Course Notes from Music Appreciation Courses

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Book cover, A Beginner's Guide to Classical Music

A Beginner’s Guide to Classical Music

Interested in classical music but don’t know how to start? Been listening for a while but need some guidance? This course provides a framework for understanding classical music, examining the major periods of music history, the music of the great composers, and the main classical genres. Each week we will listen to music and examine its historical, social and musical context. Explore your own taste in music and learn how to find more of what you like. No musical knowledge is necessary.
Book cover, Eight Great Composers

Eight Great Composers

What makes a composer ‘great’? Why does the work of some composers still resonate, delighting contemporary audiences? In this course we examine the lives and music of eight of the greatest composers of classical music. Each week we will examine biographical details, historical and social background, musical style and the great works of a composer. The eight studied will be Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt, Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Mahler, and Ravel. No musical knowledge is necessary.
Book cover, Another Eight Great Composers

Another Eight Great Composers

Why does history remember some composers more than others? What is it about the music of some composers that continues to appeal to us? In this course we look at Handel, Haydn, Schubert, Chopin, Brahms, Puccini, Vaughan Williams and George Gershwin – eight more of the greatest composers of classical music. Each week we’ll examine the historical and social background and musical style of one composer in detail, and consider some of their greatest works.
Book cover, A History of Classical Music

A History of Classical Music

How do the great composers fit into history? How are they influenced by their times, and how do they influence those who come afterwards? This course explores the history of Western music, from medieval times to the 21st century, by linking musical examples to the art and society of their times. Whether you are a long-term listener or a classical beginner, this course will provide a framework for understanding the music you love.
Book cover: A Beginner's Guide to Opera

A Beginner’s Guide to Opera

“Opera is about life and everything that entails – love, hate and passion.” – Lesley Garrett This course provides a guide to the appreciation and enjoyment of opera for the beginner, as well as a deeper exploration of the history and elements of opera for the more experienced listener. We explore the history, forms and structures of opera, considering the work of composers such as Mozart, Wagner, Verdi and Puccini, and listening to performances by some of the great singers. No musical knowledge is necessary.
Book cover, Classical Genres

Classical Genres

Ever wondered what a symphony actually is? Can’t tell a suite from a sonata? This course is designed for classical music beginners who want to better appreciate the music they listen to. We will explore the symphony, concerto, sonata, suite, opera, oratorio and others. Each week will begin with a simple explanation, move into a deeper exploration of examples by great composers, and finish with guided listening through a full example. No musical knowledge is necessary.
Book cover, A Beginner's Guide to the Orchestra

A Beginner’s Guide to the Orchestra

The sound of a great symphony orchestra in full flight is one of the most thrilling sounds in all of western classical music. This course explores the instruments of the orchestra and the variety of sounds they can achieve, and examines the growth and development of the symphony orchestra. It also explores the kind of music written for the orchestra, by examining some of the greatest composers and compositions of all time. No prior musical knowledge is necessary.
Book cover, How Music Works

How Music Works: A Beginner’s Guide

Why are some piano keys white and some black? What does ‘A major’ actually mean? What is harmony, and how does it work? How do you read music? The answers to these questions hold the key to a deeper and more rewarding understanding of music. Designed for absolute beginners, and taught in a practical and down-to-earth way, this course explores and demystifies the inner workings of music. No musical knowledge is necessary.
Book cover, The Genius of J. S. Bach

The Genius of J. S. Bach

The composer of some of the most famous works of the classical repertoire, Johann Sebastian Bach has influenced perhaps more composers than any other figure in classical music. But he lived a quiet life, surrounded by the family he loved, and little-known in greater musical circles. This one-day course examines Bach’s life and music, illustrated by portraits, readings from his letters, and examples of his music. No musical knowledge is necessary.
Book cover, The Magnificent Handel

The Magnificent Handel

“Handel is the greatest, ablest composer that ever lived.” Thus said Beethoven of the composer best-known for his choral music, particularly Messiah. But in his own time Handel was known as a German who wrote Italian operas for English audiences. This study day examines the whole range of Handel’s music, as well as the highs and lows of his life and career.
Book cover, The Miracle of Mozart

