Music M401
History and Literature of Music I

Indiana University Jacobs School of Music

Some Suggested Subject Areas
for the Research Project

Table of Contents

Research Project | M401 Home

How to Write a Music History Paper
Some Suggested Subject Areas
M401: Music History Research Guide
Building a Bibliography | More Help with Research
Sample Prospectus and Bibliography | Music Citation—Chicago/Turabian Style
Research Project Style Sheet

Some Suggested Subject Areas
for the Research Project

This is a list of possible subjects related to music between ancient times and 1800. This is not a definitive list, but is intended to start you thinking about what areas you might be interested in investigating as you work to develop a topic for your research project. Most of the topics listed here have been used successfully by M401 students in the past. For advice on narrowing down from a broad subject area to a specific topic, see How to Write a Music History Paper.

Before you read through this list, look again at the themes of the course listed on the syllabus. Your research project must relate to at least ONE of these themes. (It may very well relate to several of them.) Which of these themes interest you the most? Which might you enjoy exploring? Often the most successful papers tackle a big question, like these themes, by looking at a case study. The list of subject areas here may give you ideas for how to do a case study related to the big theme that you most want to explore.

In choosing a topic, think about what excites you about music. What are you most curious about? You might start with a very broad question—such as "Why does music affect my feelings?"—and find a subject by gradually narrowing down. This question relates directly to one of the course themes, musical expressivity, and we will run into this issue repeatedly. "How did Baroque opera composers convey the feelings of their characters through music?" is still too broad, but a comparison of a French to an Italian composer, or Monteverdi's first opera to his last, in terms of this question would make an excellent topic. If you have a broad area or question and want help focusing your topic, please talk to or e-mail Professor Burkholder or your discussion section instructor.

Topics dealing chiefly with the history of an instrument are generally discouraged. We have found that research papers on these topics tend to be merely descriptive or encyclopedic, lacking the thesis and argument that we expect from the research paper. You may, however, address the history of music written for or performed on a certain instrument, or look at the way changes in the instrument may have influenced the music written for it (or vice versa).

Topics dealing with a single body of music tend to be less successful than comparative papers or papers that place a body of music within its social and cultural setting. Suppose you propose a paper on the solo cello suites of J. S. Bach. Then what? What will you say about those suites? Far better would be a comparison of some sort: for example, how does Bach's use of the cello in these pieces compare to accompanied cello music of the time, or to earlier unaccompanied music for strings, or to the way Vivaldi writes for the cello soloists in his concertos, or to the way Bach writes for cello in his cantatas? Or, how do the cello suites relate to earlier suites for keyboard, or for lute? Be creative, but don't just write a paper "about" your topic.

Ancient World

Evidence for Music in the Ancient Near East
The Roles of Music in Greek Society
Amateur and Professional Performers and Their Social Position in Ancient Greece
Musical Competitions in Ancient Greece
Ethos and Music in Ancient Greece
Music and the Ideal State: Plato and Aristotle
Greek Music Theory
Music in the Roman World (no Roman music survives, so this would be about the social roles of music)
Music in the Bible: What Evidence Do We Have?
The Relation of Early Christian Musical Practices to Those of Ancient Judaism


Early Christian Writers on the Dangers and Ethics of Music
The Influence of Byzantine Chant on Gregorian Chant
The Creation of Gregorian Chant (or another chant dialect)
The Medieval Scriptorium
Development of Pitch Notation
Rhythmic Interpretation of Gregorian Chant
Music Education in the Middle Ages
Medieval Adaptations of Greek Theory
The Writings of Boethius
Music and Medieval Cosmology
Guido of Arezzo and Solmization
Medieval Theory
Chant and Ritual in Monasteries
Music and the Development of the Mass (or some part of the Mass, like the Introit)
Liturgical Drama
Hildegard of Bingen
Minstrels in Medieval France
Training Professional Musicians: Church Schools vs. Guilds
Music of the Troubadours and Trouvères
Music in Medieval Spain
Refrains in Medieval Secular Music
Instrumental Dances (e.g., characteristic of different countries)
The Development of Organum
The Relationship of Early Polyphony to Notre Dame Polyphony
The Development of Rhythmic Notation
Music from the Notre Dame School
Music in Medieval Universities
Musical Life Surrounding Medieval Cathedrals
The Development of the Motet
Medieval Musical Iconography
Music, Literature, and Art in the Roman de Fauvel
Ars Nova: Treatise and Practice
Music and Politics in the Fourteenth Century
Machaut as Poet and Musician (especially if interested in French Literature)
The Ars Subtilior (late fourteenth-century France)
Italian Trecento Polyphony
Performance Issues in Fourteenth-Century Music
Musica ficta
The Emergence of the Concept of the "Composer"


