First-Year Studies: Landmarks of Western Music


This seminar will be both an introduction to and an in-depth exploration of the world of Western classical music. The ability to read music is not required. We will instead develop a vocabulary, based on careful listening, that we will use to analyze and describe the forms, textures, and expressive qualities of the music and of our experience of it. During the course of the year, we will have immersed ourselves in music and aesthetics from the ancient Greeks (the concept of music as sounding number) to the present; however, the class will not be organized as a historical survey but, rather, around topics designed to foster connections among different periods. For example, some of the music of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and of J. S. Bach and the postwar modernists seem to share attitudes about music and its role in intellectual and artistic life. How can these eras illuminate each other? How does music both reflect and influence developments in the other arts, in technology, and in social structures? Other topics will include subjectivity and personal expression, the radically simple, and the relationship between music and text.