Theory, Literature, and Musicianship II:
Theory and Technique in 20th-Century Composition
UC Santa Cruz, Winter Quarter 2010
Instructor: Ben Carson (I’m a “Dr.” or a “Prof.”, but please call me Ben)
Meetings: Music Center 136 on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays
Section 01 (class# 43491): 11:00 AM to 12:10 PM
Section 02 (class# 43499): 9:30 AM to 10:40 AM
Prerequisites: MUS 30 C & N or equivalent
Office: Music Center 148 (on the lower floor, between Professors Jones’ and Paiment’s offices).
Office hours: Wednesdays 1:30-2:30 pm, and Fridays 1:30-3:30 pm, or by appointment.
Phone: 9-5581 (I do not check voicemail frequently!)
Correspondence: benja dot carson at gmail
Course Catalogue Description for 100 A, B, and C: Tonal counterpoint. Chromatic harmony and its ramifications. Introduction to twentieth-century methods of composition, including serial techniques.
Winter Quarter (100B) Course Overview: Over several decades leading up to the twentieth century, composers had begun to use harmony in ways that were quite at odds with the conventions of the baroque. Instead of treating harmony schematically, to prepare and execute familiar cadences and provide stylistic and structural unity, Romantic composers gradually explored harmony as an expressive tool, to call attention to a musical moment, to represent an idea or character, or to add consciously suggestive color. Demands for particular kinds of harmonic unity and convention were gradually loosened, partially to accommodate these new expressive possibilities, and partly to fulfill a Romantic drive toward vast, limitless, and emotionally “real” expression. The territory of dissonance and consonance was suddenly open to complete creative revision.
By the 1890s, the “coloristic” (as well as structural) use of sevenths, ninths, and elevenths to enrich triadic convention was widespread in popular and art music. In the next two decades, several works by Claude Debussy and Béla Bartók would explore modal inflections that produced unfamiliar relationships between dissonance and consonance. Schoenberg’s Op. 11 piano pieces and Op. 15 song cycle would completely “emancipate” the dissonance from its resolution (and the motive from any implied tonal goal); Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring would actually force harmony and rhythm to switch places: giving harmony a static, textural role, and moving rhythm and meter into dynamic, ever-changing center of musical discourse. In the 1920s and 1930s, Edward “Duke” Ellington and his collaborators combined traditional and modern uses of mode and harmony, with spontaneous improvisation and revolutionary approaches to orchestration and ensemble playing. During the same period, Edgard Varese and Anton Webern would lay a foundation for high modernism by treating the acoustic and temporal dimensions of musical experience in rigorously independent ways, opening a limitless territory of experimental music for generations of 20th-century composers.
To think about the new possibilities in harmony, we will learn three new analytical techniques: first, an extension of the tonal system that jazz musicians have codified for the description of extended tertian (thirds-based) harmony; second, Paul Hindemith’s flexible theory of 12-tone equal-tempered melodic and harmonic tension; and third, a set-class categorization system for the comparison of pitch-class sets in any equal-tempered tuning system. In order to study new concepts of harmony and rhythm more carefully, we’ll have to learn some abstract thinking styles: how to compare dimensions of perception, and how to describe events, values, and groups of values in those dimensions. In the final weeks of the course, we’ll study the “high modern” compositional methods of Olivier Messiaen, Milton Babbitt, Charles Mingus, and John Cage—all of whom consciously challenge the primacy of pitch and harmony, to explore the independently expressive roles of timbre and rhythm.
1. To clarify and distinguish twentieth-century innovations in musical detail and form.
2. To master basic techniques of 20th-century analysis, including theories of tension and relaxation, categorizations of pitch and pitch-class sets, and the study of transformations in value sets.
3. To introduce performance and listening skills that relate to harmonically and rhythmically complex music.
4. To understand the scaling of information on various dimensions of musical experience, to relate that information to compositional techniques, and to connect those techniques with musical results.
TBA, available for download from this page.
Miscellaneous Aspects of the course:
1. Being there: Regardless of any reason for absence, students are responsible for completing whatever work they have missed when they are gone. Please let me know about absences that result from health conditions, family emergencies, or major transportation accidents, and so on. However, in any case of absence, be sure to check with a classmate for information about what was discussed on that day, and get a clear sense of all new assignments. If you can’t get that information from a classmate, please contact me via email. More than five unexcused absences from class and lab combined, or three unexcused absences from lab, will result in a grade of NP. See “Course Credit and Grading” (below) for more details.
2. Performance anxiety: In class, we’ll work on your skills and your knowledge in a direct and conversational way. But I’m never interested in getting you to prove anything on the spot. You will find that if you can’t get the answer right away, I’ll take lead the conversation differently so the class will work on it together. I hope you’ll find I’m pretty good at diffusing any public sense of student deficiency.
3. Deadlines: Please complete your homework in clear hand-written notation, with a pencil, and get them in on time! Late assignments will be accepted but they will not receive full credit and I cannot guarantee that I will give them thorough comments. This can be a problem because I expect to see improvement from one assignment to the next, so one late assignment can affect your later grades if you don’t take the initiative to get my informal comments on your progress, and keep the “conversation” going.
4. Communication: I respond to most email, IM, and text-messaging within 12 hours or so, to answer important questions about course material, the assignments and so on. I love getting emails with questions about music and the actual content of the course. I also want to hear from you if you’re having any trouble getting the concepts, getting the homework in, or getting to class. But please limit the use of email for excuses about already-past absences of unfinished assignments – there’s no hurry to give me that information so it’s better to focus on your work and think about what you need to do for the next class.
Course Credit and Grading:
Weekly exercises, including composition and analysis: 27%
Mid-term exam: 9%
Final composition project: 15%
Final Exam: 12%
Musicianship Lab: 27%*
*A grade of 50% or less in the combined scores of musicianship “lab midterm” and “lab final” (dates TBA) will result in a credit of zero percent under this heading. You must also pass the musicianship portion of the course in order to pass the course as a whole, even if your coursework is excellent.
More about grading:
Grades are an evaluation of your accomplishments, not your intentions, your sincerity, or my sense of your potential. That might make some grades seem cold or harsh, but if you think about it, it’s actually the warmest possible arrangement: anything else requires me somehow to pretend that I can look into your soul and qualify myself to judge what I see. I don’t want to judge your character—if I tried to do that, it would take all the fun out of the everyday challenge of learning about music. I hope you’ll be comforted to know that a C- doesn’t mean I’m annoyed at you, and an A+ doesn’t mean I’m your newest fan. It’s not personal.
If you are ever uncertain about why I’ve given any particular evaluation, please come to me with questions about it. I’ll be happy that you want to understand the assignment, or the concepts, in greater detail. It helps this course a great deal if you try to build a conversation around my written feedback about your work.
COURSE CALENDAR (Approximate):