Great Music of the Twentieth Century

Course No. 7006
Professor Robert Greenberg, Ph.D.
San Francisco Performances
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56 Reviews
73% of reviewers would recommend this product
Course No. 7006
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What Will You Learn?

  • You will learn what happened to Western concert music in the 20th century-how visionary composers departed from the traditions of the musical past to create new musical languages and works of phenomenal brilliance.
  • You will follow the unfolding of these new musical languages across the 20th century, and learn to both understand what 20th -century composers were up to, and to appreciate and enjoy their works.
  • You will encounter and get to know a dazzling range of 20th -century musical works, representing a multitude of new compositional approaches, and experience the greatness of the music the century produced.

Course Overview

The 20th century was a breeding ground of musical exploration, innovation, and transformation unlike any other era in history. Breaking with the traditions of the past, early 20th-century composers upended the old order of concert music, igniting both passionate admiration and white-hot controversy with works such as Claude Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, whose ethereal, otherworldly sonic textures initiated musical modernism; and Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, whose jarring primitivism and the near-riot of its premiere are the stuff of musical legend.

But these were only the tip of a monumental iceberg—the beginning of an explosion of new musical languages and syntaxes that would last for the entire century, ranging from the non-tonality of Arnold Schoenberg and the individualist vision of Charles Ives to the the stylistic synthesis of Béla Bartók, the ultraserialism of Milton Babbitt, and the remarkable eclecticism of Henry Cowell.

As always in music history, these artistic currents directly reflected changes in the world at large, as composers responded to the upheavals, dislocations, paradigm shifts, world wars, globalism, and other momentous happenings that the century brought—creating masterworks that rank among history’s greatest moments of musical expression.

And yet, parallel with these transformations came the perception—which echoes to this day—that the new music could be difficult, challenging to grasp, and at times simply unintelligible—all of which figured within tumultuous and unending debates about what music should or could be.

Now, speaking to these extraordinary and galvanizing events, Great Courses favorite Professor Robert Greenberg of San Francisco Performances returns with one of his most provocative, most compelling, and most rewarding courses ever. In Great Music of the 20th Century, Professor Greenberg unfurls a huge spectrum of new works and material that have not been covered in depth in previous courses. Ranging across the 20th century in its entirety, these 24 lectures present a musical cornucopia of astonishing dimensions—a major presentation and exploration of the incredible brilliance and diversity of musical art across a turbulent century.

Discover a Breathtaking Epoch in Western Music

Taking a chronological approach, the course explores the fascinating gamut of 20th-century musical “isms,” from impressionism and fauvism to serialism, stochasticism, ultraserialism, neo-classicism, neo-tonalism, and minimalism, as well as the inclusivity and synthesis within concert music that embraced Western historical styles, folk and popular music, jazz, rock, Asian, Latin American, and other influences in the service of heightened expression. Through the panoramic view of the course, you’ll discover the genius of composers such as Webern, Antheil, Stockhausen, Bernstein, Takamitsu, and many others.

From the very first lecture, Professor Greenberg tackles the bugbear of 20th-century concert music directly, showing with remarkable clarity what these composers were up to, how to understand their compositional processes and visions, and how to appreciate and enjoy the sublime music this century produced.

For those familiar with Professor Greenberg’s previous courses, these lectures present a new approach to the musical excerpts themselves, and one that is aligned with the way people access music in the 21st century. Instead of playing musical excerpts within the lectures, Professor Greenberg provides easily accessible online resources to complete performances of all the works discussed, allowing you to explore them in their entirety, either while listening to the lectures, separately, or both. This approach offers the benefits of easy access to full performances of the works, plus a full 45 minutes of Professor Greenberg’s celebrated teaching and commentary in each lecture.

