Fanny Hensel, July from _The Year_

Music 10400

Home page

Weekly guide:

Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6
Week 7
Week 8
Week 9
Week 10

These are the assignments for Music 10400, Larry Zbikowski's introduction to the analysis and criticism of music at the University of Chicago, Autumn term 2005. Please be aware that assignments beyond those for the current week are provisional. If you have questions about any assignment (current or future), be sure to contact me.

Week 1 (9/26—9/28)

Class notes

for 9/28

Read "Prelude: Music and Musicking," from Christopher Small, Musicking. On electronic reserve.

Write a 250-400 word summary of the entry on Antonio Vivaldi that is in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, which is available online. In your summary, you should provide one or two important things (each) about his early life, appointment at Pietŕ, years of travel, reputation, instrumental music, and vocal music.
Be sure to put your name and the date on your paper.

Top of page

Week 2 (10/3—10/5)

Class notes

for 10/3

Please do the following:

  1. listen to concertos #2, #10, and #3 (tracks 1-9 of Concertos for the Emperor) (the recordings are now available at Tower Records)
  2. Give a detailed formal breakdown for the third movement of concerto #2 (note that the solos are lightly accompanied)
  3. Provide a brief, informal description (a sentence or two) of each of the movements of concertos #10 and #3; note anything particularly striking in the music; use whatever language you are comfortable with
  4. Write out (which means finding it, if you don't know it) the definition of the word “cadenza”

Here is an example of a "detailed formal breakdown" for the first movement of concerto #2:

    0:00tutti opening (major)
    0:30tutti ritornello (minor)
    1:04solo violin
    1:54tutti ritornello (minor)
    2:18solo violin—very elaborate passagework
    3:25opening gesture (tutti ), followed by ritornello in minor
    3:51solo violin
    4:11solo runs into tutti gesture from opening of concerto (major)
    4:18solo violin
    5:34cadential close (tutti, major), borrowed from opening material

Your comments can be more detailed should you wish. Don't despair if you don't hear (or if there aren't) contrasts between major and minor—just describe things as best as you can.

for 10/5

Please do the following:

  1. listen to concertos #7, #11, and #4 (tracks 10-18) of Concertos for the Emperor

Top of page

Week 3 (10/10—10/12)

Class notes

for 10/10

Please do the following:

  1. Prepare for the listening exercise by carefully going through all of the works on Concertos for the Emperor. Without worrying about a huge level of detail, see if you can develop a fairly fine-grained account of each movement, breaking it down (if possible) into 30-60 second chunks and coming up with a one-sentence description of each. (For a four-minute movement you'd thus have characterizations of between 4 and 8 chunks.) Sometimes this is really hard to do—what is it in the music that makes it so? Sometimes you'll need even smaller chunks—what was Vivaldi up to in these cases? Although you and I might think different chunks are important, this sort of listening will put you in good shape for our exercise on Monday.
  2. Listen to the first version of "Nun komm der Heiden Heiland" (BWV 61; tracks 1-6) on the Advent Cantatas disk. Try listening first without the text in front of you. Can you guess what the music is about? Scribble down a few thoughts for each movement of the cantata, and then listen again with the text. Were there any correspondences between what you thought the music was about and what is expressed by the text?
  3. Read Edward Rothstein, "Prelude: the need for metaphor" from his Emblems of Mind: The Inner Life of Music and Mathematics on electronic reserve. You may find it helpful to summarize some of Rothstein's main points in preparation for discussion. (And if you get really interested in what he has to say remember that the whole book is on regular reserve.)

for 10/12

Please do the following:

  1. Listen to "Schwingt freudig euch empor" (tracks 7-14) on the Advent Cantatas disk. Note the different combinations of instrumental and vocal resources that Bach makes use of, and the contrast between homophony and polyphony (look 'em up!).
  2. Write about a page each (double spaced, please) contrasting these pairs of movements from the cantatas:
    • movements 1 and 6 from "Schwingt freudig euch empor" (tracks 7 and 12)
    • movements 3 and 5 from "Schwingt freudig euch empor" (tracks 9 and 11)
    • movement 7 from "Schwingt freudig euch empor" (track 13) with movement 5 from "Nun komm der Heiden Heiland" (BWV 61; track 5)
    You will want to pay particular attention to the resources Bach uses and the musical strategies he employs to set the text in each movement; don't, however, neglect the instrumental introductions and interludes, which may also prove to be important.
  3. Read "Bach as Cantor and Director Musices in Leipzig" and "Repertoires" from Andrew Parrot's The Essential Bach Choir. What sort of constraints did Bach face as a cantor in Leipzig?

