis convinced me that my otherwise favorite Great Courses music professor, Robert Greenberg, simply doesn’t get this oratorio. There is much more there than Greenberg acknowledges. Kudos to McGuire for bringing that out. And it was a good call to devote an entire lecture to that familiar but fascinating branch of sacred music, Christmas carols. The course is not without its distractions. For one, the Handel oratorio recordings that Prof. McGuire uses come from that odious school of thought that Wagner knew Handel better than Handel. They are ponderous and painfully slow. Granted, well into the 1970s such plodding interpretations were all you could hear, and many music consumers prefer them even today. But if you’re like me and prefer your Handel light and agile the way he meant it, you may find yourself fast-forwarding. I can’t agree with criticism of Prof. McGuire’s singing voice. It’s strong, sonorous, well-trained, and always on pitch. It’s an outstanding choral voice. But it’s not a solo voice, and I do agree that there were a few places where a professional recording would have been the better choice. More problematic are some persistent nails-on-chalkbord mispronunciations. A man who throws up an Italian accent on “Monteverdi” and “Giovanni Gabrieli” must surely know that basso continuo is not pronounced “bah-zo” in any language. And how do you get through advanced degrees in musicology at Harvard and land a job at the Oberlin Conservatory, and still think that Handel rhymes with “rondel”? In modern-day English Handel sounds exactly like “handle.” If you’re trying for a German pronunciation (or 18th-century English), it’s “Hendel,” which - as Prof. McGuire must have noticed when reviewing historical documents - is the spelling the London press preferred during Handel’s lifetime. Since Prof. McGuire comes back to Handel in pretty much every lecture, prepare to get “Hondled” to death. The good news is that the content is worth the annoyances. From Monteverdi to Elgar and many points in between, if you are interested in Christian music from the Renaissance, Baroque, Classical or Romantic era, you will want this course.
Date published: 2020-10-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from knowledgeable instructor and divine topic,but.... I have no fault to find with the course material. I am not a musician and I appreciate all the technical knowledge. I could even enjoy more of it. My background RomanCatholicism and I was educated in convent schools where sacred music was heard every day. I intensely dislike the post vatican II liturgy and espoecially the awful banging pianos and guitars that detract from Mass. . Of course, more music in the course is to be cherished but every course has limitations. I do not have the booklet and perhaps it includes a discography.The history is good, but remember this is an introductory survey course. i do not care for the instructors voice but find its illustrations very clear to understand. My complaint is one of appearance. I dislike facial hair on men (it makes them look like dogs) and I found the instructor's open suit jacket and ample belly a distraction. But, his mind was excellent and he taught me a lot. The video, rather than audio alone is informative because it provides definition of terms. I dont fault the instructor's pronunciation. He does well in Latin, Italian, French although he is not a native speaker.
Date published: 2020-08-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Deep understanding Amazing knowledge about music structure and history of development
Date published: 2020-08-09
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Lacked music The course was disappointing in that often the music that was being talked about was not played. To be fully enjoyed you need to have access to another source to hear the pieces in their entirety.
Date published: 2019-06-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Heavenly Music From childhood sacred music has been part of the texture of my life. After 35 years in ministry it is more important than ever. From the first lecture examining the importance of the word Alleluia and its setting through more than 1000 years from chant to 20th century choral settings, the lecturer not only explained the musicality, but the importance of the word and its expression and how the composers focused the listener's attention and magnified the meaning of the text through the score. You will be delighted as you explore or are exposed to great works, great ideas and great music in this course.
Date published: 2019-04-02
Rated 1 out of 5 by from REALLY??? Did he just say Haaaaahndel instead of Haendel? Really? And not just once. L You've lost all credibility with me, when the instructor can't even pronounce the composer's name. And not an obscure composer, either. Sorry, GreatCourses. You blew it with this one.
Date published: 2019-03-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Good Introduction to Sacred Music To be fair, I have to say that this topic is difficult to do justice to, even in 16 lectures. I thought the instructor was knowledgeable and his background in musicology and liturgy enabled him to have great insights. The best lectures were on Bach and Handel. The other lectures were informative, but he did not have time to do the same kind of analysis. I think because I am familiar with sacred music, I expected more than the course was designed to do. I think it is a good introduction and exposes the listener to the historical and musical development over the centuries.
Date published: 2019-02-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from More than one I have purchased several courses recently and am enjoying all the lectures
Date published: 2019-01-16
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The Great Works of Sacred Music
Course Trailer
Hallelujah, Amen: The World of Sacred Music
1: Hallelujah, Amen: The World of Sacred Music

