Centre for Continuing Education

Music Appreciation Course: Classical Genres

Music. Learn, enjoy, appreciate.

COVID-19 update: arrangement of our courses

We are now delivering courses online and in-person. Please check the delivery format of each class before enrolling.

Please note that course materials (excluding prescribed texts) are shared electronically within 48 hours of course commencement. Printing is not available.

Ever wondered what a symphony actually is? Can’t tell a suite from a sonata? Love going to concerts, but not sure what to listen for?

This course is designed for classical music beginners and long-term listeners who want to know how to better understand the music they listen to. The most common types of classical music will be explored, including symphony, concerto, sonata, suite, opera and oratorio.

Each week will begin with a simple definition of the genre in question, followed by discussion of what to expect and how to listen. We finish each session with guided listening through a complete example of each genre. You will get a sense of what each genre is for and what the composer intends, with tips on what to listen for and how to get more out of your listening. No prior musical knowledge is necessary.


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

  • list some of the main genres of classical music
  • list some specific examples of some classical music genres
  • describe some of the features of some classical music genres.


The Sonata

  • What is a sonata?
  • What are ‘movements’ in classical music, and why have them?
  • How the sonata has developed over time
  • What is sonata form?
  • Interlude: A brief history of western music
  • Beethoven: Moonlight Sonata
  • Chopin: Sonata for Cello and Piano
  • Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 8 'Pathetique'

The Suite

  • What is a suite?
  • Different types of suites
  • The Baroque suite
  • The ballet suite
  • Interlude: The symphony orchestra
  • Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker Suite
  • Debussy: Suite Bergamasque
  • Bach: Cello Suite in G Major BWV 1007

The Concerto Grosso

  • What is a Concerto Grosso?
  • Different types of concerto
  • Ritornello form: contrast of large and small
  • Interlude: The concept of key
  • Vivaldi’s Four Seasons
  • Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos
  • Handel’s Concerto Grosso 'Alexander’s Feast'


  • What makes an opera, and what makes a musical?
  • The types of opera
  • The elements of opera: how stories are told in song
  • The operatic voice
  • A word on Wagner
  • Verdi: Rigoletto
  • Wagner: The Flying Dutchman
  • Puccini: Madama Butterfly
  • Rossini: The Barber of Seville

The Symphony

  • What is a symphony?
  • A musical feast in four courses
  • The development of the symphony
  • The symphonies of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven
  • The Symphonic Poem
  • Gershwin: An American in Paris
  • Mozart: Symphony No. 28
  • Beethoven: Symphony No. 5
  • Mahler: Symphony No. 5 Adagietto

The Mass and the Requiem

  • The structure of the Mass
  • The Mass as a musical genre
  • The structure of the Requiem
  • How the structure and context affects the music
  • Palestrina: Missa Papae Marcelli
  • Bach: Mass in B Minor
  • Beethoven: Missa Solemnis
  • Mozart: Requiem
  • Faure: Requiem
  • Verdi: Requiem

The Concerto

  • Different types of concerto
  • What is a cadenza?
  • How the concerto changed in the Classical period
  • The Sinfonia Concertante
  • Mozart: Clarinet Concerto
  • Beethoven: Violin Concerto and the ‘Emperor’ Piano Concerto
  • Some great concertos: Tchaikovsky, Grieg, Liszt, Rakhmaninov
  • Haydn: Trumpet Concerto in E Flat Major
  • Mozart: Horn Concerto No. 3

The Oratorio

  • What is an oratorio?
  • The development of the oratorio
  • Other choral forms: the Cantata; Passion settings
  • Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius
  • Handel: Messiah
  • Haydn: The Creation
  • Bach: St Matthew Passion
  • Walton: Belshazzar’s Feast

Intended audience

Designed for fans of classical music, beginners and experienced listeners alike.



Delivery style

This course is richly illustrated with musical examples, illustrations and video clips. Susan Deas uses the piano to demonstrate musical concepts to the everyday listener. Questions are encouraged, and there will be room for discussion throughout the course.


Handouts are provided electronically.


  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Course materials – yours to keep
  • CCE Statement of Completion

We acknowledge the tradition of custodianship and law of the Country on which the University of Sydney campuses stand. We pay our respects to those who have cared and continue to care for the Country.