Class 13 - Romantic Era I

Class 14 - Romantic Era II

Class 15 - Romantic Era III

Class 16 - Romantic Era IV

Class 17 - Impressionism and Expressionism

Class 18 - Early 20th Century I

Class 19 - Early 20th Century II

Class 20 - Electronic Music

Class 21 - American Experimentalism

Class 22 - Microtonality

Class 23 - 21st Century

Class 13 - Romantic Era I

Giacomo Puccini (1856-1924): Brief Biography

Puccini was born in Lucca (Italy), a member of a large family of musicians going back to the early 18th century. His first job, at age 14, was as organist to the two churches of Lucca; but he quickly became more interested in opera (especially Verdi) than church music. He studied at the musical conservatory in Milan (1880-83), and there he came into contact with a group of Milanese artists, called the Scapigliati, who lived the Bohemian lifestyle. This group included the great librettist Arrigo Boito (himself a composer whose opera Mefistofele is still popular today).

Puccini wrote his first opera, Le villi (willi were vampire-like witches in East-European legend), a "dramatic legend," in 1884. It was successful, and was played at the La Scala opera house in Milan the next year. His second opera, Edgar, a "lyric drama" (1889), was a failure; his third, Manon Lescaut (1893), which story Massenet had set with international acclaim in 1884, was reasonably well received, and most importantly established him on the international operatic scene. (The work begins in Amiens (France), moves to Le Havre, and finishes up in the "Louisiana desert"!)

La Bohème (1896) was at first less successful than Manon Lescaut, perhaps because its subject was too realistic, its tone in many places too light-hearted and somewhat sentimental, and was thus compared unfavorably by the critics (see below) to the Romantic-tragic character of Manon. However, it came to be recognized as the masterpiece history now judges it to be.

In 1900 he produced Tosca, a work portraying brutality, sadism, and searing emotions-- his first attempt at "realist" opera (verismo)-- to tremendous public acclaim. His next opera, in 1904, Madama Butterfly, was centered upon a marriage in Japan, entered into in all sincerity by a geisha girl and callously by an U.S. Naval lieutenant, with devastating consequences to which we are perhaps more attuned in our post-colonial age. Its first performance on Feb 17 was a fiasco with the audience jeering and calling out sarcastic comments. Puccini withdrew the work and revised it, for its second première on May 28, 1904.

After these two productions, Puccini was embroiled in a domestic crisis and scandalous court case in 1909. Puccini's jealous wife accused him of having had an intimate affair with his servant girl, Doria, who in 1909 committed suicide. From the autopsy evidence, Doria and Puccini were exonerated, but the experience took its toll on the very sensitive omposer.

In 1907, he composed The Girl of the Golden West, a very different sort of opera, set in California during the gold rush era, which was successfully premiered at the New York Metropolitan Opera in 1910. Soon after this, Puccini began to be criticized by a new generation of Italian composers for his "bourgeois mentality, lack of ideals, and pure commercialism" (New Grove) -- charges which in some quarters still haunt him at the present day. Joseph Kerman, for example, in his book Opera as Drama (1956), spoke of Tosca as "that shabby little shocker."

His final opera, the lavish, exotic, fairy-tale Turandot, was unfinished at his death in 1924, but was completed and premiered in 1926, and remains one of his most admired works.

La Bohème, Puccini (1896)

Listen to the first 45 minutes

From MET notes:

“The libretto sets the action in Paris, circa 1830. This is not a random setting, but rather reflects the issues and concerns of a particular time and place. After the upheavals of revolution and war, French artists had lost their traditional support base of aristocracy and church and were desperate for new sources of income. The rising bourgeoisie took up the burden of patronizing artists and earned their contempt in return. The story, then, centers on self-conscious youth at odds with mainstream society, feeling themselves morally superior to the rules of the bourgeois (specifically regarding sexual mores) and expressing their independence with affectations of speech and dress. The Bohemian ambience of this opera is clearly recognizable in any modern urban center. La Bohème captures this ethos in its earliest days.”

Class 14 - Romantic Era II

Schubert, Winterreise (1828), selected songs

Die Winterreise is a cycle of twenty-four songs for voice and piano in the form of a two-part collection of twelve songs each, all setting poems by Wilhelm Müller. The Winterreise is an unusually somber and dark song cycle, contrasting Schubert's other song cycles and the majority of contemporaneous works. This depressive mood may relate to the season mentioned in the title; Schubert is portraying Winter. The dark tone may also relate in an autobiographical sense: these songs were Schubert's last composition and he completed the set while dying of syphilis.

As you listen consider the role of the piano versus the role of the singer. Is one part more important than the other or are they of equal focus? Pay attention to the poetry and consider how the meaning of the text is influencing the musical setting.

Fremd bin ich eingezogen,
Fremd zieh' ich wieder aus.
Der Mai war mir gewogen
Mit manchem Blumenstrauß.
Das Mädchen sprach von Liebe,
Die Mutter gar von Eh', -
Nun ist die Welt so trübe,
Der Weg gehüllt in Schnee.

Ich kann zu meiner Reisen
Nicht wählen mit der Zeit,
Muß selbst den Weg mir weisen
In dieser Dunkelheit.
Es zieht ein Mondenschatten
Als mein Gefährte mit,
Und auf den weißen Matten
Such' ich des Wildes Tritt.

