Musical Studies

The musical studies program is designed to give students practical, artistic working knowledge of the techniques of Western music.

The course sequence progressively enables students to understand linear and vertical relationships in music and their inspired synthesis in composition. Required courses are supplemented by specialized courses in keyboard studies, orchestration, and score-reading. Solfège provides aural reinforcement of musical techniques taught in the musical studies program. Music history traces the evolution of those techniques.

Entering students are placed by examination. Placement decisions may be subject to review. Tutoring is available. Students of exceptional ability may receive specialized instruction and advanced classes are offered.

Musical Studies Curriculum

The core curriculum takes a minimum of 4.5 semesters and 41 semester hours. For Diploma candidates, a one-semester upper-level elective is required, adding 2 additional hours. Bachelor’s degree candidates are required to choose four upper level electives, adding 8 additional hours: one from music history, one from music performance, one from music theory, and one more from any of the categories. Elements of Conducting is also required for Bachelor's candidates, adding 3 additional hours. Total: between 43 and 52 hours.

Core Studies is a four-semester sequence covering the disciplines of Counterpoint, Harmony, and (in the second year) Analysis. The class will meet for 1.5 hours twice per week.

Core Studies I
As an introduction to counterpoint, students will study the art of melody and the cantus firmus, and begin writing two-voice counterpoint in species one, two, and three. The study of harmony will include the following topics, with the goal of developing speed, accuracy, and confidence:

  • identifying scale degrees and intervals
  • identifying chords (i.e. Roman numeral) in context of a given key or in actual repertoire
  • recognizing different types of motion: oblique, similar, contrary
  • recognizing open/close spacing of chords as well as outer voices
  • matching or singing back individual pitches and short melodies when played on a piano
  • writing and labeling intervals, triads, and 7ths in any inversion
  • writing and labeling chords using Roman numerals in any inversion
  • realizing individual chords from figures
  • error-detection in voice leading and chord construction

Core Studies II
The study of counterpoint continues with species one, two, and three, but this time in three parts. Harmony will focus on the following topics:

  • study of voice leading
  • basic functions of all diatonic chords in major and minor, and basic syntax of diatonic progressions—tonic, intermediate (pre-dominant), and dominant
  • cadential patterns—weak and strong
  • concept of expansion and prolongation through voice exchange, passing and neighboring chords

Core Studies III
The study of counterpoint continues with species four and five in both two and three parts. Harmony will focus on the following topics:

  • sequences
  • melodic and rhythmic figuration
  • modulation: applied dominants, modulation to any key
  • chromaticism: mixture, Neapolitan chords
  • Analysis is introduced in Core Studies III, including:
    • analysis and reduction of works from the repertoire
    • analysis of two- and three-part inventions and fugues
    • introduction to graphic analysis

Core Studies IV
The study of counterpoint continues with an introduction to combined species, a reduction of works from the repertoire to reveal the underlying counterpoint, canon and invention. Harmony will focus on the following topics:

  • augmented 6th chords
  • advanced chromaticism: common-tone chromaticism; altered dominants, 9ths, and 11ths; enharmonic reinterpretation; advanced modulation techniques (exposure)
  • tonality at the turn of the 20th century, including equal division of the octave, modes, pentatonic, whole-tone, octatonic, and hexatonic scales

Analysis will continue with the analysis and reduction of works from the repertoire by composers such as Debussy, Ravel, Ives, Stravinsky, Bartok, etc.

Accelerated Core Studies*
A two-semester “accelerated” version of the Core Studies curriculum covering basic forms, two- and three-part species counterpoint, and harmony (through chromaticism and 20th-century techniques) will be offered as a non-required “refresher” course for transfer students and as a required course for post-baccalaureate composers and conductors. For the latter, there will be an opportunity to test out of this requirement.

* This class is dependent on need and may not be offered every semester or every year. Depending on the students in the class, more focus can be directed to the subjects that need more attention, such as counterpoint, harmony, or form.

