From the Repertoire: Western Music History through Performance

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.


Course at a Glance

About the Course

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

Course Syllabus

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.