Begin by exploring the contexts in which Western sacred music developed, from its use in religious ritual to its emergence in the concert hall as edifying entertainment. Then encounter three distinct eras in sacred music, hearing excerpts from medieval chant, Handel's iconic Hallelujah chorus, and Edward Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius....

43 min
From Chant to Early Sacred Polyphony
2: From Chant to Early Sacred Polyphony

Trace the roots and origins of sacred music in the Christian West, beginning with the history of chant, a way of singing prayer unaccompanied by instruments. Using diverse musical examples, learn about the structure and styles of chant, and how it evolved into polyphony (music with more than one melody sounding simultaneously)....

41 min
The Golden Age of Polyphony
3: The Golden Age of Polyphony

Follow the rise to prominence of both the composer and their patron, observing how sacred music adapted to musical fashions. Explore polyphonic innovations in masses by Guillaume de Machaut and Guillaume Dufay, and in Josquin des Prez's superlative motet, Ave Maria, gratia plena, one of the first great works of sacred music....

42 min
The Age of Reformation: Who Will Sing?
4: The Age of Reformation: Who Will Sing?

Delve into the religious reformations of the 16th century, and learn how the underlying theological debates shaped sacred music. In particular, grasp how changes in Christian ritual impelled William Byrd, Martin Luther, and Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina to pioneer new musical genres and ways to make sung texts more intelligible and communicative....

41 min
Sacred Music in a Secular World
5: Sacred Music in a Secular World

By the 17th century, fashionable music began to be equated with secular music. Through studying Claudio Monteverdi's masterpiece, the Vespro della Beata Virgini, and Heinrich Schütz's extraordinary Musikalische Exequien, learn how both composers mixed sacred styles with elements from secular genres like opera to create music that was both reverent and modern....

46 min
Man and Meaning: Bach's Cantatas
6: Man and Meaning: Bach's Cantatas

Bach's sacred works are perhaps the most celebrated in Western music. Learn about the chorale and cantata, musical forms famously used by Bach. Study his great Cantata No. 80, a beautiful example of Bach's ingenious blending of the traditional (a chorale by Martin Luther) with the new (elements of recitative and aria)....

45 min
Art for Art's Sake: Bach's Mass in B Minor
7: Art for Art's Sake: Bach's Mass in B Minor

Trace the convoluted compositional history of the magnificent Mass in b minor, and explore Bach's motives for composing a work with no real practical function. Study how Bach blends older and newer musical styles and recasts musical material from his earlier works in creating a stunning compendium of his own style as a composer....

44 min
Handel's Great Oratorio: Messiah
8: Handel's Great Oratorio: Messiah

In the first of two lectures on Handel's Messiah, study the genre of oratorio, and see how Handel adapted it for his own purposes. Investigate the lives and partnership of Handel and Charles Jennens (the Messiah's librettist), and discover some of the glorious music from this most beloved of oratorios....

45 min
Messiah: From Entertainment to Ritual
9: Messiah: From Entertainment to Ritual

Learn about the sources and meanings of the Messiah's text, and witness the remarkable realization of the text in Handel's music. Explore Handel's brilliant compositional ingenuity in the oratorio, and follow the story of how the Messiah rose to become one of the centerpieces of the Western canon of classical music....

