Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

The 30 Greatest Orchestral Works


In The 30 Greatest Orchestral Works, Professor Robert Greenberg takes you on a sumptuous grand tour of the symphonic pieces he counts, as a highly respected composer and music historian, as being among the very greatest ever written—inviting you to an in-depth contemplation of what makes these works so memorable, and why they live at the center of our musical culture. These 30 masterworks form an essential foundation for any music collection and a focal point for understanding the orchestral medium and deepening your insight into the communicative power of music. While seasoned music lovers will find the lectures a fascinating and revealing journey through the repertoire, the course welcomes newcomers to orchestral music, offering a very accessible point of entry to this magnificent repertoire.

The Details

In 32 richly detailed lectures, you encounter symphonies, concerti, tone poems, symphonic poems, and suites, covering over 200 years of music history and delving into the works through extensive musical excerpts. As a broad-based exploration of the literature, the course covers the major eras and stylistic periods in Western music from the early 18th to the mid-20th centuries and highlights a wide range of European and American composers. With his trademark brilliance as a lecturer, Professor Greenberg guides you in a direct and dynamic engagement with the music, opening you to the profound enjoyment and meanings of these landmark creations. In the design of the course, each lecture is a stand-alone entity. You can enjoy the lectures in sequence, as a full musical-historical survey, or use them individually, as preconcert talks or audio program notes.

As another core element of the course, Professor Greenberg develops a full and layered background for each work, taking you deeply into the composers’ lives, the circumstances of their works’ creation, and the evolutionary unfolding of music history. You learn how Haydn’s and Mozart’s music embodied the philosophical ideals of the Enlightenment, and how Beethoven forged a path of personal expression that fired the spirit of Romanticism. You learn, perhaps surprisingly, that many of these symphonic works were directly influenced by political events, including the currents of nationalism that shaped the music of Smetana, Tchaikovsky, and Debussy.

What Makes Music Great?

These “greatest of the great” orchestral pieces share several compelling features:

  • They have the uncanny ability to express humanity’s dreams, struggles, tragedies, and triumphs in the most stunning and unforgettable terms.
  • They ingeniously challenged, at the time of their creation, the traditional forms and conceptions of orchestral composition, extending both the creative resources available to composers and the expressive content of the music itself.
  • They remain hallmarks of the orchestral repertoire and continue to transfix audiences, not infrequently in the face of carping by critics and musicologists.

The 30 Greatest Orchestral Works Lectures

  1. Game Plan and Preliminaries
  2. Vivaldi—The Four Seasons
  3. Bach—Brandenburg Concerto No. 2
  4. Bach—Violin Concerto in E Major
  5. Haydn—Symphony No. 104
  6. Mozart—Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor
  7. Mozart—Symphony in C Major, “Jupiter”
  8. Beethoven—Symphony No. 3
  9. Beethoven—Piano Concerto No. 4
  10. Beethoven—Symphony No. 9
  11. Schubert—Symphony No. 9
  12. Mendelssohn—“Italian” Symphony
  13. Schumann—Symphony No. 3
  14. Brahms—Symphony No. 4
  15. Brahms—Violin Concerto
  16. Tchaikovsky—Symphony No. 4
  17. Tchaikovsky—Violin Concerto
  18. Bedrich Smetana—Má Vlast
  19. Dvorák—Symphony No. 8
  20. Dvorák—Concerto for Cello
  21. Rimsky-Korsakov—Scheherazade
  22. Richard Strauss—Thus Spoke Zarathustra
  23. Mahler—Symphony No. 5
  24. Rachmaninoff—Symphony No. 2
  25. Debussy—La Mer
  26. Stravinsky—The Rite of Spring
  27. Saint-Saëns—Symphony No. 3
  28. Holst—The Planets
  29. Copland—Appalachian Spring
  30. Shostakovich—Symphony No. 5
  31. Shostakovich—Symphony No. 10
  32. The Ones That Got Away