Music M656 Group Presentations

Music M656
Music Since 1900:
Modernism, Tradition, and the Avant-Garde

Spring 2011

Indiana University Jacobs School of Music

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Group Presentations

The prestige of the classical repertoire, and the idea that twentieth-century art music must both resemble the classical masterworks in significant ways and contribute something new to the tradition, have worked to exclude certain kinds of music from courses like this. The readings, listening repertoire, and lectures for this class focus on music that is in the "canon": that is, works that are frequently taught in music history classes, written about in texts on twentieth-century music, and discussed at music theory conventions. Each group presentation will concentrate on one kind of music that is often left out of consideration, exploring how it relates to the broad themes of this class. One of our themes will be whether Schools of Music (like this one) should offer instruction in these repertoires as intensively as in the historical and classical repertoires they currently emphasize.

There will be five groups of four to five persons each. The group presentations will be given during five class sessions in April. In late January, you will be asked what group reports you would prefer to participate in and to hear and then will be assigned to a group.

Each group will meet with the instructor once or twice to plan the presentation. The group will present a dry run of their presentation to the instructor three to five days before giving the final version in class. In most cases, all members of the group will share the same grade, unless the group makes clear that individuals have contributed different levels of effort.

The following topics are available. We may choose five out of this list of ten, or we may combine topics; for instance, a single group might consider different kinds of popular music (Broadway musicals, jazz, and rock) or different kinds of music for amateur performers (choral music and symphonic band music).

Romantic and tonal music

Twentieth-century music that is Romantic in sound or tonal in structure may fully meet the "museum pieces" paradigm, as do the works of Richard Strauss, Rachmaninoff, Howard Hanson, or Samuel Barber. Yet because of the notion that pieces that do not reject tonality cannot truly be "modern," they are commonly excluded from courses and texts on "twentieth-century music." For instance, Rachmaninoff, a major composer whose music was written primarily in the twentieth century, is dismissed in Eric Salzman's textbook in less than a single sentence.

This group will explore some of the great music of the century that is Romantic in style or uses common-practice tonality, or both, showing how it exemplifies the attempt of modern composers to match the standards of the past while saying something new. Possible repertoire includes the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (1934) by Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943), Adagio for Strings (1936) by Samuel Barber (1910-1981), or one of the symphonies of Howard Hanson (1896-1981).

Music by women composers

Throughout history, there have been women who pursued successful careers in music and distinguished themselves as excellent composers, including Beatriz de Dia, Hildegard von Bingen, Francesca Caccini, Barbara Strozzi, Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, Clara Wieck Schumann, Louise Farranc, and many others. But in the nineteenth century, when the classical repertoire was being formed, public concert music and longer forms were considered the domain of men, while women were relegated to music-making in the home. Thus no women composers were included among the classical masters, and women in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries who dared to compose symphonies, piano concertos, or indeed anything behind household songs and short piano pieces, such as the American composer Amy Cheney Beach, were accused of betraying their natural gift and trying to be like men.

This history has made it doubly hard for women who seek to enter the classical repertoire on equal terms. Typically, their strategies have been no different from those of male composers, combining emulation of the classical masterworks with something new. But their status as women has often meant greater difficulty being accepted and has sometimes provided a fresh perspective from which to say something new.

This group will survey women composers in the twentieth century and showcase some particularly prominent and interesting composers and works. Possible repertoire includes the operas of Ethel Smyth (1858-1944), the experimental music of Pauline Oliveros (b. 1932), Sequoia (1981) or one of the Fanfares for the Uncommon Woman by Joan Tower (b. 1938), or the overtly feminist classical music of Kay Gardner.

Music for the totalitarian state

Schoenberg, Stravinsky, and Bartók wrote for the classical repertoire, but composers in the USSR and Nazi Germany had to serve another master. These totalitarian states sought to limit composers' freedom, for instance by attacking certain modernist techniques, and to force artists of all kinds to create propaganda for the state and its ideology. Some composers working under these regimes tried to continue the classical tradition of "museum pieces" despite these limits, while others capitulated or sought a compromise.

