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Publisher's Summary

From its humble beginnings in the 17th-century Italian opera overture and the Baroque ripieno concerto, the symphony has evolved into one of the longest lived, and perhaps the most expressively inclusive, genres of instrumental music. Along the way, it has embraced nearly every trend to be found in Western concert music.

In this series of twenty-four 45-minute lectures, Professor Greenberg guides you on a survey of the symphony. You'll listen to selections from the greatest symphonies by many of the greatest composers of the past 300 years. You'll also hear selections from some overlooked works that, undeservedly, have been forgotten by contemporary audiences.

Your tour of the symphony includes

  • an examination of how the simultaneous development of the orchestra and the opera were crucial to the birth of the symphony as a genre;
  • a look at the earliest true symphonies that were exponents of the galant style that emerged in the period between the High Baroque and Viennese Classicism;
  • an exploration of Haydn and Mozart, the titans of the Classical age;
  • the sublime and iconoclastic Beethoven and his Fifth Symphony;
  • a study of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, which combined the extreme emotions and drama of the opera house with an explicit, intimately autobiographical narrative; and
  • national developments in France, Russia, Vienna, Bohemia, Scandinavia, America, and Great Britain.

The course concludes with an investigation of Dmitri Shostakovich's Tenth Symphony, which became, in Professor Greenberg's words, "a model for what the new, post-Stalin Soviet music might aspire to be-a more personally expressive, less explicitly programmatic work, one that both engaged and challenged its listeners."

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2004 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2004 The Great Courses

What listeners say about The Symphony

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Another wonderful series from Robert Greenberg

I'm a big fan of Robert Greenberg's lectures on music.  The Housemate and I are watching How to Listen to and Understand Great Music, and I've finished his series on J. S. Bach, and -- my personal favorite -- Music as a Mirror of History.  As with the latter, this course on symphonies shows us that Professor Greenberg is not just astonishingly well-versed in music, but that he has a remarkable ability to contextualize that music, allowing the listener to understand the influences that helped to create, in this case, individual pieces of work, but in the case of the more general surveys, the entire oeuvre of the composers he covers.  A good example, for me anyway, is how Shostakovich, who has never been a big favorite of mine, is put into the context of the composer's life in Soviet Russia, under Stalin (an unenviable position for any artist) and has now become both accessible to me, and someone I actively want to listen to.

I never listen to a Greenberg course without finding that there is some composer or piece of music that now speaks to me where before he/it felt like so much noise.  In this survey I came to a greater understanding of Bruckner, a composer I'd sorta enjoyed, but never cared enough to explore more deeply, and discovered that I actually like the music of Charles Ives, Roy Harris, and Samuel Barber.  Sadly, even Robert Greenberg hasn't been able to make Hector Berlioz remotely interesting to me. *yawn*

If there is a weakness it grows out of the limitations of the course.  There are simply too many symphonies and too many symphonic composers to cover in-depth in any such course.  So much has to be edited out, or reduced to a mere mention that it's frustrating to think about how much more we could be learning if there was simply more time.  If I could offer a suggestion to the good professor, I would say, please give us a lecture series on more contemporary composers.  I want to learn about (just off the top of my head) Henry Cowell, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Joseph Becker, and David Diamond, as well as William Grant Still, and yes, more Shostakovich please!  More insight into their work and influences would be appreciated. 

 If you love classical music, but feel you want to understand more about it, and come to a deeper appreciation of the forces which shape it, you can't do much better than listen to Professor Greenberg.

8 people found this helpful

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Super Survey of Symphonies

Greenberg is a superb lecturer who presents the symphony across the centuries in an electrifying and edifying manner. He brings each composer and his work to life. There are composers of whom I had never heard and I am better off now. But for even the familiar ones I have a deeper appreciation.

7 people found this helpful

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Around the world and through time. . .

What made the experience of listening to The Symphony the most enjoyable?

I am stunned by the works I have listened to and enjoyed. Even more I am amazed that I have searched and found the Turangalila Symphony and plan to use Dr. G’s lecture to study it. I already like parts of it, but the other parts confuse me or irritate me (but in an interesting way). I think that’s what I appreciate most about this particular course—now I can listen to music and say “I like that” or “I’d like to hear that again” or “That one is still beyond me.” I have three options instead of just “I like it” or “No, no, no!”

16 people found this helpful

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I love Professor Greenberg's teaching style

this is my third music appreciation course with Professor Greenberg, and I always learn a ton. I highly recommend this course and I feel like I've really learned how to deepen my appreciation of the symphony.

2 people found this helpful

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More Professor Greenberg please!

This is, without a doubt, the most fun audio presentation I've ever had the pleasure of listening to! Understanding what was so great about Beethoven, what Mozart's peers thought of him, what persecution Shostakovich went through in Stalin's Russia makes the music so much richer. Learning was never this interesting when I was in school! Professor Greenberg is more than a captivating narrator, he is a one-man show. I must find more courses by him, no matter the subject!

2 people found this helpful

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Robert Greenberg is great

As a musician, I may be a bit biased to music courses, but Ibhave to say, Robert Greenberg ita the best audio-lecturer/audiobook reader. He's very engaging, which is helpful for audio. This particular course is a good skeletal evolution of the symphony. it's by no means complete (although none could be) but gives a great foundation to steer the listener in directions of further avenues to discover.

