Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Great Music of the 20th Century

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Experience the genius and stunning originality of masterworks by the 20th century’s greatest composers. Follow the game-changing break with musical tradition that gave birth to a vast range of new musical languages, and immerse yourself in the glorious concert music of a turbulent century.

The Details

Great Courses favorite Professor Robert Greenberg of San Francisco Performances returns with one of his most provocative, most compelling, and most rewarding courses ever. In Great Music of the 20th Century, Professor Greenberg unfurls a huge spectrum of new works and material that have not been covered in depth in previous courses. Ranging across the 20th century in its entirety, these 24 lectures present a musical cornucopia of astonishing dimensions—a major presentation and exploration of the incredible brilliance and diversity of musical art across a turbulent century.

Taking a chronological approach, the course explores the fascinating gamut of 20th-century musical “isms,” from impressionism and fauvism to serialism, stochasticism, ultraserialism, neo-classicism, neo-tonalism, and minimalism, as well as the inclusivity and synthesis within concert music that embraced Western historical styles, folk and popular music, jazz, rock, Asian, Latin American, and other influences in the service of heightened expression. Through the panoramic view of the course, you’ll discover the genius of composers such as Webern, Antheil, Stockhausen, Bernstein, Takamitsu, and many others.

From the very first lecture, Professor Greenberg tackles the bugbear of 20th-century concert music directly, showing with remarkable clarity what these composers were up to, how to understand their compositional processes and visions, and how to appreciate and enjoy the sublime music this century produced.

For those familiar with Professor Greenberg’s previous courses, these lectures present a new approach to the musical excerpts themselves, and one that is aligned with the way people access music in the 21st century. Instead of playing musical excerpts within the lectures, Professor Greenberg provides easily accessible online resources to complete performances of all the works discussed, allowing you to explore them in their entirety, either while listening to the lectures, separately, or both. This approach offers the benefits of easy access to full performances of the works, plus a full 45 minutes of Professor Greenberg’s celebrated teaching and commentary in each lecture. See the videos in the lecture listings below:

Great Music of the 20th Century Lectures

  1. 20th-Century Music: Be Afraid No Longer!
  2. Explore the works and music
    Igor Stravinsky, Agon
    YouTube
    Pierre Boulez, Structures II for Two Pianos
    YouTube
    Terry Riley, In C
    YouTube
    Walter Piston, Symphony No. 6, fourth movement
    YouTube
  3. Setting the Table and Parsing Out Blame
  4. Explore the works and music
    Claude Debussy, L’enfant prodigue
    YouTube
  5. Debussy and le français in Musical Action
  6. Explore the works and music
    Claude Debussy, Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun
    YouTube
    Claude Debussy, Prelude X, Book 1, The Sunken Cathedral
    Part 1: 00:00–01:24
    Part 2: 01:25–02:11
    Part 3: 02:12–03:15
    Part 4: 03:16–04:24
    Part 5: 04:25–05:38
    YouTube
    Javanese Gamelan example
    YouTube
    Parallel Organum
    YouTube
  7. Russia and Igor Stravinsky
  8. Explore the works and music
    Claude Debussy, Nocturnes, “Fêtes”
    YouTube
    Igor Stravinsky, Petrushka
    “Russian Dance”: 08:35–10:59
    “Chez Petrushka”: 11:14–15:59
    YouTube
    Igor Stravinsky, Scherzo fantastique
    YouTube
    Igor Stravinsky, The Firebird
    “Infernal Dance of the Ogre Kashchey”: 32:12–37:18
    “Khorovode”: 20:17–24:32
    “Finale”: 42:56–46:30
    YouTube
  9. Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring
  10. Explore the works and music
    Igor Stravinsky, The Rite of Spring
    “Introduction”: 00:00–03:11

