Introduction to Class #1: Music and Ideas

WHAT'S IN THIS VIDEO: There are several ways to think about ideas and music. The first, obviously, is to think about the musical idea - the materials, the structure, the genre. But you can also think about ideas in music from a political perspective - how they stir people, influence them. You can … [Read more...]

Tom Morris: Beyond the Notes

WHAT'S IN THIS VIDEO: Part of music's power is to convey things beyond the notes — big ideas, societal struggles, cultural anxieties, the zeitgeist. Sometimes the message, if the music carries a message, changes over time and as different audiences listen. Other times it's hard to even tell how … [Read more...]

John Rockwell: Music and Social Participation

WHAT'S IN THIS VIDEO: Music has a long history of societal commentary, but are contemporary composers still trying to tackle the same kinds of social and political questions? For that matter, music abstract, textless music has a much harder task tackling these ideas than visual art, literature or … [Read more...]

Listen & Do #1: Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”

Context is everything. Stravinsky's Le Sacre du printemps is probably one of the most famous pieces of the 20th Century. It was first performed at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris on 29 May 1913 (100 years ago this month) and caused a near riot in the hall. Yes the music was new and shocking. … [Read more...]

Eva Soltes: Music and Cultural Assumptions

 WHAT'S IN THIS VIDEO: Part of the way listeners understand music and art come from preconceptions we have about how music should be experienced. Is the audience a consumer or participant in the arts? Often the arts reflect these cultural assumptions. Some of the most interesting art reflects that … [Read more...]

Listen & Do #2: Samuel Barber’s “Excursions”

This suite of short pieces takes small classical forms and injects them - ignites them, really - with American folk idioms. You hear boogie woogie, blues, and even a barn dance fitted into traditional classical forms. This is an example of a composer taking traditional structures and injecting … [Read more...]

Ara Guzelimian: Music and a Cultural Mix

WHAT'S IN THIS VIDEO: American society became increasingly complex and multicultural during the last century. Just like what passed as Asian cuisine on the west coast moved from chop suey to authentic dim sum, composers like John Cage and Lou Harrison started folding in musical elements from Asia … [Read more...]

Mark Swed: About Lou Harrison

WHAT'S IN THIS VIDEO: Lou Harrison was a high strung man better suited to living in the country where he could think than amid the noise and pace of city life. Highly trained in the Western classical tradition, Harrison operated as something of an outsider to it. He was interested in combining … [Read more...]

Listen & Do #3: Lou Harrison’s Piano and Gamelan

Lou Harrison was an eclectic artist who drew inspiration from many places, both inside and outside music. He wasn't interested just in making cultural references, but in using them and incorporating them into his work. Harrison was a very physical, very sensual composer - analog, in today's terms. … [Read more...]

Mark Morris: Reacting To Music

WHAT'S IN THIS VIDEO: Music — usually — is written to elicit a response from the listener. Some music is intentionally affectless, but most is looking to surprise, enlighten or entertain — and it can do that in many ways. That response to art and the art itself is strictly speaking useless and yet … [Read more...]

Listen & Do #4: Ives Variations on “America”

This is a face-melting fun-house fantasy of Americana. Even the choice of organ as instrument is interesting. It sounds not like a traditional church organ, but a circus organ or movie-house organ. The music mocks, cajoles, shrieks, and pumps its way through "My Country Tis of Thee". It's a virtuoso … [Read more...]

Jeremy Denk: Omnivorous Music

WHAT'S IN THIS VIDEO: Music at its most powerful can challenge listeners' expectations in an uncomfortable way. Charles Ives' fourth symphony layers melodies and elements in a way that invites audiences to choose their own path through the work, and that's not always a pleasant experience. … [Read more...]