Music as a Mirror of History

Course No. 7340
Professor Robert Greenberg, Ph.D.
San Francisco Performances
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Course No. 7340
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What Will You Learn?

  • Explore how music, reflects, and reacts to, historical events.
  • Study the profound works of Beethoven in the context of military victories and defeats under Napoleon.
  • Uncover the story behind Vienna's beloved Radetzky March, which reflects the last glory of the Austrian Empire.
  • Trace the Depression-era movement of populism in American art, and learn how Copland's Symphony No. 3captured the euphoric mood of the country.

Course Overview

“What I write is my commentary on what is happening around me… my music is my commentary.” Henryk Górecki

In the worlds of painting and literature, it’s easy to see where history and art intersect. In Picasso’s Guernica or Tolstoy’s War and Peace, it’s evident how works of art mirror and participate in the life of their times, sometimes even playing a role in historical events.

But what about music? What is the intersection—if any—between the influential works of Western concert music and the historical times that surrounded them?

In Music as a Mirror of History, Great Courses favorite Professor Robert Greenberg of San Francisco Performances returns with a fascinating and provocative premise: Despite the abstractness and the universality of music—and our habit of listening to it divorced from any historical context—music is a “mirror” of the historical setting in which it was created. Indeed, certain works of music do not just mirror the general spirit of their time and place, but can even explicitly evoke specific historical events. As Professor Greenberg demonstrates in this course, music carries a rich spectrum of social, cultural, historical, and philosophical information, all grounded in the life and experience of the composer—if you’re aware of what you’re listening to. In these lectures, you’ll explore how composers convey such explicit information, evoking specific states of mind and giving voice to communal emotions, all colored by their own personal experience. Music lovers and history enthusiasts alike will be enthralled by this exploration of how momentous compositions have responded to—and inspired—pivotal events.

Consider the following:

  • The writing of Handel’s celebrated Water Music (1714) was intimately connected with the incredible story of how a German prince of Brunswick-Lüneberg became King George I of England—whose patronage of Handel produced a series of masterpieces created to glorify the English royal court.
  • Frédéric Chopin’s iconic Revolutionary Etude for piano (1831) was written in the composer’s dark despair over a failed uprising in Warsaw against Poland’s Russian overlords, an event which left a permanent mark on the character of Chopin’s music.
  • Aaron Copland’s Symphony No. 3 (1946) expresses the euphoric postwar spirit of the American people, victorious after both the Great Depression and a globe-spanning battle against fascism.

In this unique and eye-opening course, Professor Greenberg presents an in-depth survey of musical works that were written in direct response to contemporary historical events—events that both shaped the composers’ lives and inspired the creation of the works in question. In a novel departure from his previous courses, which explore how classical masterpieces work as music per se, here Professor Greenberg reveals, in stunning and poignant detail, the ways in which history influenced some of the great (and not so great!) works of music, and how they in turn influenced history.

Ranging widely across the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, the lectures immerse you in historical moments such as the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, the Austrian-Ottoman conflict, the Hungarian nationalist movement, the movement for Italian unification, the economic ascent of the U.S., the Stalinist regime in the USSR, and World Wars I and II. Across the arc of the course, you’ll see how these events were felt and expressed in the music of Mozart, Beethoven, Berlioz, Brahms, Verdi, Wagner, and many others, including modern masters such as Janáček, Górecki, and Crumb.

Incorporating superlative musical excerpts in each lesson, these 24 sumptuously detailed lectures offer you a revelatory look at history through the lens of music. The result is deep and enlightening insight into both, and a view of the remarkable interface between the events of history and a musical repertoire which stands among the most sublime creations of our civilization.

A Vividly Different Window on Music—and on History

This is as much a course about history as it is about music, and anyone with an interest in history will find it both enthralling and richly informative. The course reminds us that history is not only available to us through the study of events, but also through many diverse forms of human expression, including great music. For example, Mozart’s Abduction from the Harem vividly reflects Europe’s centuries-long conflict and simultaneous fascination with the Ottoman Empire, and you’ll find this in both the opera’s text and in Mozart’s use of specific, stereotypically “Turkish” musical devices and figurations.

To know the historical context of these great works opens up an entirely new level of understanding and appreciation of music—music that was meant to be not only aesthetically and spiritually satisfying, but also socially, historically, and politically meaningful.