Was soll ich länger weilen,
Daß man mich trieb hinaus?
Laß irre Hunde heulen
Vor ihres Herren Haus;
Die Liebe liebt das Wandern -
Gott hat sie so gemacht -
Von einem zu dem andern.
Fein Liebchen, gute Nacht!

Will dich im Traum nicht stören,
Wär schad' um deine Ruh',
Sollst meinen Tritt nicht hören -
Sacht, sacht die Türe zu!
[Ich schreibe nur im Gehen
An's Tor noch gute Nacht]1,
Damit du mögest sehen,
An dich hab' ich gedacht.

As a stranger I arrived,
As a stranger again I leave.
May was kind to me
With many bunches of flowers.
The girl spoke of love,
Her mother even of marriage, -
Now the world is bleak,
The path covered by snow.

I cannot choose the time
Of my departure;
I must find my own way
In this darkness.
With a shadow cast by the moonlight
As my traveling companion
I'll search for animal tracks
On the white fields.

Why should I linger, waiting
Until I am driven out?
Let stray dogs howl
Outside their master's house;
Love loves to wander
God has made her so
From one to the other.
Dear love, good night!

I will not disturb you in your dreaming,
It would be a pity to disturb your rest;
You shall not hear my footsteps
Softly, softly shut the door!
On my way out I'll write
"Good Night" on the gate,
So that you may see
That I have thought of you.

The wind plays with the weathervane
On my lovely darling's house.
And I thought in my delusion,
That it mocked the poor fugitive.
He should have noticed sooner
The symbol displayed on the house,
So he wouldn't ever have expected
To find a faithful woman within.
The wind plays with the hearts inside
As it does on the roof, only not so loudly.
Why should they care about my grief ?
Their child is a rich bride.

Der Wind spielt mit der Wetterfahne
Auf meines schönen Liebchens Haus.
Da dacht' ich schon in meinem Wahne,
Sie pfiff den armen Flüchtling aus.
Er hätt' es eher bemerken sollen,
Des Hauses aufgestecktes Schild,
So hätt' er nimmer suchen wollen
Im Haus ein treues Frauenbild.
Der Wind spielt drinnen mit den Herzen
Wie auf dem Dach, nur nicht so laut.
Was fragen sie nach meinen Schmerzen ?
Ihr Kind ist eine reiche Braut.

At the well by the gate
There stands a linden tree;
I dreamed in its shadow
Many a sweet dream.
I carved in its bark
Many a word of love;
In joy and in sorrow
I was always drawn to it.
Again today I had to travel
Past it in the depths of night.
There even in the darkness
I closed my eyes.
And its branches rustled,
As if they called to me:
Come here to me, friend,
Here you'll find peace !
The cold winds blew
Right into my face;
The hat flew off my head,
I didn't turn around.
Now I am many hours
Distant from that place,
And I still hear it whispering:
You'd find peace here !

Am Brunnen vor dem Tore
Da steht ein Lindenbaum;
Ich träumt' in seinem Schatten
So manchen süßen Traum.
Ich schnitt in seine Rinde
So manches liebe Wort;
Es zog in Freud' und Leide
Zu ihm mich immer fort.
Ich mußt' auch heute wandern
Vorbei in tiefer Nacht,
Da hab' ich noch im Dunkeln
Die Augen zugemacht.
Und seine Zweige rauschten,
Als riefen sie mir zu:
Komm her zu mir, Geselle,
Hier find'st du deine Ruh' !
Die kalten Winde bliesen
Mir grad' ins Angesicht;
Der Hut flog mir vom Kopfe,
Ich wendete mich nicht.
Nun bin ich manche Stunde
Entfernt von jenem Ort,
Und immer hör' ich's rauschen:
Du fändest Ruhe dort !

Over there beyond the village
Stands an organ-grinder,
And with numb fingers
He plays as best he can.
Barefoot on the ice,
He totters here and there,
And his little plate
Is always empty.
No one listens to him,
No one notices him,
And the dogs growl
Around the old man.
And he just lets it happen,
As it will,
Plays, and his hurdy-gurdy
Is never still.
Strange old man,
Shall I go with you ?
Will you play your organ
To my songs

Drüben hinterm Dorfe
Steht ein Leiermann
Und mit starren Fingern
Dreht er was er kann.
Barfuß auf dem Eise
Wankt er hin und her
Und sein kleiner Teller
Bleibt ihm immer leer.
Keiner mag ihn hören,
Keiner sieht ihn an,
Und die Hunde knurren
Um den alten Mann.
Und er läßt es gehen,
Alles wie es will,
Dreht, und seine Leier
Steht ihm nimmer still.
Wunderlicher Alter !
Soll ich mit dir geh'n ?
Willst zu meinen Liedern
Deine Leier dreh'n ?


A complete recording of all twenty-four song may be found here (optional).

Robert Schumann, Dichterliebe (1840): I - Im Wunderschönen Monat Mai

The title, Dichterliebe, literally translates to "poet's love," and this song cycle sets a series of love songs by Heinriche Heine from 1822. Robert Schumann wrote these poems while seperated from his beloved, Clara Schumann, a talented pianist and composer. This set is known for its sensitivity and affectation, expressing a dreamlike quality. Listen especially closely to how the songs begin and end - do they feel complete? Why might the composer have left things unresolved? Consider what you know about romanticism in general and the themes that are often explored.

