Music and Representation

What is it that makes a piece of music meaningful to us? It cannot simply be a question of its structure – of how it is put together – for the greater number of music lovers are untrained in musical grammar and yet are deeply affected by their listening experiences. How to explain their responses? The common wisdom that musical expressivity is due to the emotional dichotomy of happy/sad may be looked upon by the authorities as simplistic and uninformed, but it is nevertheless a reliable starting point of an inquiry, not because we must hold it as an ultimate truth, but because it is a deep-seated convention of Western culture. And so, the course begins with the premise that representation, by virtue of its capacity to access historical and cultural contexts, will unearth the ideas that a little by little, over time, and by association and example, absorbed into the raw materials – the ones and rhythms – of Western music.

Over six sessions the class will listen to and discuss various examples of instrumental music from every style period after 1700. For the most part, the instructor will play the pieces in question from the piano repertoire, but there we hope to arrange an occasional guest performer as well.

Class Recordings:

Class 1 - October 8, 2020:

Class 2 - October 15, 2020  - Recording Unavailable

Class 3 - October 22, 2020:

Class 4 - October 29, 2020:

Class 5 - November 5:

Class 6 - November 12:

Class 2 - November 19:


Meets on: Thursdays 1:00 to 3:00 pm
Starting: 10/8/2020
Sessions: 6
Class Size: 24
Teaching Style: Lecture with music and discussion
Weekly Preparation: None
Group Leader Biography:

Laurence Berman, a native of Boston, began piano lessons at the age of seven. After receiving a B.A. in history and science from Harvard, he went to study harmony, counterpoint, and composition in Paris with Nadia Boulanger, then returned to Harvard to earn a Ph.D. in musicology in 1965. Since retiring in 1994 from the University of Massachusetts, Boston, where he was a professor of the history and theory of music, he has given courses at Harvard and for Beacon Hill Seminars. Author of two books: The Musical Image: A Theory of Content and The Mimetic in Music, he has also written widely on Debussy. As a performer, Mr. Berman enjoys equally the roles of soloist, accompanist, and chamber player. Concerts and lecture-recitals have taken him to Europe and India, as well as throughout the United States.