At the heart of the inquiry, you’ll discover how history and music intertwine in works such as:

  • Beethoven’s Farewell Sonata (1810): Witness the dramatic unfolding of the French Revolutionary Wars, and the escalating military conflicts that pitted Napoleon against the Austrian Habsburg Empire. Observe how this great sonata for piano expresses Beethoven’s range of emotions over the absence of his esteemed patron as Napoleon’s army vanquished Vienna.
  • Berlioz and de L’isle’s La Marseillaise (1830): Trace the complex and colorful history that made Paris the hotbed of European revolutionary activity. Learn how Rouget de L’isle’s beloved marching song La Marseillaise echoed across France from 1792 to the anti-Bourbon revolution of 1830, when Hector Berlioz set it epically for double chorus, children’s choir, and extended orchestra.
  • Verdi’s Nabucco (1842): Discover the historic events that linked Verdi’s 1842 opera inextricably with the Italian movement for unification, and consider how the Italian people’s passionate embrace of Verdi’s music swept the composer into a reluctant but ultimately committed role as a politician in the birth of the Italian nation.
  • Gottschalk’s The Union (1862): Enter the life of one of the most dazzling and outlandish of American composers—that of Louis Moreau Gottschalk, a world-conquering piano virtuoso, composer of genius, and fierce anti-slavery advocate during the Civil War, whose unflagging efforts on behalf of the Northern cause included this galvanizing, patriotic concert piece.
  • Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel (1907): Uncover how Rimsky-Korsakov’s classic opera functioned as thinly-veiled political polemic, and grasp how both its allegorical narrative and musical setting mocked and satirized the Russian military’s disastrous defeat by the Japanese in 1905, the iron hand of the Imperial government, and the beleaguered figure of Tsar Nicholas II.
  • George Crumb’s Black Angels (1970): Trace the genesis of this contemporary masterpiece in the Cold War political maneuvering that led the U.S. into Vietnam and an era of bitter protest. In Crumb’s visionary string quartet, experience the composer’s searing musical language that evokes the battlefield horrors and the American public’s sense of waste and grief.

A One-Of-A-Kind Learning Experience

The unique manner of inquiry of this course offers you an analysis of history that is not available anywhere else—an analysis that synthesizes two fields of knowledge with astonishing detail and depth, requiring an expert historian, on the one hand, and an expert musicologist, on the other. As the lectures consistently reveal, Professor Greenberg is both.

In the lecture on Mily Balakirev’s Symphony No. 1, you’ll observe how the 19th–century Russian movement toward “expository” music writing, as well as rejection of pre-existing musical forms, was profoundly linked to notions of the Russian “national character”—an example, as Professor Greenberg says, of how “a musical syntax can become part of a national myth.” Later, you’ll take the measure of the nightmare of Stalinism, and of how Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13 expresses the experience of the millions who were destroyed by the regime. And, in Henryk Górecki’s heartbreakingly beautiful “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs,” you’ll see how the composer used ancient musical material with deep cultural resonance—history in sound—to reflect unforgettably on the modern tragedy that befell Poland in World War II.

Standing on the shoulders of Professor Greenberg’s catalogue of celebrated courses, Music as a Mirror of History offers further compelling insights into our musical tradition. By demonstrating the deep interconnections between lived human experience—that is, history—and musical expression, Professor Greenberg speaks incisively to both the nature of great art, and to what is perhaps the greatest gift of the art form in question: the ability of music to speak to dimensions of our awareness that are unreachable by words or visual symbols.

