The Great Composers & Their Music is a flexible music history curriculum designed for use with private piano students, general music students, or homeschoolers. I have used this curriculum for a weekly music classes for homeschoolers, monthly group classes with private piano students, and summer music camps. I chose “lapbooking” as the format for my curriculum because it is a visual, interactive way to learn historical facts and information. I have been very impressed with how much information my students are able to absorb each week through lapbooking.
Below is an chronological listing of the composers currently available in the Great Composers & Their Music curriculum series. To purchase one or more of the PDFs for creating these lapbooks with your own students, please visit this page of the Color In My Piano shop. Stay tuned – one or two new composers are added each year!
CPE Bach gave us the perfect opportunity to discuss the evolution of the piano, from the clavichord and harpsichord all the way to the modern piano. Another term we discussed was Empfindsamer stil — the “sensitive style,” which was a compositional style that was characterized by changing moods within a piece, in contrast to the single “affect” generally found in Baroque pieces before this time.
Bach, Johann Sebastian
In this composer study, students will learn about J.S. Bach’s duties at the various jobs he held throughout his life. Some of the terms covered include: cantatas, Kapellmeister, Kantor, and the Well-Tempered Clavier.
Handel, George Frederic
Studying Handel provides the opportunity to discuss popular Baroque forms such as the concerto grosso and the oratorio, and to learn the stories behind a couple of his famous works: Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks.
Scarlatti was a Baroque composer who greatly influenced the development of the Classical style, especially in keyboard music. He taught the princess Maria Barbara of Portugal and followed her to Spain when she married and became Queen of Spain. Scarlatti is remembered today mainly for his 555 keyboard sonatas.
Vivaldi, Antonio Lucio
Students will enjoy learning about “The Red Priest” and his passion for composing and teaching music to the orphans and students at the Ospedale della Pietá in Venice. Special focus is given to Vivaldi’s most well-known work, The Four Seasons.
Beethoven, Ludwig van
We listened to Beethoven’s most famous compositions so that we would be able to identify them by name upon hearing them. We also talked about sonata form and his three periods of compositional style.
Muzio Clementi is remembered as a keyboardist, pedagogue, music publisher, and piano manufacturer. His compositions developed the techniques of the early piano to such an extent that he was called the “Father of the Piano.” Studying Clementi is the perfect opportunity to talk about the evolution of the piano from harpsichord, to fortepiano, to modern piano.
Haydn, Franz Joseph
When studying Haydn, my homeschool students learned about the popular music forms of the Classical Era (sonata, symphony, string quartet, concerto) and discussed the various places Haydn was employed as Kapellmeister (the Esterhazy palace, in particular). My students loved hearing about Haydn’s poor and lowly childhood and how his hard work and determination enabled him to become a great composer.
Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus
Students are always excited to learn more about Mozart! Terms that are covered: prodigy, Alberti bass, and melody versus harmony.
Studying Amy Beach gave us the opportunity to discuss the challenges of being a woman composer. We also learned about the MacDowell Colony and how Beach’s perfect pitch allowed her to write down bird calls in musical notation.
Studying Brahms gave us the opportunity to talk about concertos, and the difference between monophony, homophony, and polyphony. Since we had already studied Robert Schumann, we were able to connect the two composers and discuss the relationship dynamics between Brahms and the Schumann family.
Studying Chopin was the perfect opportunity to discuss various types of character pieces and listen to a variety of Chopin’s wonderful oeuvre for piano. We also talked a bit about Chopin’s background as a Polish composer and his life in Paris, contributing as a musician during salon performances.
We spent a lot of time listening to Gustav Holst’s most famous work, “The Planets.” We drew a picture of each planet as we listened to each movement, and talked about how it turned out that Holst was correct not to compose a new movement for Pluto after it was initially discovered! We also learned that John Williams was influenced by “The Planets” when he was composing the music for the Star Wars movies.
In this composer study, students will learn about Liszt’s popularity as a pianist as well as his generous spirit, particularly at the end of life. Student will enjoy learning about how Liszt managed to “save the day” to erect a monument of Beethoven in Bonn, Germany.
Studying Mussorgsky provided the opportunity to learn about the group of Russian composers known as “The Mighty Five” and their Nationalist tendencies. We also studied Mussorgsky’s well known work Pictures at an Exhibition.
The highlight about studying Saint-Saens was listening to all the movements from Carnival of the Animals! My students loved learning about the musical jokes that are embedded in that work.
In this composer study, students will learn about Robert Schumann, as well as a little about his wife, Clara. Among the terms covered are Romanticism, program music, and character pieces.
Students will learn about Tchaikovsky’s life and music as a late-Romantic composer. Students will enjoy learning about his career change to music, his three ballets, and his other most famous compositions.
I mentioned the John Cage lapbook when I blogged about my October Piano Party. This composer study is lots of fun to teach! As an extension, my students and I explored the room to find “found instruments” and experimented with prepared piano. (No, I didn’t bring screws or bolts anywhere near my piano…but we did try laying pieces of felt and tinfoil on the strings/dampers to see what sounds we could create!)
I think my students’ favorite part about studying Debussy was seeing some examples of Impressionist artwork and learning how it relates to Debussy’s music. We also learned about the whole-tone scale.
Our study of Scott Joplin brought about a discussing of ragtime music and syncopation. We also listened to some of Joplin’s most well-known piano rags and analyzed their forms.
Sergei Prokofiev was a great Russian composer of the Modern Era. Students will learn about how the political upheaval in Russia impacted Prokofiev both personally and as a composer. Special attention will be given to perhaps his most well-known work, Peter and the Wolf.
Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff was a 20th-century pianist, conductor, and composer, composing in the late-Romantic tradition. Students will enjoy learning about Rachmaninoff’s concert tours, recording contracts, incredible musical memory, and most well-loved compositions.
Studying Stravinsky is the perfect time to discuss the terms “consonance” versus “dissonance.” In this study, students will learn about 12-tone music, neo-classicism, and Stravinsky’s three compositional periods.
Have you already tried out one of these composer studies? If so, please leave your review comments below! You feedback may be useful to other teachers.