Top of page

Week 4 (10/17—10/19)

Class notes

for 10/17

Please do the following:

  1. Listen to the second version of "Nun komm der Heiden Heiland" (BWV 62; tracks 15-20) on the Advent Cantatas disk. How is this version different from the earlier version?
  2. Read "Musical Life of the Towns and Courts in Central Germany around 1700" by Claus Oefner.
  3. Read "Bach and the Notion of 'Musical Science'" from Christoph Wolff, Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2000).

Top of page

Week 5 (10/24—10/26)

Class notes

for 10/24

Guidelines for Listening Exercise No. 2

Four excerpts will be played from the Bach cantatas. You will be asked to identify the movement and the cantata, and to describe, as fully as possible, the relationship between the text and the music. Each excerpt will be played twice.

for 10/26


  • Please listen to the 4th and 5th Bartók string quartets.
  • In three or four sentences, describe the similarities and the differences between the fifth movements of the 4th and 5th quartets.

Writing Assignment No. 1

Choose one movement from the Vivaldi concertos and one (or possibly two) movements from the Bach cantatas. and write a one-thousand word (approximately) essay that takes as its point of departure either the similarity or the difference between the works. The basic similarities, as are the basic differences, are relatively obvious. On the one hand, the works involved were composed during the first third of the 18th century, they were written as part of the composers’ jobs, and they reflect the instrumental constraints imposed on each composer. On the other hand, Vivaldi was writing secular instrumental music designed to show off a virtuoso performer, where Bach was writing music with a religious text that required well-schooled, but not necessarily top-rank, performers. For this assignment, however, I want you to move beyond these generalities and make your argument from the music, as you understand it.

To do well on this assignment you will have to do a bit of planning, and some careful thinking. You should begin by choosing the pieces you want to talk about carefully. You will find that you will have the best success choosing a piece that you like, and/or that you find particularly interesting in some way. Once you have chosen the pieces you should make yourself a detailed map of the piece, trying to describe its structure in some detail. (The terms you use to do this, or the number of seconds in each chunk you choose to describe, are far less important than focusing on sections of the music you find meaningful.)

Your second step will be to draft your essay. You should state your main point as clearly as possible within the first one hundred words or so; you should devote some space to describing, within each piece, those aspects of the music that support your claims about similarity or difference; you should also try to play the pieces off of one another (so that rather than just describing A, and then B, you also try to talk about both A and B in a paragraph that directly engages the challenge of comparison); and you should end with a short summary conclusion. You can assume that your reader is familiar with the compositions (having heard them once or twice), but that she is not necessarily an “expert” (and thus needs some guidance on where to focus her attention).

Your essays will be graded on the clarity and quality of your writing, the way you make your argument from the music, and the degree to which the whole is convincing. While I encourage you to make use of the perspectives that you have gained from the readings, I emphasize that this is not a “research” paper as such: where careful and considered reading will certainly help your argument, these are no substitute for careful and considered listening.

Mechanics: a title is strictly optional; your name and the date are not. The essay should be double-spaced throughout, not justified (i.e., it should have a ragged right edge), paginated (first page pagination optional), and make use of a standard typeface. If, for some reason, you find a need to list resources (which, again, are not required) or make use of diagrams or examples (similarly not required) append these on additional pages.

Top of page

Week 6 (10/31—11/2)

Class notes

for 10/31

Please do the following:

  1. Listen to the 1st and 2nd Bartók string quartets. Almost ten years separates the completion of the two quartets. What differences do you hear between the two works? How do they relate to the 4th and 5th quartets?
  2. Read Nicholas Cook, Music: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), chapter 4: "An Imaginary Object." Some questions to consider:
    • Cook describes, at some length, the role of notation in Western music. What does this have to do with what counts as music? (Here you might want to think back to similar questions raised by Christopher Small.)
    • How do musical notation and musical composition relate to one another?
    • What part does metaphor play in Cook's argument?
  3. Read Julian Johnson, Who Needs Classical Music? (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), chapter 4: "Understanding Music." Some questions to consider:
    • Why is musical immediacy a problem (or, if not a problem, a challenge) for Johnson?
    • Does Johnson see elitism as a good thing? A bad thing? An unavoidable thing?
    • What, in the end, does it mean to "understand music"?

for 11/2

Please do the following:

  1. Listen to the 3rd and 6th Bartók string quartets.
  2. Choose your favorite of the six Bartók quartets and, in about a page and a half (double-spaced, etc; to be handed in), describe why it is your favorite. (Although you needn't contrast it with the other five, you will no doubt profit from having considered all of the quartets carefully since each has different things to offer.)

Top of page

Week 7 (11/7—11/9)

Class notes

for 11/7

Please listen to Act I of Don Giovanni.

Guidelines for Listening Exercise No. 3

This exercise will focus on the 4th and 5th of the Bartók string quartets. To prepare for it, I recommend you listen each quartet and note the character and any other relevant aspects of each movement. (For instance, most folks would note that the fourth movement of the 4th quartet is played pizzicato, that its melodies seem like some sort of skewed folk music, and that it may have something to do with eastern European dance rhythms.) You will be allowed to use such summaries during the listening exercise, but I will want to see only what you’ve written on the exercise proper.