Musical Form and Analysis
At the beginning of a student’s second year, Musical Form and Analysis is a one-semester course covering all elements of musical form, both small and large. Topics to include:

  • phrasing, periods and sentences in tonal music
  • different types and strengths of cadences
  • motive and motivic transformation
  • binary and ternary forms, dance suites
  • variations and rondo form
  • fugue exposition
  • sonata form, concerto form
  • motivic development and resulting forms found in 20th-century compositions

Post-Tonal Harmony
A continuation of the study of 20th-century harmony and beyond. Topics include:

  • semi-tonal and post-tonal harmonic vocabulary
  • other aspects of non-functional tonal music – pitch centricity and composition with motivic cells, expanding the limits of musical temporality (Messiaen), texture and orchestration, etc.
  • twelve-tone theory and extended serialism (inversion, retrograde, transposition, etc.)
  • understanding 20th-century processes and structures that replace tonal progressions

Keyboard Studies for non-keyboard majors takes place over four semesters, and for keyboard players, over five semesters. It serves as a companion to the study of music theory and analyses. All classes are one hour per week. Students will learn how to apply their knowledge of counterpoint, harmony, and voice-leading fluently and confidently at the piano. Exercises include figured bass realization, harmonization of melodies, clef reading, and counterpoint improvisation.

Keyboard Studies I (for non-keyboard majors only)
Keyboard geography and the review of scales, intervals, triads, and 7th chords. Includes an introduction to figured bass, clef reading, and counterpoint improvisation.

Keyboard Studies II
Includes two-part score reading, figured-bass realization of 5/3 and 6/3 chords, short harmonic progressions of tonic expansion and cadences, and harmonization of melodic fragments.

Keyboard Studies III
Continuing two-part score reading, figured-bass realization of 5/3, 6/3, and 6/4 chords, diatonic progressions in different keys, and harmonization of soprano and/or bass melodies.

Keyboard Studies IV
Three-part and four-part score reading, figured-bass realization incorporating suspensions and chromatic harmonies, diatonic and chromatic progressions in different keys including applied dominants, harmonization of soprano and/or bass melodies, and harmonization of folk songs.

Keyboard Studies V and VI
Required for keyboard majors only, and open as an elective for anyone interested with sufficient keyboard skill. Exercises include advanced figured-bass realization, score reading at the piano, and advanced counterpoint.

All bachelors degree candidates (except piano) are required to pass or place out of four semesters of Supplementary Piano. Undergraduate composition, conducting, and organ majors will take one-hour piano lessons weekly unless they are excused by their major teacher.  All other students will take 30-minute piano lessons weekly.

All incoming students are expected to follow the four-semester curriculum below, and pass a piano jury at the end of the fourth semester.  Students who do not fulfill the Supplementary Piano requirement by the end of their studies at Curtis will not be able to graduate. 

If a student did not fulfill the jury requirement and would like additional piano lessons to prepare for a make-up jury, he/she must petition the Dean and Chair of Musical Studies in writing, which will be approved or denied on a case-by-case basis. For students who show rapid progress during the year and wish to take the jury before completing all four semesters, his/her Supplementary Piano teacher may request an early jury on the student’s behalf.

The curriculum below provides a guideline for beginner piano students to progress to a late-intermediate level. Students who have a piano background prior to coming to Curtis will be given more difficult, level-appropriate pieces and technical components that fulfill and exceed the minimum requirement.

1st Semester
Students will gain familiarity with the keyboard geography and build basic coordination and mobility of the hands. Repertoire includes etudes (e.g. Beyer, Bertini, Czerny Op. 599, Kohler, Duvernoy, Gurlitt, etc.) and character pieces (easy works by Kabalevsky, Bartok, Burgmüller, etc.)

2nd Semester
An exploration of articulations, expressivity, and musicality at the piano, with the goal of gaining independence of hands through the study of contrapuntal works. Repertoire includes Bach’s contrapuntal works (e.g. minuets), further study of character pieces (see above), easy Classical pieces by Mozart and Haydn, and short sonatinas by Spindler, Schmitt, etc.

3rd Semester
Focuses on left hand accompaniment patterns, such as Alberti bass and Waltz, as well as voicing from melody/accompaniment works and use of the pedal. Repertoire includes sonatinas by Clementi, Kulau, et., more challenging pieces by Bach (e.g. Little Preludes, 2-part Inventions), and children’s pieces by Schumann, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, etc.

