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Music History Electives

Stravinsky and Mother Russia 

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. Although he left Russia, Russia never left him. He was Russian to the core, in his way of thinking and being, and to a greater or lesser extent Russia permeates the music of every one of his creative phases: the early period, heavily influenced by his teacher, Rimsky-Korsakov; the period of his great, revolutionary ballets (The Firebird, Petrushka, and The Rite of Spring); the transitional phase that included Les Noces and Mavra; the long neo-classical period; and the final phase, when he created a highly personal approach to the twelve-tone system. This course will survey Stravinsky’s life and his nearly 70-year-long creative 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.

Wagner and Verdi

The year 2013 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of both Richard Wagner and Giuseppe Verdi, the two giants of 19th-century opera. They had a few things in common—for instance, neither was a child prodigy, and each had his first major success with his third opera, in 1842. In most respects, however, they could not have been more different. Wagner was a revolutionary composer, who had—and implemented—drastic ideas about what opera ought to be and do, about orchestration, about harmony, about motivic symbolism, and about nearly everything else. Verdi was an evolutionary composer, who, although he had a strong musical personality from the start, moved gradually away from the set-piece format (arias and ensemble pieces punctuated by recitatives) of his predecessors toward a smoother, more modern form of dramatic presentation. Wagner’s primary concern, apart from the music itself, was to put across ideas, philosophy; his characters, often mythological, tend to be symbols of human behavior rather than “normal” human beings. Verdi’s overwhelming concern was to portray individual human beings, who, whether they are princesses or prostitutes, counts or commoners, give voice to primal or profound human emotions. This class will survey the life and work of each of these geniuses.

History of Performance Practice

Is it important to understand what the instruments of Bach's time sounded like? Would Beethoven or Mozart prefer the sound of the modern Steinway over the Piano Forte? 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.

Music, Monarchs, and Mad Dictators

In keeping with Curtis’s Russian-oriented 2013–14 theme, this class 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.

The Master Builders: Ibsen, Brahms, and Cézanne

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, in their respective fields, on the following generation. Each of them was a master at developing minute elements—a single sentence, 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 Philadelphia great collections, this seminar will deal with important questions about the nature of artistic creativity, including the confluence of method with instinct and genius.


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.