In Music as a Mirror of History, you’ll explore how music, in its singular capacity to evoke and reflect experience, can bring us not only transcendent beauty and joy, but also understanding, compassion, and meaning amid even the most terrible of human events. Join us for an unparalleled look into the power and scope of musical art.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 45 minutes each
  • 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 Janáček and Frédéric Chopin responded to political events in key works. Take account of how the magnified emotions stirred by human conflicts feed artistic creation, and how artists have managed to convert the most terrible of human experiences into transcendent art. x
  • 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 royals, including the composer’s iconic Water Music, written for a state procession in 1717. x
  • 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 Austria's war with the Ottomans contributed to Mozart's decline and death. x
  • 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 against Napoleon’s invading army. x
  • 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 absence of the composer's aristocratic patron in the face of Napoleon's 1809 march on Vienna. x
  • 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 French at Vitoria, which was both a phenomenal success for Beethoven and a major aberration in his musical output. x
  • 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 setting of the marching song that ultimately became the French national anthem. x
  • 8
    Chopin: Étude 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 Frédéric 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” of the Poles against their Russian overlords that fueled the writing of his passionate, revolutionary etude for piano. x
  • 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 embodied the pride and patriotism of the Russian people. x
  • 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 Marshal Count Radetzky, whose military exploits made him a hero to the imperial old guard. x
  • 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 music, epitomized in the electrifying finale to his G Minor Piano Quartet. x
  • 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 the creation of his celebrated and patriotic piano piece, The Union. x
  • 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 participation in the political process that forged an independent Italy. x
  • 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 Wagner envisioned a new "age of man" which would follow the demise of the European monarchies. x
  • 15
    Dvořák: 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 Dvořák, and uncover the impact on American music of Dvořák’s residency in the U.S., which produced his symphony entitled From the New World, and pointed toward the creation of a uniquely American musical tradition. x
  • 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 around him a group of young composers who would change the face of Western concert music. x
  • 17
    Janáček: Piano Sonata I.X.1905 (1906)
    The life and music of composer Leoš Janáček 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 Janáček was a passionate advocate. Learn how the events of a political demonstration in 1905 inspired Janáček’s Piano Sonata 1, a highly personal expression of wonder, rage, and grief. x
  • 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 how the opera's narrative works as a thinly veiled indictment of Tsar Nicholas II, his government, and the Russian military. x
  • 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 impression of unfathomable loss and waste. x
  • 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 how Berg achieves a searing musical portrayal of Wozzeck's disordered mind. x
  • 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 the music speaks for all those who walked the line between self-preservation and speaking the truth, thereby risking personal annihilation. x
  • 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 obscurity in an era that sought to purge music of self-expressive abandon and nationalistic spirit. x
  • 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 Gorecki's life in wartime and in the repressive era that followed, and hear the sublimely beautiful Symphony of Sorrowful Songs" that expresses the Polish experience through sung prayers and folk songs about mothers and the loss of their children." x
  • 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 Angels, hear how Crumb captures the futility and heartbreak of this dark episode in American life." x

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Your professor

Robert Greenberg

About Your Professor

Robert Greenberg, Ph.D.
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,...
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Reviews

