The Second Golden Age of the Viennese Symphony (55+)

The Viennese Symphony experienced a spectacular resurgence in the mature works of Johannes Brahms (1833–1897) and Anton Bruckner (1824–1896), after a fallow period following the deaths of Beethoven and Schubert. Brahms and Bruckner both seized upon the structural and harmonic innovations of their two great predecessors and enriched them with elements drawn from early music and, in Bruckner’s case, with influences from Richard Wagner’s music dramas.

We will explore a representative sampling of symphonic works by both composers, including Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 1, Symphonies No. 1 and No. 2, Violin Concerto in D Major, and late symphonies and concertos, along with Bruckner’s early, middle and late symphonies.

Please note that enrollment in this course is reserved for adults 55+.

Currently not available for registration.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course, you should be able to:

  • Identify the elements of the musical styles of Brahms and Bruckner
  • Describe the relationship between Brahms, Bruckner, and other major composers of his time
  • Discuss how specific works by Brahms and Bruckner typify their approaches to composition

Learning methods

You will learn through lecture and music, with time for questions and answers (may vary from class to class). For Liberal Arts Certificate for 55+students: you will write a reflective essay.


Week 1: Brahms, Piano Concerto No. 1 and Symphony No. 1

Brahms experienced an anxiety of influence with respect to Beethoven's symphonic legacy. He waited until he was in his 40s and at the height of his powers before completing his First Symphony in C Minor.

Week 2: Brahms, Symphony No. 2 and Violin Concerto

Once the floodgates of inspiration were opened, further symphonic works flowed spontaneously from Brahms's pen, including the Second Symphony and Violin Concerto, both in the ebullient key of D Major.

Week 3: Brahms, the late symphonies and concertos 

Brahms's Second Piano Concerto has a symphonic breadth and majesty, while his Third and Fourth Symphonies display the same intricacy of texture and rigour of thematic development as his finest chamber music.

Week 4: Bruckner, the early symphonies

In his first three symphonies Bruckner struggled to discover a new approach to symphonic form that would accommodate the monumental character of his musical thought.

Week 5: Bruckner, the middle period symphonies

Beginning with the popular Fourth Symphony, Bruckner's symphonic output evinces a greater confidence in his inspiration and technique. The epic Fifth Symphony is one of his most impressive achievements.

Week 6: Bruckner, the late symphonies

Bruckner's last three symphonies have a visionary quality that arises from the remarkable synthesis of influences from sacred music combined with the radical harmonies and thematic transformations of Wagner and Liszt.

Books, materials and resources

Reading material (if applicable) will be available in class. Some course materials may be available online.

Academic integrity and student conduct

You are expected to comply with Simon Fraser University’s Academic Integrity and Student Conduct Policies. Please click here for more details. Simon Fraser University is committed to creating a scholarly community characterized by honesty, civility, diversity, free inquiry, mutual respect, individual safety, and freedom from harassment and discrimination.

If you're 55+, you may take this course as part of

Look at other courses in