The Miracle of Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote over six hundred works, including some of the most-loved pieces in the classical repertoire. These include the Clarinet Concerto, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, The Marriage of Figaro, the Requiem, and many others. Mozart’s life is a fascinating tale, from his beginnings as a true child prodigy, through to career challenges and triumphs, and fame and (sometimes) fortune. In this music appreciation course, we will examine the life and music of Mozart, richly illustrated with many musical examples, portraits, and readings from Mozart’s letters. No prior musical knowledge is necessary.
Book cover, The Legend of Beethoven

The Legend of Beethoven

For over two hundred years, Beethoven’s music has spoken to us and moved us in ways no previous composer had ever achieved. Born at a pivotal point in European social and musical history, he took the conventions of the classical period and moulded them into the beginnings of Romanticism in music. This one-day course will tell the tragic and inspiring story of Beethoven’s life, richly illustrated with pictures, readings, and the music of this great composer.
Book cover, The Life and Music of Chopin

The Life and Music of Chopin

Chopin’s music has delighted music lovers for nearly two centuries. Perhaps no other composer is so closely associated with the piano, newly finding its voice in Chopin’s time. His too-short life had its own drama and turmoil, with his exile from Poland, his battle with illness, and his relationship with French author George Sand. This one-day music course explores the life and music of Chopin, delving into the story of his life, and listening to some of his greatest works, including some lesser-known and under-appreciated ones.
Book cover, The Unknown Liszt

The Unknown Liszt

A flamboyant virtuoso, a lady’s man, a champion of innovation, a pop star, a generous patron, and a catholic acolyte: Franz Liszt was all of these and more during his long and varied career. His music ranges from astonishing technical brilliance to deep emotional yearning, and his influence on other composers and performers has been extensive. This study day examines the life and works of Liszt, illustrated with music, paintings, and photographs.
Book cover, Romantic Brahms

Romantic Brahms

From his beginnings as a tavern piano player to his final appearance receiving ovations after every piece, Brahms was a man of contrasts. Never marrying but loving Clara Schumann all his life, writing in the late Romantic period but influenced by Classical composers, the unique beauty of his music can be grand and stirring, intimate and expressive, or bold and vibrant. This course examines the life and works of Brahms, in historical and social context, richly illustrated with music, paintings and photographs. No musical knowledge is necessary.
Book cover, Tchaikovsky: Turmoil and Triumph

Tchaikovsky: Turmoil and Triumph

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky created some of the most well-loved music of the classical repertoire, including Swan Lake, the Nutcracker Suite and the 1812 Overture as well as his wonderful symphonies and concertos. Yet the composer was haunted by self-criticism and the criticism of others all his life. This course examines the troubled life of this great composer and the passionate, intense music which came from his struggle. No prior musical knowledge is necessary.
Book cover, What is it about Mahler

What is it about Mahler?

What is it about Mahler’s music that attracts such deep devotion amongst his fans? Mahler’s rich and inspiring music has moved the emotions of millions of admirers, and doesn’t have to be difficult to explore. This music course opens up the life and music of Mahler: a composer who formed a bridge between the lush Romanticism of the 19th century and the innovation of the twentieth.
Book cover, The Great Puccini

The Great Puccini

La Boheme, Madama Butterfly, Turandot, Tosca - Puccini’s operas are performed more often than any other composer’s, and loved by millions of listeners worldwide. As well as opera, Puccini loved women, shooting, fishing, and sports cars, and lived a life that occasionally matched the drama and scandal of his opera plots. This music appreciation course examines the life and music of Puccini, with lots of musical examples from some of the greatest operas of all time. We will discover how Puccini moves us so deeply, and the musical techniques he employed. No musical knowledge is necessary.
Book cover, The Joy of Choral Music

The Joy of Choral Music

From Handel’s Messiah to Orff’s Carmina Burana, choral music has always thrilled and inspired us. This course provides a guide to understanding and enjoying Western choral music, with a look at its history and its most common forms, including the Mass, the Requiem, the oratorio and the cantata. For beginners and experienced listeners alike.
Book cover, The Piano