In the glorious month of May,
As all the buds were breaking,
Then in my heart
Love bloomed.
In the glorious month of May,
As all the birds were singing,
Then I revealed to her
My longing and desire.

Im wunderschönen Monat Mai,
Als alle Knospen sprangen,
Da ist in meinem Herzen
Die Liebe aufgegangen.
Im wunderschönen Monat Mai,
Als alle Vögel sangen,
Da hab’ ich ihr gestanden
Mein Sehnen und Verlangen.

Robert Schumann, Dichterliebe (1840): VII - Ich Grolle Nichte

I bear no grudge, even as my heart is breaking,
eternally lost love!  I bear no grudge.
Even though you shine in diamond splendor,
there falls no light into your heart's night,

that I've known for a long time.
I bear no grudge, even as my heart is breaking.
                    I saw you, truly, in my dreams,
and saw the night in your heart's cavity,
and saw the serpent that feeds on your heart,
I saw, my love, how very miserable you are.
I bear no grudge.

Ich grolle nicht, und wenn das Herz auch bricht,
ewig verlor'nes Lieb!  Ich grolle nicht.
Wie du auch strahlst in Diamantenpracht,
es fällt kein Strahl in deines Herzens Nacht,
das weiß ich längst.
Ich grolle nicht, und wenn das Herz auch bricht.
Ich sah dich ja im Traume,
und sah die Nacht in deines Herzens Raume,
und sah die Schlang', die dir am Herzen frißt,
ich sah, mein Lieb, wie sehr du elend bist.
Ich grolle nicht.

Robert Schumann, Dichterliebe (1840): XVI - Die alten, bösen Lieder:

The final song of the cycle changes tone and directly addresses the listener.


The nasty old songs,
The black, bitter dreams,
Let’s bury them now,
Fetch an enormous casket.
I’ll lay some things to rest there,
But I won’t say what just yet;
The coffin will have to be bigger
Than the Heidelberger cask.
And fetch me a catafalque,
And thick solid planks;
They need to be longer
Than the bridge at Mainz.
And fetch twelve giants, too,
They have to be stronger
Than Saint Christopher in the
Cathedral in Cologne on the Rhine.
They must carry the casket away,
And sink it down into the sea;
Because such an immense casket
Requires an immense grave.
Do you know why the coffin
Needs to be so big and heavy?
I laid away my love in it
And my pain as well.

Die alten, bösen Lieder,
Die Träume bös’ und arg,
Die laßt uns jetzt begraben,
Holt einen großen Sarg.
Hinein leg’ ich gar manches,
Doch sag’ ich noch nicht, was;
Der Sarg muß sein noch größer,
Wie’s Heidelberger Faß.
Und holt eine Totenbahre,
Und Bretter fest und dick;
Auch muß sie sein noch länger,
Als wie zu Mainz die Brück’.
Und holt mir auch zwölf Riesen,
Die müssen noch stärker sein
Als wie der heil’ge Christoph
Im Dom zu Köln am Rhein.
Die sollen den Sarg forttragen,
Und senken ins Meer hinab;
Denn solchem großen Sarge
Gebührt ein großes Grab.
Wißt ihr, warum der Sarg wohl
So groß und schwer mag sein?
Ich senkt’ auch meine Liebe
Und meinen Schmerz hinein.


Clara Schumann (1819-1896) was among the most distinguished pianists of the romantic era. Although she pursued composition as a secondary activity to performing, she is known for a small body of exceptional songs and piano music.

Clara Schumann's three songs (opus 12) were originally included in her husband, Robert Schumann's, Liebesfrühling from 1841. The first song, Er Ist Gekommen In Sturm Und Regen (He cam in the storm and rain), is a great example of the Romantic theme of passionate love (leidenschaftlich ). 

Listen to how the piano part accomplishes word painting and comments on the text as it is sung. The form of the songs is AAB, although the same text begins each verse. How does the setting and mood change in the third and final verse?

Clara Schumann, Three Songs (1841): I - Er Ist Gekommen In Sturm Und Regen

He came
in storm and rain,
my anxious heart
beat against his.
how could I have known, 
that his path
should unite itself with mine?

He came
in storm and rain,
he boldly
stole my heart.
Did he steal mine? 
Did I steal his?
Both came together.

He came
in storm and rain,
Now has come
the blessing of spring.
My love travels abroad, 
I watch with cheer,
for he remains mine, on any road.

Er ist gekommen
In Sturm und Regen,
Ihm schlug beklommen
Mein Herz entgegen.
Wie konnt' ich ahnen, 
Daß seine Bahnen
Sich einen sollten meinen Wegen?

Er ist gekommen
In Sturm und Regen,
Er hat genommen
Mein Herz verwegen.
Nahm er das meine? 
Nahm ich das seine?
Die beiden kamen sich entgegen.

Er ist gekommen
In Sturm und Regen.
Nun ist [entglommen]1
Des Frühlings Segen.
Der Freund zieht weiter, 
Ich seh' es heiter,
Denn er bleibt mein auf allen Wegen.

