Western History through Music

Grades 9-12+1High school students may be awarded 1 History or Music credit upon completion of this course.

From Bach to Rach - and beyond!

What was everyday life like when Mozart was a child? Why did Beethoven angrily scratch out his dedication to Napoleon in his Third Symphony? What convinced Dvorak, who was afraid of even leaving his house in modern-day Czech Republic, to decide to pick up and move to the United States?

We will explore questions like these in order to understand what life was like in key moments of western history - what was happening in the world, how the events affected people of the day, and how humans used music - to process, to react to, and to express their emotions surrounding world events and the human experience.

Western History through Music guides students through the transformation of music and society since ca. 1600. The masterpieces of composed music and the lives of those who created it are examined through the lens of historical context. Explore what life was like when Mozart was a child, how the political developments in Europe influenced Beethoven’s music making, and how Stravinsky, Schönberg, and Rachmaninov all reacted to the rapid changes of the 20th Century in extraordinarily different ways. 

The first semester begins with the transition between the Renaissance and Baroque periods. We will start by examining the societal changes that lead to the birth of both the modern orchestra and the modern opera in Italy during the lifetime of Monteverdi. Then we will travel to Germany in the stabilization after the Thirty Years’ War to see how peace after war pathed the way for Bach and Händel, both coincidentally born in 1685 just a few hundred miles apart. Haydn and Mozart will accompany us through the Age of Enlightenment, and the Fall Semester will close in an age of radical change: the aftermath of the American and French Revolutions and the beginning of an entirely new approach to music making led by Beethoven and Schubert.

The second semester continues through the societal changes following the Industrial Revolution, filled with early romanticism and a new era of instrumental superstars: Franz Liszt, Clara Schumann, Frederic Chopin, Niccolò Paganini. As global politics and increased nationalism reach a fever pitch at the turn of the 20th Century, music too faces many conflicting ideas about the future with French Impressionism, Austro-Germanic Serialism, Russian Post-Romanticism, and US-American innovation. Following World War II, we will examine how composers continue to process and react to world events through their music.

The list of composers mentioned above is not comprehensive. We will discuss the key composers from each compositional period and by the end of the school year will have covered the core of the classical repertoire.

High school students may be awarded 1 History or Music credit upon completion of this course.