Friday, September 8, 2017

JHU Osher Class: History of the Symphony - Syllabus

Course Description: There are, as with so many things in life, multiple purposes for the class. The two main ones are these. 

1. To listen to a lot of good music. 
2. To do our humble best to understand what the music means. 

We don't have to understand the music on a musical or theoretical level, though I'm sure many of you would be surprised how easy it is to understand basics of music theory. But moreso than asking you to understand this music in any kind of musical framework, I'm going to ask you to describe the music you hear in all kinds of other contexts - of history and politics, of books and thought, of art and theater, in the contexts of your own lives, and of course, in the context of other music. 

The problem with music as we generally see it is that any experience we have of it is subjective. If we hear a beautiful slow piece of music as a love song, we have to realize that the music is not necessarily meant as a love song, but in the moment we hear the music, our perception of it is true to ourselves and is therefore, in the most important sense, absolutely true. So by sharing those perceptions we can encourage and hopefully inspire each other to perceive more and different and more interesting ways to experience the music we hear. 

These are the classes:

Class 1: Haydn - Founder of the Tradition

Class 2: Beethoven - Glory of the Tradition

Class 3: Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Brahms - Keepers of the Tradition

Class 4: Berlioz - The Literary Symphony 

Class 5: Bruckner, Liszt, and Franck - The Mystical Symphony

Class 6: Tchaikovsky and Dvorak - The Eastern Symphony

Class 7: Mahler - The Symphonic Climax

Class 8: Sibelius - The Shadow Symphony

Class 9: Nielsen, Vaughan Williams, and Ives - The Northern Symphony

Class 10: Shostakovich - The Symphony of the 20th Century

Class 11: Lutoslawski, Penderecki, and Schnittke - The Cold War Symphony

If we have time in any of these classes, there are a number of great symphonists who deserve our time and whom we might get to sample a bit of: a class on the symphony without Schubert and Mozart and Prokofiev and Elgar and Rachmaninov is almost a tragedy, and we'll certainly mention them tangentially. But there are other symphonists who deeply deserve our attention. 

Undeservedly known to non-specialists as minor masters:

Arthur Honegger 
Karol Szymanowski
Alexander Scriabin
Paul Hindemith 
Bohuslav Martinu 
Heitor Villa-Lobos 
Alexander Glazunov 
Aaron Copland (in Europe)
Einojuhani Rautavaara (may soon be forgotten)

Relative Luminaries in their time who've been largely forgotten - many undeservedly:

William Walton (outside of England)
Nikolai Myaskovsky
Malcolm Arnold 
Andrzej Panufnik
Henryk Gorecki
Arnold Bax
Osvaldus Balakauskas
Howard Hanson
Charles Koechlin
Alberic Magnard
Havergal Brien
Boris Tishchenko
Kurt Atterberg
Vagn Holmboe
George Lloyd
Eduard Tubin
Erwin Schulhoff
Harold Shapero
Ernst Toch
Mieczyslaw Weinberg
Alfredo Cassella
Gabril Popov
Franz Schmidt
Roger Sessions
David Diamond
Randall Thompson
Walter Piston
William Schuman
Vincent Persichetti
Elle Siegmeister
Roy Harris

Tragically known only to specialists who know that particularly complex music is much easier to like than you realize:

Karl Amadeus Hartmann
Kalevi Aho
Valentin Silvestrov
Allan Petterssen
Robert Simpson
Per Norgard

Never got the recognition he so richly deserved so richly:

Rued Langgaard

If you've come to this class, I would imagine that you're here because you're already quite fond of music, but you also want to understand more about it. What's most extraordinary about music is that music is both just music that can be enjoyed as music, but because it's just music to which no definite meaning can be attached to the sounds, we can associate an infinity of concepts with music. The reason that music has such a universal appeal for so many people is that it has this dual-concept, can both be appreciated as nothing more than pleasing sounds, and that these pleasing sounds may have infinities of meanings behind them. 

The Symphony is an artistic document that is both extremely vague and extremely specific. The term itself goes back to Old French: Symphonie, and then to Greek: 'Sumphonos', and then even to Aramaic 'Soomponia.' The meaning is 'Sym' harmonious, and 'phonia' sound.  

The ability to hold a person's attention through music without text over a long span of time requires enormous contrasts, invention, discipline, and knowledge. A Symphony is an attempt to fuse the very best of extremely diverse elements of music and pay tribute to the millions of different sounds and forms and contents and cultures which music can show us. The Symphony is a musical democracy through which every kind and possibility of music's meaning is sounded together in dialogue with one another, and it's the ultimate musical, and perhaps even poetic, statement of a culture that means to live together in peace. 

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