Presentations on Music and Music History

The presentations listed below were created by Jim Smith for students in continuing education and lifelong learning classes.

Women in Classical Music
Although women throughout history have always created music, their professional opportunities were often limited by the social customs that viewed music for women as more of an “ornament” than a profession. Despite the constraints placed on women musicians, history contains the stories of many women who carved their way in the world of classical music as composers, performers, patrons, and educators. This class will trace the stories of the women whose talent and persistence could not be restrained.

US History through the Lens of Classical Music
Classical music, although often viewed as an outlier in American society, has occasionally been thrust into the spotlight of US history as a unifying and sometimes divisive force. This class will focus on the role classical music has played in American politics and culture with special emphasis paid to World War I, World War II, and the Cold War. The class should appeal to both the history buffs and music lovers who take the class.

El Sistema and the Great Gustavo Dudamel
El Sistema, the music education program that began in Venezuela in 1975, has been extraordinarily successful at bringing music into the lives of thousands of children and producing world-class musicians such as the current music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel. This class examines the history of El Sistema through class presentations accompanied by a variety of short documentaries and video clips. The class also provides videos of several classical masterworks conducted by the maestro himself, Mr. Dudamel.

Music of the Civil Rights Era
During the struggle to transform American society by establishing equal rights under the law, people involved in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s often turned to music as a means of venting frustration, maintaining solidarity, and finding the inspiration to keep fighting. This class will provide a brief overview of the civil rights movement and an examination of the music that nurtured and helped sustain the movement.

Listening to the Beatles as an Introduction to Music History
This class focuses on the Beatles as songwriters and musicians rather than cultural icons. In linking the music of John, Paul, George, and Ringo to the music of composers such as Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, and Mahler, this class provides an analysis of a variety of songs recorded by the Beatles and how those songs can help listeners understand enduring traditions in Western classical music (no kidding).

Music in Cinema
Music’s unique ability to magnify emotion and create a variety of distinct moods makes it an essential element to the success of a motion picture. This class explores the history of music in cinema, beginning with an examination of how classical music from the nineteenth century foreshadowed the use of music in movies during the twentieth century. The class examines the use of music as an accompaniment for silent films and then moves chronologically through the development of film music from the late-1920s to the present. The class is taught with numerous movie and audio clips containing music from such iconic film composers as Max Steiner, Erich Korngold, Bernard Herrmann, Ennio Morricone, John Williams, Hans Zimmer, and many others.

Mahler's First Symphony
Few composers, if any, wrote a first symphony as spectacular and enduring as Mahler’s First. This class provides a detailed analysis of Mahler’s First Symphony followed by an uninterrupted listening in class of all four movements. The victory of the symphony’s hero over life’s struggles is guaranteed to spark goose bumps.

Mahler’s Second Symphony
In the words of music critic Norman Lebrecht, “Mahler’s Second Symphony has been performed in the Vatican as a Christian affirmation, at Masada as a token of Jewish renewal, and in Communist China, where atheism is the state doctrine. It may be a mark of greatness that it can mean all things to all faiths.” This class analyzes each movement of Mahler’s Second Symphony in hopes of helping students come to their own conclusions about it’s story and meaning.

Mahler's Third Symphony
Mahler's epic Third Symphony explores the stages of life's evolution, ending with an affirmation of the power of nature and cosmic love. This class will deconstruct the complex metaphors presented in the symphony and examine Mahler's view of nature and life's determination to renew itself.

Mahler's Fourth Symphony
Mahler’s Fourth Symphony is full of irony and what Mahler called "humor." Even though the music is often cheerful and serene, it also evokes the feeling that something bad is about to happen. In Mahler’s own words, “It is only that it seems suddenly sinister to us — just as on the most beautiful day, in a forest flooded with sunshine, one is often overcome with a shudder of panic.” This class provides an analysis of each movement of Mahler's most traditional, and possibly most accessible, symphony.

Mahler's Sixth Symphony
Although Mahler did not provide a formal description for his Sixth Symphony, we do know that he composed it during probably one of the happiest times of his life. The presentation therefore focuses on the ironic reasons the symphony has been labeled a “Tragic” Symphony.

Mahler's Ninth Symphony
Mahler's Ninth Symphony contains complicated, yet profound, metaphors about recognizing the absurdity of the world while desperately trying to hold on to life. In what might be described as art that is personal, yet universal, in its message, the Ninth provides a passionate and touching farewell to life that ends with music becoming silence.

Gustav Mahler and the Deification of Program Music
During the nineteenth century, composers such as Berlioz, Liszt, and Strauss used “program” music to tell a story or paint a picture. In the hands of Gustav Mahler, however, program music became a means of expressing a philosophy of life linking music lovers to something eternal and spiritual. Mahler’s symphonies are well known for taking listeners on emotional journeys through life’s struggles to the exhilaration of peace and the healing power of love. As Mahler said, “A symphony must be like the world — it must contain everything.” This class provides an introduction to program music and an explanation of how Mahler transformed program music during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Beethoven's Third Symphony
As a revolutionary composer living during a revolutionary time, Beethoven used music as a means of helping audiences divorce themselves from the past and take themselves into a new era. This presentation provides an analysis of Beethoven's Third Symphony and how that symphony changed music history.

Beethoven's Fifth Symphony
As one of the most popular and well-known symphonies in history, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony marked the high point of his "heroic" period as a composer. This presentation examines the ways in which the famous four-note motif that begins the symphony in darkness and despair is set against more optimistic motifs that create a conflict running throughout the symphony. The reconciliation of this conflict provides the narrative of this musical masterwork.

