Centre for Continuing Education

Exploring Music Course: The Impressionist Period

Music. Learn, enjoy, appreciate.

Appreciate and learn about music the smart way with Music courses at the University of Sydney.

The period from around 1880 to 1920, sometimes described as Impressionism, elicited some of the most beautiful and bewitching compositions of western music history. Composers such as Sibelius, Elgar, Mahler, Debussy and Ravel gave the world exotic and rich new sounds, in the last moments before many composers abandoned ‘normal’ music and went atonal. This study day examines the music of this period in its historical and social context.

This course is the last of a series of four one-day music courses that will guide you through the main periods of classical music history. Over four Saturdays throughout the year you we will see the progression of music from the richness of the Baroque, through the elegant simplicity of the classical period, the passion and drama of the Romantic period to the mysterious beauty of the Impressionist period.

Course Outcomes

Upon completion of this course, it is expected that participants will be able to:

  1. List some of the main composers of the Impressionist period
  2. List some music from the Impressionist period
  3. Describe some of the musical characteristics of the Impressionist period.

Course Content

This classical music appreciation course covers the following topics:

  • The turn of the twentieth century: a fascinating period of history
  • What is Impressionism? What is Impressionism in music?
  • Social, cultural and historical background: Europe, 1880-1920
  • The art of the Impressionist period: we look at art and architecture of the period, and see parallel tastes in art and music
  • Musical genres of the Impressionist period: experiments in genre
  • Compositional techniques: what Impressionist composers were trying to achieve, and how they achieved it
  • Musical characteristics: what to listen for, and how to get more out of Impressionist music
  • Contrasting composers: Puccini, Mahler, Debussy, Ravel, Vaughan Williams, Satie, Rakhmaninov
  • Song in the Impressionist period: Mahler and Richard Strauss
  • Mahler: Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen
  • Richard Strauss: Four Last Songs
  • Opera in the Impressionist period
  • Puccini’s Madama Butterfly
  • The Symphony in the Impressionist period
  • The symphonies of Mahler, Rakhmaninov, Elgar and Vaughan Williams
  • The Concerto in the Impressionist period
  • Elgar: Cello Concerto
  • Rakhmaninov’s piano concertos
  • Sibelius: Violin Concerto
  • Piano music of the Impressionist period
  • Debussy: Clair de Lune
  • Satie’s Gymnopedies and Gnossiennes
  • The piano music of Ravel

Course Delivery

This classical music appreciation course in Sydney will be richly illustrated with musical examples, artworks and portraits of the times, video clips, and readings from letters and historical documents. Susan will use the piano to demonstrate musical concepts to the everyday listener. Questions from participants will be encouraged, and there will be room for discussion throughout the course.


  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Small class sizes
  • Free, expert advice
  • Student materials – yours to keep
  • Statement of completion

What others say.

  • A fantastic presenter.