Music as a Mirror of History is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 134.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative and entertaining We have watched the first two lectures and find them to be very educational. The music selections used to illustrate examples of the composers' works are beautiful.
Date published: 2019-02-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Music and History! Entertaining and informative view of music that reflects events of the time.
Date published: 2019-02-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Don't understand what this means. The professor is so funny. Thanks for the humor that makes the time pass quickly. I tell my piano teacher every week what I have learned but he already knows it all. Sigh! But, it's new info to me. Thanks. I am 79 years old and started taking piano when I retired. This has added so much to my music lessons.
Date published: 2019-02-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good, but not what I expected. First of all, I love Robert Greenberg, who presents this course. He is very learned about many music-related subjects and is funny while presenting the material. Even though the title of this course contains the word "History" there is more history than music in this course. I loved the history, but, wanted more music to be used as examples to this history. I ended up exchanging this course for something else. Because of Robert Greenberg's excellent presentations, I would recommend this course to anyone who appreciates history, as it pertains to classical music and the events centered around the time these compositions were written.
Date published: 2019-02-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enrich yourself. Great courses are a fantastic investment in yourself. What better investment is there? Go ahead, enrich your mind.
Date published: 2019-02-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Animated Professor with Great Knowledge This course "Music as a Mirror of History" is one of the best I've had from the Great Courses. The professor is very animated and enthusiastic and has a great knowledge of his subject. It is fascinating to see the connections between famous pieces of music and history. The professor even has a dramatic flair as he tries to imitate various voices from history. I enjoyed his funny figures of speech such as "his ideas were as popular as a barbed-wire jock strap". I eagerly looked forward to each lesson.
Date published: 2019-01-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A surprise, and a truly great course Who knew that Greenberg was a knowledgeable, insightful, authoritative synthesizer of Western history in general, in addition to his unmatched expertise as a musicologist and music historian? This course was a true surprise to me, and a great treat. I was concerned that it might be a rehash of descriptions, examples, and the circumstances of composition of a series of well-known masterpieces about which I had already learned a lot from his previous courses. But this was definitely not the case. Handel’s Water Music and Dvorak’s New World symphony were covered, as expected, but from refreshingly different perspectives and with a whole lot more history than music. The latter proved the rule for the series, with some lectures providing only two or three brief music examples, although this varied. By and large the history discussions were interesting, original, and from perspectives I hadn’t encountered before. And the pieces chosen as springboards for these discussions were, for me, both unexpected and (in about half the cases) previously unfamiliar. It was great! A number of the lectures are true classics, particularly several of those dealing with 20th-Century history and the one on Wagner’s Ring. The last, by the way, for a one-time serious student of the series, was really something. I had appreciated Greenberg’s delving into controversial and sensitive topics in the 9-part composers series—which were key to appreciating their music—but in this course he waded assertively into some pretty touchy stuff, with admirable objectivity (in my view), and to the learner’s great benefit in terms of completeness, insight and appreciation not only of the music but also of the historical context. I look forward to revisiting a number of these lectures and the pieces used to amplify an appreciation of the historical times and events described.
Date published: 2018-12-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Greenberg is Great! Greenberg's sense of humor (for example: Napoleon swept into Vienna like a tornado through a trailer park) added immensely to the interest of the course. Giving background of the music related to the history of the time was amazing and worthwhile. From Morley at the time of Elizabeth the First of England to contemporary times was fascinating. The only negative comment I would make, is that sometimes the history took over and became very erudite; music often took second place and was a little too brief. Fortunately, I am very knowledgeable in both history and the music he discussed and sometimes the examples encouraged me to listen to the complete work. If I did not know both subjects, I might have been a little frustrated and/or bored. However, Greenberg's presentations are always fun and educational. He is agreat presenter and very knowledgeable about all musical subjects.
Date published: 2018-12-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from great subject matter, great presentation I first heard this course in Great Courses plus and loved the format, a history lesson that explained the feelings of the composers at the time they put their pieces together. You get a dose of history but tied to music giving both a richer meaning and helps the information stick. The professors asserbic wit makes the presentation even more enjoyable. Ended up buying the course as a gift for my grandma who loves this type of course.
Date published: 2018-11-30
Rated 1 out of 5 by from As usual a first rate series of lectures As usual a first rate series of lectures by Greenberg. One minor nit to pick. Dvorak was not as he states, " the first great European composer to visit the United States". Actually, an even greater composer Tchaikovsky visited and was feted in the US in April and May of 1891 over a year before Dvorak arrived on these shores.
Date published: 2018-09-21
Rated 2 out of 5 by from great title I purchased this course a few months ago, but just opened it to use in my music class for adults. There is a great amount of detailed history in each lecture, but very LITTLE music. My students (lifelong learners) disliked it, except for the few history buffs. It is not appropriate for a music class, in my opinion.
Date published: 2018-09-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Presentation I just completed the lectures and I am very satisfied. Professor Greenberg did an outstanding job. I learned a lot about not only the composers, but the times of their lives that inspired their work.