Beethoven's Sixth Symphony
Composed in 1808 at the dawn of the Romantic era in music, Beethoven's Sixth Symphony is about the power of nature to heal and restore the human spirit. This presentation provides a detailed analysis of each of the symphony's five movements, as well as a few ideas about the reason Beethoven's Sixth remains a timeless piece of music.

Beethoven's Ninth Symphony
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is one of the most analyzed and influential pieces of music ever composed. In providing an epic story of human suffering that ends with a vision of utopia, it is also one of the most popular symphonies in music history. This class will help listeners identify the key elements of the Beethoven's Ninth and how he used the symphony to express views on the uncertainty of life and a hope for a future based on brotherhood, peace, and joy.

Beethoven’s Nine Symphonies
Beethoven’s Nine Symphonies rank among the most popular compositions in music history. In bringing the Classical era to an end and ushering in the Romantic era, Beethoven's symphonies were revolutionary on many levels. The music critic, Ernest Newman said, “It is the peculiarity of Beethoven’s imagination that again and again lifts us to a height from which we re-evaluate no only all music but all life, all emotions and all thought.” This class provides an overview of Beethoven's life and an analysis of his nine symphonies.

The Ubiquitous Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach composed almost 1200 pieces of music in almost every significant genre of his time. Known primarily in his lifetime as a keyboardist, his compositions were generally overlooked and forgotten for almost 75 years after he died. Today his music is ubiquitous, and his importance to the development of western classical music has led many to rank him as history’s greatest composer. This class examines Bach’s life and provides an analysis of some of his most significant works.

Classical Halloween
The history of classical music contains numerous composers who were fascinated with expressing elements of the supernatural and the macabre through music.This class provides an examination of classical music that was designed to scare audiences and give people the creeps.  

Classical Potpourri
Classical music can feed the soul and calm a cluttered mind. It can cause people to shed tears of joy without even knowing why a piece of music is so moving. This class explores a potpourri of classical masterworks that can create goose bumps and cause a tingling feeling in the spine, pieces of music that rank among the most beautiful ever composed. Students will learn to understand the musical elements of these pieces, as well as the historical context of how those elements developed. The music presented in class will include works by composers such as Beethoven, Strauss, Debussy, Ravel, Rachmaninoff and others.

A Beginner's Guide to Classical Music
This class provides guidance in understanding the key elements of music, as well as an overview of different musical eras and the musical forms — or compositional “rules” — of each era. Anyone looking for a practical and down-to-earth explanation of how they might enhance their enjoyment of classical music should find value in this class.

300 Years of Classical Music Masterworks
Students in the class will learn how to listen to and understand music from the Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Modern, and Postmodern eras. The class even contains a little opera and some music for the young at heart.

Form in Classical Music
Just as a fundamental knowledge of the rules of a sporting event is necessary to enjoying the event, a basic knowledge of the “rules” guiding composers is necessary to enhancing the experience of listening to classical music. This presentation provides guidance in understanding the different historical eras of classical music and the different musical forms guiding composers in each era.

Romantic Era Masterworks
The dramatic social and political changes sweeping through Europe during the nineteenth century sparked a new movement in the arts known as Romanticism. As a revolt against authority and convention, Romanticism's driving force was the search for individual freedom. Romantic era artists elevated emotion and sentiment over reason and intellect, establishing an environment for creativity that let to some of the most enduring music ever composed. This class explores the fire and passion of romanticism in music and examines the works of such composers as Berlioz, Brahms, Liszt, Mendelssohn, Schubert, Strauss, Tchaikovsky, Verdi and Wagner.

Romantic Era Tone Poems
During the nineteenth century, composers such as Berlioz, Liszt, Mahler, Mendelssohn, Saint-Saëns, Strauss, and Tchaikovsky used instrumental music to tell a story, paint a picture, or develop a philosophy of life. The music they composed was known as "program" music because listeners needed a written program to explain the story behind the music. This class provides an introduction to Romantic era tone poems, a type of program music that brought drama and philosophy to orchestral music.

The Symphony as the World
Symphonies are often considered the “cathedrals” of music, providing composers an opportunity to experiment with sound and make epic musical statements that can be thought-provoking and inspirational. This class will provide an overview of the traditional four-movement structure of the symphony and how that structure has changed over time from the 1700s to the present. Students will listen to fragments of a variety of symphonies and examine a few works in their entirety.

American Classical Music
In 1837 Ralph Waldo Emerson delivered a speech titled “The American Scholar” that called on Americans to break away from what he thought were the excessive influences of European culture. True to Emerson’s advice, Americans in the nineteenth century developed their own literary tradition through such distinctly American writers as Walt Whitman and Mark Twain. However, Americans had to wait until the twentieth century before establishing their own identity in classical music.This class examines the music of such great American composers as Charles Ives, George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, Elliot Carter, Leonard Bernstein, and many others who defined the sound of a nation.

The Music of Charles Ives
Charles Ives was a musical pioneer, a composer who was ahead of his time in creating music that still challenges audiences to reevaluate their ideas about music. In his belief that the soul of America was found in its rich cultural diversity, Ives embraced the polytonality, polyrhythm, tone clusters, and dissonances of twentieth century music that would allow him to create a uniquely American sound. This class explores the life and music of one of America’s greatest composers.

The Music of Aaron Copland
If "art is the signature of civilization," as claimed by composer Jean Sibelius, American civilization possesses Aaron Copland’s signature. This class focuses on Aaron Copland and the role he played in defining the American sound.

An Introduction to Jazz
As a uniquely American art form, jazz reflects core elements of America’s culture and society. In its ability to express both individual freedom and communal cooperation, jazz is recognized as the sound of America. This class provides a beginner’s guide to understanding jazz, focusing on the different styles of jazz and what to listen for in each style.