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Harvard University

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

Harvard University via edX


Six years after the premiere of Beethoven's monumental Ninth Symphony, composer Hector Berlioz sought to make use of the symphonic genre, but on his own terms. Indeed, he wrote not only a five-movement symphony, but also a narrative program to accompany and explain the symphony.

This music course introduces students to the music and programmatic elements of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique , illuminating a new direction for nineteenth-century music. The course's grand finale is a live performance of the entire symphony by the Harvard Radcliffe Orchestra.

Harvard's Thomas Forrest Kelly (Morton B. Knafel Professor of Music) guides learners through Berlioz's Symphony Fantastique, highlighting Berlioz's compostional process, his innovative orchestration, and the reception of his controversial piece of narrative instrumental music.

You will learn the basics of Romantic musical style, Berlioz's creative expansion of the standard orchestra, and the debates surrounding the idea of purely musical narrative in the 19th century.

Additional First Nights Modules:
Monteverdi's L'Orfeo and the Birth of Opera
Handel's Messiah and Baroque Oratorio
Beethoven's "Ninth Symphony"
Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique and Program Music in the 19th Century
Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring: Modernism, Ballet, and Riots

Taught by

Thomas Forrest Kelly


5.0 rating, based on 2 Class Central reviews

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  • After finishing the previous three courses, it gets even better. I mean, come on, guys, even Godfather 3 isn't that good, but you managed to outdone yourselves with each step. In this course you'll learn not only details, theory, historical facts and cultural context regarding Berlioz's life, work and Fantastic symphony, but also interesting trivia from various manuscripts and memoirs you won't find anywhere else. Unless, of course, you buy the book First Nights, which I did immediately, since I'm a FN junkie after these courses. Amazing videos and fun exercises, you feel as if you're having fun and not studying. I've done more than 70 MOOCs, and this whole series is in the top three. Masterpiece.

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