MUSI 425 syllabus

Trinity Western University – course syllabus

MUSI 425 (3 s.h.) – Spring 2016

Twentieth-Century Music

Prerequisite:  MUSI 325, 326

Instructor:  Dr. David Squires, ex3469;  Mus Bldg, office hrs MW 11am-noon (usually), or by appt

Lectures:  W 6-9pm, MPF 201


Course Description

An examination of representative musical literature spanning the 20th and 21st centuries, including compositional practice, analysis, and approaches to history. Analytical issues are examined in response to questions of structural integrity, pitch and temporal organization, and the relationship of recent musical discourse to the tradition of the common practice. Students develop critical interpretive tools through engagement with musicological literature that addresses issues of history, the relationship of music and culture, and aesthetic value.


Course Context

As the nineteenth century drew to a close, art music composition was digressing from the formal and structural principles that had governed musical tradition in Europe as a standardized common practice for almost three hundred years. To this day, a primary assumption underlying musical analysis in most 17th, 18th and early 19th–century repertoire is that rhetoric and structure of Western art music coheres on the basis of conflict between elements of tension and resolution. The interpretation of the musical work as conflict is integral to an understanding of common practice musical form.

Composition in the 20th century raises some important questions:

  • How does a composer achieve coherence when the establishment of a single, central tonality through conflict is no longer the goal of the work?
  • What are the unifying elements within a composition when a prevailing system of tonality is no longer assumed?
  • Are unifying elements even desirable?
  • What validates a musical composition as a work of art in post-tonal musical discourse?

Along with these questions, in the twentieth century we find:

  • a gradual shift toward aesthetic and interpretive plurality
  • a blurring of the lines between art music and the music of mass culture
  • an increasing dependence on technical systems of production and reproduction which place new demands on performers and consumers of art music
  • new developments in the study of music including streams of critical interpretation, performance hermeneutic and reception, and interdisciplinary criticism
  • the influence of globalization and capitalism in musical production and reception
  • movement away from music as autonomous and distanced from culture and politics


Student Learning Outcomes

The learning outcomes of this course relate to several of the university’s Student Learning Outcomes [ ], as referenced below. This course is designed in such a way that the diligent student will:

  • develop a deeper understanding of music and ideas within the major compositional streams in the art music tradition of the twentieth century; [knowledge and its application, SLO 1]
  • gain and apply critical analytical tools to music and musical styles referred to as modernist, postmodern, and beyond; [cognitive complexity, SLO 2]
  • formulate new questions and develop new perspectives on the nature of music and musical interpretation; [cognitive complexity, SLO 2]
  • develop and articulate aesthetic approaches to the music of this period from a Christian perspective that engages music and its social context charitably, critically and reflectively; [cognitive complexity, SLO 2; social responsibility and global engagement, SLO 6]
  • learn to become a self-directed learner, thinker, and writer who balances intuition and imagination with scholarly method. [cognitive complexity, SLO 2]


Text + Resources

Required text:  Ross, Alex. The Rest is Noise: Listening to the twentieth century. New York: Picador, 2007

Other resources: 

Course material will be posted at – visit regularly.

This includes PDFs of various readings for preparation and/or critical review at the discretion of the instructor. A non-exhaustive list is included in Appendix A.

The following resource will be placed on library reserve (along with several scores).

Straus, Joseph N. Introduction to Post-Tonal Theory. Third Edition. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 2005


Course Activities + Requirements

A variety of learning strategies can be employed in musicological study, musical analysis, and interpretation. No single approach is definitive; structural analytical method, contextual study of style or reception, comparative examination of compositional processes—each path or approach reveals something about the music being studied. This course aims to provide opportunity for the student to experience different approaches, and to make further choices based on their own preferred learning styles.

Some course requirements are fixed (required of each student). Some are flexible and subject to student’s choice of topic, type of presentation and/or percentage of grade. This allows a student the option of determining a specific research area/focus in the last portion of the semester.


Attendance and Participation: 9%

  • Attendance and participation is required to get the most out of the course.
  • Anyone who does not attend 75% of the classes may be barred from submitting their final paper.

