The 30 Greatest Orchestral Works by Prof. Robert Greenberg

Once you get used to Dr. Greenberg’s often stilted and over-the-top presentation style, it’s difficult not to admire just how much he knows and loves his work.  He is an astounding guide to the world of music.  I’ve gone through a handful of his Great Courses lectures before, and this one is every bit as amazing on a number of levels.

The title is a bit misleading, and Greenberg admits it’s somewhat arbitrary given that the course description could be filled with but a single composer’s catalog.  Essentially what he’s done is to scratch works off the list that he’s discussed in depth on previous lectures, and then whittle down the available list of what he perceives to be representative of a given time and place.  Each lecture is crafted to stand alone or as part of the series, and in conjunction with the other lectures he’s done, most notably How to Listen to and Understand Classical Music.  The deeper you go, the more your mind will open.  If my own college experiences were anything remotely like this, I’d be a very different person today.

For those interested, this is the syllabus for this particular series:

1.  Introduction
2.  Vivaldi – The Four Seasons
3.  Bach – Brandenburg Concerto No. 2
4.  Bach – Violin Concerto in E major
5.  Haydn – Symphony No. 104
6.  Mozart – Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor
7.  Mozart – Symphony No. 41 in C major, “Jupiter”
8.  Beethoven – Symphony No. 3, “Eroica”
9.  Beethoven – Piano Concerto No. 4
10.  Beethoven – Symphony No. 9 in D minor
11.  Schubert – Symphony No. 9
12.  Mendelssohn – “Italian” Symphony
13.  Schumann – Symphony No. 3
14.  Brahms – Symphony No. 4
15.  Brahms – Violin Concerto
16.  Tchaikovsky – Symphony No. 4
17.  Tchaikovsky – Violin Concerto
18.  Smetna – Ma Vlast
19.  Dvorak – Symphony No. 8
20.  Dvorak – Concerto for Cello
21.  Rimsky-Korsakov – Scheherazade
22.  Strauss – Also Sprach Zarathustra
23.  Mahler – Symphony No. 5
24.  Rachmaninoff – Symphony No. 2
25.  Debussy – La Mer
26.  Stravinsky – The Rite of Spring
27.  Saint-Saens – Symphony No. 3
28.  Holtz – The Planets
29.  Copland – Appalachian Spring
30.  Shostakovich – Symphony No. 5
31.  Shostakovich – Symphony No. 10
32.  The Ones That Got Away

This last lecture is a brief look at some of the ones that most certainly qualified to be in this series, and I’m rather glad to have that.  It’s a nice touch, I think.

The way Greenberg operates, he offers relevant biography on each of the composers in turn, putting them in their time and place.  More than just names and dates, Greenberg gives you insight into the drama and turmoil that led them to be the great creators they are.  Given the nature of the beast, it’s just enough to whet your appetite and put the discussed work into perspective.  From there, the composition itself is spotlighted and broken down.  He tells you what to listen for, why you’re hearing what you’re hearing, and how it relates to the whole.  By the end of it, it’s a complete lesson in how to actively listen to music of any genre as a whole.  His expertise elevates your understanding and appreciation in ways that you just can’t get from a book.

And best of all… the music is here too.  You hear it as he explains it.  The selected cues he discusses are all there so that when you go back and hear the piece as a whole, you discover that it makes a lot more sense.  This, my friends, is what the audiobook format is for.

5 stars

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