44 min
Mozart's Requiem: Praise and Memory
10: Mozart's Requiem: Praise and Memory

Learn the mysterious and romantic story behind this extraordinary masterwork. Study the musical traits of the Classical Era and the genre of the requiem mass, as ingeniously embodied in Mozart's music. Then investigate Mozart's musical "rhetoric," the technical means through which he portrays the drama of life, grief, and the hope for consolation....

44 min
Haydn's The Creation
11: Haydn's The Creation

Take account of the influence of Handel in this beloved oratorio, and discover the integral role played in its creation by a noble patron and two Viennese institutions. Explore the range of Haydn's powerful musical language, evoking the Chaos before the Creation, the rising sun, and the triumphant annunciation of the Fourth Day....

45 min
God, Man, Music, and Beethoven
12: God, Man, Music, and Beethoven

In the first of two sublime sacred works by Beethoven, his oratorio Christus am Ölberge, grasp how he uses dramatic expressive means to emphasize the suffering of Christ-suffering with which he personally identified. In the great Missa Solemnis, follow how Beethoven mines the musical past in creating a monumental spiritual vision....

47 min
Mendelssohn's Elijah
13: Mendelssohn's Elijah

In Elijah, Mendelssohn created a compendium of what the oratorio had been, balanced against what it could be. Through listening to compelling excerpts, observe how he includes evocations of Handel, Bach, and Haydn, framed within his own unique musical rhetoric, aiming to compose a work that would outlive him within the canon of sacred music....

44 min
Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius
14: Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius

Learn about the creation of Elgar's exquisite and very Catholic oratorio, against the musical and religious backdrop of 19th-century Britain. Study how Elgar infused The Dream of Gerontius with Wagnerian operatic elements such as continuous musical narrative, leitmotif, and lavish orchestration, transforming the genre of oratorio into something new....

45 min
Sacred Music in the Late 19th Century
15: Sacred Music in the Late 19th Century

Beginning in the late 19th century, composers of sacred music began to question institutional conceptions of faith. Here, study one monumental yet very personal work, Brahms's Ein Deutsches Requiem; one very anti-monumental expression, Faure's Requiem; and one that seems monumental, yet ends in a deliberately equivocal manner, Verdi's Quattro Pezzi Sacri....

47 min
Come, All Ye Faithful: Music of Christmas
16: Come, All Ye Faithful: Music of Christmas

Conclude with a look at the rich tradition of Christmas music. Explore music designed for yuletide religious services, as well as musical works that became associated with Christmas. Learn how 19th-century composers created a beloved legacy of Christmas carols by resurrecting older ones, writing new ones, and making hybrids of old texts and new music....

46 min
Charles Edward McGuire

Sacred music is an immense topic. Nearly every culture across the globe includes music for their religious rituals.

ALMA MATER

Harvard University

INSTITUTION

Oberlin College

About Charles Edward McGuire

Charles Edward McGuire is Professor of Musicology at the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, where he has taught since 2001. He earned a B.Mus. in musicology from the Oberlin Conservatory and a B.A. from Oberlin College with high honors in history, and received his A.M. and Ph.D. in music from Harvard University. At Oberlin, Professor McGuire teaches music history, including courses on 19th-century music, Ludwig van Beethoven, Mozart's operas, the symphony in the 19th century, music and narrative, film music history, music in London, and romanticism and medievalism in 19th-century London. Professor McGuire has published extensively on British music, including studies of compositions by Edward Elgar and Ralph Vaughan Williams, as well as works on musical festivals. He is the author of the monographs Music and Victorian Philanthropy: The Tonic Sol-fa Movement; Elgar's Oratorios: The Creation of an Epic Narrative; and The Historical Dictionary of English Music, which he co-authored with Oberlin colleague Professor Steven Plank. He has presented papers at numerous international musicological conferences, and is a frequent invited speaker for panel discussions and pre-concert talks. Professor McGuire has received a Teaching Excellence Award at Oberlin, as well as being a three-time winner of a Certificate of Distinction in Teaching from Harvard University.

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