Critical Reviews: 7 @ 3% each = 21%

  • An informed personal response to assigned weekly readings and to issues stemming from class discussions.
  • 500 word reflection on a guided set of questions posted on the course website.
  • Written in the first-person, a critical review demonstrates a command of the author’s material and a keen sense of curiosity and imagination.
  • Review may include some summary of the article/reading, but should consist primarily of engaged reflection.
  • A student may be called upon at any time to present a summary of their review to the class. This presentation should take no longer than 10 minutes.
  • Critical reviews should be submitted online as a Word document prior to class.
  • possible additional critical reviews below in FLEX

Technical Exercises in Music Analysis: 3 assignments @ 5% each = 15%

  • Each analytical assignment is based on a work study model similar to those presented in the Straus readings and in class sessions.
  • Assignments will be distributed in class or on the course website.
  • Estimate several hours to complete each exercise.
  • possible additional technical analyses below in FLEX

Exit interview/exam: 20%

The final exam will be in oral form. It will consist of an interview during the final exam week (approximately twenty minutes) covering elements of the course, including lectures, readings, discussions, and the student’s assignments. Specific questions and further information will be provided in class closer to the time.

FLEXIBLE [ 35% ]

The student chooses one or more of the following assignments/projects in conjunction with the instructor. Percentage weights are determined so the whole totals 35%.

Some examples (not exhaustive):

  • 2 regular critical reviews (a), for 10% total; plus a research paper for 25%
  • 1 comparative critical review (b), for 10%; plus 3 technical analyses for 15% total; plus a smaller paper for 10%
  • a single major paper for 35%

Technical Exercises in Music Analysis: 5% each (limit 3)

  • Similar to the ones described above, on a piece mutually agreed upon with the instructor.

Critical Review: (a) 5% each, limit 3; or (b) 10%, limit 1

  • Regular (a): An additional critical review similar to the ones described above, but more in-depth, on a course reading and line of inquiry mutually agreed upon with the instructor.
  • Comparative (b): A larger in-depth critical review involving the comparison of two or more significant readings from those on the course website. Again, the readings and line of inquiry must be mutually agreed upon.

Research Paper: 10-35%

The research paper can take any of a number of forms/approaches. Some possibilities include:

  • Analytical work study: exploration of several facets of compositional organization or relationships (pitch, temporality, spatiality, structural design, timbre) of a single substantial piece.
  • Comparative examination of various critical interpretive paradigms applied to the study of a single work (examples: reception or performance history, socio-historical interpretation, gender theory).
  • Exploration of the impact of culture on music or music on culture.
  • Comparative analysis of two or more divergent works in a particular genre (example, two chamber works or two operas from different parts of the century).


The length and scope of the paper will vary with the percentage weight assigned to it—from 1500 to 3000 words, as agreed upon at the proposal stage. Additional requirements include:

  • accompanying images and/or sound files as appropriate to the topic
  • complete bibliographical citations and discography (follow an accepted style guide)
  • papers submitted electronically in PDF format

The following 2-stage submission process applies:

  • Proposal due the week of Mar 21: Student must provide a preliminary 2-3 page proposal for the paper, outlining the methodology and including at least 10 research sources. This proposal should show evidence of preliminary research and clearly articulate the approach to the topic. Part of the grade will be for this proposal.
  • Full paper due the final day of classes (Apr 18). No late papers accepted.


Course Outline (subject to change as necessary)

This outline is flexible and subject to change as necessary. Some readings, composers, and pieces are provided below only as a guide, more details will be announced along the way.

Jan 13: Introduction and Context, Fin de Siecle

readings to include: Ross ch 1, Morgan


Jan 20: Games + Rites, Death + War (1913+/-)

readings to include: Ross chs 2 + 3

Mahler (9th Symphony), Debussy (Jeux), Stravinsky (Rite of Spring)


Jan 27: Set Theory 1

readings to include: Straus ch 1 (pp1-15)

Schoenberg, Berg, Webern (various pieces)


Feb 3: Set Theory 2

readings to include: Straus ch 2 (pp33-60)

Schoenberg, Berg, Webern (various pieces)

Bartok (Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta)


Feb 10: Serialism

readings to include: Schoenberg: Style and Idea (pp214-249),

Schoenberg, Berg, Webern (various pieces)


Feb 17: Neo-Classicism, Europe + War (Again)

readings from: Ross chs 5, 7, 8, 9 + 12

Stravinsky (Symphony of Psalms), Britten (Peter Grimes), Shostakovich


Feb 24: Post-WW2: Brave-New-World-Order

readings to include: Ross chs 10 + 11, Taruskin ch 1 (pp1-44), ch 2 (pp55-101); Babbitt

postwar serialism, Darmstadt (Boulez, Stockhausen)

indeterminacy (Cage)