For the exercise I will play six excerpts in three pairs; you will be asked to compare and contrast the excerpts, describing in some detail the musical materials on which this evaluation is based. Although the “natural” pairing would be in terms of movements (since both quartets are in five movements) this may not be the most interesting way to explore contrasts between the quartets, so don’t get too hung up on this correlation. And don’t expect me to choose only from the beginning of each movement, for similar reasons.

for 11/9

Writing Assignment No. 2

This writing assignment will focus on one movement (of your choosing), from one of the Bartók string quartets. (N.B.: If you wish to focus on the “one movement” 3rd quartet, you can choose either the Prima parte, the Seconda parte, or the Ricapitolazione and Coda. To keep things fair, you can’t shorten the assignment by choosing either the second or fourth movement of the 4th quartet—if you want to work on these, you’ll have to do them together.) There are three parts to the assignment:

Part I: Make up a timing chart that divides the movement into sections. For each section, indicate its start time on the CD, and provide a short verbal description of identifying characteristics of the section. Strive for an average of about 30 or 40 seconds per section.

Part II: Write out a narrative account of the way the musical materials of the different sections interact, proceeding for the most part in chronological order. Does the material of Section C replace the material of Section B? Is section D a repetition of or variation on the material of Section A? [Letter identifications are strictly optional, but you may find them useful.] Make no mistake, this is going to be something of a challenge, but it should follow (to some extent) from the decisions that guided the construction of your timing chart.

Part III: Describe the emotional or imaginative world created by this movement. Alternatively, you could try to describe how you think this music changes the perspective of the listener.

As always: double-spaced, with name and date at the top, and paginated. With the timing chart occupying one page, I estimate the total length of this assignment to be about four pages.

Top of page

Week 8 (11/14—11/16)

Class notes

Short of listening to the opera and attending a screening there were no assignments for this week.

Top of page

Week 9 (11/21 -11/23)

Class notes

for 11/21

Guidelines for Listening Exercise No. 4

For your next listening exercise, you will be given two kinds of questions. The first examples will be individual excerpts from either a solo Aria or from a Duetfrom Don Giovanni. I will play a selection (not necessarily from the beginning of the piece), and ask you to name the character(s) singing, the Act it is found in (you have a 50/50 chance on this one), and as part of what general situation the excerpt appears. If you look in the Table of Contents in the booklet for the Gardiner recording, you will find that Arias and Duets are clearly labeled; there are 14 or 15 such pieces (one that is labeled as a “duetto” has three characters listed). Know these pieces, and be prepared to discuss how Mozart uses music to really give some flesh to the personalities involved. If there is more than one character involved, what does the music reveal about the relationship between them? I encourage you to review notes from the class lectures, as well as to pay close attention to melody, declamation, affect, and so forth.

In the second kind of question on the listening exercise, I will play a successive pair of examples taken from anywhere in the opera. Although I will not specifically ask you to identify character, situation, and Act, I will ask you to compare and contrast the excerpts with regard to the musical setting. If you recognize the who, what, where and when of the examples, you are free (and strongly encouraged) to use that knowledge to bolster your discussion. I will, however, be looking for some discussion of how the music in each case is working to serve dramatic means. In other words, I’m looking for what it is about the music that helps us to better understand the tensions, relationships, situations, and character development in each excerpt. As you listen, consider also what’s being presented by the music that is not discernable simply from any text. If you don’t recognize the specific setting and/or characters, try to play the two examples off of each other to isolate musical techniques that might aid dramatic interpretation.

for 11/23

Please listen to songs 1-12 (the first half) of Schubert's Winterreise.

Writing Assignment No. 3

In this writing assignment I shall ask you to focus on one scene from Mozart’s Don Giovanni. (The scenes for both acts are listed in the guide to the CD tracks.) The usual length for writing assignments—around four pages—will still obtain, so make sure you choose a scene with enough substance that you have something to work with.

The goal of this assignment is to develop a characterization of how Mozart’s music shapes our understanding of what unfolds in the scene. You must thus listen carefully, a number of times, to the music; consider carefully what is going on in the opera at this point and how the text at hand reflects the various things in play in this opera; and finally think about how specific musical things—rhythmic devices, uses of the orchestra, contrasts between consonance and dissonance, the character of the melodic material being used, use of dynamics, contrasts between all of these various musical materials—create a limited (although not necessarily unambiguous) set of interpretive possibilities: how does the music shape our understanding?

