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Music History Electives

MUS301-5 Music of the Medieval Period (Fall 2016)

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there,” wrote the British novelist L. P. Hartley. The music of the medieval period, from the emergence of notation in the 9th century to the beginnings of the Italian Renaissance around 1400, is a good example of the strangeness of the past. But although it is unfamiliar to most modern people in so many ways—its notation, its instruments, its compositional forms, its social functions—this repertoire contains timeless and beautiful works of art capable of speaking to us across great historical distances. In this course, we will explore the world of medieval music through intensive reading, listening, analysis, and discussion. Learning objectives will include understanding the various forms and genres of the period, perceiving the music’s relationships to the social life of church and court, and appreciating the age’s distinctive aesthetic sensibility. We will also consider such topics as the “early music revival” beginning around 1900, problems of performance practice, and the influence of medieval music on newly composed music in the 20th century.

Prerequisites: Music History I and II

MUS301-1 The Life and Music of Stravinsky, the “Anti-Darmstadt” (Fall 2016)

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) moved away from his native Russia when he was a young man. He traveled the world, spoke many languages, lived in four different countries (and held citizenship in three of them), and died in New York City. Likewise, he belonged to no single “school” of composition: in his early years, up to and including the creation of his first great success, The Firebird ballet, he was heavily influenced by the coloristic writing of Rimsky-Korsakov, but immediately afterward he began to create such great, revolutionary works as Petrushka, The Rite of Spring; The Song of the Nightingale, and Les Noces. Then came his long, neo-classical period, which also produced numerous masterpieces (Oedipus Rex, the Symphony of Psalms, the Symphony in C, the Symphony in Three Movements, and The Rake’s Progress, among many other works); and in the last phase of his creative life he created a highly personal approach to the twelve-tone system. He was familiar with the “Darmstadt composers” – especially Pierre Boulez – but he accepted no orthodoxies of any sort. Like Picasso, his friend and contemporary, he was open to influences from everyone, everything, and everywhere. This course will survey Stravinsky’s life and his nearly 70-year-long career, making use not only of the music but of the many extant films and recordings of this most powerful force in 20th-century music.

MUS301-6 The Master Builders: Ibsen, Brahms, Cézanne (Fall 2016)

What did the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906), the German composer Johannes Brahms (1833- 1897), and the French painter Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) have in common, apart from being contemporaries? All three were heirs to the High Romantic tradition, but all three were – or became – fundamentally classicists in their approach to form, and all three exerted strong influence on the following generations of artists in their respective fields. Each of them was a master at developing minute elements – a few words, a two- or three-note melodic motif, a small group of flecks of paint – into large, powerful structures. In short, each of them was a master builder of works that continue to stimulate our minds and grip our emotions. Through readings and videos of two of Ibsen’s plays (A Doll’s House and The Master Builder), recordings of some of Brahms’s most significant compositions, and viewings of several of Cézanne’s finest paintings in one of Philadelphia’s great collections, this seminar will deal with important questions about the nature of artistic creativity, including the confluence of method, instinct, and genius.

MUS302 The Golden Age of the Renaissance: The 16th Century (Spring 2017)

The 16th century saw a great diversity of styles and genres ranging from the invention of the Protestant chorale of the Reformation, the great masses and motets of the Counter-Reformation, the development of instrumental music to highly chromatic and experimental madrigals, and the invention of opera. All of this was influenced by a changing political and religious climate, the struggle between medieval superstition and rational scientific thought, and a full on rediscovery of ancient Roman and Greek culture.

MUS302 Darmstadt in Retrospect: Influences and Reactions (Spring 2017)

During the period following the end of the Second World War, countries, societies and the arts attempted to find a path forward– away from the horror that war had wrought but still under the over-arching threat of nuclear destruction. Within this environment composers, many of whom had grown up listening to and evolving from the musics of their parents’ generation, found themselves torn between the various “-isms” of mid-20th century music. Influences ranged from the intellectual discipline of serialism to the extended exploration of microtonal tunings and acoustical experimentation. Also present were the philosophical challenges of randomness, organic sounds generated by the incorporation of non-Western aesthetics and electronic sound sources. Certainly, some of this focus on arcane structuring and the (often disliked by the audience) results was– on some level– escapism that included various examples of retreating from order, from chaos, from reality and/or from mass depression and angst. Looking back from the perspective of one who lived through these times, the students and the teacher will explore some of the unique events of the period and attempt to place then into perspective from the vantage point of the second decade of the 21st century.

