Stanford Launches First Free Online Course in Classical Music Appreciation

Members of the St. Lawrence String Quartet: Lesley Robertson, Geoff Nuttall, Christopher Costanza and Owen Dalby (Image credit: Eric Cheng)

A new, free Stanford online The class that explores the early evolution of the string quartet and features classical music and commentary is now open for registration.

Designed to appeal to both musicians and those with no prior knowledge of the form, Defining the String Quartet: Haydn explores the origins of the string quartet through the lens of its first great exponent, Joseph Haydn.

The self-study course, which started on May 17, was co-developed by Stephen HintonAvalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Music History at Stanford, and members of the famous Saint-Laurent String Quartet, the ensemble in residence of the university. The latter recorded many pieces illustrating Hinton’s commentary in the Bing Concert Hall and Studio specifically for the class.

The course is divided into six lessons that cover two main areas of study, said Hinton, an expert in German classical music.

“In the first part, we trace the origins of the medium, which date back to the 17th and early 18th centuries,” he said. “In the second, we focus on the historical contributions of Haydn, the acknowledged ‘father of the string quartet’.”

Stephen Hinton

Stephen Hinton (Image credit: LA Cicero)

“Haydn’s compositions for the string quartet medium helped establish it as a genre in its own right,” Hinton noted. “They define the formal conventions and aesthetic values ​​that have given the string quartet a special importance in Western musical culture.”

They also hold a special place in the repertoire of the St. Lawrence String Quartet, as the chamber group performs more works by Haydn than any other composer. Each of the quartet’s musicians is also a faculty member in Stanford’s music department, teaching students of varying backgrounds and interests through seminars, master classes, and cross-disciplinary collaborations.

The new online course grew out of a previous Stanford class, Foursome Conversationswhich Hinton and the quartet created for Stanford Continuing Studies students, as well as a freshman seminar, The classical string quartetwhich they co-taught.

Online teaching, however, is a new experience for both the teacher and the musicians.

“It’s completely different from teaching in a classroom,” Hinton said. “It involves a large team of people and extensive coordination. The whole thing took the better part of a year to do.

But the result also offers distinct benefits for music appreciation. “The modular approach will allow participants to focus on different parts of the course, go at their own pace, and revisit the material on their own as little or as often as they wish,” Hinton said.

New technology, developed by Craig Sapp at Stanford’s, adds to the experience Center for computer-based research in the humanities, providing dynamic musical notation that lights up as it plays, enabling richer understanding. The course also includes quizzes and exercises, developed by Stanford musicology doctoral student Victoria Chang, that test understanding and knowledge as participants progress through the lesson sequence.

Enrollees who successfully complete the full course may receive a statement of achievement that reflects their level of participation and achievement. This will be marked as “entry level” or “advanced”.