Date published: 2018-07-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best History course I ever took Robert Greenberg is a national treasure. He is one of the world's great teachers. I've spent much of my adult life trying to understand the first World War. By listening to these lectures I began to get the picture. There is, of course, no one answer, but these courses lead one to start see the whole of it. They are AMAZING. Anything he lectures on is worth listening to, but these are among my favorite.
Date published: 2018-07-22
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Its a 45 minute runon sentence... It's bad... really bad. Don't get me wrong, I have the highest respect Dr. Greenberg and highly recommend any one of his many lecture series... just not this one. From a musical analysis, very little is dealt with looking at the piece itself and showing how history impacted the music - it is there, but is only a fraction of the time. From a historical analysis, Dr Greenberg is all over the place. A lecture on Mozart, for example will ramble on o a discussion on post 9-11 policy all the way to 19th century Parisian pastries. As Dr. Greenberg has shown in his How to Listen series, context is a mirror to the music and it is important. But his extremely broad historical context can be vastly tightened. Listening to each lecture for 45 minutes is like listening a 45 minute rambling fun-fact-found run on sentence that bounces from one subject to another without really focusing tightly upon the actual subject. Half the time I forgot what the actual subject was and the other half I didn't care.
Date published: 2018-07-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Music and History - More than the sum of its Parts Music is an art that communicates emotions remarkably well, but doesn't do so well with facts. Getting an understanding of the historic situation surrounding a composition lets you understand the basis for the emotions in that composition. Professor Greenberg presents the history from the viewpoint of the ordinary people who are trying to live while things are happening around them. I loved it. It probably helps that I share his viewpoint on a lot of the events so I seldom found myself saying "yes, but..." in the middle of an exposition. I often said "Oh, so that's why..." I felt that I ended up understanding both the history and the music better together than separately. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2018-03-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of my all-time favorites! After my second or third course from Professor Greenberg, I vowed that I would happily buy any course that he cared to create for the Great Courses. This one more than lived up to my high expectations. This is both a history and a music course, with the percentage varying in each lecture in a very satisfying way. I learned an amazing amount of European and world history as well as music history in this course. And even though I've been studying music for years and have bought most of Professor Greenberg's courses, I also learned about some new-to-me composers and compositions. I didn't want this course to end! This professor is a true Renaissance Man and one of the Great Course's true treasures!
Date published: 2018-03-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Prof. Greenberg is the best!! I have listened to everything the Professor has in the Great Courses catalog. Music is my primary interest but this course made me realize how much I missed in my history classes in high school. Sure, I learned about some important and significant music and its place in history but this could just as easily been a a history lesson only done in such a way as to keep me interested and engaged. At 71 years old and no college courses behind me, I'm learning things I wish I had known years ago. I don't care what the subject matter is...if Prof. Greenberg is lecturing, I will be there.
Date published: 2018-03-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Engaging lecturer and important stories I have thoroughly enjoyed this lecture series and am sad it's over. I can now thank Greenberg for a new list of classical favorites that were not previously on my radar, among them Gottschalk and Gorecki. Professor Greenberg is a stand-out at piecing together the politics, tragedies, triumphs, and climate of an era with the musical compositions it produced. He pulls no punches with his tightly constructed and compelling narratives. I got more out of this than I would have a traditional history series or a series on just classical music. Somehow each part added to the other in an unexpected way; the music and experiences of the composers making the history more comprehensible, more tangible, and the history making the music all the more transcendent. Bravo!
Date published: 2018-02-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What a teacher! Having purchased 10 or 11 of "The Great Courses" I knew, generally, what to expect. Being a professional musician and music pedagogue, I'd passed on Robert Greenberg's courses, until I saw the one labeled "Music as a Mirror of History." Professor Greenberg is not at all like the other presenters. He's head and shoulders better, funnier, and more a showman. Having spent 40+ years as a professor of music education, Greenberg embodies what my hopes were for the presentation skills of all of my students. In short: HE'S INTERESTING." He's a better history teacher than any of my former history teachers and he weaves that history in and about music and music history. I've limited my viewing of his presentations to one a day, because I want it to last. His is the art of educating while entertaining, and entertaining while educating.
Date published: 2018-02-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Arguably the best lecture I have heard from the Great Courses. Informative, intelligent and very funny! Engaging and excellent!
Date published: 2018-02-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the most unique lecture series I've heard I've owned/listened to many of The Great Courses in general and Prof. Greenberg's titles in particular--and enjoyed most of them--but this collection really stands out as an exceptional achievement for Greenberg and the Teaching Company. First, as others have noted, this is as much a history course as a music course, and requires little more than a passing interest in either to be rewarding. I have a degree in music, but my non-musical friend found some of the lectures extremely helpful in prepping for a trip to Prague. Second, these are essentially standalone episodes, with little reference to each other. Great for listening in the car or in order of preference. Content aside, Greenberg turns in a great performance. His signature style--approachable yet deeply grounded in research--is finely honed and keeps the love-it-or-leave-it humor at a useful level. With a novel concept, a wealth of information, and a top-notch presentation, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this course as an example of the best The Great Courses has to offer.
