Germany, Berlin

Music in Berlin: Three Centuries of Tradition and Innovation

when 4 June 2016 - 16 July 2016
duration 6 weeks
credits 6 ECTS
fee EUR 1350

Berlin has been a city of great music for nearly three centuries, and over the past few decades it's become a major destination for anyone who is passionate about music. With its three opera houses and seven symphony orchestras, Berlin is one of the world's leading centers for classical music, boasting a long tradition of important composers and performers. The city also has a significant history of popular music and musical theater, most notably its early 20th-century cabaret culture and more recently its trends in electronic dance music.

This course presents milestones in Berlin’s musical history since the mid-18th century, when the court of Frederick the Great put the city on Europe’s musical map. We’ll consider Berlin’s time-honored musical traditions as well as its rich diversity, focusing on the complementary dynamics of tradition and innovation. This perspective sheds light on the nineteenth-century revival of Johann Sebastian Bach’s music, for example, when the Berlin Sing-Akademie under Felix Mendelssohn presented the first performance of the St. Matthew Passion and other important works 80 years after the composer’s death. At the same time, performers such as violinist Nicolo Paganini and pianist Franz Liszt were astounding Berlin audiences with their unprecedented virtuosity and pioneering the modern cult of the celebrity superstar.

The early 20th century marks the city’s most tumultuous struggle between tradition and innovation, as it became a world center for avant-garde music and theater (hosting the premieres of Alban Berg’s Wozzeck in 1925 and Kurt Weill’s Three Penny Opera in 1928), then suffered under the reactionary politics of the Nazi regime. Subsequently divided between East and West for nearly three decades, both sides of Berlin established their respective ensembles, performance institutions, and music conservatories. In another historical juxtaposition, the first techno-based Love Parade was held in West Berlin in the summer of 1989, proclaiming “Music knows no boundaries or nationalities,” and by the end of that year Leonard Bernstein was conducting Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at the Brandenburg Gate to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In addition to history-related readings and listening assignments, the course will incorporate Christopher Small’s notion of “musicking” as an overall theoretical approach to the rituals of music performance in contemporary culture. Small’s case study of the symphony orchestra concert will inform our visits to some of Berlin’s important music venues for performances. Other outings may include the music instrument museum, historic cathedral organs, famous cabaret venues such as the Bar jeder Vernunft, the Hansa studio near the Sony Center, and a sampling of Berlin’s vibrant musical nightlife.

The class meets twice a week for three 90-minute segments each day.

The first two segments of each class typically involve short lectures on historical and musical topics as well as seminar-style discussions of the assigned readings. Some class sessions devote time to in-depth music listening and analysis, and we will frequently use the afternoon segment for video screenings and/or excursions to sites in the city. Concerts and other music events are also included in the course schedule, some with partially subsidized ticket costs.

Course leader

Prof. Ivan Raykoff

Target group

This course is open to students from all disciplines and levels of study.

Credits info


Participation, including attendance 50%

Written assignments and quizzes 25%

Fieldwork project and presentation 25%

For the fieldwork project, students research a particular music scene, venue, or institution in Berlin and complete an 8-page descriptive and ethnographic research paper with supporting musical/visual materials.

Participation Grading Standards:

Excellent = shows excellent effort and engagement with the reading/listening assignments and discussions, asks questions and addresses other students’ questions/comments, draws creative connections among topics of study and discussion;

Good = shows good effort and engagement with the reading/listening assignments and discussions, asks questions and addresses other students’ questions/comments;

Basic = no effort to ask questions or provide comments, but shows an acquaintance with the reading/listening assignments and signs of preparation if called upon;

Poor = no effort to ask questions or provide comments, shows obvious lack of preparation; active or passive disengagement with the class (sleeping, private chatting, etc.)

Fee info

EUR 1350: Tuition
EUR 250: Program fee