4th Semester (Jury Preparation)
Students will study more advanced use of the pedal and focus on preparing jury repertoire. Repertoire includes Bach 2-pt Inventions, Scarlatti Sonatas, Beethoven Sonatinas Op. 14 and 79, Mozart Sonatas, and intermediate-level works by Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Schumann, Grieg, Mendelssohn, and others.

Jury Requirements
Scales, arpeggios, and cadences of all major and minor keys. 4 octaves in 16th notes, hands together.

Two works or movements of contrasting styles and tempo; must reach late-intermediate or higher level (i.e. Bach Invention, Mozart Sonata, etc.). Only one of the two pieces can be a repeat from a previous semester.

Solfège I
SFG 111–132; 2 s.h./term

Sight-singing in treble, bass, alto, and tenor clefs; singing and recognition of major/minor scales, triads in root position, 1st and 2nd inversion, V7 chords and their resolutions, and duets; rhythmic dictation and conducting; interval dictation, 1-voice and 2-voice melodic dictation, 2-voice contrapuntal dictation; singing and playing (at the piano) Bach chorales and Lassus motets in open score; memory projects.

Solfège II
SFG 241–262; 2 s.h./term

Sight-singing in all seven clefs; singing and recognition of diminished 7th and augmented 6th chords with resolutions, melodies and duets, progressing to chromaticism and Modus Novus for advanced sections; rhythmic dictation and conducting, including polyrhythms; advanced 1-voice and 2-voice melodic dictation, introduction to 3-voice melodic dictation, and dictation of harmonic progressions; singing and playing (at the piano) Bach chorales and Lassus motets in open score; memory projects.

Advanced sight-singing in seven clefs, chromaticism, three-part contrapuntal dictation, simple figured-bass dictation, and reading Bach chorales in open score.

Dictation – NOTE: only one semester required
A required one-semester course in the student’s third year including extended 1-voice and 2-voice dictations, more difficult 3-part and 4-part dictations in advanced classes, chord progressions with modulation and chromatic harmony, atonal dictations from one to four voices, and figured bass dictations.

Music History I
MHS 101–102; 3 s.h./term

Music History I surveys the history of Western music from Antiquity through the Baroque in the first semester, and continues through the early Romantic period in the second semester. The course emphasizes hands-on, project-oriented learning, engaging the material through primary source readings, listening, writing, group projects, class discussions, and coordinated online activities. The emphasis is on understanding the political, social, and religious trends that influence and shape music from one era to the next, and on using that knowledge to enhance the student’s and the audience’s performance experience.

Music History II
MHS 201–202; 2 s.h./term

Music History II is intended as an introduction to the most important trends and themes of the European classical music tradition. The first semester of Music History II spans the nineteenth century, beginning with the emergence of the Romantic movement and ending with the fin de siècle. Major topics include: Romanticism and its offshoots, the debates over program music, nationalism, the emergence of the classical canon, the development of compositional technique and instrumental technologies, and the role of music in society. Above all, students will study the historical continuity between the music of the nineteenth century and that which preceded and followed it, with the goal of better understanding music both familiar and strange.

Elements of Conducting
Elements of Conducting is a one-semester course focusing on developing the practical skills required to lead an ensemble from beginning to end of the performance process. Aspects of conducting to be covered will include technique, score reading and analysis, principles of interpretation, rehearsal techniques, and orchestration from a conductor’s point of view. Students will be given classroom conducting opportunities necessary to gain a functional understanding of the above topics.

History of Performance Practice (Fall 2018)
What did the instruments of Bach's time sound like?
Would Beethoven or Mozart have preferred the sound of the modern Steinway over the Pianoforte?
Are modern instruments an improvement over so-called authentic "period instruments"?
Is the modern vocal style really what the great bel Canto singers really had in mind?
What about pitch, intonation or vibrato?

This survey course seeks to open the debate through the study of original source materials and treatises on performance practice. We will study the earliest recordings of legendary performers and composers who hand us an astonishing glimpse into the sound world of the 19th century. This class will not only trace the origins of the so-called early music movement and its effect on the performance of the music of the Baroque, but look at the evolution through the 19th and 20th centuries as well.

