Keeping Score – Musicology Can Be Fun!

Recently I have been doing some research and pulling together materials for a class I’ll be teaching early in 2012 (more on that from my last post). Today I’d like to highlight a resource which every music educator needs to know about!

Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony have teamed up with PBS to produce the Keeping Score Project. This is a series of performances and documentaries which explore several prominent orchestral works in great detail. Each installation takes viewers through the historical context of a piece, musical precedents of the work, and the significance and influence of the composer. For someone (like me!) who loves music history, it’s hard to find anything better, but these are also fast-paced and accessible enough to hold the interest of even those with little or no interest in classical music.

Perhaps the greatest part of the project is the interactive website which accompanies each episode. For instance, check out the site for Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony. Students can watch short, two-minute video clips of MTT explaining something about the piece, and then follow along with annotated sections of the score to see these points in action. It’s really quite amazing! (Click “The Score” to see this). They can also read more of the evidence for why Shostakovich’s writing of this symphony was truly a life-or-death matter… would Stalin approve and allow the composer to continue, or would he have him arrested, tortured, and/or murdered like so many other Soviet artists?

I’ve watched several of the episodes already. All have been excellent, but so far the one of Shostakovich has been my favorite. You can watch the documentary in it’s entirety on the PBS website, or broken down into six smaller clips below. You can also purchase the DVD, which includes not only the documentary but also a complete (and spectacular) performance by the San Francisco Symphony.

I can’t recommend this series highly enough! I hope you’ll at least take the time to watch one episode:

Other entries in the “Keeping Score” series include:

Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony

Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring

Copland and the American Sound

Beethoven’s Eroica

Ives’ Holidays Symphony

Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique

Mahler: Origins and Legacy

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