Class 15 - Romantic Era III



Richard Wagner (1813-1883) was a revolutionary in both politics and music. While we will mostly focus on his music, it is difficult to completely separate out the art from the artist. Wagner was a kappellmeister until the early 1840s in a number of different opera houses, conducting the entire repertoire of opera from Mozart to his Italian contemporaries. In the 1940s he settled in Dresden, where he continued to work as a conductor and compose. In Dresden he became more an more involved in a form of extreme left wing politics with a group of socialist nationalist revolutionaries. His political involvements soon sent him into exile, first in Paris and then in Switzerland. While in exhile he wrote many essays on music, calling for a total rethinking of opera and music in general that would realize his idea of a total artwork (gesampkunstwerk) that would bring together all of the arts and return art to the people (volk). Wagner wrote opera almost exclusively, almost entirely on a grand scale, with his magnum opus, The Ring Cycle, a set of four operas, each several hours in length.

Among Wagner's more lasting ideas is the Leitmotif. Most will be familiar with the leitmotifs used by John Williams in the Star Wars soundtracks. This video presents all of the leitmotifs from Star Wars. (optional)

Wagner was the first composer to write his own libretti, focusing on internal rhymes and alliteration to create a more flowing structure for the words. Wagner dubbed this approach Stabreim. Wagner needed his own style of flowing prose so that he could achieve his goals musically, where instead of clear and separate musical themes and phrases there is a series of long musical arches, elided and connected smoothly. Wagner called this approach to musical phrase as "poetic musical period," though her never specified exactly what defined this term.

Wagner's ideals amounted to a total reinvention of opera, reoriented towards his philosophy on music and art. Wagner even went so far as to design the ideal opera house, which was built in Bayreuth in 1882. Wagner's theories on opera and gesamptkunstwerk were most fully realized in his Ring Cycle, which was first performed at the inaugural Bayreuth festival in 1882, a festival of Wagner's music that is held annually and continues to this day.

Discussing Wagner brings the question of if we should honor great artists who are deeply flawed on a personal level. Wagner was outwardly antisemitic and even wrote an essay entitled "Jewishness in Music." His music and thought was highly nationalistic and was later championed by Hitler and the Nazis, his political and artistic ideals fitting perfectly with the Nazi movement as a believer of racialist ideas and the Aryan master mace.

In 2001, Wagner was played in Israel for the first time and there was intense discussion on if this music should be presented. This article describes some of the controversy (optional).

Wagner: Tristan und Isolde (1865)

This overture is considered a masterpiece of the romantic era. The harmony in this piece is revolutionary and theorists and musicologists continue to be transfixed by the "Tristan Chords" that appears early on in the overture. The very opening of the prelude begins with an elision of the longig leitmotif and the desire leitmotif, connected by the Tristan chord.

Tristan und Isolde was greatly influenced by the writings of Arthur Shopenhauer and his philosophy of pessimism, viewing life as longing and striving. For Shopenhauer, the perception of art would allow for temporary transcendence of daily life. This opera is a reification in art of Schopenhauer's understanding of life as constant unfulfilled striving.

End of Act III

Johannes Brahms, Symphony No.4 (1885)

We will be limiting our discussion to the first and fourth movements of this symphony. The second and third movements are included below for your listening enjoyment!

Brahms is included here as a contrast to Wagner. The two composers are often considered as representatives of opposite camps, Wagner writing program music and Brahms writing absolute music. Program music is defined by the idea that the music is serving or expressing some sort of extramusical content, like an opera of symphonic poem that relates to a definite story. On the other hand, absolute music is music that has no explicit extramusical content. Like Wagner, Brahms looked back at Beethoven as the model for truly great music and art, but his interpretation was very different as Brahms embodies the principals of compositional integrity, logic, and historical consciousness first and foremost, treating music in absolute terms, as a non-symbolic art form.

The first movement is in Sonata form. Brahms breaks with the traditional form somewhat as he does not repeat the exposition and by doing so encourages a more continuous and flowing musical structure.

The fourth movement is a rare example of a symphonic passacaglia, As another example of Brahms' technical wizardry, he superimposes a sonata-form-like structure on top of the passacaglia, giving the impression of sonata form without actually using it.

Class 16 - Romantic Era IV

This class focuses on late romanticism through the composers Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss.

Mahler, Symphony No. 2 (1895)

Mahler's second symphony was written over six years from 1888 to 1894. The first movement, Totenfeier (funeral rites), was originally a standalone piece that was then expanded into an entire symphony. Mahler's music represents the height of the symphony as a genre, expanded from humble beginning with Haydn to the epic Mahlerian proportions of duration and instrumentation. The second symphony of Mahler lasts approximately 90 minutes and is scored for:

4 flute, 4 oboes, 5 clarinets, 4 bassoons
10 horns, 10 trumpets, 4 trombones, tuba
7 timpani, 2 bass drums, various cymbals, bells, tamtams, and other percussion
Chorus, alto solo, soprao solo,
2 harps
"the largest possible contingent of strings"(!)