Grasp the Passionate Ideals and Groundbreaking Methods of Musical Modernism

Early in the course, you’ll delve into the historical, sociological, and psychological factors that underlay early 20th-century composers’ abandonment of musical tradition. In clear, accessible terms, you’ll learn about the trailblazing compositional approaches of the century’s great composers, and what motivated them, in cases such as:

  • The Astounding Journey of Igor Stravinsky—Follow the trajectory of the 20th century’s most integrally influential composer, from his legendary “fauvist” scores for the Ballets Russes and his unexpected turn as a neoclassicist to his constant, lifelong experimentation and self-reinvention. Study Stravinsky’s rich range of masterpieces, including his iconic Pulcinella, his Symphony in Three Movements,and his career-capping Requiem Canticles.
  • Beyond Tonality: The Legacy of Arnold Schoenberg—Learn the dramatic story of Schoenberg’s “emancipation” from traditional musical tonality, and his magisterial non-tonal and serial or “12-tone” works. Take account of the searing controversy surrounding his compositions and methodology, and his imprint on a lineage of brilliant composers. Experience landmark works, such as his masterful Pierrot Lunaire, Variations for Orchestra, and Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte.
  • America’s Kaleidoscopic Offering to New Music—Across the span of the course, learn how 20th-century U.S. composers broke new ground in numerous and ingenious ways. Witness how American musical minds introduced jazz and popular idioms into concert music, created alternate tonal systems and musical instruments, pioneered electronic music, incorporated non-Western musical languages, and gave birth to genres such as minimalism.
  • Ultraserialism and Its Backlash—Observe how a cadre of post-World War II composers sought to distance themselves from the mindset of fascism, ironically producing intellectualized music which audiences found difficult or impossible to listen to. Also note the counter-reaction that spurred other spirits to seek new expressive means, leading composers such as Iannis Xenakis and György Ligeti to create “sound mass” music of stunning beauty.
  • Spanning the World: Globalism in Concert Music—Learn how concert music in the second half of the 20th century saw an unprecedented meeting of world cultures. Hear the inspired infusion of Indian, Indonesian, Chinese, and Native American musical forms in the music of composers such as Lou Harrison and Henry Cowell. Discover the fusion of Western and East Asian sensibilities in the works of Isang Yun (Korea) and Chinery Ung (Cambodia).
  • A Multiplicity of Riches: Musical Pluralism—Grasp how the challenge for late 20th-century composers became the question of how to make use of the vast array of available musical languages, not only from 1,000 years of Western history, but from every culture across the world. Hear the amazing synthesis of musical forms in the brilliant works of Heitor Villa-Lobos, Luciano Berio, Aaron Jay Kernis, and Thomas Adès.

In his characteristic style, Professor Greenberg brings to each lecture a far-reaching and thoroughly absorbing historical context—delving into the circumstances that surrounded the writing of many key works, and showing how 20th-century composers responded to historical, socio-cultural, and personal events in their music. You’ll witness how the music of Béla Bartók was shaped by Hungarian nationalism; how devastating wartime experiences changed the music of Olivier Messiaen and Karlheinz Stockhausen; how Hindu aesthetics and Zen Buddhism influenced the “indeterminate” music of John Cage; and how a deeply personal event affected Arnold Schoenberg’s final break with Western tonality.

Experience the Genius and Dazzling Diversity of the Century’s Greatest Masterworks

Far more than simply a course of lectures, Great Music of the 20th Century comprises a huge and many-sided resource for discovering the endless riches of 20th-century concert music across the globe. The phenomenal range of genres and composers covered and the wealth of suggestions for specific works make this a reference that could easily inspire years of musical exploration and glorious listening. As just a tiny sampling, you’ll learn about majestic works such as:

  • Alban Berg’s great Piano Sonata Op. 1 of 1909;
  • Carlos Chávez’s invocation of native Mexican music in his Sinfonía India (1936);
  • Elliott Carter’s polyphonic String Quartet No.2 (1959);
  • George Crumb’s deeply poetic Ancient Voices of Children (1970);
  • Luigi Nono’s grand-scale Prometeo (1984), a haunting meditation on the myth of Prometheus; and
  • Jennifer Higdon’s luminous, expansive Blue Cathedral (1999).

As always, Professor Greenberg speaks with a composer’s intimate understanding of the act of musical creation, and with profound insight into his subjects’ thinking and creative processes. And, after 28 courses and over 600 individual lectures for The Great Courses, Professor Greenberg talks about his own music for the first time—ending the course with a memorable, firsthand account of one celebrated composer’s journey through this remarkable era.

