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Great Choral Masterpieces (Online)

Course Times & Enrolment

This course is currently unavailable.

Course Summary

This course will be of interest to general music lovers who would like to increase their appreciation of the development of choral music from the Baroque to the present day. Encompassing a diverse range of composers, the course considers a series of set works representative of the cultural aesthetics of their times as well as critical evaluation of the changing social function of choirs and the relevance of choral music in the present day.

Course Details

Pre-requisites for enrolment

Students will need to be able to confidently use videoconferencing software be comfortable with using websites.The course will be delivered via Zoom sessions.

Special Information

In order to participate in this course, you will need access to a computer with a speaker and an internet connection. You should have;

  • An up-to-date web browser (Google Chrome recommended)

  • Microphone (ideally headset) and Webcam

  • Strong Internet connection

Content of Course

1. What are the differences of singing in group vs. singing individually?

What in turn is the difference between group singing and choral singing?

What might influence the use of a choir in music for the church, music for the stage, music for video games/media and so forth?

What are the social expectations of choirs in wider culture?

Orff - O Fortuna from Carmina Burana

Rolling Stones - You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Sam Smith - Stay with Me

2. Hildegard von Bingen - plainsong (Alma Redemptoris Mater)

Perotin - Viderunt Omnes

Strozzi (madrigal) Gli amanti falliti

Tallis (motet) – Spem in Alium

Medieval church music & choral music in convents - how vocal music is used as an expression of faith, intimacy and sacredness. Madrigals and consort singing.

3. JS. Bach - St John Passion

Development of harmony, expansions of church music, social advancements & development of Lutheranism. How impactful was Bach and why is his music still considered so important today?

4. GF. Handel - Messiah

The rise of the oratorio, its structures and how Handel wrote this epic work in 30 days.

5. WA. Mozart – Requiem

Development from Baroque into Classical, changing structures of orchestras and models of funding composers.  Alleged mystique of Mozart and the creation of his Requiem Mass?

6.  LV. Beethoven - Symphony No. 9 & Mahler - Symphony No. 2 (final movements)

The choral symphony - rise of larger choruses based on Enlightenment ideals and force of choruses as a place for social advancement.

7. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor - Hiawatha

The rise of the Victorian British oratorio - reference to Parry, Elgar & others.

8. Ethel Smyth - Mass in D

Redressing the balance - why women composers are not as well promoted in choral music circles and what is being done to change this?

9. Caroline Shaw - Partita for Eight Voices

John Adams - Harmonium (Wild Nights)

The divergence of vocal ensemble and mass choirs and the impact on composition (and vice versa)

American choral composition & extended vocal technique.

10. John Williams - Duel of the Fates (Star Wars Episode 1)

Christopher Tin - Baba Yetu (Civilization)

Hildur Guðnadóttir - Vichnaya Pamyat (Chernobyl)

Modern consumption of choral music is often closely associated with mass media - why is this and what effects may this achieve?

What future directions could choral music/vocal performance explore?

Teaching method(s)

This course will be delivered via live online Zoom sessions. Ideally you should have;

  • An up-to-date web browser (Google Chrome recommended)

  • Microphone (ideally headset) and Webcam

  • Strong Internet connection

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  • Describe an historical outline of choral music’s role in Western classical/art music from the Medieval period to the present day

  • Place a piece of choral music in the context of its historical period and identify representative stylistic characteristics

  • Discuss choral music and its histories in terms of their wider cultural contexts.


Core Readings

Optional Reading:

  • Chester L. Alwes,  A History of Western Choral Music, New York: Oxford University Press (2015-16), 2 volumes.

Given the expense, please note that this is absolutely optional and no student will be disadvantaged by not reading this book!

Class Handouts

Handouts and summaries of classes will be provided, including recommended recordings and indicative works to listen to.


If you have questions regarding the course or enrolment, please contact COL Reception at Paterson's Land by email or by phone 0131 650 4400.

Student support

If you have a disability, learning difficulty or health condition which may affect your studies, please let us know by ticking the 'specific support needs' box on your course application form. This will allow us to make appropriate adjustments in advance and in accordance with your rights under the Equality Act 2010. For more information please visit the Student Support section of our website.