    “Dance of the Adolescents,” first half: 03:13–04:32 “Procession of the Sage”: 13:08–13:50
    “Dance of the Earth”: 14:21–15:27
    “Game of the Rival Tribes”: 06:22–07:17
    “Grand Sacred Dance”: 28:48–33:20
    YouTube
    The Search for Nijinsky’s Rite of Spring
    YouTube
  11. The Paradox of Arnold Schoenberg
  12. Explore the works and music
    Arnold Schoenberg, Pelleas und Melisande
    “Waltz”: 11:25–12:40
    YouTube
    Arnold Schoenberg, Pierrot Lunaire
    “O alter Duft”: 35:02–36:58
    YouTube
    Arnold Schoenberg, Transfigured Night
    “Opening Theme”: 00:50–02:10
    “Transfigured Conclusion”: 28:30–29:44
    YouTube
  13. The Emancipation of Melody!
  14. Explore the works and music
    Arnold Schoenberg, Six Little Pieces for Piano
    (from 02:00 to 03:10 in the below-linked performance)
    YouTube
    Arnold Schoenberg, String Quartet No. 1 in D Minor
    Part 1, “Nicht zu rasch” (“Not too fast”): 00:00–11:58
    Part 2, “Kräftig” ( “Powerfully”): 11:59–22:21
    Part 3, “Mäßig” ( “Moderately”): 22:22–34:28
    Part 4, “Mäßig-heiter” ( “Moderately bright”): 34:29–41:58
    YouTube
  15. The Second Viennese School
  16. Explore the works and music
    Alban Berg, Piano Sonata
    YouTube
    Anton Webern, Five Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 10, No. 4
    YouTube
    Arnold Schoenberg, Pierrot Lunaire
    “Moondrunk”: 00:56–02:38
    “Night”: 13:16–15:45
    “Theft”: 16:41–17:43
    “Red Mass”: 17:43–19:42
    “Gallows Song”: 19:43–20:08
    “Vulgarity”: 26:56–28:18
    YouTube
  17. The “New” Classicism
  18. Explore the works and music
    George Antheil, Ballet Méchanique
    YouTube
    Igor Stravinsky, Octet
    YouTube
    Igor Stravinsky, Pulcinella
    “Sinfonia” opening: 00:00–00:12
    “Sinfonia”: 00:27–00:33
    “Sinfonia” conclusion: 01:44–01:56
    “Tarantella”: 24:29–25:42
    “Vivo”: 33:03–34:32
    “Finale”: 36:51–38:52
    YouTube
    John Williams, “Bicycle Chase”
    YouTube
  19. Schoenberg and the 12-Tone Method
  20. Explore the works and music
    Arnold Schoenberg, Variations for Orchestra, Op. 31
    YouTube
  21. Synthesis and Nationalism: Béla Bartók
  22. Explore the works and music
    Béla Bartók, Allegro Barbaro
    YouTube
    Béla Bartók, Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste
    Part 1: 00:00–07:01
    Part 2: 07:03–14:29
    Part 3: 14:34–21:06
    Part 4: 21:09
    YouTube
    Béla Bartók, Piano Concerto No. 1
    YouTube
    Béla Bartók, Piano Concerto No. 2
    YouTube
    Béla Bartók, Piano Concerto No. 3
    YouTube
    Béla Bartók, Piano Sonata
    YouTube
    Béla Bartók, Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion
    YouTube
    Béla Bartók, String Quartet No. 2
    YouTube
    Béla Bartók, String Quartet No. 5
    YouTube
    Berber Drumming
    YouTube
    Ludwig van Beethoven, String Quartet in C-sharp Minor, Op. 131
    YouTube
    The Shining, “Room 237”
    YouTube
  23. America’s Musical Gift
  24. Explore the works and music
    Aaron Copland, “Dance” from Music for the Theater
    YouTube
    Babatunde Olatunji and friends, “Fanga”
    YouTube
    Claude Debussy, “Golliwog’s Cakewalk”
    YouTube
    George Gershwin, An American in Paris
    UNCTV
    George Gershwin, Prelude No. 2 in C-sharp Minor
    YouTube
    George Gershwin and Irving Caesar, “Swanee”
    YouTube
    Igor Stravinsky, “Ragtime for Eleven Instruments”
    YouTube
    Jessye Norman, “Great Day”
    YouTube
    John Philip Sousa, “The Stars and Stripes Forever”
    YouTube
    Preservation Hall Jazz Band, “Tailgate Ramble”
    YouTube
    Robert Johnson, “Cross Road Blues”
    YouTube
    Scott Joplin, “Maple Leaf Rag”
    YouTube
  25. American Iconoclasts
  26. Explore the works and music
    Charles Ives, Three Places in New England
    Part 1, “The ‘St. Gaudens’ in Boston Common”
    YouTube
    Part 2, “Putnam’s Camp”
    YouTube
    Part 3, “The Housatonic at Stockbridge”
    YouTube
    Conlon Nancarrow, Study for Player Piano No. 25
    YouTube
    Conlon Nancarrow, Study No. 3c
    YouTube