Great Music of the 20th Century opens the door to an extraordinary spectrum of contemporary masterpieces that await discovery and deep listening. Within these unique and riveting lectures, Professor Greenberg offers you the keys to understanding and deep enjoyment of a revolutionary, visionary, and magnificent era in music. In Great Music of the 20th Century, you’ll experience the living, evolving, and superlative musical art that so vividly and unforgettably speaks to the life of our times.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 45 minutes each
  • 1
    20th-Century Music: Be Afraid No Longer!
    Look first at the goals of this course, as it will explore the principal trends in 20th-century concert music, and the historical issues and events that shaped them. As background, delve into the history of musical notation as it gave rise to composed music, and take account of the upheavals, political and social catastrophes, and paradigm shifts that affected music in the 20th century. x
  • 2
    Setting the Table and Parsing Out Blame
    Examine historical and social factors that influenced 20th-century composers' abandonment of tradition and obsession with originality. Then learn about the influence of 19th-century German art on the French, and the new French nationalism in music that followed the Franco-Prussian War. Take a first look at Claude Debussy, whose revolutionary music created a new musical syntax. x
  • 3
    Debussy and le francais in Musical Action
    Investigate the qualities of Debussy's music that connect it to French art and poetry as well as to the sensuality of the French language. Learn how his landmark work, Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, began musical modernism. Study the wealth of compositional innovations in his piano Prelude #10, and note how his impact on 20th-century music mirrors Beethoven's in the 19th century. x
  • 4
    Russia and Igor Stravinsky
    In the first of two lectures on this giant of 20th-century music, trace the early life of Stravinsky, the environment in which he grew to maturity, and his musical education and influences. Follow Stravinsky's relationship with the impresario Sergei Diaghilev, their legendary partnership in the ballets The Firebird and Petrushka, and grasp the striking musical originality of those works. x
  • 5
    Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring
    Relive The Rite of Spring's riotous premiere, and examine the qualities that made it the most influential musical work of the 20th century. Observe how Stravinsky evoked ancient pagan rituals through stunning rhythmic asymmetry, bi-tonal harmony, and other daring compositional techniques. Take account of how the Rite changed the way composers thought about rhythm, melody, and orchestration. x
  • 6
    The Paradox of Arnold Schoenberg
    Schoenberg was both substantially misunderstood as a composer, and one of the greatest influences on 20th-century music. Learn about the enormous enmity and dissent that greeted his compositions, as they challenged tradition and offended musical conservatism. Trace his early life and music, his vision as a composer, and the achievements of his most “popular” work, Transfigured Night. x
  • 7
    The Emancipation of Melody!
    Learn about Schoenberg's friendship with Gustav Mahler, who defended Schoenberg's groundbreaking compositions. Study Schoenberg's remarkable metamorphosis in which he sought to free melody from the limits of functional tonality, as exemplified in his Six Little Pieces for Piano. Examine events in Schoenberg's personal life that may help explain his final break with musical tradition. x
  • 8
    The Second Viennese School
    Here, take the measure of the Viennese triumvirate of Schoenberg and his students Alban Berg and Anton Webern, who advanced a historically new, non-tonal music. Delve into the most representative work of this era, Schoenberg's song cycle Pierrot Lunaire, and experience Schoenberg's stunning compositional language. Investigate the extraordinary works and contributions of Berg and Webern. x
  • 9
    The "New" Classicism
    The 1920s saw both an explosion of new compositional languages and a conservative backlash against modernism. Follow the fortunes of Stravinsky, as he created a new ballet score for Diaghilev, incorporating themes from the Baroque composer Pergolesi. In Pulcinella, see how Stravinsky's ingenious treatment of the score created a neo-Classic musical hybrid of astonishing modernist sensibility. x
  • 10
    Schoenberg and the 12-Tone Method
    In 1925, Schoenberg developed a compositional system that would dominate Western concert music for 50 years. Study the elements of his “12-Tone Method,” based in the use of a “tone row” where all 12 musical pitches are used in a pre-determined sequence. Observe how this system allowed composers to write large-form, non-tonal music. Grasp its enormous influence, and its challenges for listeners. x
  • 11
    Synthesis and Nationalism: Bela Bartok
    Learn about Bartok's early life and career as a pianist, and the imprint of Hungarian nationalism on his composing. Follow his remarkable travels, collecting and preserving indigenous folk music across Central and Eastern Europe. Witness these musical influences in some of his greatest compositions, and note how his works represent a musical synthesis of nearly global scope. x
  • 12
    America's Musical Gift