1 person found this helpful

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THE BEST!

Let me say first I am a fan of Professor Greenberg. This is not my first rodeo, I have listened to his How To Listen To And Appreciate Great Music perhaps 20 years ago, his Opera series, his Bach, and Great Masters (Mozart, Brahms, Shostakovich etc) and I have enjoyed them all. Something about this series seemed important and rather intimidating. I used to be more interested in Big Music (symphonies etc.) when I was young. Now that I’m a little older (67) I listen more to chamber music and small group jazz, stuff I can actually hear and which sounds good in a room the size I am listening in ( not a concert hall, e.g.). I thought I should listen to listen to Greenberg’s “Symphonies”, I bought it, I wanted to listen to it; it sat in my library for two years, and now I finally listened to it. BOY WAS I WRONG, THIS WAS GREAT! Professor Greenberg is a wonder, a musician with an extraordinary ear and a gift for explaining to the rest of us in words what it is he is hearing. Okay, after he is done I don’t hear it all as clearly as he does but I hear it better, I feel like I’m in on it, like I get it, like I enjoy hearing it more and I know where to go to find more really great music. This symphony series is now maybe my favorite. He had to exclude a lot of wonderful music, he was very respectful and deferential to many composers, and yet his delight and intelligent awe for some composers shone through in an infectious way. It’s more fun to listen now to Haydn, I hear his music better. I have looked up and listened to additional music from composers like Roy Harris and Howard Hanson, wonderful stuff I did not know existed. I listened again to perhaps the greatest composer of the 20th century, Shostakovich; and his dazzling, spine-tingling and heartbreaking music. I am again grateful to Professor Greenberg for helping me to find this stuff. Listen to this series. It gives you a sense of what has been really new and creative, of music in history,of the way music and culture have changed together,. After you listen to this you will know more, and hear more, worth knowing and hearing now, and in a hundred years. Thank you, Professor Greenberg.

1 person found this helpful

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Wonderful, as always.

Professor Greenberg teaches us wonderfully about the best symphonies and symphonists of the history of music.

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Excellent!

Excellent and very interesting information! Fun, enthusiastic lecturer! Now to listen again and try to memorize it all!

1 person found this helpful

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Excellent overview course

Professor Greenberg doesn't excellent job of surveying the symphony over a three century arc. At times, he is a bit over-the-top, but this also keeps it interesting.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Chris
  • 09-03-15

Great overview of the history of the symphony

This course covers the symphony as a musical form - how it was formed, the composers who had a major impact on it's subsequent development and it's impact on music generally.

Starting with the early antecedents of the symphony, the overtures to operas, we see how the symphony developed alongside the orchestra, and how composers took up this new form to create some beautiful music. The baroque forms are moulded by Mozart, Haydn and other classical composers to create what is now called the 'classical structure' of the symphony. Then Beethoven comes along and changes everything. From this point onwards, the content of the lecture seems to become fairly repetitive - a discussion of a composer's life, how many symphonies they wrote and then an more in depth look at one of these.

The composers covered range in nationality and period and go right up to Shostokovich. If you are already into music history, I'm sure a lot of this will be known to you. If like me you are fairly new to this, then it is very interesting listening and I was introduced to many new composers I had never heard of.

Now for my criticism, which is that Beethoven is given just one lecture. The lecturer says at the outset of this lecture that he has done a 34 lecture course on Beethoven's symphonies, which is fine but in this course he essentially brushes over the most important development in the history of the symphony, whilst Haydn gets two lectures?! Very strange and seems like a bit of self-promotion. In fact, the lecturer advertises his own other great courses probably six or seven times throughout, which is fine but don't use that as an excuse not to discuss something!

Of course what kind of music you like is subjective, but Beethoven's symphonies are important well beyond just how nice they are, they completely changed the genre and this is clear from various references and quotes given in the course, so it feels like a waste of an opportunity to only discuss them for one lecture.

As a lecturer, Prof. Greenberg is very enthusiastic, funny and engaging. I will be listening to other courses by him for sure.

Overall, I certainly recommend this course and enjoyed listening to it immensely.

3 people found this helpful

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  • merlin d magician
  • 11-10-19

Simply marvellous!

What a wonderful journey into the world of music and the symphony, by a passionate, zany and phenomenal music teacher! In the first 5 mins I already knew that I would enjoy it, and it did not let me down all the way to the very end! Incredible and highly recommended.... I now know a lot more and can appreciate more of the musical symphony than ever. I travelled back in time and lived the lives of the great composers and understood what drove them and motivated them. Each part was accompanied by examples of the music or excerpts which made it fully come to life! Please listen to this audio book, you will not regret it!

1 person found this helpful

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  • D. J. Pritchard
  • 09-22-15

Great way to grasp one of the finest art forms

Superb narrative, appropriate humour, wonderful exerts of the music. Never too complicated or over simplified. All round a masterpiece.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 07-03-18

Very informative

I thoroughly enjoyed the time line journey of this series. How the Symphony came to be and it’s connection to Opera was a revelation. Professor Greenberg was very animated and really entertaining in his style of presentation. 18 plus hours has flown by! Highly recommended.