Music History 101 – From Renaissance to Romantic Period: A Four Part Course with Peter Medhurst

Music History 101 – From Renaissance to Romantic Period: A Four Part Course with Peter Medhurst


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Formal terms such as Renaissance, Rococo, and Post Romantic, are well known to all lovers of music and help divide the last 1000 years of musical compositions into recognizable eras. However, defining precisely what it is that makes a piece of music Baroque in manner and not Rococo, or Classical and not Romantic, can often be very challenging. By extracting the essence of four major eras in the history of music - Renaissance, Baroque, Classical and Romantic - the course sets out to examine their varying styles, aesthetics, and aspirations, and where appropriate, will also relate music to other disciplines in the arts, in order to find commonalities. 

Broadcasting live from his music room in London, Peter Medhurst guides us through a series of talks focusing on each era in turn. Designed to provide an overview of fundamental movements of music history, this course aims to deliver an overview of the leading composers and melodies which defined each era. 

Lecture One: The Musical Renaissance, 1400-1600
The Musical Renaissance is generally set between the years 1400 and 1600, with a little bit of overspill into the 17th century, especially in the Northern regions of Europe. The highest achievement in Renaissance music was vocal polyphony found in the masses and motets of composers such as Palestrina, Lassus, Tallis, Byrd, and Victoria, where the magnificence of the music heightens the sense of religious devotion within the liturgy. However, the Renaissance was also a period of humanistic thought, and this is reflected in the sharp rise of secular music, in the form of lute songs, madrigals, and keyboard and instrumental music. Humanism was also responsible for the desire by composers to imbue the music with ever greater expression, and this reached its height in musical mannerism, with the complex and often chromatic works of Luzzaschi, Marenzio, and Gesualdo. The musical Renaissance culminated in the late 1590s with the emergence of opera, which once established, led musical aesthetics into the new era of the 17th century Baroque.

Lecture Two: The Baroque Period in Music, 1600-1750
The musical Baroque was ushered in at the beginning of the 17th century through the development of opera, which in order to exist, demanded a radical re-thinking of the way in which music was fundamentally constructed. In direct opposition to the polyphonic writing of the Renaissance came a concentration on a single melody – or melodies – counterpointed from below, by the basso continuo. This allowed greater freedom of expression in the music, and expression, as well as the desire to evoke strong emotional responses in the listener, is central to Baroque thinking. The session explores the emotional range of opera and oratorio and plots the development of instrumental music through the newly invented forms of the suite, the sonata, and the concerto.

Lecture Three: The Classical Period in Music, 1750-1828
The Classical period, by contrast to the success of the Baroque, was very nearly the worst moment in the history of Western music, since the re-action against the compositions of the previous era introduced a shallowness and transparency of style that very nearly threw the baby out with the bathwater. Fortunately, the genius of composers such as JC Bach, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven overcame the limitations of the period and produced works of astonishing depth and originality. The Classical period is all to do with balance, symmetry, elegance, and formality, which reflected the rational thinking of the Enlightenment, and the session explores these qualities that are mirrored in the sonatas, songs, symphonies, and operas of the period.

Lecture Four: Romantic Period in Music, 1800-1900
It is arguable that the first stirrings of musical Romanticism can be found well before the Romantic period officially begins. Works that were written in the closing decades of the 18th century by Mozart (Don Giovanni, Fantasia in D minor K397) and Haydn (Symphony No 45 in F# minor, Theme, and Variations in F minor) already employ a musical language that is dark, moody, and brooding - traits that hallmark 19th-century music. However, in addition to the usual characteristics of Romantic music, the session examines the subjective element in the music of the time, where the composer no longer remains detached from the composition, but places himself in the center of the drama, as Beethoven did, for example, in the Pastoral Symphony

Peter Medhurst appears in the UK and abroad as musician and scholar, giving recitals and delivering illustrated lectures on music and the arts. He studied composition and early keyboard instruments at the Royal College of Music in London, and singing with Erik Werba at the Mozarteum in Salzburg. He is known today for his lecture-recital work which has taken him to Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, as well as to all the major cities in Europe. He lectures for The Arts Society, The National Trust, and The Art Fund. Peter also leads tours abroad to places like Venice, Rome, Berlin, Vienna, and Madrid, and as part of the time spent exploring these places he gives organ recitals on the historic instruments in the various cathedrals and churches.

How does it work?
This is a four-part course held weekly and hosted on Zoom. Please check the schedule above for the specific dates and times for each lecture.
Is there a reading list in advance?
Though the course is open to participants with no background on this topic, there are suggested readings for further investigation. These will be provided to participants at the course's conclusion. 
How long are the lectures?
Each lecture is 90 minutes long with time included for Q&A.
How much is the course?
The course is $140 for four lectures.
Is a recording available?
Yes. If you need to miss a lecture, you will be sent a recording within 48 hours of each event's conclusion.

This conversation is suitable for all ages.

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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