    This lecture explores the rich diversity of American vernacular music, as it influenced and inspired American composers. Take account of the integral impact on America of West African musical forms, and their role in the development of blues, ragtime, and jazz. See how George Gershwin and Aaron Copland synthesized these forms in jazz-tinged masterworks that became icons of American music. x
  • 13
    American Iconoclasts
    The composers under discussion here were nonconformists whose works stand virtually as separate genres of music. Begin with celebrated individualist Charles Ives, and his programmatic masterwork, Three Places in New England. Then contemplate the alternate tonal system of Harry Partch, the mega-polyphony of Elliott Carter, and the unique music scored for player pianos by Conlon Nancarrow. x
  • 14
    The World Turned Upside Down
    Following the horrors of World War II, note how many composers sought to create music that was purged of the past, based in intellectual and scientific rigor. Investigate Ultraserialism, a compositional system in which nearly every musical element is organized "serially," as musical pitch is in the 12-Tone Method. Experience American Ultraserialism in the brilliant works of Milton Babbitt. x
  • 15
    Electronic Music and European Ultraserialism
    Learn how the advent of musical synthesizers and the tape recorder gave rise to both electronic music (using sounds created electronically) and musique concrète (manipulating real sounds with a tape recorder). Witness how Ultraserialism developed within Europe, leading paradoxically to hyper-complex music which in performance sounded random—a fatal problem for listener comprehension. x
  • 16
    Schoenberg in Exile
    Trace Schoenberg’s period of great creative output and professional flowering in the late 1920s—years which coincided with the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party in Germany. Following Schoenberg’s self-exile to the United States, take note of his efforts on behalf of European Jews, and study two war-inspired masterworks; his Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte and A Survivor from Warsaw. x
  • 17
    Stravinsky in America
    Delve into the singular aesthetic philosophy behind Stravinsky's neoclassic music, in which he describes his compositional process as purely formal and objective. Learn about Stravinsky's relocation to the United States, and how in his seventies he turned to writing 12-tone music. Grasp how his last major work, Requiem Canticles, functions as a musical retrospective of his career. x
  • 18
    For Every Action an Equal Reaction
    Discover the music of visionary composers who turned away from Serialism and Ultraserialism, beginning with Hans Werner Henze and Luigi Nono. Assess the place of postwar Ultraserialism, and the factors that led many to reject it. Explore the extraordinary Stochastic or “sound mass” music of Iannis Xenakis, and how his innovations prefigured and influenced the phenomenal works of György Ligeti. x
  • 19
    The California Avant-Garde
    The cultural environment of California produced some of the most original musical thinkers of the 20th century. First encounter Henry Cowell and Lou Harrison, composers of astonishing eclecticism whose works incorporated non-Western musical forms. Also meet John Cage and Morton Feldman, whose “indeterminate” music introduced new conceptions of unpredictability and a non-directional sense of time. x
  • 20
    Rock around the Clock
    In approaching minimalism, trace the development of rock ‘n’ roll, and its integral impact on both American musical culture and 20th-century concert music. Grasp the musical ethos of minimalism—its rhythmic pulse, cyclical patterning and melodies, and hypnotic drive—through the groundbreaking works of the “triumvirate” of the style: Terry Riley, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass. x
  • 21
    East Meets West; South Meets North
    Cover global ground in this lecture, which looks at important 20th-century composers outside of the European/American orbit. Hear the fusion of Asian and Western traditions in the music of Tru Takemitsu (Japan), Isang Yun (Korea), Chinery Ung (Cambodia), and Tan Dun (China). Discover the musical riches of Latin American composers Heitor Villa-Lobos, Carlos Chavez, and Alberto Ginastera. x
  • 22
    Postmodernism: New Tonality and Eclecticism
    Postmodernism in music represented both a return to the musical values of Romanticism and an amalgam of diverse musical influences. Investigate the music of George Rochberg and David del Tredici, both of whom embraced musical styles from the past. Then explore “pastiche”—direct quotation from earlier works—in the phenomenal music of Luciano Berio, Peter Maxwell Davies, and George Crumb. x
  • 23
    The New Pluralism
    The 20th century ended with a trend toward “pluralism”—the practice of employing a range of different musical languages within a single work or movement. Witness the incredible range of this musical inclusivity and synthesis in composers ranging from the Americans Joseph Schwantner, Martin Bresnick, Aaron Jay Kernis, and Jennifer Higdon to the British composer Thomas Adès. x
  • 24
    Among Friends
    Finally, as a firsthand, contemporary account of one composer's life in music, Professor Greenberg discusses his own professional journey. Trace his performing arts family background, his musical education, career path, and the finding of his voice as a composer. Hear a range of his acclaimed works, highlighting his string quartets, song cycles, and concerti. x

