Histories of Western Music

Spring 2020Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Mondays and Wednesdays, 6:00 – 7:50pm
323 West Hall
download syllabus as PDF

In this course, we will engage with a diverse col­lec­tion of his­tor­i­cal nar­ra­tives about music in the West,” pay­ing close atten­tion to the authors, val­ues, and bias­es behind them. We will explore the his­to­ries of both art” and ver­nac­u­lar” musics, from the birth of polypho­ny to recent devel­op­ments in music tech­nol­o­gy and their impact on hip-hop. Through­out the semes­ter, we will use a wide vari­ety of his­to­ri­o­graph­ic method­olo­gies that crit­i­cal­ly expand on stan­dard tele­o­log­i­cal nar­ra­tives. In the end, stu­dents will pos­sess a well-round­ed under­stand­ing of West­ern Music along with an appre­ci­a­tion for the lim­i­ta­tions of any his­tor­i­cal nar­ra­tive about it. No pri­or musi­cal expe­ri­ence is required for this course.

Upcoming Meetings

Opera in Four Acts — Musical Spectacles and the Power of the Voice, Pt. 2

Tuesday February 18th, 2020
assignments due

Check out the instructions at this link, then head to this Google form and answer the questions.

MUSIC HISTORY BEYOND NARRATIVE

Paganini's Violin

Monday February 24th, 2020

What can we learn by focusing on the instruments that musicians use?

assignments forthcoming

J Dilla's Sampler

Wednesday February 26th, 2020

What can we learn by focusing on the instruments that musicians use?

assignments forthcoming

The Year 1812

Monday March 2nd, 2020

What can we learn about music by limiting our consideration to a single year?

assignments forthcoming

The Year 1969

Wednesday March 4th, 2020

What can we learn about music by limiting our consideration to a single year?

assignments forthcoming

Urtexts, Editors, and Historical Performance

Monday March 16th, 2020

What can we learn about music by focusing on its written documentations?

assignments forthcoming

On Liner Notes and Recording Sessions

Wednesday March 18th, 2020
assignments forthcoming

Recordings and the Idea of a Musical Work, Pt. 1

Monday March 23rd, 2020

How can we use recordings to explore the histories of musics both notated and not?

assignments forthcoming

Recordings and the Idea of a Musical Work, Pt. 2

Wednesday March 25th, 2020
assignments forthcoming

Vienna and the Idea of a Cultural Capital

Monday March 30th, 2020

What can we learn about music by focusing on a single place?

note


assignments forthcoming

New York City and Global Music

Wednesday April 1st, 2020

What can we learn about music by focusing on a single place?

assignments forthcoming
MUSICAL NARRATIVES IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

The Death of Harmony, Pt. 1

Monday April 6th, 2020
assignments forthcoming

The Death of Harmony, Pt. 2

Wednesday April 8th, 2020
assignments forthcoming

The African Diaspora and American Musical Identity, Pt. 1

Monday April 13th, 2020
assignments forthcoming

The African Diaspora and American Musical Identity, Pt. 2

Wednesday April 15th, 2020
assignments forthcoming

The Birth of Hip-Hop, Pt. 1

Monday April 20th, 2020
assignments forthcoming

The Birth of Hip-Hop, Pt. 2

Wednesday April 22nd, 2020
assignments forthcoming

Exoticism, Appropriation, and Global Pop, Pt. 1

Monday April 27th, 2020
assignments forthcoming

Exoticism, Appropriation, and Global Pop, Pt. 2

Wednesday April 29th, 2020
assignments forthcoming

Past Meetings

What is Music History?

Monday January 13th, 2020

If we're going to spend a semester studying music history, we should ask, "What the heck is music history, anyways?".

assignments forthcoming

The "West" and its Music(s)

Wednesday January 15th, 2020

A class on Western Music History implies a particular conception of "The West." We're going to explore that idea and its implications for our study of music.

note

Listening Due:

Woo-Hoo by the 5.6.7.8's [2 minutes]
November Steps by Toru Takemitsu [19 minutes]

assignments due

Please fill out this (brief) intro survey, so I can learn a little bit more about you and make the class fun and interesting!

reading + listening
Takemitsu's "November Steps"

Read this brief Wikipedia article about November Steps by Toru Takemitsu, one of the listening examples assigned for this week. Then listen to the piece over headphones in a quiet space. Don't do anything else while you're listening. This piece could reasonably be described as "ugly," "bananas," "mind-blowing," "trippy," "horrifying," or any number of other things.

Whatever your response to the piece, do your best to remain focussed on it throughout the entire 19 minutes! When your mind wonders (as it will), be gentle with yourself and consciously bring your attention back to the music. It's ok if this is really hard; I know the piece is long.

Once you've listening to both of the assigned pieces, go to this Google form and fill out the three fields:

  1. Make one observation about Woo-Hoo. It can be brief. You can talk about the music itself, something you read about it, or simply your experience listening to it.
  2. Make one observation about November Steps.
  3. We will talk about both of these piece in class on Wednesday. Please develop one discussion question about either or both of them to help guide our conversation as a group.
NARRATIVES ABOUT "CLASSICAL" MUSIC

The Birth of Harmony

Wednesday January 22nd, 2020

We will consider the origins of notated music and the so-called birth of polyphony.

assignments due
Listening and Response
From Chant to Bach in Six Pieces

Follow the link to find instructions and the listening for next Wednesday's class!

The Rise and Stagnation of The Orchestra, Pt. 1

Monday January 27th, 2020

We will trace the history of one of Western classical music's most celebrated ensembles.

assignments due

Check out the assignment instructions at this link. Then fill out this Google Form.

The Emancipation and Re-conscription of the Genius Composer, Pt. 1

Monday February 3rd, 2020

We will consider the shifting social and economic position of composers in the West.

assignments due
Listening and response
Listening and response

Check out the instructions at this link, then head to this Google form and submit your answers.

The Emancipation and Re-conscription of the Genius Composer, Pt. 2

Monday February 10th, 2020
assignments due

Check out the instructions then head to this Google form and answers the questions.

Opera in Four Acts — Musical Spectacles and the Power of the Voice, Pt. 1

Wednesday February 12th, 2020

We will trace the history of one of Western classical music's most opulent genres.

assignments due
Listening and Response
Operas and Boundaries

Check out these instructions, then head to this Google form and answer the questions.