To enhance your argument I would like you to consult another recording of the opera (in addition to that of the performance led by John Eliot Gardiner assigned for the class). To this end, I will put DVDs of the Glyndebourne and Sellars’ productions on reserve. (Note that the latter is on two CDs, and does not have chapter divisions. You’ll need to find things by consulting the list of scenes for the CD.) Your discussion of how the different performances fine-tune how we understand the relationship between music and text (which may include some reference to stagings, if you consult a video) should occupy no more than one third of your paper. The bulk of your argument must thus be made through a close reading of relationships between Mozart’s music and da Ponte’s libretto.

Be sure to identify clearly the additional recording that you consult, listing the director/conductor and the orchestra/opera house involved.

As always, double-spaced, with name and date at the top, and paginated.

N.B.: Insure that any travel plans you may have for the holiday don’t interfere with my getting the paper. You may get it to me in one of two ways: (1) before 3:00 on Wednesday the 23rd, delivered to my mailbox on the third floor of Goodspeed Hall; (2) electronically, as an rtf or pdf, sent no later than midnight on Wednesday the 23rd.

Top of page

Week 10 (11/28—11/30)

Class notes

for 11/28

Please do the following:

  1. Listen to songs 13-24 (the second half) of Schubert's Winterreise.
  2. Complete this brief writing assignment:
    • Describe, in a one-page essay (typewritten, double-spaced . . . the usual) Schubert's interpretation of Müller's text for the seventh song in the cycle, "Auf dem Fluße" ["On the river"]. Before studying the song in detail, read over the poem and consider how the protagonist views his situation. Then turn to the song, and attend closely to Schubert's rendering of the poem. What is Schubert's basic strategy for setting the text (what sort of musical environment does he set up, and what materials does he use to set it up)? Where is the climax of the song (or is there more than one)? Is any text repeated? To what effect.
    • Once you've considered some of these things, describe what Schubert's setting reveals about Müller's protagonist. Although I've called this an essay, you needn't observe the conventions of the form. You should, however, dig as deep as you can into the psyche of our winter wanderer as it is revealed by Schubert's music. Although you need not make reference to other songs (and in only one page such reference could be a distraction) you will almost certainly find it useful to consider how Schubert develops the character of the wanderer in other songs, the better to understand the function of this particular song within the cycle.
  3. Read Edward T. Cone's "Words into Music" from his Music: A View from Delft [Call no.: ML60. C773M90 1989], pp. 115-123.

for 11/30

Guidelines for Listening Exercise No. 5

This exercise will focus on the songs in the second part of Winterreise (that is, songs 13 through 24) and the relationship between the text and the music. I’ll play excerpts from four songs (providing you with the text and translation), and ask you to describe in detail how the music shapes the interpretation of the text. What I am particularly interested in is how Schubert reads past the structural organization of a poem (and the similarities to which it gives rise) to create the new structure that is his song. As a consequence of such readings, successive stanzas (with the same basic meter and rhyme scheme) will be given different musical treatments. The questions I’ll want you to consider is why, in such cases, the text for corresponding structural sections is interpreted differently, and how this shapes the way Schubert would have us read the poem.

To prepare for this exercise you need to listen carefully for such moments, as well as to understand the overall progression of songs in the second half of the cycle.

for 12/6

Writing Assignment No. 4

Part I.

Choose four songs from Winterreise (two from the first half of the cycle, and two from the second, but not including “Auf dem Fluße”) and use them to discuss how the character of the wanderer—or perhaps our understanding of his predicament—is developed by Schubert through his settings of Müller’s poems. You may wish to concentrate on key moments within the cycle to develop your argument, but you could also concentrate on songs with a similar topic (such as songs in which the weather is foremost, or songs that invoke dreams or dream-like states); other approaches, different from these two possibilities, are welcome. Whatever strategy you choose, I ask that you attend closely to the musical materials (focusing on how Schubert’s music interprets Müller’s poems): think of the text as giving you clues about the wanderer and his situation, but of the music as shaping and reorganizing these clues to create a clearer picture. Should you wish to bring in more songs (including “Auf dem Fluße”) you may, but make sure that your argument stays focused.

This part of the assignment should be approximately four pages in length.

Part II.

Drawing on all of the materials introduced in the course of this course, I would like you to engage with the question asked by Julian Johnson in one of our earlier readings: “Who needs classical music?” I encourage you to be creative in your approach to this question (thus the injunction to draw on all of the class materials), and to develop as persuasive an argument as you can for whatever viewpoint you adopt. As always, you will be evaluated on the clarity and grace of your writing, as well as on the force of your argument: the last thing you should worry about is whether I share your conclusions.

This part of the assignment should be about two to three pages in length.

As always, the assignment should be double-spaced, with your name and the date at the top, and paginated. Completed assignments should be placed in my mailbox on the third floor of Goodspeed before 4:00 on Tuesday the 6th.

Top of page

Bach, Prelude from Clavier-Buechlein

For inquiries about this page, or suggestions, contact Lawrence Zbikowski, Department of Music, University of Chicago.