$138 USD per device. 4 programs, held weekly. Enroll in all 4 or choose only the ones that interest you. Each program is 60 mins, including time to ask questions and exchange ideas. Suitable for all ages, no background required.

  • Fridays, June 4, 11, 18, 25 at 1:00 pm EST

Have you ever marveled at a piece of classical music, wishing you could build on your emotional response to it? If you are curious about composers as exceptional individuals, who also happen to tell us about the cultures they belonged to, then this series is for you. We’ll look closely at the lives and times of four preeminent artists, selecting masterworks to hear how they embody their stylistic periods in history. With the guidance of a composer-educator, look under the hood to learn how classical music works, and unlock the secrets to its remarkable expression. And the next time you hear rich musical tapestries, you’ll travel further than you have before.

Your educator David Johnson, is a musicologist whose areas of speciality include the Baroque period and the 19th century, with a focus on Richard Wagner, along with the history of rock music. He earned his PhD in Musicology from The Graduate Center, City University of New York. At Hunter College and Marymount Manhattan College, he teaches survey courses on the history of Western music and seminars on rock history. David’s other courses have focused on Baroque music and American popular song. Previously he taught at Baruch College. He is also a composer, with works published on UbuWeb.

Classical Music Masterworks features:

Bach’s Cantata “Sleepers, Wake”

Writing for both the church and aristocracy, Johann Sebastian Bach was the Baroque period at its apotheosis. Together we will explore one of Bach’s most beloved cantatas, “Sleepers, Wake” (no. 140), completed around 1730. Since Bach was one of the most intellectual composers, we’ll discover the cantata’s satisfyingly symmetrical structure together. Based on the parable of the Ten Virgins, 18th-century Lutheran believers were reminded of how to keep their faith in order. We’ll also trace Bach’s skilful joining of words and music. Cantatas were performed in actual worship, after all, so texts had to reflect the church calendar. We’ll see how this music has also expanded way beyond its original function.

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The Piano as Beethoven’s Voice

Ludwig van Beethoven put a personal stamp on composition as no one had before, steering the classical music world from 18th-century classicism toward Romanticism. No doubt you’re familiar with the magnificent Fifth and Ninth Symphonies, but Beethoven’s more idiosyncratic voice emerged in solo piano music. We’ll delve into two works that show the composer breaking formal rules, heightening drama, and delighting audiences. In the process, you’ll learn the basics of two preferred Classical-period forms — sonata and rondo — with Beethoven giving them whole new dimensions.

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Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata

La Traviata may be an audience favorite today, but Giuseppe Verdi’s 1853 tale of Violetta, the titular “fallen woman,” was controversial in its time. Without imposing moral judgement, Verdi forged and defended flesh and blood characters in all their passions, foibles, malevolence, and essential dignity. You’ll hear how glorious singing was the expressive key. We’ll also probe the thorny social implications of Verdi’s sympathetic portrayal. A central question for any opera composer: how to musically organize the sweeping interior world of a drama? You’ll discover how Verdi’s instinct and skill shaped the action’s ebb and flow.

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Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra

Béla Bartók combined his love for Eastern-European folk tunes with “learned” classical music. He was born in Hungary, but fled Fascism in 1940 to arrive in the U.S., where he struggled with a profound sense of displacement. Yet he produced some of his greatest work during his American years. If you find 20th-century composition difficult or overly brainy, then Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra may just change your mind. Its brilliant colors and dynamic rhythms have secured Bartók’s final work an enduring popularity. Folk music was still woven into his work, as his ties to Eastern Europe never really left him.

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Image: Adolph von Menzel, Frederick the Great Playing the Flute at Sanssouci, 1852, Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin.

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