Composition Since 1945: Advanced Seminar (Fall 2018)
Designed for third- and fourth-year students with an interest in contemporary music, this course will be focused on major compositional trends from the end of World War II into the present. We will study both writings (aesthetics, analysis, descriptions of techniques) and works (scores and recordings) in order to explore the diverse styles, techniques, and aesthetics of this period. This course will be a seminar format, meaning that students will be expected to make substantial in-class contributions (presentations, research, etc.) on a regular basis. In addition, students will have the opportunity, working in conjunction with the professor, to decide which topics, composers, and works we will study. Prerequisites: Music History I and II.

World Music (Fall 2018)
World Music is a non-technical introduction to musicology. It is an exploration of the musical traditions of indigenous peoples from around the world. Selected cultures will be studied which serve as an overview of the world's musical traditions. Students will be required to do extensive listening, will write about music and familiarize themselves with the broad outlines of the history and geography of the area. They will also have the opportunity to play several of the musics studied under the guidance of experts of that specific culture.

At the conclusion of the course, students will have a clear idea of the geography, culture and musical traditions of the regions studied; develop a familiarity with the indigenous instruments, musical functions and origins of the various ethnic groups, and understand the relationships between concert, folk and popular musics.

Bach and His Contemporaries (Spring 2019)
A deeper exploration of J.S. Bach and 18th-Century Germany's life at court, the church, and the conditions of a professional musician. In addition to Bach and his more famous contemporaries, Handel and Telemann, this course will examine the work of other composers of great fame in their time such as Scarlatti, Caldara, Rameau, Zelenka, Keiser and Hasse.

Sound (Spring 2019)
The great philosopher Francis Bacon once called sound “one the subtlest piece of nature.” Four hundred years later, his description still rings true. Sound remains at once a supremely powerful and evocative phenomenon, and an elusive one. What is sound? How does it achieve its remarkable effects? What is the relationship between sound and music?

In search of as expansive an understanding as possible, we will consider perspectives on sound from a wide range of disciplines. We will combine historical case studies—for example Hermann Helmholtz and the emergence of experimental acoustics, Schoenberg’s idea of Klangfarbenmelodie, and R. Murray Schafer’s project of “acoustic ecology”—and practical exercises in which we investigate and reflect on our own experiences of sound.

This course is intended for advanced students. Weekly assignments will include intensive reading and listening; larger undertakings will include making field recordings, keeping a listening journal, and research and creative projects devised by students.

Prerequisites: Music History I and II.

Late Beethoven (Spring 2019)
Beethoven’s incredibly prolific “middle period” (roughly 1802-12) was followed by seven less productive years during which he was marshaling his internal forces and preparing for something completely different. In the works of his last years (1820-27), he delved ever more deeply into his subconscious while affirming ever more strenuously the artist’s obligation to use self-revelation as a means toward the achievement of worldwide human harmony. His Missa Solemnis, Ninth Symphony, last five piano sonatas, “Diabelli” Variations for piano, and last five string quartets are above all a search for transcendence. The question of whether we ought to read artists’ lives into their works ceases to matter in Beethoven’s last years: his late works were his life. The deaf composer created an ideal “Elsewhere” for himself and for anyone else who was willing and able to enter it. This seminar will first provide a background to Beethoven’s “late period” and then deal with the individual works mentioned above – listening to them, thinking about what others have said about them, and producing our own thoughts about and mental images of them.

Music, Monarchs, and Mad Dictators (Spring 2019)
This course will deal with the difficult but fascinating subject of how musicians and musical institutions survive under politically repressive regimes. Russia provides an excellent point of departure: after 1917, the year of the Bolshevik Revolution, the centuries-old oppression of the tsars was gradually replaced by the new oppression of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party and its leaders – most notoriously, Joseph Stalin. But elsewhere in Europe, too, monarchs’ demands that artists conform to certain standards gave way to even worse offenses, and particularly to the dictates of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party in Germany and Benito Mussolini and his Fascist Party in Italy. How was musical creativity and how were individual musicians, conservatories, orchestras, and opera ensembles affected by these situations? These issues will be the subject of this class.

Duos for Strings and Pianos (Fall 2018)
The duo repertoire involving piano and strings is incredibly vast and offers a great deal of insight into a given composer’s compositional style. This course seeks to explore this expansive repertoire and discover links that bind this medium together over time. In addition to studying the progression of these works, students will discuss theoretical and historical issues arising with each piece. In-class discussion will revolve around the application of these ideas to performance, showing a practical side of theoretical study.