Date published: 2018-02-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from More history than music - but a great course! We've bought several of Greenburg's courses, and greatly enjoyed all of them. This one is more history than music, but is extremely interesting and places the music in the context of its times in ways that just casual listening cannot accomplish. Sign me up for his next course....
Date published: 2018-02-08
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not up to Greenberg usual standard I have enjoyed every course from Professor Greenberg that I have listened to, except this one. In this case, his diversion from the main topics to possibly give some context was distracting and broke up the continuity too much. I finished the course, but I was glad when it was finally over. That is usually not the case with Professor Greenberg's courses.
Date published: 2018-01-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from History First, Then Music “Before we do anything else, let’s do some history and some music,” Professor Robert Greenberg’s words at the beginning of this very unique and informative course. The order is important, since there is actually more history than music, though not much more. He has filled in a gap that is all too often overlooked when we concentrate on only the sound and not the genesis of what we’re listening to. It was truly a delight to listen to the pieces chosen and the history behind them. Having just completed his "How to Listen to and Understand Great Music, 3rd Edition," I was a bit surprised that he did not delve as deeply into the music as he had in this earlier course. But then I decided that this was an altogether different approach. One could continue praising Professor and the knowledge he imparts, but some time should be devoted to a few negative, though ultimately minor, aspects of the course. While not affecting the overall content, Professor Greenberg’s consistent mispronunciation of Russian and Czech names is distracting. This habit is puzzling, since his pronunciation of Balakirev is flawless—not an easy one for a non-Russian speaker—but strangely the name Susanin gives him problems. While absorbing the overall message, one simply has to ignore these infrequent, but at times irritating, moments, as well as the professor’s delight in using dangling introductory participial phrases, even in the Course Guidebook (e.g. “Having said all this, Nazism and Stalinism were, nevertheless, ideological opposites.”). Probably the most puzzling oversight of all is the appearance of the year 1939 next to the title “A Life for the Tsar,” which received its premiere on 27 November 1836. All other displayed titles are accompanied by their year of first appearance. The statement that Grenoble is located in the southwest of France, when it is on the opposite side of the country, will attract the attention of those familiar with geography. One nit that should have been caught by a proofreader was the phrase that “Rubenstein was an avowed Zapadniki….” It should read “Zapadnik” since he is talking about only one person.
Date published: 2018-01-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Musical and historical synergy I've listened to many of Professor Greenberg's courses over the years and have thoroughly enjoyed them all, but this one really stands out. It's added greatly to my understanding and enjoyment of the featured compositions. I like that there was a mix of familiar and new-to-me pieces, and appreciate that some were a bit more challenging to embrace. The material is well-organized, well-researched and artfully presented (with the expected humorous tidbits!). I'd love to see Music as a Mirror of History II. Thank you for this excellent listening and learning experience.
Date published: 2018-01-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Professor Greenberg Again! I’m a couple of courses behind in my listening but must say that I have never been disappointed with any of his courses. He is always entertaining as well as very knowledgeable. My wife and I were very involved with music in college and after but even those parts which are “review” to us are great to listen to.
Date published: 2017-12-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Far more than I could have hoped for! I’ve never been much of a classical music guy, but I like to be well-rounded in my knowledge base so I thought this course might teach me a little music in a historical context. What I got was much more. I learned plenty of classical music. But I also learned much more history than I dreamed of...what a pleasant surprise. The lecturer took a historical era or event, explained it completely and then inserted a complete explanation of the music and its composer along with excerpts of the piece being discussed, as well as explaining how it fit and why he chose it as an example of the history he was explaining. The fit was perfect. His delivery found me frequently laughing out loud at his humor and enthralled by the depth of his explanation of both music and history. I learned a lot and was wishing that the course was twice as long. I’ve been your customer for nearly 20 years. Over that time I’ve listened to many outstanding courses. Few, if any, have rivaled this course. Thanks and keep up the good work.
Date published: 2017-12-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So very Interesting!!!!!!! I have thoroughly enjoyed this course. It is my first one and I have to say I am hooked. I learned some of the history before but putting it together with the music I love is awesome. It makes the music so much more meaningful.
Date published: 2017-12-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An enjoyable way to learn history and music Professor Greenberg is very informative and interesting He lecture style is not the least bit stuffy. I find myself laughing outloud But at the same time I am learning. You can’t miss with any of his courses.
Date published: 2017-12-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Extraordinarily Great! "It is an axiom of all modern criticism that art and its times are related." This quote is from the late historian, Jacques Barzun. Robert Greenberg's "Mirror of History" demonstrates the fascinating accuracy of the Barzun quote better and more ably than anything I have seen or heard for decades. I got so enchanted with Mr. Greenberg's talks, that I juggled schedules so I could listen to three or four of them at one sitting. I loved them all.
Date published: 2017-11-12
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