Mar 2: Spring Reading Break – no class


Mar 9: TBA

readings tba

composers and pieces tba


Mar 16: Messiaen

readings to include: Ross ch 13, Bruhn

Quartet for the End of Time, Turangalila


Mar 23: Minimalism

readings to include: Ross ch 14, Reich, Kramer

Reich (Music for 18 Musicians, Tehillim), Glass (Einstein on the Beach), Adams


Mar 30: Postmodernism in Music

readings to include: Gloag ch 1, McClary, Lochhead, Taylor

Berio (Sinfonia), Crumb (Ancient Voices of Children)


Apr 6: Spirituality (Part, Gorecki, others)

readings to include: Begbie, Hillier, Gloag ch 8, Howard

Pärt (Fratres, The Beatitudes), Gorecki (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs), Tavener

MacMillan (Confession of Isobel Gowdie, Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross)


Apr 13: Opera and Event, Fin de Siecle

readings to include: Ross ch 15 and Epilogue

Messiaen (Saint Francois d’Assise), Tan Dun (Marco Polo, The Map)


Monday Apr 18 is the last day to submit the final paper and any other outstanding work. Nothing will be accepted after this date.


Grading System Specific to This Course

The following grading scale differs from the university standard grading system, and will be used for this course:

A+        97-100             B+        83-87               C+        69-73               D+       56-59

A          92-96               B          78-82               C          64-68               D         53-55

A-         88-91               B-         74-77               C-         60-63               D-        50-52   (F: up to 49)


The following grade definitions are applicable in this course:

A-/A/A+       outstanding, excellent work

B/B+            good, competent work

B-/B             adequate, reasonably satisfactory work

C+                minimally acceptable work

[music majors are required to achieve minimum C+ in all classroom courses]

F/D/C           inadequate, not up to required standard


Attendance and Deadlines

  • To get the most out of this class, attendance and participation is crucial. You must attend at least 75% of the classes or you may be barred from submitting the final paper and/or attending the final exit interview/exam.
  • Assignments are accepted late at a penalty of 10% per day to a maximum 40% off, unless the assignment has been taken up in class. In this case, the assignment will receive a grade of zero.
  • The final day to hand in outstanding assignments is the final day of classes (Apr 18). If there are still assignments not completed by this time they will not be accepted.

Writing quality

It is expected that your level of writing is up to university standards. Assignments with significant grammatical problems will be referred to the Writing Centre for rewriting before the assignment will be marked. The Writing Centre is an excellent resource for students at all levels to improve writing skills. See:

Responsible Use of Electronic Devices

If you bring or use electronic devices (cell phones, tablets, laptops) in class, please do so responsibly. Responsible use of electronic devices includes:

  • Setting up devices and turning off all sounds prior to the start of class.
  • Using devices for class related work. Checking social networks not only distracts you, but also those around you.
  • Using devices as a way to increase engagement rather than detract from engagement. In some situations (discussion, viewing images, etc) this may involve turning devices off.

Academic Integrity and Avoiding Plagiarism at TWU

One of the core values of Trinity Western University is the integration of academic excellence with high standards of personal, moral, and spiritual integrity. The University considers it a serious offence when an individual attempts to gain unearned academic credit. It is the student’s responsibility to be informed about what constitutes academic dishonesty. For details on this, and on identifying and avoiding plagiarism go to the University Homepage > Academics > Academic Calendar > Academic Information > Academic Policies > Academic Dishonesty and Plagiarism.

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Students with a Disability

Students with a disability who need assistance are encouraged to contact the Equity of Access Office upon admission to TWU to discuss their specific needs. All disabilities must be recently documented by an appropriately certified professional and include the educational impact of the disability along with recommended accommodations. Within the first two weeks of the semester, students must meet with their professors to agree on accommodations appropriate to each class. Students should follow the steps detailed by the Equity of Access Office outlined in the Student Life section of the University Calendar.

Campus Closure and Class Cancellations

In case of extreme weather conditions, check the campus state at:

Fragrance-Free Policy

Trinity Western University is moving towards a scent-free environment in response to numerous faculty, staff and students whose health is at risk when exposed to chemical-based or scented products. More information:

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