The course will include regular in-class performances by the students, exploring a variety of repertoire from the canon. These performances will then be discussed and the class will be able to explore new possibilities arising from a deep analysis of each piece. The progression of this repertoire will largely be decided by the repertoire of those students in the class; however, it will follow a more chronological order when possible. Generally, students will be given the option to prepare works together that they wish to explore in a detailed manner.

Course is designed for string players and pianists. Interested wind players should inquire and suggest repertoire.

Improvisation: "The Edge" of Composition (Fall 2018)
In recent years, dozens of Curtis students have taken improvisation to improve their playing and musicianship in their solo, chamber, or orchestral careers. The ability to improvise is one of the most essential skills for the performing musician. Among its numerous benefits, improvisation:

  • develops confidence in mastering one’s own instrument or voice stimulates the imagination and encourages creativity
  • builds communicative skills and stage presence in performing for an audience
  • combines being present while thinking ahead and develops better time perception
  • enhances chamber playing as it requires sensitive listening while improvising
  • expands the performer’s expressive range beyond the written notes
  • improves musical memory, especially through call and response exercises

No prior experience in improvisation is needed. This class will combine historical and practical aspects of improvisation and composition. Looking back at the history of Western Art Music, we can see that “there is scarcely a single musical technique or form of composition that did not originate in improvisatory practice” (musicologist Ernst Ferand, 1961).

In this course, we will explore the cross fertilization between improvised and composed music, from major improvisers such as Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven, to twenty-first century trends and innovations. Important topics include the influence of improvisation on the compositional process, and planning versus spontaneity in music performance. The historical exploration will be complemented by a practical component, involving in-class playing and improvising by the students.

Creating Cadenzas (Fall 2018)

The most notable feature of a performer’s creative contribution to a written composition, since the early eighteenth century the cadenza has earned a unique place, mostly in the concerto repertoire. In creating our own cadenzas, we should first analyze the harmonic language, themes, and formal structure of the specific concerto; and learn about other cadenzas by the composer or from his/her time. Then, we can practice idiomatic figurations on our instruments, try to continue differently themes from the concerto, and plan the structure of our own cadenza. The question whether a cadenza should be in the style of the concerto will be addressed, and examples of existing cadenzas will be discussed as well. We will also learn about the history of cadenza improvisation and composition. At the end of the semester, students will perform their own composed cadenzas.

Advanced Conducting (Fall 2018)
This course is designed to give you hands-on experience in developing the skills necessary to become a conductor. Course goals include a better understanding of the following: the role of the conductor, conducting technique, score preparation, and concert programming. Course material includes discussions of these topics as well as evaluations of conductors you work with or observe in rehearsal and performance. In addition, you will conduct various small ensembles over the course of the semester, which will include direct feedback from the other students in class as well as from the players.

Prerequisite: Elements of Conducting

Harmonic Thinking in Performance (Spring 2019)

This course offers tools that translate harmonic awareness into making informed interpretive choices. The harmonic component of music relates to many other parameters: melody, rhythm, texture, form, instrumentation, performance markings, expression, and character. Preparing harmonic reductions at various levels of passages from the students’ own repertoire will serve as a basis for understanding the harmonic structure of music: chromatic notes that deserve special attention; the presence of forward-moving or ambiguous progressions; mid-phrase expansions versus cadential punctuations; issues of harmonic rhythm and hyper-meter; and so on. At the concluding phase, the students go back to the original piece and think about possible interpretive possibilities, based on increased harmonic awareness. As they learn to analyze the music, they gain authority and become more informed performing artists.

Debussy and Ravel: The Edge Effect (Spring 2019)
These two pioneers of early twentieth-century music were inspired by many musical and extra-musical influences from around the world, yet fused them all into creating new works that were distinctly French. In this course we will explore the cultural melting-pot in the music of Debussy and Ravel, with examples from orchestral, chamber, vocal, operatic, and solo instrumental genres. Participants will learn to identify cultural influences in individual works, analyze how these translate into musical components of harmony, melody, and form, and put all of them in the larger context of a unified composition. In the second half of the course, participants will apply this knowledge to performance aspects in works of their choice from the two composers.

