A painter can create entire worlds on a flat piece of paper. But where is a composer to start when seeking to represent the natural universe through sound? Centuries of exquisite nature-inspired concert works show just how well it can be done through direct imitation, allegory, and symbolism. Over time, composers have fashioned powerful musical vocabularies that guide us to “see” harmonies as visual images.
In this 4-session course, popular speaker and concert pianist Rachel Franklin uses her unique live piano demonstrations and fascinating film clips to explore how such masters as Beethoven, Mahler, Wagner, Vivaldi, Holst, Vaughan Williams, Saint-Saëns, and countless others composed beloved works that conjure our natural world.
British-born Franklin has been a featured speaker for organizations including the Library of Congress and NPR, exploring intersections among classical and jazz music, film scores, and the fine arts.
May 24 Earth: Its Creation, Seasons, and Landscapes
Franklin begins with perhaps the most greatly loved example of the natural world in concert music, Beethoven’s 6th Symphony, the “Pastoral.” Both allegorical and descriptive, it creates an entire earthly landscape of peasants and animals, harvesting, stormy weather and golden sunlit fields. Following this triumph, other composers such as Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler led the way with further symphonic panoramas of mountainous and mystical terrains. Franklin also explores many representations of weather and seasons by Vivaldi, Rachmaninoff, Berlioz, Janácek, Milhaud, Barber, and more.
May 31 Heavenly Marvels
From the vast mystery of space to the beauty of the moon and planets, our cosmos has always drawn composers towards the starry heavens. With little scientific direction, most works symbolized spiritual and religious perspectives that continue to resonate today. We journey through galaxies with The Planets suite by Gustav Holst, Haydn’s oratorio The Creation, Schumann’s exquisite song, “Mondnacht” and the astonishing choral work Deep Field by Eric Whitacre, among others.
June 7 Creatures of the Earth, Sea, and Sky
The depiction of living creatures is one of the most delightful but challenging aspects of the composer’s craft. Is it necessary to attempt a literal copy of an animal’s call and, if not, what musical device could successfully invoke the sound? Such works as Dvorak’s “American” string quartet, Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals suite, Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending” and Rimsky Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumble Bee” are among many examples in the enchanting menagerie.
June 14 Water, Water Everywhere
Mighty oceans, torrential rivers, glittering fountains. Watery works abound across the concert repertoire. But how can music be wet? Can a composer ever truly recreate a sense of fluid motion? Voyage through the mightiest of seascapes, Debussy’s La Mer; marvel at Liszt’s electrifying portrayal of St. Francis walking on water; shiver on the stony beaches of Britten’s “Sea Interludes;” and delight in Resphigi’s sparkling images of Rome’s famous fountains. Also included are works by Smetana, Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky.