Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

New Course Coming Soon

New The Great Courses — History and Music CourseIt has been a long time since I last blogged. I have an excuse (sort of) which I’d share, and in doing so request your help.

I have been writing a new, 24-lecture course for The Teaching Company/The Great Courses, and have only today – this morning, in fact – finished the first draft. I began work in December, so the draft (which runs about 140,000 words, about the length of a 450 page book) took seven months to write. I’ll need another three months to rewrite, by which time the course will run about 120,000 words.

It has been, by far, the toughest survey I’ve ever written. The working title is “Big History and Great Music.” The premise is as follows. Each lecture features a different piece of music. Each piece of music was written as a direct response to a historical event. The bulk of each lecture, then, will explore that event and the manner in which the music under study reflects that event.

For example. Lecture 17 focuses on a piano sonata by the Czech composer Leoš Janáček (pictured below as a young dude with his wife Zdenka), a piece entitled Piano Sonata I. X. 1905 (meaning “Piano Sonata, October 1, 1905”). The sonata was written in response to the killing of a young Czech protester by German/Austrian troops during a protest in Brno (the capital city of Moravia, in the present-day Czech Republic) on October 1, 1905. The core historical issue behind the protest and the piano sonata is the tremendous animosity between native Czechs and the Austrians and Germans that occupied Czech lands almost continuously from 1618 until 1945. As such, this lecture ranges across a fairly large span of time, from the years before the beginning of the Thirty Years War (which began in 1618) to the expulsion of the so-called “Sudeten” or “Southern” Germans from Czech lands between 1945 and 1948 following the end of World War Two.

As you’ve probably divined from this description, the course is as much (if not more) a history course as it is a music course, and that’s why it has been a challenge to write. In its 24 lectures I tell 24 very different stories, and each story has to be accurate and backed up with as much contemporary scholarship as I can muster. I have read upwards of 40 books in preparing these lectures, so when I haven’t been writing I’ve been reading or talking to historian friends who have helped to keep me on track.

We will record in late January 2016, and the course – still untitled – will be out in October 2016.

It’s the “untitled” part in the sentence above that has us in something of a tizzy. The original title that was polled – most successfully, I would add – was something on the lines of “How History Inspires Classical Music”. Ugh. Double ugh. Aside from having spent the bulk of my career trying to demolish the phrase “Classical music”, that title is about a graceful as a three legged dog. Unfortunately, my working title – “Big History and Great Music” – polled poorly, and that, my friends, rendered it DOA. So: suggestions? A good title needs to be short and to the point; if it implies weight loss, hair growth, and/or an end to dysfunctions of any sort, well, so much the better.



  1. Rich Sullivan

    Here are two for starters.

    “Music Inspired By Current Events”
    “The Music And History Nexus”

  2. Frederic Patenaude

    Tough one! My background is marketing, so I think any title that leads to the least confusion about the subject matter is the best, even though it may not be as accurate as you’d like. I think there’s a Teaching Company course entitled “How Music and Mathematics Relate” – which we all think is BS but, it seems to be popular and is often advertised in airline magazines. So perhaps “How Music and History Relate” or “What Music and History Have in Common”

  3. Frederic Patenaude

    PS: Looking forward to it!

  4. Music and history: the grand conversation

  5. Eventful Music.

  6. Looking forward to learning how music mirrors history. Might even get my husband to watch this one with me since he is a bit of a history buff.

  7. Brian Kozaczek

    “Contemporary Music in History: The Stories of and in Music”

    (notice how this reminds the audience to support new music of today, because really it’s all the same, regardless of label: all music was new music at some point!)

  8. The Musical History of SEX! DRUGS! and WAR!

  9. I took a course from Jerry Neff called ‘the experience of art and music’. In his memory, how about ‘Transcendental Feet of Clay: Music from History’?

  10. Turn the phrase “The History of Music” around and call your new lecture series “The Music of History: Stories that Inspired Great Works” (or something like that).

  11. Robert Schenker

    I like using the metaphor of a mirror:
    Magnificent Music Mirroring Monumental Historic Events

  12. “Reflections of the Past in Music” or, to borrow from Mr. Schenker, “Monumental Moments Mirrored in Music” Yes, the consonance is a bit much. The mirror/reflection motif seems appropriate. And it would be a nice draw for the narcissists out there. 🙂 In high school, during the 60s, we were taught that “poems only mean,” and were discouraged from looking for any relationships to the poet, events in his/her life, or the time in which he/she lived. I never liked that idea. This is a great idea…very creative…and challenging.

  13. How about: “Great music: The Soundtrack of History”

  14. Alana Shindler

    How about “Composing to history: music and world events”?

  15. Echoes of History in Great Music!

  16. ‘… And Then the Thunder: Great Events and Great Music’?

  17. Keith brighten

    Ideally it should be apt and catchy. How about ” Music and history- an insiders guide to the telling events that inspired and drove great composers.”

  18. I like Susan Davies thought, “The Soundtrack of History”, but it sounds like a movie. How about “Reaction — a composer’s score to historical events”

  19. I’m sorry I missed the nomination part of this discussion. Maybe for next time biography on Mendelsohn. But I’d really like a course on comedy in music such as PDQ Bach, Felix Slotkin and others. That would be a hoot.

  20. This is so wonderful, I loved your historical backstories throughout How to Listen to and Understand Great Music and am thirsty for more of this holistic approach towards music education.