Home > Summer School > Summer School 2022 > ARTS MUSIC FILM AND DESIGN > Musical ‘fingerprints’


Elizabeth Handley, musicologist, independent lecturer for The Arts Society/NADFAS (UK)

What is it that distinguishes the music of one composer from another? What makes it so uniquely individual? This course explores the ‘musical fingerprints’ of the most significant composers of Western art music, with clues revealed as to what makes their music immediately recognisable.

We begin our journey through music history with the two towering figures of the Baroque era: Bach and Handel. Their music epitomises 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. While living contemporaneously at the height of the Baroque, one Catholic, the other staunchly Lutheran, their music carries distinctive musical signatures that makes it distinguishable one from the other.

The quintessential Classical masters, Haydn and Mozart, bring us to the Age of Reason, and a simpler mode of musical expression emphasising clarity, order, and above all, good taste. Different in lifestyle, personality, and modi operandi, their music might sound rather similar. Closer examination reveals that there are distinct differences.

Beethoven – a child of revolution – transported 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. Both brilliant German structuralists, their musical differences and unique, personal musical sounds, is explored. Lecture four continues with three quintessential Romantics: Chopin, Tchaikovsky and Liszt, and their emotionally-charged, individualistic 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.


Lecture titles

1.  Baroque masters: Bach and Handel

2.  The Classicists: Haydn and Mozart

3.  German Classico-Romantics: Beethoven and Brahms

4.  Arch-Romantics: Chopin, Tchaikovsky and Liszt

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





DATE: Monday 24–Friday 28 January
TIME: 3.00 pm
COURSE FEES: R375 (online)/R550 (in person)