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Harvard University

Classical Works

Harvard University via edX XSeries


Take an aural journey through 17th- to 20th-century Europe—exploring world-renowned works in classical, orchestral, and operatic music to create a cultural and social context for each performance’s circumstances.

You’ll begin your tour 1607, Matua, Italy for Claudio Monteverdi’s L ‘Orfeo—long regarded as one of the first and most important examples of opera. You will also focus on Monteverdi's life and work as a Renaissance court musician.

Travel into the 18th century for German composer George Frederic Handel’s Messiah, premiering in Dublin in April 1742. Popular during the Baroque era, Handel gained popularity for his oratorios and unique operatic techniques. Next up, take a trek east to Vienna for Ludwig van Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, with its famous choral finale changing our views of orchestral music forever.

One last train ride brings you to the City of Lights, for the Paris premiere of Hector Berlioz’s five-movement symphony, Symphonie Fantastique, before capping off your journey in 1913 for Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring ballet premiere in Paris—one of the most challenging and rewarding ballets ever written.

By examining these works, both uniquely and collectively, Thomas Forrest Kelley, Morton B. Knafel Professor of Music at Harvard will guide you through an explanation of the arts, from key features of classical works and Baroque opera to character development on stage and through music to techniques in orchestral music and choreography. Each course is designed to give you a closer look at each work of art from the cultural context and performance circumstances at the time of premiere—combining passions in art, music, society, and history.


Courses under this program:
Course 1: First Nights - Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo and the Birth of Opera

Learn about Claudio Monteverdi's L'Orfeo , one of the first operas ever written.

Course 2: First Nights - Handel's Messiah and Baroque Oratorio

Discover Handel's Messiah in this installment of First Nights, which will explore five masterpieces of western music.

Course 3: First Nights - Beethoven's 9th Symphony and the 19th Century Orchestra

Learn about Beethoven’s monumental 9th Symphony and forms of orchestral music.

Course 4: First Nights - Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique and Program Music in the 19th Century

Learn about Hector Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique , an iconic Romantic symphony that ushered in an era of narrative "program music."

Course 5: First Nights - Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring: Modernism, Ballet, and Riots

Learn the fascinating history of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring , one of the most challenging and rewarding ballets ever written.


Taught by

Thomas Forrest Kelly


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