Training of Musicians in the Renaissance
Patronage and the Star System for Musicians in the Renaissance
Renaissance Tuning Systems
The Rise of Tertian Sonorities
Words and Music in the Renaissance
Musical Expression of Text
Renaissance Revivals of Ancient Greek Ideas about Music
Renaissance Cosmology and the Music of the Spheres
Early Music Printers and Printing
Comparison of early and late works of a composer
Comparison of two or more composers
Musical Influences between England and the Continent during the Renaissance
Showing Off: The Dukes of Burgundy and the Political Uses of Patronage
The Cyclic Mass and the Heritage of the Isorhythmic Motet
Musical Borrowing in the Renaissance Mass (or chanson or Magnificat)
Masses with the same cantus firmus (e.g., "L'homme armé," "Caput")
Musical Professionalism within the Church
The Emergence of the Concept of the "Composer"
Josquin and Isaac: Who Was "the better composer"?
Music of the Reformation (Lutheran, Anglican, Calvinist)
Sources of Lutheran Chorales
Music and the Counter-Reformation
Music in Convents
Palestrina as Legend and Model
Music in Renaissance Spain
Music and Colonization in the New World
Polyphony in the New World
Music in Renaissance Poland
Polyphony in the Renaissance Synagogue
National Styles of Song in the Renaissance
Spanish Court Culture and the Villancico
Sixteenth-Century Madrigal: Musical/Poetic Relationships
Comparison of two or more settings of the same text by different composers
Chromaticism as Musical Device and Marker of Meaning
Women and Music in the Sixteenth Century
The Chansons of Orlande de Lassus
Meistersinger in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries: The Curious Survival of a Medieval Tradition
The English Madrigal
Dowland semper dolens: To What Extent Did Music ca. 1600 Reflect the Composer's Mood?
Music in Elizabethan Drama (e.g., Shakespeare)
Improvisation and Ornamentation in Renaissance Instrumental Music
Renaissance Dance Music: Paired Dances
Dance Music and Social Dancing
Use of Instruments in Renaissance Vocal Music
Intabulations, Transcriptions, and Arrangements in the Renaissance
The Organ Mass
The Concept and Genre of Variations in the Renaissance
Elizabethan Keyboard Music
Instrumental Music Forms in the Renaissance (ricercar, canzona, toccata, fantasy)
Music at St. Mark's, Venice
Pre-1600 Musical Drama (opera's predecessors)

Seventeenth Century

The Theatrical Impulse in Baroque Art, Literature, and Music
The Doctrine of the Affections
The Rise of Figured Bass
Improvisation in Baroque Music
Baroque Performance Practice: What Can We Learn from the Treatises?
The Florentine Camerata
Monteverdi's Early and Late Operas: A Comparison
Opera and Patronage
Opera as a Business in Seventeenth-Century Italy
Women Composers: Barbara Strozzi, Francesca Caccini, or Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre
Social Context and Role of Opera (in a specific phase and/or nation)
Music in Convents
The Oratorio in Italy and England
Rhetoric in Music (e.g., in Monteverdi, Schütz, Frescobaldi, or others, or a comparison among two or more composers)
Baroque Music for the Synagogue
The Rise of Solo Instrumental Performance
Development of the

The Reception and Influence of Italian Opera in France
Music as a Tool of the State in the France of Louis XIV
Lully and French Opera
The Music of the Great Stable and the Development of Wind Instruments and Wind Music
The Aesthetics of French Baroque Music
Charpentier and the Jesuits in France
The French Clavecin School
Music and Theater in Seventeenth-Century England
Purcell and English Opera
Opera in Spain
Baroque Music in the Spanish American Colonies
Characteristics of Neapolitan Opera
The Rise of Orchestral Music
The North German Organ School
The Collegium Musicum and Amateur Music-Making in Germany

Eighteenth Century

The Conservatories of Naples
The Venetian Ospedali and the Training of Female Musicians in Venice
The Role of Castrati in Baroque Opera
The Concerto Tradition in the Eighteenth Century
Couperin and the Synthesis of French and Italian Styles
The Theories of Rameau
Aristocratic Amateur Composers
Polish Music in the Eighteenth Century
Telemann and Middle-Class Taste
Bach (or Handel or Haydn) as Working Stiff
Theology as Represented in Bach's Sacred Vocal Works
Was Handel Gay?
Comparison of Bach and Handel (e.g., career, or musical style)
Comparison of early and late works, or different genres of a composer
Comparison of two or more composers
Music and Enlightenment Ideals
Schemas in Music of the Galant Era
The Partimento and Musical Training in the Eighteenth Century
The Public Concert and Its Effects on Music
Competing Visions and Styles in Eighteenth-Century Opera
Operatic Influences on Church Music
Amateurism and Musical Culture in the Eighteenth Century
The Moravians: American Church and Chamber Music in the Eighteenth Century
Social Contexts for Chamber Music
The Wind Band and Its Roles
Theories of Form and Gesture in the Late Eighteenth Century
Ideas of Drama and Dramatic Contrast in Eighteenth-Century Instrumental Music
Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges: The First Composer of African Descent
Musical Topics, Form, and Expression
Haydn's Career
Lesser-Known Haydn (explore his operas, keyboard music, baryton trios, or other less well known repertoire)
Handel as a Model for Haydn's Oratorios
Mozart's Travels and His Mastery of Contrasting Musical Styles
What Mozart Learned in Vienna, and from Whom
Da Ponte as Librettist

Research Project | M401 Home

How to Write a Music History Paper
Some Suggested Subject Areas
M401: Music History Research Guide
Building a Bibliography | More Help with Research
Sample Prospectus and Bibliography | Music Citation—Chicago/Turabian Style
Research Project Style Sheet

Last updated: 18 August 2017
Copyright © 1997-2017 by J. Peter Burkholder