Manhattan School of Music
Survey of Contemporary Music Part 1
Fall 2015
2:00-3:20 T/Th

(Semester 1 playlist)


Two goals

  1. Get to know lots of 20th and 21st century music deeply and well.  That requires:

    • active listening and reflection

      • it feels -- attentive, patient, open, relaxed, curious, focused

      • daily ritual, good sound, distraction-free space, preparation (exercise, meditation, a cup of tea) helps you get there

      • listen more than once

      • record your reflections.  ideas:
        • list features
        • technical descriptions: texture?  rhythm?  timbre?  harmony?  patterns?  layers?
        • draw the form
        • note moments to listen for next time, or to recommend to others --
        • ask questions
        • answer some of these:
          • what is the unity of this piece?  what is the variety?
          • what did you notice new the second time you heard it?
          • does this piece have a strong identity?  what gives it that?
          • what is striated?  what is smooth?  Apollonian?  Dionysian?  traditional?  unique?
          • how does this harmonic space work?
          • how do lines unfold?
          • how does it signal beginning-ness?  ending-ness?
          • what are the units (large form or local scale)?  how are they different from each other?   how are they separated?
          • make your own questions and answer them
        • something creative - stream-of-consciousness automatic writing?  draw?  paint?
    • learning some context

      • includes biography, theory, philosophy, reception, criticism, program, lore
      • requires research.  internet is ok, but you'll find better stuff in the library
      • does the music have text or a program?  learn it.  title in another language?  translate.
      • check out the score
    • physicalizing it

      • conduct & ta through the score, or
      • learn the theme, or the first bar, or your favorite part, on your instrument, or
      • listen to a phrase, pause it, and sing or play back what you heard, or
      • pretend to play one of the parts, air guitar style. really!
    • remembering it

      • if there's not an entry yet, start an entry to the CLASS LOG
        • a perfect log entry includes
          • title of piece / composer / year / instrumentation
          • context, as defined above.  stuff around the piece.  quote liberally.
          • form/content observations - stuff inside the piece.
          • zoom in on a part of the piece in some way: note an exceptional moment, feature, section
          • what people say about it - quotes by the composer or commentators
          • further reading: a list of the books and websites
          • your reflections on the piece in your column - subjective, informal, see notes above
      • if there is an entry already, add your reflections and read your classmates'.  Want to improve the entry?  Go for it.
      • read the CLASS LOG often to see what our classmates are listening to and thinking about.  listen to some of those pieces and add your comments.
  2. Improve how we talk about it.  We'll practice by:

  • teaching it
    • class presentations guide us into our listening by providing:
    • some context, as defined above
    • some prompts of things to listen for, appreciate and think about
    • some connection to other pieces/composers/ideas we've discussed
    • a question you'd like us to consider as we listen


Class Calendar

Semester 2

1/12 – New Beginnings: Technology, Organization, Indeterminacy.  Withdrawing the Self.  Playlist – Notes

1/14 – New Beginnings 2.  Playlist

1/19 – Exploring structure: from within, from without, and open forms.  Playlist – Notes

1/21 – Continued.

1/26 – Electronic Music I: Roots – Playlist – Notes

1/28 – Electronic Music II: Branches –  Playlist – Notes

2/2 – Elder Reactions.  Playlist – Notes

2/4 – No class

2/9 – Experimental Music I: Experience

2/11 – Experimental Music II: Purposeful Play

2/16 – Experimental Music III: Survey – Notes

2/18 – Minimalism and After.  Playlist – Notes

2/23 – Minimalism and After.  Playlist.  Other things:

2/25 – Outliers

3/1 – Spring Break

3/3 – Spring Break

3/8 – Spring Break

3/10 – Spring Break 

3/15 – Spectralism.  Playlist – Notes

3/17 – Japan and Korea.  Playlist – Notes

3/22 – New Romanticisms, Complexities, Simplicities.  Playlist – Notes

3/24 – New Complexities / Simplicities.  Playlist / Playlist.

3/29 – No class

3/31 – No class

4/5 – Improvised Music I.  Playlist – Notes

5/7 – Improvised Music II.

5/12 – Religion / Music?  Playlist (rough) – Notes

4/14 – NYC in the 70s and 80s.  Playlist (rough) – Notes

4/19 – Our Scene

4/21 – Our Scene

4/26 – Our Scene

4/28 – Our Scene






Book List

What I'm reading as I write this class:

  • Perils and Van Cleve.  Composers Voices from Ives to Ellington.
  • Eduardo de la Fuente.  Twentieth Century Music and the Question of Modernity.
  • Duckworth, William.  Talking Music.
  • Duckworth, William.  20/20: 20 New Sounds from the 20th Century
  • Haskins, Rob.  Cage.
  • Virgil Thomson.  A Reader.
  • Henry Cowell.  New Musical Resources.
  • Schwartz, Childs, Fox.  Contemporary Composers on Contemporary Music.
  • Charlotte de Mille.  Music and Modernism, c. 1849-1950.
  • Andriessen and Schönberger.  The Apollonian Clockwork.
  • John Cage.  For the Birds.
  • Taruskin.  Music of the Early Twentieth Century.
  • Matilda Gaume.  Ruth Crawford Seeger: Memoirs, Memories, Music.
  • Miller, Liberman.  Lou Harrison.
  • Mary E. Davis.  Erik Satie.
  • Volta, Ornella.  Satie Seen Through his Letters (with introduction by John Cage).
  • Wilkins, Nigel.  The Writings of Erik Satie.
  • Volta, Ornella.  Satie: Mammal's Notebook.
  • Bailey, Kathryn.  The Life of Webern.
  • Anne C. Shreffler, Webern and the Lyric Impulse.
  • Johnson, Julian.  Webern and the Transformation of Nature.
  • Kolneder.  Anton Webern: An Introduction to his Works.
  • Austin.  Music in the 20th Century.
  • Michael Nyman.  Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond.
  • Takemitsu, Toru.  Confronting Silence.
  • Griffiths, Paul.  Modern Music and After, 3rd. ed.
  • Cage, John.  Silence.
  • Feldman, Morton.  Give My Regards to Eighth Street.
  • Cox and Warner, ed.  Audio Culture.