It's hard to appreciate the difference in sonic weight between the Haydn orchestra and the Mahler orchestra through a recording. A recording will always be normalized in volume, so the sheer decibel level of the Mahler orchestra compared to the Haydn orchestra is lost in translation. What a recording is able to do is portray the increased timbral thickness of Mahler as well as the range of orchestration as Mahler will move between the entire orchestra playing together in a tutti to a small subset of instruments depending on what he is trying to do with the music.

Once again, we will be focusing on the first movement and the finale. I would recommend listening to the entire work, it is very dramatic and powerful when experiencing the entire arc of the music and sense of narrative that transverses through all five movements.

Mahler follows a modified sonata form in the first movement where the exposition is varied upon repetition. The music itself is concerned with the binary relationships of death and life, light and darkness, hope and despair. The musical mood seems to fluctuate, suggesting a cycle of death and rebirth. The theme itself sounds like a funeral march and there are also several musical references to the Dies Irae plainchant, symbolizing death, in the development section.

The second movement includes quotation and allusion to folk music, something Mahler is well known for, the symphony for him being something that can include almost everything and contains a wide breadth of expressive possibilities and topics.

This scherzo begins with an iconic moment where two notes are abruptly stuck on the timpani. This scherzo includes references to klezmer (traditional Jewish) music and follows the Wunderhorn legend (see below). This movement contains the infamous "death schriek" or "cry of despair" moment at the very end of the movement.

The brief fourth movement continues seamlessly into the finale. Like Beethoven's ninth symphony, voices are added to the instruments of the orchestra in the fourth movement and finale. The fourth movement sets text from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, a kind of German folk legend. The final movement sets some text from Die Auferstehung by Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock combined with Mahler's own original prose.

Primeval Light
O little red rose!
Man lies in greatest need!
Man lies in greatest pain!
How I would rather be in heaven.
There came I upon a broad path
when came a little angel and wanted to turn me away.
Ah no! I would not let myself be turned away!
I am from God and shall return to God!
The loving God will grant me a little light,
Which will light me into that eternal blissful life!

—From Des Knaben Wunderhorn

O Röschen rot!
Der Mensch liegt in größter Not!
Der Mensch liegt in größter Pein!
Je lieber möcht' ich im Himmel sein.
Da kam ich auf einen breiten Weg:
Da kam ein Engelein und wollt’ mich abweisen.
Ach nein! Ich ließ mich nicht abweisen!
Ich bin von Gott und will wieder zu Gott!
Der liebe Gott wird mir ein Lichtchen geben,
Wird leuchten mir bis in das ewig selig Leben!

—From Des Knaben Wunderhorn

Aufersteh'n, ja aufersteh'n
Wirst du, Mein Staub,
Nach kurzer Ruh'!
Unsterblich Leben! Unsterblich Leben
wird der dich rief dir geben!
Wieder aufzublüh'n wirst du gesät!
Der Herr der Ernte geht
und sammelt Garben
uns ein, die starben!
—Friedrich Klopstock

O glaube, mein Herz, o glaube:
Es geht dir nichts verloren!
Dein ist, ja dein, was du gesehnt!
Dein, was du geliebt,
Was du gestritten!
O glaube
Du wardst nicht umsonst geboren!
Hast nicht umsonst gelebt, gelitten!
Was entstanden ist
Das muss vergehen!
Was vergangen, auferstehen!
Hör' auf zu beben!
Bereite dich zu leben!
O Schmerz! Du Alldurchdringer!
Dir bin ich entrungen!
O Tod! Du Allbezwinger!
Nun bist du bezwungen!
Mit Flügeln, die ich mir errungen,
In heißem Liebesstreben,
Werd' ich entschweben
Zum Licht, zu dem kein Aug' gedrungen!
Sterben werd' ich, um zu leben!
Aufersteh'n, ja aufersteh'n
wirst du, mein Herz, in einem Nu!
Was du geschlagen
zu Gott wird es dich tragen!
—Gustav Mahler

Rise again, yes, rise again,
Will you My dust,
After a brief rest!
Immortal life! Immortal life
Will He who called you, give you.
To bloom again were you sown!
The Lord of the harvest goes
And gathers in, like sheaves,
Us together, who died.
—Friedrich Klopstock

O believe, my heart, O believe:
Nothing to you is lost!
Yours is, yes yours, is what you desired
Yours, what you have loved
What you have fought for!
O believe,
You were not born for nothing!
Have not for nothing, lived, suffered!
What was created
Must perish,
What perished, rise again!
Cease from trembling!
Prepare yourself to live!
O Pain, You piercer of all things,
From you, I have been wrested!
O Death, You conqueror of all things,
Now, are you conquered!
With wings which I have won for myself,
In love’s fierce striving,
I shall soar upwards
To the light which no eye has penetrated!
Die shall I in order to live.
Rise again, yes, rise again,
Will you, my heart, in an instant!
That for which you suffered,
To God shall it carry you!
—Gustav Mahler

Strauss, Metamorphosen (1945)


In many ways, this work is an elegy to romanticism and the Germanic artistic legacy that the Nazis corrupted beyond repair. Strauss is well known for his ability to depict stories and images through instrumental means, and in this work he explores rhetorical devices to evoke pain and horror. Like the first movement on the Mahler second symphony, there seems to be an alternation between hope and sorrow that runs through this piece.