Applied Orchestration (Fall 2018)
In this course, students will study the capabilities and limitations of instruments and voices within historical,traditional, and contemporary contexts. In-class demonstrations will be provided by student performers and the instruments’ qualities will also be explored through readings and discussions. Special attention is paid to score preparation and parts extraction. The students will be expected to compose, arrange and/or transcribe short pieces of their choice for a variety of small ensembles. These musical creations will be performed and critiqued to yield the final grade.

Schenkerian Analysis (Fall 2018)
This course will aim to develop an understanding of large-scale musical coherence through a study of the analytic method developed by the Viennese theorist Heinrich Schenker (1868-1935). Many celebrated performers have advocated Schenker’s theories. The conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler was one of Schenker’s most ardent champions; not only did he consult Schenker about pieces he was to conduct, but he also helped finance several of the theorist’s publications. Many other prominent musicians, such as Bruno Walter, George Szell and Carl Flesch, were also interested in Schenker’s work. In Bruno Walter’s autobiography, the conductor wrote that “under the influence of the writings of the profound theorist and musical philosopher Heinrich Schenker, I became aware of what I had missed and began to grasp the theoretical problems; or rather they grasped me, they even fascinated me.”

Through the analytic techniques learned in this course, students will gain a deeper understanding of how the principles of harmony and counterpoint operate in tandem, and determine the criteria for structural coherence in music of the common-practice period. In the process of doing so, students will be introduced to the analytic system of graphic notation developed by Heinrich Schenker. In doing so, they will not only gain an understanding of graphic analysis, but also to relate musical analysis in helping to make interpretive decisions.

Schenker: Five Graphic Music Analyses
Schenker: The Masterwork in Music
Jonas: An Introduction the Theory of Heinrich Schenker

Analysis Seminar (Spring 2019)
In this course, students will undertake an in-depth analysis of a major work from the 20th or 21st century, with a preference for a major work being performed by the Curtis Symphony Orchestra in the current academic year. Students will receive a full score for the work, which they can mark and keep at the end of the semester. Students will learn about the history and the context of the work, and do a complete, page-by-page analysis. Many students will go on to perform the work with significantly greater understanding. (Specific repertoire to be announced.)

The Analysis of Fugue (Spring 2019)
It has often been remarked that fugue is not a form, but a texture. Yet fugues have conventional outlines, and formal schemes have been devised by a host of theory pedagogues, ranging from Cherubini to Gedalge and Prout. Donald Francis Tovey admonishes against this “jelly mold” approach, and remarks that “the formal rules given in most technical treatises are based, not on the practice of the world’s greatest composers, but on the necessities of beginners.” Despite the distinctive features of the genre, fugues are not organized differently from other types of compositions. As Robert Schumann noted, “I know of a connoisseur of music who once mistook a Bach fugue for a Chopin etude – to the honor of both.” This seminar will examine fugue through the study of examples from J. S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, known as the “48.” Dubbed “the Old Testament” by the eminent 19th-century pianist and conductor Hans von Bülow, The Well-Tempered Clavier has been justifiably regarded as one of the monuments of Western music. The seminar will begin by examining the techniques of imitation, beginning with strict canon, and proceed through a survey of the traditional compositional procedures associated with fugue, such as stretto, augmentation, diminution, and invertible counterpoint. After classifying the different types of fugue, the seminar will focus upon the analysis of individual fugues, concentrating in particular on the multifaceted possibilities that these imitative procedures have in expressing a fugue’s intricate voice-leading. Supplementary readings will range from instructional manuals by Bach’s contemporaries, such as Kirnberger and Fux, to individual analyses by Riemann, Schenker, Schachter, Renwick, and Dreyfus, as well as Tovey’s illuminating commentaries for all 48 fugues.

Key to the Course List

  • Odd-numbered courses meet in the fall and even-numbered courses meet in the spring.
  • The designations "s.h." (semester hours) and "g.c." (graduate credits) indicate credit-hours given per term for undergraduate and graduate courses, respectively.
  • Year-long, two-semester courses are designated by hyphenated course numbers. Students must successfully complete both semesters of required year-long courses to satisfy the graduation requirement.
  • An asterisk (*) indicates a course that is not offered every year.