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  • Download 24 video lectures to your computer or mobile app
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Instant Audio Includes:
  • Download 24 audio lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE audio streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
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  • 24 lectures on 6 DVDs
  • 248-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 248-page printed course guidebook
  • Photos and illustrations
  • Performance and Text URLs
  • Suggested reading

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Your professor

Robert Greenberg

About Your Professor

Robert Greenberg, Ph.D.
San Francisco Performances
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,...
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Reviews

Great Music of the Twentieth Century is rated 3.9 out of 5 by 56.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Without music excerpts, more time for analysis The "Music of the 20th Century” course is excellent in so many ways as described by the many of the 5 star reviews. However I want to repeat what some reviewers mentioned, that by NOT providing the music excerpts and instead giving links to the pieces, in most cases to the complete works, Robert Greenberg had more time to focus on his analysis of the music and relevant historical material. A real advantage. I have taken almost all of Greenberg's course offerings, and having just finished his "Music of the 20th Century” course, he has kept his excellent tradition of clear and thoughtful explanations, giving me a deep understanding of music of the last century. I want to thank him of all his hard work, and look forward to his next lecture.
Date published: 2019-10-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Wonderful! This course if great. There are URL's so the music under discussion can be listened to before the lectures.
Date published: 2019-09-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Introduction to 20th Century Music When I first learned about the availability of this course I was extremely excited. I have greatly enjoyed many of Robert Greenberg's other lecture series, and I had been hoping that he would do one on 20th century music. However,when this course came out, the initial reviews gave me pause. My normal mode of using Great Courses is listening to the audio version of the course while walking or driving. Because of copyright restrictions, Prof Greenberg had to rely on links to YouTube videos for performances of the pieces that he discusses, rather than including portions of these pieces directly in his lectures. So the best way to listen to or watch these lectures would be to open the links in parallel with the lecture. Ultimately, my desire to learn overcame my reservations, and I ordered the audio version of the course. When I could, I listened to the course on my computer and opened the YouTube links as appropriate. But sometimes I listened to the lecture in my normal mode and later went back and played the linked pieces. Even with these limitations, I have found this course to be worthwhile. Prof Greenberg does use a piano to illustrate some points, so the lectures are not completely devoid of music. More importantly, these lectures continue to provide the the excellence in presentation that characterizes much of Prof Greenberg's work. The combination of passion for the subject, humor, and knowledge make these lectures a joy to listen to. I came away from the lectures with a much better appreciation of "modern" music, which is exactly what I was looking for. I would suggest that folks who do not have much background in music listen first to one of Prof Greenberg's introductory courses, such as "Understanding the Fundamentals of Music" or "How to Listen to and Understand Great Music."
Date published: 2019-08-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I listen to the Great Courses on 9 - 12 hour drives from San Diego to Northern California 3 - 4 times a year. I have many of Robert Greenberg's CDs and appreciate the personal facts about the composers he puts into them as well as the nuances about the music. I enjoy symphonic music very much, but don't play an instrument. This is the way I have learned about what I am hearing. I also like the history courses very much. It rounds out my knowledge of why we do what we do. Thank you and please don't stop these courses.
Date published: 2019-07-05
