The Great Works of Sacred Music : The Great Courses: Fine Arts & Music

  • by The Great Courses
  • Narrated by Professor Charles Edward McGuire
  • Series: The Great Courses: Fine Arts & Music
  • 11 hrs and 39 mins
  • Lecture

Publisher's Summary

Western classical music is one of humanity's most sublime artistic traditions. This musical language - encompassing genres from symphonic and instrumental music to choral works and opera - was created through the meeting of art and faith.
The lineage of sacred works produced some of the greatest masterpieces in Western art and created the foundation of the Western musical canon. This phenomenal tradition includes works of genius such as:


Josquin des Prez's Ave Maria, gratia plena, an exquisite polyphonic motet
Monteverdi's Vespro della Beata Virgini, whose vocal pyrotechnics evoke the immensity of heaven
Mozart's Requiem, the final composition of the classical master

Beginning with medieval chant, discover how its single musical line evolved into polyphony (music with multiple simultaneous melodies). You'll also learn how the religious reformations of the 16th century compelled composers to create new musical genres and to make religious texts more intelligible. Additionally, observe how 17th-century composers blended sacred styles with genres such as opera, producing music of dramatic and unforgettable beauty.
As a fascinating counterpoint to the music itself, you'll explore the sociological background of its writing and performance. Sacred works were often commissioned by important clerical and aristocratic patrons, and composers were challenged to write music that was not only religiously edifying but also entertaining and publically successful. Over time, sacred music moved beyond church walls to become appreciated in secular venues as autonomous works of art.
You'll hear stunning musical excerpts covering over 1,200 years of music, from medieval chant to the massive sacred works of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

A Worthy Course

This is the fifth music appreciation course I have taken from the Great Courses. I had no experience with music appreciation before beginning my education through these series of lectures. If you are like me and have little or no musical background, then I do not recommend starting with this particular course because the professor assumes some basic knowledge of terminology and music history. I strongly recommend beginning with Professor Greenburg's How to Listen to and Understand Great Music course before moving on to this one. If I have a complaint about this particular course, it would be that it is too short. The main topic omitted, which the professor openly admits, is music designed for congregational singing. In other words, this course focuses on music designed to be sung to the audience rather than music to be sung by the audience. So, this course omits most familiar religious songs commonly heard in church services. I wish the course was expanded to include enough lectures to incorporate this topic. That being said, this is still a wonderful course, and I learned a great deal such as the history of Handel's Messiah and Haydn's Creation. I purposely timed when I listened to this course so I could listen to the last lecture close to Christmas. The last lecture is by far the best and is dedicated to the history of Christmas music. The professor does a great job explaining the development of the Christmas music tradition.
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- Ark1836

Enlightening and Enjoyable

Any additional comments?

Although some of the musical analysis was beyond my complete understanding, I enjoyed it and learned. Beyond that, the history, background and excerpts were most enjoyable. The professor was knowledgeable, enthusiastic and I found his occasional singing to illustrate a point just fine. Well worth my time and one I will probably listen to again.

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- aluzazap

Book Details

  • Release Date: 10-23-2015
  • Publisher: The Great Courses