    Conlon Nancarrow, Study No. 7
    YouTube
    Elliott Carter, String Quartet No. 2
    YouTube
    Harry Partch, Barstow
    Text
    YouTube
    Harry Partch, Music Studio (music demonstration)
    Part 1
    YouTube
    Part 2
    YouTube
  27. The World Turned Upside Down
  28. Explore the works and music
    Milton Babbitt, All Set
    YouTube
    Milton Babbitt, Three Compositions for Piano
    Part 1: 00:00–01:25
    Part 2: 01:27–05:26
    Part 3: 05:28–07:34
    YouTube
    Olivier Messiaen, Quartet for the End of Time
    YouTube
  29. Electronic Music and European Ultraserialism
  30. Explore the works and music
    Edgard Varèse, Poème électronique
    YouTube
    Milton Babbitt, Philomel
    Text, written by John Hollander
    YouTube
    Olivier Messiaen, Mode de valeurs et d’intensités
    YouTube
    Pierre Boulez, Structures I for Two Pianos
    YouTube
  31. Schoenberg in Exile
  32. Explore the works and music
    Arnold Schoenberg, A Survivor from Warsaw
    Text
    Program note, written by Dave Kopplin
    YouTube
    Arnold Schoenberg, Kol Nidre
    YouTube
    Arnold Schoenberg, Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte
    Part 1: 00:00–04:47
    Part 4 (conclusion): 13:08–14:58
    YouTube
    Lord Byron, Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte
    Explore
  33. Stravinsky in America
  34. Explore the works and music
    Igor Stravinsky, Agon
    Episode 1, “Fanfare”: 00:00–01:46
    Episode 13, “Pas-de-Deux”: 16:29–20:14
    YouTube
    Igor Stravinsky, Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments
    Part 1: 00:45–08:40
    Part 2: 09:07–18:05
    Part 3: 18:07–23:17
    YouTube
    Igor Stravinsky, Piano Sonata
    Part 1: 00:00–02:27
    Part 2: 02:30–06:16
    Part 3: 06:17–08:32
    YouTube
    Igor Stravinsky, Requiem Canticles
    YouTube
    Igor Stravinsky, Symphony in Three Movements
    Part 1: 00:00–10:14
    Part 2: 10:19–19:13
    Part 3: 16:14–22:17
    YouTube
  35. For Every Action an Equal Reaction
  36. Explore the works and music
    György Ligeti, Atmosphères
    YouTube
    György Ligeti, Piano Concerto
    YouTube
    György Ligeti, Trio for Violin, French Horn, and Piano
    “Andante con tenerezza”: 00:00–05:38
    “Vivacissimo molto Ritmico”: 05:58–10:56
    “Alla Marcia”: 10:59–15:05
    “Lamento Adagio”: 15:13–20:30
    YouTube
    Hans Werner Henze, Sinfonia No. 8
    YouTube
    Iannis Xenakis, Pithoprakta
    YouTube
    Krzysztof Penderecki, Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima
    YouTube
    Luigi Nono, Prometheus Suite
    YouTube
    Stanley Kubrick, 2001 “Star Gate” Sequence (music composed by György Ligeti)
    YouTube
  37. The California Avant-Garde
  38. Explore the works and music
    Henry Cowell, Aeolian Harp
    YouTube
    Henry Cowell, Ostinato Pianissimo
    YouTube
    Henry Cowell, The Banshee
    YouTube
    Henry Cowell, The Tides of Manaunaun
    YouTube
    Javanese Gamelan example
    YouTube
    John Cage, Bacchanale
    YouTube
    John Cage, Sonata V for prepared piano
    YouTube
    Lou Harrison, Double Concerto
    Part 1, “Grandly, but Moderate (Ladrang Epikuros)”: 00:00–08:08
    Part 2, “Stampede”: 08:13–15:49
    Part 3, “Allegro moderato (Gendhing Hephaestus)”: 15:51–22:54
    YouTube
    Morton Feldman, Rothko Chapel
    YouTube
  39. Rock around the Clock
  40. Explore the works and music
    Buddy Holly and His Crickets, “Peggy Sue”
    YouTube
    Chuck Berry, “School Days”
    YouTube
    Elvis Presley’s Ed Sullivan Show performance on September 9, 1956
    DailyMotion
    Garner Eckler, “Money, Marbles, and Chalk”
    YouTube
    Jerry Lee Louis, “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”
    YouTube
    John Adams, Harmonielehre
    Harmonielehre Für Orchester: Satz 4
    YouTube
    Little Richard, “Lucille”
    YouTube
    Philip Glass, Violin Concerto
    YouTube
    Steve Reich, Different Trains
    YouTube
    Steve Reich, “It’s Gonna Rain”
    YouTube
    Terry Riley, In C
    YouTube
  41. East Meets West; South Meets North
  42. Explore the works and music