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Poor URL references reduce value of course This lecture series comes without music. I was very disappointed, but at least there are references in the lectures to URLs with the music to be sampled. My concern is that the lecture will say, "go to the provided URL at offset 4:32 - 5:10". Great. But I listen while driving and have to rely on the course guide to then look up these URLs when I get home. However, the course guide does not have the offsets! A better course guide would list the URLS, the offsets, and give a bit of context from the lecture. For example: Lecture 1, Igor Stravinsky, http://www.youtube.com/UyehdyYEHD 4:32 - 5:10 note freedom from structure Jim
Date published: 2019-07-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Great Course That Lives Up To Its Name This course is entitled "Great Music of the 20th Century," and is presented by Professor Robert Greenberg. To begin with, let me say that I am most definitely NOT a fan of so-called Modern Music. In my opinion, very little of it deserves the appellation of "great". To my ears, it's a cacophony of groaning, moaning, screeching, tortured notes begging to be rescued by harmony and melody. But, alas, it's too late for a rescue. The music has already been brutally strangled at the hands of modern composers like Harry Partch, John Cage, Conlon Nancarrow, and others of their ilk. When you listen to Professor Greenberg's lectures, you will discover that Modern Music, for the most part, consists of painfully discordant noise that causes listeners to cringe and grit their teeth. Were you expecting something that resembles harmony and melody? Oh, dear reader, perish the thought. On several occasions during the course, Professor Greenberg suggests that early 20th century composers might have gotten their inspiration from gamelan orchestras, where players attempt to create music by banging on brass pots and gongs. You're probably thinking to yourself, gee, I'd love to explore the origins of Modern Music by attending a live performance of a gamelan orchestra, but there isn't one in the city where I live. Not to worry. Just visit your local recycling center. When the solid waste collection trucks arrive to dump their loads of metal and glass, the sound that's produced is a close approximation of a gamelan orchestra, and is certainly a good imitation of most (but not all) Modern Western Music. So if the music is that dreadful, why did I give this course a maximum five-star rating? It's very simple. Professor Greenberg is an outstanding speaker with a commanding stage presence and an exceptional mastery of prose. He will provide you with a magnificent and sweeping overview of Modern Music. His enthusiasm for the history of music is contagious, and the viewer is grabbed and drawn into the drama. Even if you dislike the music and the composers, Professor Greenberg does an absolutely superb job of weaving various biographies and compositional pieces into the fabric of world history. He accomplishes this in a truly fascinating manner, and he does it with biting wit and a wicked sense of humor. In fact, nobody does it better. The music itself notwithstanding, Professor Greenberg's talent for verbal narration alone is well worth the price of admission. Lastly, almost as a footnote, let me point out that "sound bites" of the music are omitted during the course. Instead, you will be given a list of representative pieces, along with the option of looking them up on the World Wide Web. While this may seem like a put-off, it actually works pretty well. And who knows? While you're slogging through the electronic jungle, you might stumble across other interpretations of these pieces that are actually more to your liking than the ones provided by Professor Greenberg. This Great Course lives up to its name. Just be sure to buy the video version instead of the CD. If you buy the CD, you will miss Professor Greenberg's artistic showmanship, which is 50 percent of the course. Enjoy.
Date published: 2019-06-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Greenberg..Wow The depth of his knowledge and the powerful and entertaining way he presents the material is a great joy. As an amateur musician I have now listened to many of his lectures and they all thrill me.
Date published: 2019-04-03
Rated 1 out of 5 by from I returned the download. I bought this course for music and interpretation of it not hearing Dr Greenberg giving lectures and URL.
Date published: 2019-02-05
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