If you’re looking to sample an offering from the The Great Courses, I heartily recommend beginning with any of the courses by Robert Greenberg.

The subject material of Greenberg’s courses (classical music and opera) is fascinating, but I find his teaching style particularly effective and engaging. He presents information clearly and concisely, and his examples and analogies effectively illustrate the points he’s trying to make; my favorite example is the baseball analogy he uses to demonstrate how understanding the ‘mechanics’ of classical music’s various forms and structures (sonata, rondo, minuet and trio, etc…) greatly increases our ability to appreciate and enjoy classical music. Briefly, Greenberg demonstrates that without understanding the rules and various macro- (game, inning, etc..) and micro-structures (out, at bat, etc…) of a baseball game, we really can’t understand or appreciate a spectacular play like a grand slam or a triple-play. Similarly, without understanding the rules and traditions of sonata form, we can’t fully appreciate or understand the creativity and craftsmanship of a Haydn or Beethoven piece.

I also love Greenberg’s sense of humor. A quick example from his Bach and the High Baroque course; Greenberg is discussing the famous, unadorned, scale-like opening to Bach’s Tocatta and Fugue in D Minor, and he reiterates an observation he’s made before about the fundamental differences in the Italian and North German baroque musical mindset. I just love the little dialogue he concocts between Bach and a nameless Italian colleague Greenberg spontaneously concocts to illustrate the point.


Greenberg’s survey courses (such as How to Listen to and Understand Great Music) feature shorter, more self-contained lectures, and move relatively quickly through a broad range of material. His more in-depth courses focus more narrowly on specific genres/works/composers, discussing them in greater detail (The Symphonies of Beethoven is a particular favorite of mine). The Teaching Company regulalry puts courses on sale, so with judicious timing, you can pick up courses (for your library A/V collection or personal use) at deep discounts (get on their mailing list to receive sale notices/catalogs).

2 Thoughts on “All Hail Robert Greenberg

  1. Kevin Moore on May 30, 2013 at 9:23 pm said:

    Good review – I’ve listened to every course at least 3 times in the car – completely addicted and waiting for something new. The next one is rumored to be The 23 Greatest Solo Piano pieces.

  2. greg greg on May 31, 2013 at 1:20 am said:

    I certainly hope that rumor is true; sounds like it’d be another fantastic one!

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