A History of Classical Music

2 hours a week for 8 weeks

Vermeer: A Lady at the Virginals with a Gentleman

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.

Course Outline

Session 1: From Ancient Times to the Medieval Period

  • The Elements of Music
  • Ancient times
  • The Medieval Period
  • Hildegard of Bingen
  • Interlude: The Origins of Western Pitch: Modes and Scales

Session 2: The Renaissance, 1400-1600

  • Free polyphony and imitation
  • The Camerata and the birth of opera
  • Palestrina, Monteverdi, Josquin Desprez
  • Interlude: Church music

Session 3: The Baroque Period, 1600-1750

  • Baroque polyphony: counterpoint
  • Continuo
  • Baroque forms: canon, fugue, suite
  • Motivic development
  • Bach, Handel, Vivaldi
  • Interlude: Hearing polyphony

Session 4: The Classical Period, 1750-1820

  • The Enlightenment: order and structure
  • The birth of the symphony
  • The birth of the concert tradition
  • The piano
  • Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven
  • Interlude: Classical forms

Session 5: The Romantic Period, Part 1, 1820-1850

  • Romanticism: expression and emotion
  • The piano virtuosos
  • Nationalism
  • Bel Canto Opera
  • Chopin, Liszt, Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn
  • Interlude: Lieder in the Romantic period

Session 6: The Romantic Period, Part 2, 1850-1880

  • The birth of operetta
  • Programme music versus absolute music
  • New instruments, new sounds
  • Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Wagner, Verdi
  • Interlude: Programme Music

Session 7: The Impressionist Period, 1880-1920

  • Impressionism: Pushing the Boundaries
  • Impressionism in music
  • Between tonality and atonality
  • Moments rather than movement
  • Puccini, Mahler, Debussy, Ravel
  • Interlude: Impressionist Piano Music

Session 8: The Twentieth Century, 1920 and onwards

  • An interest in folk music
  • Atonality
  • Serialism
  • Indeterminacy
  • Minimalism
  • Extended tonality
  • Bartok, Stravinsky, Schoenberg
  • Interlude: Music Notation: Control and Creativity
Book cover A History of Classical Music

Buy the course notes for this class

In hard copy book form, through Lulu Press
$22 + postage


“Revelatory. Now I can go to a concert without feeling a Philistine. Enjoying a much wider range of music and at a deeper level. Susan’s encyclopaedic knowledge, shining intellect and engaging personality made the course a sheer joy. Will be back”

“Thank you for an enjoyable and informative course – your organisation, content and attention to detail are excellent”

“Outstanding! I loved the inclusion of art, literature, history, etc. You have obviously put a huge amount of work into this course and it is greatly appreciated”

“I have thoroughly enjoyed this course. It has given me a framework in my understanding of the music I like and enjoy. The content was exactly what I needed – the notebooks were excellent as a basis – clear and well presented – I loved the illustrations and use of pictures during the lecture – and I really liked the playing of music examples to illustrate the historical evaluation of music. I needed (as a real beginner) a full-broad approach (with visuals and sound) rather than a plain lecture. Brava!”

“I loved the guided listening - comparing the same pieces on different instruments etc. I am very impressed with your musical selections – with how you actually can pinpoint certain passages - even little snippets. I listened to things I have never heard before - and liked it!”

“The course is great, I really enjoyed it and learnt a lot”

“Very well put together and intelligently presented - shows your dedication, enthusiasm and knowledge - loved the examples shown on the piano”

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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.

More about Susan’s qualifications

Read what people have said about Susan’s other courses

Susan’s other music courses