Among the events to be discussed will be the development of electronic music, the works of Harry Partch, HPSCHD, The Ghent Conference on New Musical Notation, the exploration of microtonal music and the schism between academic music and music for the concert hall. Not to be overlooked will be the marketing ploy that systematically separated listening audiences for purposes of focused advertising that has lead to a marginalization of “serious” music in contrast to commercial music. The instructor will offer a personal insight into the events and the times referenced above and will encourage the students to research selected topics. Individuals will be asked to critique these events in light of our current understandings of their significance, influences or lack thereof. The class should meet once a twice a week and will include, as appropriate, readings, performances and discussions. As much as possible, the curiosities of the students will assist with the final structuring of the experience.

MUS302 Exploring Electronic Music (Spring 2017)

Music and technology have been intertwined since the prehistoric invention of the bone flute, but in the last 100 years, concurrent with the emergence of the concept of “electronic music,” the two have attained an unprecedented intensity of mutual influence. In this class we will explore both the technologies and the aesthetics of electronic music from the first electric instruments of the early twentieth century to the ubiquitous devices of today. Although the class will be structured primarily as a historical survey, we will also engage directly with various instruments and compositional/performative approaches in order to better understand how the technologies of electronic music create new possibilities for musical experience. As befits a course offered for conservatory students, we will pay special attention to questions of performance: the influence of electronic sound on instrumental technique, various forms of live electronic music, and the prospect of computers and robots as performers and composers. Outside of class, students will complete weekly assignments involving reading, writing, listening, and analysis. Finally, students will be required to complete a substantial final project, which can take many forms, including creative work.

Prerequisites: Music History I and II

MUS302 Historical String Recordings (Spring 2017)

Thomas Edison’s discovery in 1877 of the process of capturing sound waves on foil wrapped around a cylinder, which he called the “phonograph” (a combination of the Greek words for sound and writing), was one of the most significant developments in the history of musical performance. Nearly a decade later, Emile Berliner invented a method of engraving sound on a glass disc, which he dubbed the “gramophone.” This invention established the flat disc – in its various incarnations from acetate and vinyl records to the digital CD – as the standard document for musical performance that has remained until today. Although two of the greatest violinists of the 19th century – Henri Vieuxtemps and Henryk Wieniawski – were alive when recording was in its infancy, sound recordings were not conceived as documents of musical performance until after their deaths. The first recording of a serious concert artist was not made until 1888 (by the 12-year-old prodigy pianist Josef Hofmann). Among the notable musicians documented in the early history of recordings are the composers Brahms, Grieg, and Saint-Saens. And at the beginning of the 20th century, the legendary violinists Joachim and Sarasate, both at the end of their respective careers, made several recordings.

This course examines the development of string playing through a survey of recordings made by the most eminent violinists, violists and cellists in the first half of the 20th century. Beginning with Joachim and Sarasate, this course will examine the different playing styles of such major figures as Ysaÿe, Huberman, Elman, Kreisler, Thibaud, Kreisler, Casals, Tertis, Szigeti, Heifetz, Primrose, Feuermann, Menuhin, Milstein, and Francescatti.

Historical and analytical readings will be drawn from The Great Violinists (Campbell), Violin Virtuosos (Roth), and Great Masters of the Violin (Schwarz), and students will be expected to give a presentation on one historical string player through their recordings.


Odd-numbered courses generally 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.

Yearlong, two-semester courses are designated by hyphenated course numbers. Students must successfully complete both semesters of required yearlong courses to satisfy the graduation requirement.

The symbol * indicates a course that is not offered every year.