Towards the end of the work, Strauss quotes Beethoven's Eroica Symphony and writes the words "In Memoriam!" above it. Allusions to the famous theme from Beethoven's fifth symphony are also present in the work.

Strauss wrote in his diary just after completing this work: "The most terrible period of human history is at an end, the twelve year reign of bestiality, ignorance and anti-culture under the greatest criminals, during which Germany's 2000 years of cultural evolution met its doom".

A handy timeline from the Listen book:

19th century Timeline.PNG

Class 17 - Impressionism and Expressionism

As we enter the twentieth century we immediately discover many new paths in music history. One notable movement originates from a collection of French composers, Debussy the best known among them, called impressionism.  Please see the excerpt below for a brief introduction:

Debussy, prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune (1894)

This piece captures the essence of impressionism in music with it's ambiguous sounding harmony and lush orchestral profile. The music is based on a poem by Mallarmé entitled The Afternoon of a Faun. The music begins with a solo flute, listen for where you expect the flute melody to go and how the melody meets or defies your expectations. The form of the music is almost formless, with themes blending into one another. The music treats dynamics very fluidly as well, almost everything swelling in and out of the music. The result is a very fluid and sensuous sound.

Please read this short excerpt on tone color in Debussy by Prof. Frisch: Color and Sonority in Claude Debussy

Debussy, La Mer, I - De l'aube à midi sur la mer (1905)

La Mer is an orchestral work by Debussy from about ten years after the Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun. This piece takes inspiration from Japanese visual art and music, specifically the court music of Gagaku. The cover of the original printing of the score included a version of Hokusai's Wave. 


Schoenberg, Pierrot Lunaire, Op.1 (1912)


The two movements that are discussed in the listen reading.

no. 18 - Der Mondfleck

no. 8 - Nacht

Class 18 - Early 20th Century I

Stravinsky, Le Sacre du Printemps (1913)

Listen to the first 20 minutes and then from 35:00 to the end at a minimum. The first 6 minutes is a short documentary on the work, which has interviews with two of the dancers from Ballet Russes.

Please read this introduction to Stravinsky and the Rite of Spring from Listen

Class 19 - Early 20th Century II

Charles Ives (1874-1954) was an influential American composer working in the first half of the 20th century. Like Mahler, he often included inter-textual elements (quotation, allusion, reference to other pieces of music). Unlike Mahler, these inter-textual elements come together as more of a collage style rather than an organic, synthesized piece of music.

Ives is known as an particularly unique composer, setting the ideal for American composers until this day as musicians who strike out on their own and do not follow the trends of Europe and academia. Ives knew his challenging music would not be financially successful, so he followed a lucrative career in the insurance industry while composing on the side. This meant that he was free to maintain his artistic ideals without financial consideration, resulting in this unique and idiosyncratic music.

Ives, The Unanswered Question (1908/1935)

In this work, the trumpet poses the "question" while the woodwinds provide the "answer." It falls on us to interpret what this question might be and what the answers might represent. The strings play a chorale-like texture in the background, what might this represent?

Although there is no quotation in this music, it still gives the sense of a collage as the three basic musical elemets outlined above are performed without a sense of development.

Here is a very nice analysis of this work by composer Samuel Andreyev (optional)

Ruth Crawford Seeger (1901-1953)


Seeger was an American modernist composer and the first woman to ever receive a Guggenheim. She was also a specialist in American Folk music, which may have influenced her famous folksinger stepson, Pete Seeger.

Her compositions stand out as unique and remarkable for the era and still feel fresh today. Her most celebrated work is her String Quartet of 1931 where she explores a novel world of rhythm, but there are also some hidden gems from her catalog such as the "Sandburg Songs" that can be heard below.

Ruth Crawford Seeger, Home Thoughts (1929)

On poems by Carl Sandberg

THE SEA rocks have a green moss.
The pine rocks have red berries.
I have memories of you.
Speak to me of how you miss me.
Tell me the hours go long and slow.
Speak to me of the drag on your heart,
The iron drag of the long days.
I know hours empty as a beggar’s tin cup on a rainy day, empty as a
soldier’s sleeve with an arm lost.
Speak to me …

Ruth Crawford Seeger, White Moon (1929)

WHITE MOON comes in on a baby face.
The shafts across her bed are flimmering.
Out on the land White Moon shines,
Shines and glimmers against gnarled shadows,
All silver to slow twisted shadows
Falling across the long road that runs from the house.
Keep a little of your beauty
And some of your flimmering silver
For her by the window to-night
Where you come in, White Moon.

Seeger's best known, and perhaps most experimental work is her String Quartet from 1931 (optional listening)

Class 20 - Electronic Music

This class marks the beginning of the post-war era and arguably the largest fundamental shift in art music. At this point, the invention of magnetic tape and the various techniques of recording, multi-tracking, splicing, and editing tape completely changed how music was conceived. Now, instead of notes, rhythms, form, and timbre, composers could work with sound itself as the basic material of music. 

Pierre Schaeffer, Études aux chemines de fer (1948)

Heralding in this shift to working with sound itself was Pierre Schaeffer and the founder of musique concrète. His five etudes of noise are the first works to use recordings as a compositional resaurce.


Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007) was an extremely important and extremely controversial German composer active from the post-war period through to his death in 2007. Listen to all of part 1, part 2 is optional.