    Carlos Chávez, Symphony No. 2
    YouTube
    Chinary Ung, Spiral I
    YouTube
    Ginastera, Danzas Argentinas no. 1
    YouTube
    Ginastera, Danzas Argentinas no. 2
    YouTube
    Ginastera, Danzas Argentinas no. 3
    YouTube
    Ginastera, “Malambo” from the Estancia Ballet
    YouTube
    Heitor Villa-Lobos, Bachianas Brasileiras no. 5, “Aria”
    YouTube
    Heitor Villa-Lobos, Prelude No. 1 for Guitar
    YouTube
    Isang Yun, Violin Concerto No. 3
    YouTube
    Lucienne Boyer, Parlez-Moi D’Amour
    YouTube
    Tan Dun, opening sequence of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
    YouTube
    Tōru Takemitsu, A Flock Descends Into the Pentagonal Garden
    YouTube
    Tōru Takemitsu, November Steps
    Part 1
    YouTube
    Part 2
    YouTube
  43. Postmodernism: New Tonality and Eclecticism
  44. Explore the works and music
    David Del Tredici, Child Alice (In Memory of a Summer’s Day)
    YouTube
    George Crumb, Ancient Voices of Children
    Part 5: 13:28–16:04
    YouTube
    George Rochberg, String Quartet No. 3
    Movement 1: : 00:00–06:51
    Movement 2: 06:52–09:56
    YouTube
    Movement 3
    YouTube
    Movement 4: 00:00–04:19
    Movement 5: 04:20–21:32
    Mahler quote: 06:29–07:30
    YouTube
    John Corigliano, The Red Violin Concerto
    Part 1,“Chaconne”: 00:00–14:34
    Part 2, “Pianissimo Scherzo”: 14:35–22:24
    Part 3, “Andante Flautando”: 22:30–28:56
    Part 4, “Accelerando Finale”: 28:57–38:34
    YouTube
    Luciano Berio, Sinfonia, movement 3
    YouTube
    Peter Maxwell Davies, Eight Songs for a Mad King
    YouTube
  45. The New Pluralism
  46. Explore the works and music
    Aaron Jay Kernis, 100 Greatest Dance Hits
    Part 1, “Introduction to the Dance Party”: 00:00–01:50
    Part 2, “Salsa Pasada”: 01:52–05:17
    Part 3, “MOR* Easy Listening Slow Dance”: 05:18–12:31
    Part 4, “Dance Party on the Disco Motorboat”: 12:32–15:59
    YouTube
    Aaron Jay Kernis, Double Concerto for Violin & Guitar
    “Fast and Jazzy”
    YouTube
    “Adagio Molto”
    YouTube
    “Presto, sempre ritmico”
    YouTube
    Christopher Rouse, Concerto for Trombone
    YouTube
    Christopher Rouse, Gorgon
    YouTube
    Christopher Rouse, Ku-Ka-Ilimoku
    YouTube
    Christopher Rouse, The Infernal Machine
    YouTube
    Jennifer Higdon, Blue Cathedral
    YouTube
    Jennifer Higdon, Fanfare Ritmico for Orchestra
    YouTube
    Joseph Schwantner, Aftertones of Infinity
    YouTube
    Joseph Schwantner, Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra
    YouTube
    Joseph Schwantner, Velocities
    YouTube
    Martin Bresnick, Bird As Prophet
    YouTube
    Martin Bresnick, String Quartet No. 2, Bucephalus
    YouTube
    “Bucephalus”
    YouTube
    “Around the Sun”
    YouTube
    “Alexandrine”
    YouTube
    “At Jhelum”
    YouTube
    “The New Advocate”
    YouTube
    Thomas Adès, Asyla
    Part 1
    YouTube
    Part 2
    YouTube
    Part 3
    YouTube
    Part 4
    YouTube
  47. Among Friends
  48. Explore the works and music
    Cole Porter, “I Get a Kick Out of You”
    YouTube
    Dana Seusse, “You Oughta Be In Pictures”
    YouTube
    Dave Brubeck, “Blue Rondo à la Turk”
    YouTube
    Oscar Peterson, “Boogie Blues Etude”
    YouTube
    Robert Greenberg, Among Friends
    Explore
    Robert Greenberg, And Goodness Lay Over the High Snow
    Explore
    Robert Greenberg, By Various Means
    Explore
    Robert Greenberg, Child’s Play
    Explore
    Robert Greenberg, Crazy Levi
    Explore
    Robert Greenberg, Dude ‘Tudes
    Explore
    Robert Greenberg, Fantasy Variations
    Explore
    Robert Greenberg, In Shape
    Explore
    Robert Greenberg, Iron Balconies and Lilies
    Explore
    Robert Greenberg, On Trial
    Explore
    Robert Greenberg, Piano Concerto No. 2
    Explore
    Robert Greenberg, Quasi un Madrigale
    Explore
    Robert Greenberg, The Passing Years
    Explore
    The Beatles’ Ed Sullivan Show performance on February 9, 1964
    Vimeo
    Tower of Power and Carlos Santana, “What is Hip?”
    YouTube