The Piano

Some of the most famous classical music of all time has been written for the piano. In this course we explore the development of the piano, considering its forerunners in the organ and the harpsichord, through to the instrument we know and love today. We will listen to some of the most beautiful and thrilling compositions for the piano, and discover the composers who helped to find the instrument’s voice. No musical knowledge (or piano skills) are necessary.
Book cover, Chamber Music

Understanding Chamber Music

Chamber music is one of the most intimate forms of classical music. It combines the wealth and richness of classical music structures with the intimacy of being able to see what each performer is playing. This course explores the structures and development of chamber music, and the great composers who contributed to it, including Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert. We will listen to some of the great pieces of chamber music, and explore what makes them wonderful.
Book cover: Understanding the Symphony

Understanding the Symphony

What is a symphony? For more than two centuries the symphony has represented the summit of a composer’s ambition. But what actually defines a symphony, and how do you listen to one? Learning more about symphonies can deepen your enjoyment of some of the most wonderful music ever composed. This music course gives you an understanding of what to listen for, and how to get more out of your listening to symphonies. We will explore the structure, history and development of the symphony, and listen to music from some of the greatest symphonies of all time. No musical knowledge is necessary.
Book cover: Understanding the Concerto

Understanding the Concerto

What is a concerto? Since the 17th century, the concerto has been one of the most popular genres of classical music, combining the virtuosity of a soloist with the glorious power of an orchestra. Learning more about concertos can enrich and deepen your enjoyment of some very exciting and beautiful music. This music course aims to enhance your understanding and appreciation of great concertos, by guiding you through the structure and experience of the genre, and familiarising you with its history and development. We will listen to music by Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Tchaikovsky and others. No musical knowledge is necessary.
Book cover: Music of the Baroque Period

Music of the Baroque Period

Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, Handel’s Messiah, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons - the Baroque period has given us some of the most dramatic and beautiful compositions of music history. This study day unravels the rich complexity of Baroque music, providing insight into the works of Bach, Handel and Vivaldi and their contemporaries, in their social and historical context. Learn what makes Baroque music sound Baroque, and what the great composers were striving to achieve.
Book cover: Music of the Classical Period

Music of the Classical Period

Eighteenth century composers believed that music should be understood and appreciated by all, regardless of class or education. Little wonder then that the music of this period, composed by such greats as Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, is so popular. This day examines the music of the classical period, its structures and forms, its historical and social context, and its principal composers.
Book cover: Music of the Romantic Period

Music of the Romantic Period

“Who can do anything after Beethoven?” Composers in nineteenth century Europe had a daunting predecessor, but the music they wrote is some of the most beautiful and dramatic of all classical music. Examining the music of the Romantic period in its historical and social context, we look at the works of composers such as Beethoven, Schumann, Schubert, Liszt, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Brahms and Tchaikovsky. No musical knowledge is necessary.
Book cover: Music of the Impressionist Period

Music of the Impressionist Period

The period from around 1880 to 1920, sometimes described as Impressionism, elicited some of the most beautiful and bewitching compositions of western music history. Composers such as Sibelius, Elgar, Mahler, Debussy and Ravel gave the world exotic and rich new sounds, in the last moments before many composers abandoned ‘normal’ music and went atonal. This study day examines the music of this period in its historical and social context. No musical knowledge is necessary.


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About Susan Deas

Susan Deas is a professional musician, lecturer and teacher. She has been teaching music appreciation courses for more than twenty years, through Sydney University’s Centre for Continuing Education, WEA Sydney and at other venues. Her training includes a Bachelor of Music with a major in Performance (Piano) and Musicology, a Master of Music Studies (Studio Pedagogy), a Bachelor of Arts (Communications), and an A.Mus.A in Musicianship. Susan teaches piano and music theory to adults and children, and plays piano and organ at various venues around Sydney. Susan is an accredited piano teacher and musicianship teacher, and is on the Council of the Music Teachers’ Association of NSW.

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