This group will explore the effect the Nazi and Soviet regimes had on the composers they ruled and the ways some composers tried either to evade state restrictions or to serve two masters. Possible repertoire includes the symphonies and operas of Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975), the Soviet-period music of Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953), and the Nazi-period music of Richard Strauss, Carl Orff (1895-1982), Hugo Distler (1908-1942), and others. This group may also branch out to examine music and politics in twentieth-century democracies, such as the interactions of music and anti-Semitism in France before World War II, or music and leftist politics in the United States in the 1930s or 1960s.

Film and television music

Film and television are true twentieth-century genres, and music has always played an important role in them. Even silent films often came with musical scores to be performed by an orchestra, pianist, or organist. The music for film and TV helps to set a scene (for instance, by playing Parisian café music to show we are in Paris) or convey a mood (for instance, using dissonant, high strings to create tension or suspense), telling the audience how to feel about events on the screen. Such music obviously serves a utilitarian function and thus does not fit the "museum pieces" paradigm, yet much of this music is of high quality and some of it, such as Prokofiev's music for Alexander Nevsky, is famous in its own right. Moreover, composers for film and television often use dissonance, electronics, and other new sounds that audiences may object to in the concert hall but accept in film and television when appropriate to the situation.

This group will explore how film and television use music that is "classical" (rather than popular) in inspiration, including music that uses modern techniques, and the relationship between music for these media and music for the classical concert repertoire. Possible repertoire includes film music by classical composers from Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957) to Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996) and film scores by Aaron Copland, John Williams (b. 1932), and others that have had a separate life as concert music for classical or pops orchestras.

Choral music

Choral singers and conductors often observe that choral music, such a prominent part of music history in the Renaissance and Baroque periods, seems to fade from view after 1750. There are at least two factors at work. First, historicism occurred first in choral music; it was the first repertoire to be dominated by musical classics (the Handel oratorios, starting in the 1780s) and by music that reflects a deep knowledge of historical styles (such as the oratorios of Haydn, which are modeled on those of Handel, and Mendelssohn, which have echoes of Handel, Bach, and Haydn). Second, choral music became the province primarily of amateur performers in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as churches and courts became too poor to support large choirs and as choral societies, groups that perform choral music for their own pleasure, became prominent. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, both these factors have the result that choral music is typically not in the forefront of musical innovation or is even conservative in style and receives less respect than music for professionals, such as opera or symphonic music.

This group will explore the special nature of choral music in the twentieth century, ranging from utilitarian music for church choirs and school choirs to music that follows the same paths of emulation and innovation as does modernist music for orchestra or string quartet. Possible repertoire includes the music of Hugo Distler (1908-1942) and others who have specialized in choral music firmly rooted in historical styles; choral music by Schoenberg, Webern, Stravinsky, and others on the cutting edge of modernism; and music for school and church choirs.

Wind music

Wind and symphonic band music shares with choral music the status of music performed primarily by amateurs, but has the additional strike against it that there is no body of classics for wind band comparable to the Handel oratorios, Bach passions and cantatas, sixteenth-century madrigals, and masses from Josquin to Beethoven. What wind music there is by eighteenth- and nineteenth-century classical composers tends to be light entertainment music, and the great exceptions are not numerous enough to establish the wind quintet or symphonic band repertoire as a classical medium on a par with piano music, art songs, string quartets, orchestral music, and opera.

This group will explore the status of wind music in the twentieth century, ranging from utilitarian music for school bands to the attempts to establish the symphonic band as a classical medium with its own repertoire. Possible repertoire includes the suites of Gustav Holst (1874-1934) and Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), the band music of Percy Grainger (1882-1961), and recent attempts to create band music of great seriousness.

