Musicology Topics Courses Offered

MUHI 450: Bach in Context (Bennett, McClary)

This course locates Bach within his cultural context: his training, professional positions, the composers who influenced him, the ideologies (religious and secular) that affected him. But it focuses primarily on his music, especially on the ways he brought his own priorities to the procedures and genres he inherited.

MUHI 450: Beethoven Quartets (McClary)

This course traces Beethoven’s development as a composer through the detailed examination of most of the string quartets. Discussions draw on standard approaches to form but also involve methods developed for dealing with musical content.

MUHI 450: Berlioz: Sound, Style, Legacy (Brittan)

An in-depth study of Berlioz’s musical and critical output and his literary and sonic environments. This class (sometimes cross-listed at the graduate/undergraduate levels) is designed to introduce students to Berlioz’s major vocal and instrumental works, as well as their historical contexts, contemporary reception, and musical legacy. Close-reading of Berlioz’s work is central, as is wider consideration of the composer’s musical, urban, and industrial soundscapes; his theories of conducting; his relationship with romantic technology; his critical and autobiographical output; his interaction with literature; and his historical (and current) reception.

MUHI 450: Film Music (Goldmark)

This course is an historical-thematic overview of major topics in film music, organized semi-chronologically by means of overlapping film genres. Topics for discussion include: the music used in early “silent” film venues; compositional idiosyncrasies in numerous genres (including, but not limited to, dramas, film noir, animation, musicals, and action-adventures, western, romantic comedies, suspense-thrillers, and historical epics); differences in studio practices; creative differences between directors and composers; and the development of the pop song soundtrack.

MUHI 450: Hollywood Musicals (Goldmark)

This course is an exploration of a particular flavor of musical drama—the Hollywood musical. Few can agree on what qualifies as a “true” musical. Are Broadway adaptations more bona fide than musical episodes of television sitcoms? Are the Doris Day films musicals, or comedies with singing? Are all Disney cartoons musicals? What about “very special [musical] episodes” of television shows? There’s also the structure of the story to consider, as well as gender roles, racial stereotypes, ethnic under/overtones, and camp. And let’s not forget the music.

MUHI 450: Mahler (McClary)

This course examines Mahler’s development as a composer through the detailed examination of his symphonies and song cycles. Discussions draw on standard approaches to form but also deal with methods developed for dealing with musical content.

MUHI 590: Blues Cultures (Brittan)

An investigation of the blues as a musical and lyrical form as well as a set of social and cultural practices. Beginning in the Mississippi Delta with the country blues, the course moves roughly chronologically, looking at classic and urban blues, the role of blues language and culture during the Harlem Renaissance, extensions of the blues through the electric era, and its ‘revival’ in Britain in the 1960s. Our aim will be to open up questions surrounding blues transformations and racial politics; the ties between blues cultures and the rise of modernism; the social and sexual coding of both black and white blues; and the ways in which blues sounds and aesthetics have permeated American popular music since the 1920s. Historical and literary-critical methodologies are central, as are practices of close-reading and transcription, comparative listening, visual and poetic analysis, and study of reception histories.

MUHI 590: Chant, Liturgy, and Polyphony (Rothenberg)

The seminar begins with an overview of the structure of the Western liturgy and the principal forms and genres of plainchant, supported by study of medieval and Renaissance liturgical books in facsimile (paper, digital, and microfilm). The middle part of the course focuses on recent musicological studies that use chant and liturgy to shed light on polyphonic music from the thirteenth through seventeenth centuries. The final class meetings are dedicated to student presentations of final research projects.

MUHI 590: Divine Love in 17th-Century Music (McClary)

The sixteenth-century religious crisis precipitated by the Reformation gave rise to a number of subjective strains of Christian spirituality. During the seventeenth century, the Counter-Reformation church, Lutheran pietists, and English metaphysicians drew on concepts of Divine Love and religious ecstasy in order to instill a sense of personal devotion among practitioners. This seminar focuses on musical manifestations of Divine Love within the context of the cultures within which they emerged.

MUHI 590: French Baroque Spectacle (Cowart)

Prominent components of Louis XIV’s propaganda, the arts of spectacle also became sources of a potent resistance to the monarchy in late seventeenth-century France. With a particular focus on the court ballet, comedy-ballet, opera, and opera-ballet, this course looks at the ways in which the festive arts deployed an intricate network of subversive satire to undermine the rhetoric of sovereign authority. We trace this strain of artistic dissent through the comedy-ballets of Jean-Baptiste Lully and Molière, the late operatic works of Lully and the operas of his sons, the opera-ballets of André Campra, the opera-ballets of Rameau, and the related imagery of Antoine Watteau’s paintings. Exploring these arts from the perspective of spectacle as it emerged from the court into the Parisian public sphere, we situate the ballet and related genres as the missing link between an imagery of propaganda and an imagery of political protest.

