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.


Short courses for Summer term (July – August)



MD038C Great Works: Verdi's Requiem, 13/07/2020, 2 sessions, 13:30 Katy Hamilton

MD900 Opera appreciation: an introduction, 27/07/2020, 2 sessions, 13:00 Pauline Greene

MD614 Album history 1: Highway 61 Revisited (1965), 06/07/20 Toby Manning

MD699  Album history 2: Abbey Road (1969), 13/07/20 Toby Manning

MD813 Album history 3: The Dark Side of the Moon (1973), 20/07/20 Toby Manning


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

MD891 Wagner's Ring cycle: an overview, 04/08/2020, 1 session, 14:00 Katy Hamilton

MD806 Exploring classical music online, 11/08/2020, 1 session, 14:00 Katy Hamilton


MD615B Music history book club: The Cello Suites, 15/07/2020, 1 session, 11:30 Edward Breen

MD507 Introduction to the music of Claude Debussy, 15/07/20, 4 sessions, 10:30 Edward Henderson

MD911A Jazz today, 15/07/2020, 4 sessions, 18.30 aLbi Gravener


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


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

MD652A Great artists: Thelonious Monk, 12/08/20, 2 sessions, 14:15 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.