Stockhausen, Kontakte (1960)

Kontakte is an impressive piece of early electronic music, created using synthesizers, recordings, and tape. The photo below shows how Stockhausen achieved some of the spatialization techniques, as the piece is ideally played of four speakers in a surround sound setup. This work is meticulously structured as Stockhausen was known at this time for achieving total serialization of the musical element. Serialism is a technique, first applied to pitches by Arnold Schoenberg, whereby a set of elements are arranged in a set order that is then manipulated systematically, usually with the principal of avoiding repetition of an element for as long as possible. For instance, in a serial composition one will often not hear a note until all of the other 11 notes in the chromatic has been used.

Miles Davis (1921-1996) is an American composer and trumpeter in the jazz tradition. Davis was always innovating and experimenting, switching styles and breaking taboos of jazz music throughout his entire career. Listen to the first 10 minutes of the album at least.

Davis, Bitches Brew (1969)

Bitches Brew incorporates electronic elements into the jazz combo for the first time, using live processing on the trumpet and electric keyboard instruments extensively. Like Kontakte, Bitches Brew also takes advantage of recording techniques and the possibilities presented by working with magnetic tape, splicing recordings together as well as recording elements separately and adding them in during the post-production phase.

Alvin Lucier (b.1931) is an experimental American composer who often uses electronics in his compositions in idiosyncratic ways.

Lucier, I am Sitting in a Room (1969)

This work explores the resonance of a closed space. The music is process-based, where a person speaks the words "I am sitting in a room," which is then played back and re-recording in a feedback loop so that over time one only hears the resonant frequencies of the space itself.

Class 21 - Experimentalism

In this class we will touch upon a large number of pieces from the high modernist period of the 1950s and 1960s. This music celebrates and values artwork that is generally austere and abstract in nature. The trust in science and forceful rejection of subjectivity and nationalism led to many musical "solutions" to how art should move forward after the second world war.

This piece uses Cage's technique of altering the sound of the piano by inserting objects into the piano strings. This is known as "prepared piano," and since it's invention by Cage has become a fairly common practice among composers.

Joh Cage, 4'33" (1952)

Cage's infamous "silent" piece. 

"Originally we had in mind what you might call an imaginary beauty, a process of basic emptiness with just a few things arising in it. . . . And then when we actually set to work, a kind of avalanche came about which corresponded not at all with that beauty which had seemed to appear to us as an objective.
Where do we go then?  . . . Well what we do is go straight on; that way lies, no doubt, a revelation.  I had no idea this was going to happen.  I did have an idea something else would happen.  Ideas are one thing and what happens another."
- John Cage, “Where are we going?  And what are we doing?”, Silence (Wesleyan University Press, 1961), pp. 220–222.

John Cage, Water Walk (1960)

In the 1950s, Cage was seeking a way to remove his ego from the compositional process and turned to chance operations via the I Ching. This is known as Aleatoric Music, and was hugely influential on other composers of the time and since, where the idea of indeterminacy in some form is often part of a piece of music.

Class 21 - American Experimentalism

This class will be less about particular pieces of music and more abut ideas and movements in American art music.

Feldman, Patterns in a Chromatic Field (1981) (excerpt)

The music of Morton Feldman (1926-1987) is often expansive in its use of time, strangely repetitive and hypnotic. His late works from about 1980 on are particularly long and sparse. The pacing of the music suggests breath and the heartbeat, a slow measuring of time to the point of being hypnotic. Feldman often invoked rug weaving as a metaphor for musical compositions, thinking about what the warp and weft of the music might be and the varied repetitions that together form a new whole.

Feldman was a close friend of John Cage and the two composers, though very different in style, are often associated. 

Reich, Music for 18 Musicians (1976) (excerpt)

This piece is an example of American Minimalism, a movement pioneered by Philip Glass and Steve Reich. Minimalism is a returned yearning for simplicity in music and constitutes and interestingn analog with the visual art of Andy Warhol and the repettion in daily life as a result of mass production.

Consider this statement by the composer about the rhythm of this music: "Rhythmically, there are two basically different kinds of time occurring simultaneously in Music for 18 Musicians. The first is that of a regular rhythmic pulse in the pianos and mallet instruments that continues throughout the piece. The second is the rhythm of the human breath in the voices and wind instruments. The entire opening and closing sections plus part of all sections in between contain pulses by the voice and winds. They take a full breath and sing or play pulses of particular notes for as long as their breath will comfortably sustain them. The breath is the measure of the duration of their pulsing. This combination of one breath after another gradually washing up like waves against the constant rhythm of the pianos and mallet instruments is something I have not heard before and would like to investigate further. "

Can you hear these two rhythmic planes as described by Reich?

Roscoe Mitchell, The Maze (1978)

Roscoe Mitchell is a composer coming from the AACM, a group of experimental musicians that blur the line between experimental jazz and contemporary classical music. The Maze uses percussion instruments extensively, and the title may even refer to the maze-like percussion setup required to perform the work. The score for this work is notated with a level of flexibilty so that the improvisational expertise of the performers still shine through.

Various Recordings of My Favorite Things by John and Alice Coltrane.