Broadway musicals

Until the 1960s, nineteenth-century Italian opera was considered too entertaining to be studied seriously by real musicologists; now it is an intense and growing field of study. The same change is now taking place in American musical theatre, where Show Boat and Oklahoma are celebrated as great classics of musical theatre akin to opera in other lands.

This group will survey the Broadway musical, explore its development from operetta and revue to musicals that stake a claim to a status as art on the level of opera or stage drama, and examine the changes in critical fashion that have led to a new respect for the musical as a form. Possible repertoire includes excerpts from the classic Broadway musicals of the past three generations, from Show Boat by Jerome Kern (1885-1945) to Into the Woods by Stephen Sondheim (b. 1930) and beyond.


The reception history of jazz is intertwined with the progress of race relations in America, as music originated by African-Americans spread to white audiences and performers. What is especially close to the themes of this class is the emergence of jazz as a kind of art music rivaling the European classical tradition and the rise of a repertoire of jazz classics, both in live performance and in recordings. The current condition of jazz, with some performing groups specializing in different kinds of jazz from different periods of time and trying to reproduce sounds and styles from previous generations, and with many jazz artists receiving training at conservatories and schools of music, closely parallels that of classical music today.

This group will explore how jazz was redefined from popular music to art music, including how jazz composers and performers sought to remake jazz from music for dancing into music one listens to with close attention, what some have called the art music of the twentieth century. Possible repertoire includes the symphonic jazz of Duke Ellington (1899-1974) and music from leaders of 1950s jazz such as Charlie Parker (1920-1955), Thelonius Monk (1918-1982), John Coltrane (1926-1967), and Miles Davis (1926-1991).

Classic rock and pop music

The parallels between the history of classical music and the history of rock are at times uncanny: a universal style (the Haydn-Mozart idiom; 1950s rock and roll) emerging from the blend of two or more different styles; great figures whose music never stops being played and heard (Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven; Elvis, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones); growing seriousness, complexity, and length (Berlioz, Liszt, Wagner, Bruckner, Mahler; late Beatles, album rock, The Who's Tommy and Pink Floyd's The Wall); the creation of a permanent repertoire of musical classics (the concert-hall museum; "golden oldies" radio stations); historicism, self-reflection, and quotation (Brahms, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Ives; The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Frank Zappa); the revival of historical styles (Hindemith, Orff, and others; Pentangle, Steeleye Span, and other types of "Renaissance rock"); avant-garde nihilism and simplicity (Erik Satie, Virgil Thomson; punk rock, grunge); and so on.

This group will explore historicism as it affects rock and popular music in England and America, including the rise of a classical repertoire and the emergence of popular bands and composers that aspire to create art music, defined as music one sits and listens to in all seriousness, as opposed to music that serves any other function (such as dancing or background to conversation). This group may also explore types of popular music other than rock, such as the pop music of the 1920s or 1940s. Possible repertoire includes the Beatles from Revolver on and any of the artists and albums named above.

Music and mixed media

While some composers have continued collaborative genres familiar from the eighteenth century, such as opera, ballet, and song, others have collaborated with poets, dancers, and other artists to create mixed-media performance works that transcend traditional genres. From Stravinsky's L'Histoire du Soldat for three actors, dancer, and chamber ensemble to the music-theater pieces of R. Murray Schafer (b. 1933), from the "happenings" of John Cage to the United States of Laurie Anderson (b. 1947) and the recent phenomenon of Stomp, these productions, somewhere between "artworks" and "events," defy categories as they introduce something new and individual into the tradition of musical theatre.

This group will explore some examples of these mixed-media theatrical productions, the interactions of music and other arts within them, and the relations they have to the traditions of musical theatre. Possible repertoire includes any of the productions and artists named above, and many more.

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| About M656 | Schedule | Reserves | Listening List | The Journal | Group Presentations |

Last updated: 9 January 2011
Copyright © 1998-2011 by J. Peter Burkholder