From the Repertoire: Western Music History through Performance

Jonathan Coopersmith and David Ludwig, Curtis Institute of Music

Explore eight important works from different eras and genres of Western classical-music repertoire, through performances recorded at Curtis and discussion of each work’s historical context, composer, musical significance, and compositional design.

A survey of music history begins with those works that convey the artistic trends, innovations, and compositional techniques representative of their time. This course will look at key works by Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Schoenberg, and Crumb, brought to life by audio or video recordings by Curtis students, alumni, and faculty. Accompanying lectures explore the historical context, composer, musical significance, and compositional design of each work. Guest interviews offer special insight into performance, improvisation, and contemporary composition. In-person and online sessions with the faculty members are being planned.

Life-enrichment learners and amateur musicians will be encouraged to engage in global online discussions about the music, as they sharpen their listening and descriptive skills. Multiple-choice quizzes will reinforce lecture material. Optional peer-graded assignments guide learners through the process of listening, researching, and writing to create their own program notes.

By the end of the course, learners should be able:

  • to understand a general survey of the development of Western classical music through the ages
  • to further develop the skills to explore the background of composers and their compositions
  • to better enjoy concerts and performances with enhanced listening skills


The first week offers an historical overview as a starting point. The remaining six weeks examine specific repertoire, with recordings of performances by Curtis students and alumni provided online. Lecture videos explore the era, the composer, and the piece, from both music history and compositional design perspectives.

Week 1: A Brief History of Notation

Week 2: J. S. BACH, Chaconne

Week 3: HAYDN, String Quartet in C major, Hob. III:32, and MOZART, String Quartet in B-flat major, K. 589

Week 4: BEETHOVEN, Grosse Fuge in B-flat major, Op. 133

Week 5: BRAHMS, Two Songs, Op. 91, and Trio in E-flat major, Op. 40

Week 6: SCHOENBERG, Pierrot lunaire

Week 7: GEORGE CRUMB, Voice of the Whale

Recommended Background

Musicians and non-musicians alike are welcome to participate in the class. Each person's contributions to the conversation help us all to learn.

Suggested Readings

The following books are not required. If you are looking to expand your reading about music, look for these at a library or bookstore: 


Do I need to know how to read music to follow this class?

Score-reading is not necessary for understanding the course content or participating in the assignments. We will explore the history and basics of musical notation in the first week. Later, during explanations of specific passages of music, you will see a notated score within the video in order to follow along. 

Will I need to find recordings of pieces discussed in the class?

No. All of the works are provided as audio or video within the course and/or on Curtis Performs (

When do I watch lectures?

Whenever you want! New content will be posted each Thursday at 9 a.m. (Eastern time), and you can log on and watch, join in discussions, or take a quiz whenever it suits your schedule.

May I earn a Coursera Statement of Accomplishment by taking this class?

Yes. Students who watch the video lectures, participate in forum discussions, and demonstrate a specified level of knowledge through quizzes or assignments may earn a Statement of Accomplishment from Coursera.

  • 25 September 2014, 7 weeks
  • 1 October 2013, 7 weeks
Course properties:
  • Free:
  • Paid:
  • Certificate:
  • MOOC:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Email-course:
  • Language: English Gb


No reviews yet. Want to be the first?

Register to leave a review

More on this topic:
184088_1bc1_10 Sax Solos: Learn how to Perform Three Fun and Unique Pieces!
Master the art of musical practice, preparation, and performance with three...
6-092iap10 Introduction to Programming in Java
This course is an introduction to software engineering, using the Java&trade...
184324_b846_9 Advanced Saxophone Studies - Learn to Master the Saxophone!
Master performance and practice techniques while studying melodic, expressive...
Small-icon.hover Listening to World Music
Learn the ideas and vocabulary for listening to world music, and examine the...
145254_e9a7_3 Introduction to Electronic Music
Learn the basic skills, history, and tools of modern electronic music. All styles...
More from 'Arts, Music, Film':
26f7e9fe-9780-4433-ac49-4c67631d43d3-d54b0a83080d.small First Nights - Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo and the Birth of Opera
Learn about Claudio Monteverdi's L 'Orfeo , one of the first operas ever written...
Regular_689fd7bd-05ea-4459-b144-8256e19dcd59 An Introduction to Teaching Vocabulary
Explore vocabulary teaching strategies and develop your ability to teach vocabulary...
Regular_ec825c95-6e0c-4456-ab55-ff418954b391 Jane Austen: Myth, Reality and Global Celebrity
Discover the fascinating story of author Jane Austen, from her own life in Hampshire...
Regular_831ef03c-d9e1-4840-85c1-6aa05e223c94 The History of the Book in the Early Modern Period: 1450 to 1800
Explore the history of the book during the early modern period and learn how...
Regular_d270e847-b243-4ba7-ade2-a3b4a551e420 An Introduction to Screenwriting
This online course explores the key concepts and fundamental principles involved...
More from 'Coursera':
Success-from-the-start-2 First Year Teaching (Secondary Grades) - Success from the Start
Success with your students starts on Day 1. Learn from NTC's 25 years developing...
New-york-city-78181 Understanding 9/11: Why Did al Qai’da Attack America?
This course will explore the forces that led to the 9/11 attacks and the policies...
Small-icon.hover Aboriginal Worldviews and Education
This course will explore indigenous ways of knowing and how this knowledge can...
Ac-logo Analytic Combinatorics
Analytic Combinatorics teaches a calculus that enables precise quantitative...
Talk_bubble_fin2 Accountable Talk®: Conversation that Works
Designed for teachers and learners in every setting - in school and out, in...

© 2013-2019