Listen to the first few minutes of each of these recordings, placed in chronological order. Listen to the catchy melody from the first recording from 1961 and consider how it changes through the years towards the final recording from 1967. Are you able to recognize the song in the later recordings? Can you hear any transformation of Coltrane's approach to the song? How does Alice Cotranes version of the song compare to John Coltranes?

John Coltrane, Favorite Things (1961)

John Coltrane, Favorite Things (1963)

John Coltrane, Favorite Things (1966)

John Coltrane, Favorite Things (1966)

Alice Coltrane, Favorite Things (World Galaxy, 1972)

Class 22 - Microtonality

Microtonality is a general term that describes music that does not contain only the twelve-tones per octave on the piano. In this sense, most of the music we've looked at in class is microtonal, since the standard tuning of the piano wasn't fully place until the Romantic era although the roots of this tuning date back to the Baroque period in the West. Throughout the twentieth century there have been several group of composers interested in microtonal music and we will look at two of these movements today: French Spectralism and American Just Intonation. 

Please read section 1 of this page for a general introduction to Just Intonation.

Grisey, Partiels (1975)

An important movement in the second half of the twentieth century in music, spectralism focuses on the nature of sound, acoustics, and sound perception as a basis for composition. This work by preeminent French spectralist Gerard Grisey (1946-1998) is among the most celebrated and approachable works to come out of Spectralism. Spectral composers would say that spectralism isn't so much a unified histrical movement as an attitude toward music that puts the timbre of the instruments as a focus.

Partiels is a piece that explores the overtones of the lowest trombone note. Any note is in fact a combination of many pitches fused together and pitched instruments usually have tones that include parts of the overtone series (AKA harmonic series). At the beginning of this music we hear the low trombone note played forcefully and then the overtones of that note being held as a chord in the rest of the ensemble. In this way, the entire form of this composition is based upon the sound of the trombone.

La Monte Young, The Well-Tuned Piano (1974)

In this piece La Monte Young retunes a piano to a microtonal scale based on Just Intonation. This music is influenced by Hindustani music, which La Monte Young studied and performed in parallel with his compositional activities. Many of the details regarding this piece are largely kept secret by composer, who will not allow others to play the work unless they come to study with him for an extended period of time. A performance of The Well-Tuned Piano will take approximately five hours. Listen to the first fifteen minutes of this work.

Harry Partch, The Delusion of the Fury (1969)

Harry Partch is a unique figure in music composition insofar as the lengths he went to reinvent music from the ground up. After renouncing Western Classical music, Partch turned to Native American Song, Chinese Opera, Gamelon, and other musical traditions for inspiration. Partch invented his own orchestra of instruments and wrote almost exclusively for his own creations. All of his instruments are designed around his 43-note-per-octave scale in just intonation. 

The Delusion of the Fury is Partch's final work, a piece of musical theater that tells two stories, a tragedy and a comedy that both speak to the futility of anger. Besides the various musical traditions mentioned above, Partch also looks back to the ancient Greeks and his musical-theater works are yet another attempt to recreate the power of the ancient Greek theater.

Class 23 - 21st Century

"Change has been divorced from the idea of improvement. There is no progress; like a crab on LSD, culture staggers endlessly sideways"  - Rem Koolhaas, from Junkspace

George Lewis, The Will to Adorn (2011)

George Lewis' recent composition was inspired by the idea of "decorating a decoration." The idea came from a essay on African American Identity from 1934 by Zora Neale Hurston and in this piece Lewis examines his own identity and heritage in musical terms. In Lewis' own words: "The piece is not meant as any kind of direct homage to Hurston, and the music doesn’t indulge in period quotes or related essentialisms. Rather, what I’m interested in is recursive adornment as a compositional attitude or method that valorizes instability and even breakdown"

Georg Haas, Limited Approximations (2010)

Limited Approximations has a particular instrumentation as it is scored for large orchestra was six solo pianos. Each of these six pianos is retuned down a sixth of a semitone down from the last. As a group these pianos not contain 72 (12*6) notes per octave instead of the usual 12 notes per octave.

How is this microtonality then used in the music? Does it sound harsh and dissonant or more unified and consonant? At various points in the piece it almost sounds like the pianos are sliding in pitch or melting - how do you think this effect is achieved?

Kate Soper, Only the Words... (2011)

In the words of the composer:

"I wrote Only the Words Themselves Mean What They Say out of a determination to test my limits as a vocalist and performer and an itch to make something out of Lydia Davis' fabulously quirky, slyly profound texts. Writing as a composer/performer opens up the pre-compositional realm to lots of useful improvisatory tangents and fresh timbral discoveries, and working closely with flutist Erin Lesser led to many happy surprises that eventually made their way into the final score. Lydia Davis' words suggested an unhinged virtuosity and idiosyncratic, multi-layered musical reading that took me from screwball comedy to paired musical gymnastics: the flute becomes a kind of Iron Man suit for the voice, amplifying it to new planes of expressivity, intensity, and insanity as the two players struggle, with a single addled brain, to navigate the treacherous labyrinth of simple logic."

Listen to the relationship between the flute and the voice - how is it that thy interact and support,  or not support, one another? How is the text set in this piece and what happens to the text as the piece goes on? Note the unusual moments of mechanical repetition that occur throughout the work - what effect do these have on you as a listener?