MUHI 590 Musical Humanism in Late Renaissance France (Bennett)

This seminar explores the rise of musical humanism – the attempt to recreate of the music of classical antiquity – in France from c.1550-1640, providing the foundation on which the study of much of later French music depends. Beginning with the poetry and music associated with Pierre de Ronsard and the Pléaide, subsequent classes explore the Académie de Poesie et de Musique of Charles IX (1571), the Balet Comique de la Reine (1581), the rise of the air de cour in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, and the balet de cour in the early 17th century. The class concludes by considering the “end of musical humanism”, the famous debate featuring Descartes and Mersenne in which both philosophers offer a detailed analysis of an air that accords with the newer conception of music as a rhetorical, text-based art, rather than a number-based discipline. 

MUHI 590: Music and Histories of Magic (Brittan)

An investigation of music’s historical intertwining with conceptions of enchantment, wonder, and transformation. The course is transhistorical and transnational, spanning the Renaissance to the twenty-first century, and incorporating theological, scientific, musical, literary, and visual materials. Points of focus include Renaissance cosmology and sonic theology; fairy tale literature and opera; eighteenth-century marvelous soundworlds, fantastic cultures of the nineteenth century, and non-Western traditions of musical divination and enchantment. Our goal is to trace the ways in which sound has operated, historically, as a mediating device between lived and imaginary, human and supernatural worlds. We will be concerned not just with composed music, but sonic histories in a broader sense, and with interactions between Western and non-Western forms of sounding magic.

MUHI 590: Opera after Einstein (McClary)

This seminar examines operas written between Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach and the present moment. Studies of operas from earlier historical periods now regularly address representations of power, gender, sexuality, and subjectivity. We will be discussing how the operas of our own time operate with respect to cultural contexts and ideologies.

MUHI 590: Opera and Its Audiences, 1600 – 2000 (Cowart)

The subject of opera audiences as a field of study emerged in the 1990s, in the wake of the “cultural turn” of the previous two decades, from the growing displacement of attention from the work of art as formal object and result of authorial intention to the reader or audience as the source of more relative and pluralistic interpretations. The application of these ideas to the audiences of theater has encouraged an expanded interest in the cultural effects of performance, especially on the individual spectator and segments of the audience comprising, for example, women and gays. This course treats opera audiences in the broader contexts of social, cultural, and commercial histories, including the function of the opera house as a social and cultural environment. It also focuses on the behaviors and demographics of opera audiences, while reaching into broader arenas of reception, taste, and aesthetics, all of which emanate from the interactions of audiences with operatic works, styles, and performances.

MUHI 590: Romantic Shapes (Brittan)

A consideration of musical shape and shapelessness in the nineteenth century, and the philosophical, political, and scientific impulses underpinning romantic form. Topics covered include spirals, circles and psychoanalysis; organicism and ‘vital’ forms; gendered discourses and musical fragmentation/improvisation; imaginary or unnotatable forms; miniaturism and gigantism; and formal temporalities. We will be concerned with the ways in which musical shape is inflected by social power structures, medical theory, emerging materialist discourses (neuroscientific, physiological, acoustic), theological currents, and romantic technology. Our orientation is fundamentally interdisciplinary: visual, scientific, and literary objects will be as important as sonic artifacts. Our aim is to understand nineteenth-century theories of structure while also grappling with romantic tendencies toward deconstructionism and anti-formalism.   

MUHI 590: Sonic Histories of Medicine, 1780-1930 (Brittan)

A contemplation of sound-medicine interactions between roughly 1780-1930. Examples of topics covered include histories of nervous function and their relationship with medical ‘treatment’; auditory cultures of mesmerism and somnambulism; nineteenth-century practices of medical listening (including percussive and stethoscopic audition); systems of music and movement (including Dalcroze and Alexander Technique); music and theories of romantic cognition; and staged representations of pathology (hysteria, neurasthenia, and tuberculosis). We will be concerned both with medicine’s sonic pasts and its ties to theatricality. We will also examine the political, sexual, and gendered implications of aural medicine. Some meetings are held at the Dittrick Medical Museum and Archive. 

MUHI 590: Tin Pan Alley (Goldmark)

In this seminar we investigate different perspectives on the rise of mass-mediated popular music in the United States at the turn of the 20th century. We explore the history of the place Tin Pan Alley, including the trajectory of the music publishing industry from small to big business, and situate it amongst the many other forms of material culture reaching new heights at the same time.  We will look into what kinds of songs were created by Tin Pan Alley songwriters and consider who were the target audience for such songs. And we will discuss the endless avenues that Tin Pan Alley took into performance venues and media: stage, screen, recordings, literature, theatre, journalism, etc.

MUHI 612: Analysis for Historians (McClary)

This seminar (required of all graduate students in Musicology) develops a range of ways in which musicologists might bridge the gap between the details of a musical score or performance and the historical context within which it first appeared. Each unit focuses on a different repertory (e.g. Beethoven symphony, French dance suite, 19th-c. opera or ballet, film score, madrigals, blues-based music, recent concert music), considering for each what it means to “analyze” this particular genre or style and establishing the relevant parameters. What is the object of the analysis? What is the objective of the analysis? Discussions then proceed to issues of critical interpretation.

MUTH 416: Pre-tonal Theory and Analysis (McClary)

This seminar focuses on the theory and analysis of music composed before the procedures now called “tonality” solidified in eighteenth-century Europe.