In my comments on the feedback card (titled) "this is not a composition class", I clarify that we need spend time on composition-like activities more than anything in this course, because the primary goal is to have you writing a good fugue...and mastering all the basic tasks that lead up to that accomplishment. In fact, my answers to almost all the other categories have (I hope) clarified this issue in some way.

But one of you observed that "analyzing and playing fugues would be beneficial", and many lamented that you "wish we had a textbook." Others wished there would be fewer writing tasks and more analyzing tasks in the homework, perhaps because of your comfort level with the work of previous theory courses. I can understand that and I'm going to try to improve this aspect of the course.

May 18, 2009 at 12:02 AM | Registered CommenterBen Carson

I do really wish I could do more to meet all your expectations in these areas. But as I've said before, analysis does have to take a back seat in most counterpoint classes.

The idea of analyzing and playing fugues is a good one -- in this class, I normally have students analyze a 2-part invention, in its entirety. I cancelled that assignment before realizing that so many of you were longing for more analysis, and by the time I got this feedback, our remaining time in the course was too short. Because many things took longer with 35 students than they would have with 16, I had to modify some assignments and add extra lectures on composition issues, to make sure we could get our goals in that area accomplished. But you are playing 2-part inventions in your musicianship labs, and that should provide a good foundation for your compositional thinking at the end of the quarter.

Most styles of analysis are focused on describing and illuminating the process of listening to a work. For example, take the observation that most strong full cadences in the 18th-c styles involve melodic pathways descending through 2^ to 1^. That observation helps us to interpret music in which that pathway is changed, delayed, or contorted in some way -- we interpret those situations as special cases and describe how those cases affect a listener. But the observation is less helpful in thinking about how to write in the style, because a composer produces the 2^ to 1^ pathway largely as a byproduct of listening. One can't place 2^ and 1^ in the cadential area of the melody without first hearing the shape of the rhythms that precede the cadence, "feeling" or "breathing" their tendency to move in one direction or another, and brainstorming ways that the rhythm might accellerate or intensify leading up to the cadential dominant. None of those ways of listening/feeling/breathing/brainstorming are analytical in nature. (Philosophy fans: you might say that composition is an empirical, rather than analytical, activity...ask me what I mean by that, if you're curious.)

However, it is possible to enhance the analysis aspect of this course, and I look forward to strategizing big ways of doing that in the next course, an small ways of doing that in our last weeks, without compromising the immersion and practice with composing.

May 24, 2009 at 11:52 AM | Registered CommenterBen Carson