COURSE: Introduction to Classical Music

Sandy Burnett

Unit price



Want to be contacted next time this course is running?
Please register your interest here:

Introduction to Classical Music: A comprehensive six-week Classic Discovery course with Sandy Burnett

Time: 6:30 – 8pm

An introduction to classical music with musician and broadcaster Sandy Burnett. If you are an intelligent adult looking for a way in to the greatness of classical music, this series is for you! Following three successful outings at the Idler Academy in 2012 and 2013, this course returns by popular demand; it takes place on consecutive Tuesday evenings.

The course covers a thousand years of classical music, taking us from the Medieval and Renaissance periods through Baroque, Classical, Romantic and twentieth-century right up to what’s happening in classical music today. Sandy will explain the nuts and bolts of classical music – notation, form, and tonality – and discuss how composers went about the process of shaping their works. And armed with his trusty iPad and docking station, he’ll play recorded examples, and produce scores and instruments by way of illustration.

This course will give you a clear understanding of the essential elements of music in each era, and will enable you to listen to classical music with fresh ears and greater understanding. A glossary of key terms will be provided, along with details of recordings used.

Sandy Burnett is a musician and broadcaster who spent over a decade as one of the best-known classical music presenters on BBC Radio 3. He has conducted many orchestras and choirs, and has masterminded a complete cycle of JS Bach’s sacred cantatas. He is in demand as a lecturer and interviewer, and is also an accomplished jazz double bassist.

“I thoroughly enjoyed the talk in the intimate setting of Idler. Had you booked say Wigmore Hall I wouldn’t have come!” – Idler course testimonials
“We were so impressed by Sandy’s knowledge on his subject’, ‘his passion and enthusiasm were infectious’, ‘absolutely outstanding’, ‘a very serious and learned lecturer’, ‘absolutely the best lecturer of the many fine lecturers I’ve experienced.” From a 2011 Martin Randall Travel lecture tour

WEEK 1 –  Medieval and Renaissance. Two important events kickstart our journey: music started to be written down rather than passed on by ear; and single-line melodies gave way to music for many voices at once, or polyphony. Today’s playlist includes the medieval sounds of Hildegarde of Bingen and Guillaume de Machaut, the glassy perfection of Palestrina, the earthy delights of the madrigal, and the sonorous blend of the viol consort.
WEEK 2 – Baroque. It starts with the flamboyant opening of Monteverdi’s 1607 opera Orfeo, and ends in 1759 with the death of that great adopted Englishman George Friderick Handel. The Baroque era produces music of great brilliance and emotional depth, both characteristics exemplified in the work of Johann Sebastian Bach, the greatest composer of that, and possibly any, age.
WEEK 3 – Classical. Next comes an emphasis on order, balance, clarity and beauty – four key Enlightenment values which underpin the Classical era. It reaches its high point in the music of two Viennese masters: Haydn, the father of the string quartet, and Mozart, whose music managed to be both graceful and profound.
WEEK 4 – Romantic. This is the week in which the expressive floodgates burst open, and we brace ourselves for the iconoclasm of Beethoven, the bare-all symphonic autobiographies of Berlioz and Mahler, and the massive music dramas of Wagner – not just composers, but true artists in the Romantic sense, for whom music was meant to embrace everything about the human condition.
WEEK 5 – Early Twentieth Century. This session examines how four composers respond to both the opportunities and challenges of the times: Bartok’s reworking of Middle-European folk song; Shostakovitch’s perilous relationship with the Soviet authorities; Copland who single-handedly creates the sound of New-Deal America, and the iconoclastic Igor Stravinsky, one of those rare composers whose music succeeded in starting a riot.
WEEK 6 – Late Twentieth Century up to the present day. This concluding session takes in the serialism of Schoenberg and the breathtaking imagination of Stockhausen; the captivating scores of American minimalists such as Reich, Adams and others; celebrates the great Benjamin Britten, born a century ago; and asks: Where next for classical music?

Sandy on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch, 28/12/14 from Sandy Burnett on Vimeo.

About the Tutor

Sandy Burnett is one of the most authoritative broadcasters in the field of classical music. He was a presenter on Radio 3 from 1994 till 2006, and is a busy practising musician himself. Aled Jones said to Sandy: “You are a god.” He has been teaching classical music appreciation at the Idler Academy since 2011. You can see his website here:



The Idler Academy, 81 Westbourne Park Road, W2 5QH


6:30 till 8pm


6 weeks



To Book

Add to basket or call 0207 221 5908


Hendrick’s Gin & Tonic, Idler exercise book and pencil


“Thanks so much for your excellent course. I particularly enjoyed your enthusiasm and passion for the music that you played us.”


Write a review