Composers' Musical Fingerprints: Recognising Famous Composers by their Own Unique Characteristics

168 TUTOR: Elizabeth Handley

What is it that distinguishes the music of one composer from another, and makes it uniquely individual? This course explores the "musical fingerprints” of several significant composers, with clues given as to what makes their music immediately recognisable. We begin with two giants of the Baroque Era,Bach and Handel, whose music epitomizes the grandiose extravagance and complexity of the Baroque aesthetic, and continue with the Classical masters,Haydn and Mozart, representatives of the Age of Enlightenment.Beethoven and Brahms are next, followed by the arch-romantics Chopin, Tchaikovsky and Liszt. We conclude with the Post-Romantic conductor-composers Mahler and Richard Strauss.

Course Notes

We begin our journey through music history with the two towering figures of the Baroque Era: Bach and Handel. Their music epitomizes the grandiose extravagance and complexity of the Baroque aesthetic through the use of polyphony (many sounds) - the interweaving of parallel strands of melody in instrumental and choral music. Handel delighted audiences with his flamboyant opera and then oratorio masterpieces, while Bach's scholarly approach united the intellectual and emotional drives of the human spirit. Contemporaries at the height of the Baroque, one Catholic, the other staunchly Lutheran, their music carries distinctive musical signatures that makes one distinguishable from the other.

The Classical masters, Haydn and Mozart, bring us to the Age of Reason, and a simpler mode of musical expression emphasizing clarity, order, and above all,taste. Different in lifestyles, personality, and modi operandi, their music might sound rather similar, but closer analysis reveals quite distinct differences.

In the third tutorial we discover how Beethoven, a Child of Revolution, propelled music from the refined exclusive salons of the Enlightenment into the turbulent Sturm und Drang - and public arena - of Romanticism, while Brahms, the arch-conservative, couched Romantic expression in Classical forms. We will explore the musical differences of these brilliant German structuralists, and their unique, personal modes of musical expression.

In the fourth tutorial we meet three quintessential Romantics: Chopin, Tchaikovskyand Liszt,and their individualistic, emotionally-charged styles of composition and musical expression.

The course concludes with the Post-Romantics, Mahler and Richard Strauss, composers who, in their adventurous handling of harmony, texture and orchestration, paved the way for the cataclysmic musical events of the early twentieth century. Both were significant in contributing much to the art of conducting, and brought to their scores their own distinctive musical language.


Tutorial 1: Baroque Masters: Bach and Handel

Tutorial 2: The Classicists: Haydn and Mozart

Tutorial 3: German Classico-Romantics: Beethoven and Brahms

Tutorial 4: Arch-Romantics: Chopin, Tchaikovsky and Liszt

Tutorial 5: Post-Romantic conductor-symphonists: Mahler and Richard Strauss


Background reading list:

Donald Jay Grout: A History of Western Music

Nicholas Kenyon: Bach

The Master Musician Series: JS Bach, GF Handel, WA Mozart, FJ Haydn, L von Beethoven, J Brahms, F Chopin, PI Tchaikovsky, F Liszt, G Mahler, R Strauss.

John Warrick: Tchaikovsky

Any general, illustrated history of "Classical” music books

Please bring a notebook and pen

Course Tutor

Elizabeth Handley

About Elizabeth


Elizabeth is an accredited lecturer with The Arts Society (NADFAS). Before transferring to Sweden she played the harpsichord and flute in Baroque ensembles, and sang in the Symphony Choir, Johannesburg. She was a musical programme compiler, and producer at the SABC, then an impresario's assistant organising concert tours for overseas artists throughout Southern Africa. She presented pre-concert talks for the JPO and Cape Town Opera. She has been teaching adults the history of music and art for many years in SA and Stockholm, and more recently in Milan and London. She lectures at the University of Cape Town Summer School, and is editor of her online culture-travel magazine:


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All courses run for 5 days

WK 1 8 Jul - 12 Jul

WK 2 15 Jul - 19 Jul

WK 3 22 Jul - 26 Jul

WK 4 29 Jul - 2 Aug

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9.15AM to 12.15PM

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1.45PM to 4.30PM

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