Dr. Robert Greenberg is Music Historian-in-Residence with San Francisco Performances. A graduate of Princeton University, Professor Greenberg holds a Ph.D. in Music Composition from the University of California, Berkeley. He has seen his compositions-which include more than 45 works for a wide variety of instrumental and vocal ensembles-performed all over the world, including New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, England, Ireland, Greece, Italy, and the Netherlands.
He has served on the faculties of the University of California, Berkeley; California State University, Hayward; and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and has lectured for some of the most prestigious musical and arts organizations in the United States, including the San Francisco Symphony, the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Van Cliburn Foundation, and the Chicago Symphony. For The Great Courses, he has recorded more than 500 lectures on a range of composers and classical music genres.
Professor Greenberg is a Steinway Artist. His many other honors include three Nicola de Lorenzo Composition Prizes and a Koussevitzky commission from the Library of Congress. He has been profiled in various major publications, including The Wall Street Journal; Inc. magazine; and the London Times.
You can find more music content from Robert Greenberg on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/RobertGreenbergMusic.
01: Let's Take It From the Top!
Beginning in the orchestral overtures of opera and the concertos of Baroque Italy, the symphony would emerge as its own genre in the 18th century.
02: The Concerto and the Orchestra
The simultaneous development of the orchestra and the opera were crucial to the birth of the symphony as a genre. By the 1730s, the orchestral genre of the Italian-style opera overture had developed to such a point that those overtures were substantial enough to be performed separately from the operas themselves.
03: The Pre-Classical Symphony
The earliest true symphonies were exponents of the so-called "galant" style that emerged in the period between the high Baroque and Viennese Classicism. The chief composers of this period included Giovanni Sammartini, and two of J. S. Bach's sons, Carl Phillip Emanuel Bach and Johann Christian Bach.
In the unlikely city of Mannheim, Germany, the formation of the outstanding Mannheim Court Orchestra paved the way for a great series of symphonists in the 18th century—Stamitz, Richter, Holzbauer, and Cannabich.
05: Classical Masters
By the late 1770s and 1780s, Europe boasted an enormous number of first-rate symphonists, including Francois-Joseph Gossec, Michael Haydn, Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf, Johann Baptist Vanhal, and Luigi Boccherini.
06: Franz Joseph Haydn, Part 1
Franz Joseph Haydn wrote at least 108 symphonies. We examine his Symphony no. 1 in D Major (1759), and later symphonies, no. 77 in particular, revealing Haydn's ongoing development as a symphonist.
07: Franz Joseph Haydn, Part 2
Inspired by the "Sturm und Drang" movement in the early 1770s, Haydn's symphonies begin to reflect experimentation with minor keys, abrupt changes of dynamics, and a greater degree of thematic contrast.
Unlike Haydn, Mozart never made symphonic composition as much of a priority as opera and the piano concerto. Yet he created some of the most important symphonies of the classical era, among them his Symphony no. 41 in C Major—the "Jupiter" Symphony.
The sublime and iconoclastic Beethoven, in Professor Greenberg's words, "came to believe in self-expression and originality above all else. ... A symphony was no longer an aristocratic amusement, but a multifaceted musical statement, an instrumental genre operatic in its degree of contrast, conflict, and resolution."
Schubert's "Unfinished" B Minor and "Great" C Major Symphonies demonstrated that the lyric and the colorful could coexist with the Beethoven-inspired vision of the symphony as a vehicle for profound self-expression.
11: Berlioz and the "Symphonie fantastique"
In his "Symphonie fantastique," Hector Berlioz adopts the extreme emotions and drama of the opera house, and explicit, intimately autobiographical narrative, all bound together by a recurring, representative musical theme—the famous "fixed idea." The personally and creatively controversial Berlioz goes on to inspire a rising generation of Romantic radicals.
12: Mendelssohn and Schumann
The symphonies of Felix Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann merged Classical tradition with elements of Romanticism within very personal and innovative expressive frameworks.
13: Franck, Saint-Saens, and the Symphony in France
In the 1860s and 1870s, French composers re-established a tradition of symphonic music in Paris, led by Cesar Franck and Camille Saint-Saens.
14: Nationalism and the Symphony
Few composers used the symphony to explore national identity more than Peter Tchaikovsky and Antonin Dvorak—two extremely different men, yet both conservative Romantics drawing on the music of their homelands for substance and inspiration.
15: Brahms, Bruckner, and the Viennese Symphony
Anton Bruckner and Johannes Brahms both achieved fame in Vienna—and both were inspired by Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. But that's where their similarities end.
16: Gustav Mahler
Gustav Mahler's symphonies are, in Robert Greenberg's words, "philosophical tracts, spiritual musings, musical reflections on the great, unanswered questions." We focus on his Symphony no. 2 in C Minor ("Resurrection") of 1895.
17: Nielsen and Sibelius
The key to Carl Nielsen's music is its directness of expression, inspired by the rustic simplicity of his Danish homeland. Jean Sibelius's Finnish homeland also exerted a strong influence on his creative palette, in which musical nationalism was expressed with a highly individual flavor.
18: The Symphony in Russia
Nationalism played a crucial role in the 19th-century emergence of a Russian symphonic tradition, with composers such as Glinka, Balakirev, Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Glazunov. In the 20th century, the "steel-fisted modernist" Prokofiev never ceased to shock and surprise—even with his First Symphony, which, ironically, pays homage to the Classical style.
19: Charles Ives
Charles Ives synthesized classical training, a love for American music of every kind, the New England of his childhood, radical experimentation, and his abject belief that music was the common language that bound together all humanity.
20: Aaron Copland and Samuel Barber
Aaron Copland epitomized the pan-American musical spirit of the 1920s, '30s, and '40s, remaining the most representative American composer of the 20th century. Samuel Barber's Symphony no. 1 is a beautifully constructed work of great and enduring power.
21: Roy Harris and William Schuman
Roy Harris created symphonies marked by a primitive simplicity underlain by great emotional depth and expressive sophistication. William Schuman's Third Symphony heralded a period when American composers became accepted, performed, and appreciated in their own country to a previously unprecedented degree.
22: The Twentieth-Century British Symphony
It was not until the end of the 19th century that Britain would make a significant contribution to the international symphonic repertory. While Edward Elgar's symphonic music was not explicitly nationalistic, Ralph Vaughn Williams's symphonies did draw heavily from England's folk heritage.
23: Olivier Messiaen and Turangalila!
Olivier Messiaen's "Turangalila," organized around a number of cyclic themes, was hugely controversial—and a magnificent achievement, completely unique in the symphonic repertory.
24: Dmitri Shostakovich and His Tenth Symphony
Dmitri Shostakovich was used and abused by the Soviet powers during much of his life. Somehow, he survived—even as his Tenth Symphony made dangerously implicit criticisms of the Soviet government.