City Lit Blog

Music history: your guide to the 2019/20 programme

Story added 9th May 2019

Beethoven's title page to his third symphony which shows his erasure of dedication of the work to Napoleon (source: wiki)


City Lit offers an extensive programme of music history courses with a focus on Western classical music, Folk, Jazz, Rock and Pop. There are new topics each year and some are designed to coincide with anniversaries, festivals and events. This year we celebrate 250 years since the birth of Beethoven.


What is a music history course?

Music history courses are designed to help you explore new music and/or to find out more about the music you already enjoy. Here are some of the ways in which we do this:

  • Study the chronology of key musical works and trends, discussion of historical periods
  • Biography of a composer or artist
  • Study of documents related to musical works: when was the manuscript finished? How is it described in theatre programmes and original advertisements…
  • Mapping the structure of musical works: how many movements does it have and why?
  • Situation of a work within a musical tradition: does it display characteristics similar to others written at a similar time and does it have any new, innovative qualities? Does it influence any other composers?
  • Analysis of performance conditions: who was this work written for, was there a specific performer in mind? Who performs it now and how does their interpretation differ?
  • Analysis of opera plots and characters
  • Guided listening: the tutor will help you to identify key moments as you listen to a recording or watch a video clip together


Do I need to be able to read music to study music history and appreciation?

For most courses you don’t need to be able to read music, but we do hope you will be interested to look at some musical scores and identify a few key features from time-to-time. Occasionally we might look at facsimile scores (copies of an original manuscript). Usually when we look at scores we are seeking basic information rather than detailed analysis: how many instruments/singers are in this movement? Has the composer requested any specific performance directions?

Please note that we offer score-reading classes in our music theory section for those who can read music to a grade 5+ level.  This year we also offer a three-module history and analysis course for advanced musicians/pianists: Beethoven piano sonatas


Is there any homework?

We don’t set formal homework assignments but we do encourage study and listening between classes. Occasionally you may be asked to read a short article in preparation for a forthcoming class. Some tutors also use online resources to share links, articles and pictures for further study.


Break weeks

Many of our longer music history courses (usually the ten week modules) have a scheduled break week. Please check the full course outline (by clicking on each title) for exact details as dates can vary between courses.


I am a complete beginner in classical music, what do you recommend?

We have courses specially designed to introduce you to classical music and to help you get a clear overview of the topic. The emphasis here is on understanding the timeline of key works, and helping you find ones you enjoy.

*if any of the links in this blog post say ‘page not found’ it means there is no instance of this course programmed into the website for the near future. Just contact the music office and we’ll let you know when the next course is expected to take place.


Winter Term (Jan – early April)



MD026 Introduction to musicals, 13/01/2020, 5 session, 10:30 Pauline Greene

MD997 Opera studies 2: Mozart and Da Ponte, 13/01/2020, 10 sessions, 13:20 Pauline Greene

MD624 Introduction to film music, 24/02/2020, 5 sessions, 10:30 Pauline Greene

MD026A Singing in the rain, 30/03/2020, 1 session, 10:30 Pauline Greene



MD023 Beethoven and the Concerto, 14/01/2020, 10 sessions, 15:20 Karen Betley

MD021B Exploring classical music: module 2, 14/01/2020, 10 sessions, 13:30 Karen Betley

MD036B Music in wartime 2: Émigré musicians abroad, 14/01/2020, 10 sessions, 10:45 Katy Hamilton

MD049 World music: an introduction, 14/01/2020, 10 sessions, 18:20 Sarha Moore



MD501 Beethoven: the symphonies, 15/01/2020, 10 sessions, 10:30 Edward Henderson

MD816 Handel: the late oratorios, 15/01/2020, 10 sessions, 14:00 Edward Breen

MD030B Exploring classical music: module 2, 22/01/2020, 10 sessions, 18:00 Edward Breen  

MD701B Great works: Ravel's Boléro, 01/04/2020, 1 session, 10:00 Trish Shaw

MD615B Music history book club: The cello suites, 01/04/2020, 1 session, 14:00 Edward Breen



MD604 Bach and the world of instrumental music, 16/01/2020, 10 sessions, 10:30 Karen Betley

MD703B Johannes Brahms: Romantic Classicist, 16/01/2020, 10 sessions, 14:00 Katy Hamilton

MD039B Great works: Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, 02/04/2020, 1 session, 10:30 Karen Betley

MD041B Great works: Haydn's The Creation, 02/04/2020, 1 session, 14:00 Edward Breen



MD621B Ballet music by Debussy and Ravel, 28/02/20, 5 sessions, 10:30 Pauline Greene

MD038B Great works: Stravinsky's Le Sacre du printemps, 03/04/2020, 1 session, 10:30 Pauline Greene



MD650 Jazz piano: a history from blues to bebop and beyond, 02/02/2020, 5 sessions, 14:30 Sara Dhillon


Spring/ Summer term (late April – July)



MD506 Music for film: a history, 20/04/2020, 10 sessions, 10:30 Pauline Greene

MD999 Opera studies 3: operas in production, 20/04/2020, 10 sessions, 13:20 Pauline Greene

MD038C Great Works: Verdi's requiem, 13/07/2020, 2 sessions, 13:30 Pauline Greene

MD900 Opera appreciation: an introduction, 20/07/2020, 2 sessions, 13:00 TBC



MD036C Beethoven for beginners, 21/04/2020, 10 sessions, 10:50 Katy Hamilton

MD021C Exploring classical music: module 3, 21/04/2020, 10 sessions, 13:30 Karen Betley

MD662 Fight the power: the 70s political soul renaissance, 21/04/2020, 10 sessions, 18:20 Toby Manning

MD024 Haydn and London: a profitable partnership, 21/04/2020, 10 sessions, 15:20 Karen Betley

MD897 Classical music: an introduction, 28/07/2020, 1 session, 14:00 TBC  



MD612 French music since 1900, 22/04/2020, 10 sessions, 10:30 Edward Henderson

MD030C Exploring classical music: module 3, 29/04/2020, 10 sessions, 18:00  Edward Breen  

MD615C Music history book club: The Time of Our Singing, 15/07/2020, 1 session, 11:30 Edward Breen



MD703C Czech stories: Dvorák and Janácek, 23/04/2020, 10 sessions, 14:00 Katy Hamilton

MD1002 Music in fin de siècle Paris, 23/04/2020, 10 sessions, 10:30 Karen Betley

MD039C Great works: Strauss' Also sprach Zarathustra, 09/07/2020, 2 sessions, 10:30 Karen Betley



MD035C Beethoven piano sonatas 3, 24/04/2020, 10 sessions, 10:00 Malcolm Miller *advanced course for pianists and musicians Grade 6 standard +

MD642C Great musicians: Noël Coward, 10/07/20, 2 sessions, 10:30 Pauline Greene



MD651 A short history of jazz: Louis Armstrong to Miles Davis, 03/05/2020, 4 sessions, 11:00 Sara Dhillon


Musicianship and music theory

Why not take a complimentary course to enhance your understanding of musical skills and musical notation. Please see our Musicianship and music theory programme for some ideas.

Professional Development

Please also consider our programme of Professional & Personal Development For Musicians to find courses such as:

Courses for teachers:

And music technology courses such as: