Music History

Courses in Music History


Six courses constitute the Music History Sequence. They are: Mu 131 - Music of Courts and Cathedrals; Mu 132 - Monteverdi to Bach: Music of the Baroque; Mu 133 - Music of the Age of Enlightenment; Mu 134 - Music of the Early Romantics; Mu 135 - Music of the Late Romantics, and Mu 136 - Music of Our Time. These courses are intended for people with no musical background but are more in-depth than most college music appreciation or survey courses.

Mu 131. Music of Courts and Cathedrals. 9 units (3-0-6); to be offered Fall 1996.
This course, interestingly, is one of the more popular music history courses at Caltech. Perhaps because students tend to know less about music from the Middle Ages and Renaissance than any other period, they're anxious to explore it. As they sang in "The Sound of Music," we "start from the very beginning...a very good place to start" with the chant; move through to the beginnings of polyphony in and around Notre Dame in Paris, and explore the independent secular and sacred styles which sprang up in England and how they intersected with Continental music to form the so-called "international style" of composers such as Dufay, Binchois and Josquin. After exploring vocal and instrumental music of the troubadors and trouvËres and the later French, Italian and English madrigals, we end with the music of the "Golden Age" and High Renaissance by composers such as Palestrina and Byrd.

Mu 132. Monteverdi to Bach: Music of the Baroque. 9 units (3-0-6); to be offered Winter 1997.
Mathematicians and scientists have long had a fascination with the music of J.S. Bach. Canons, ricercars and fugues, with their intricately architectural designs provide interesting material for study. Bach and his two most famous counterparts, George Frederick Handel and Domenico Scarlatti, come at the end of the Baroque period and represent the culmination of a style which had its origins in the late 16th century. Opera began during the Baroque period; solo instrumental and chamber music reached a zenith with the developments in Italy by Stradivarius and Amatti and the music of Corelli and Vivaldi; Jean Baptiste Lully, court composer to the "Sun King" (Louis XIV) revolutionized orchestral music, and the age of great organs and organ music was ushered in by such composers as Sweelinck and Buxtehude (Mu 132 always includes a field trip to a Baroque organ in A ltadena for demonstrations).

Mu 133. Music of the Age of Enlightenment. 9 units (3-0-6); to be offered Spring 1997.
Much of this course is devoted to the two greatest composers of the late 18th century: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Franz Joseph Haydn. But the style which culminated in the great works of Mozart and Haydn from about 1780 - 1800 had its origins in the music of earlier masters, most notably two sons of J.S. Bach (Carl Phillip Emmanuel and Johann Christian), important Italian composers such as Sammartini and Pergolesi and early German masters such as Karl Stamitz. Mu 133 always includes video excerpts from Mozart's great opera trilogy: Don Giovanni, CosĖ fan tutte and Le Nozze de Figaro and exploration of the development of the modern symphony in the hands of "Papa" Haydn. At century's end, the stage is set for the emergence of Ludwig von Beethoven.

Mu 134. Music of the Early Romantics. 9 units (3-0-6); to be offered Fall 1997.
If you like Beethoven, you'll like Mu 134. The first several weeks of this course is devoted to a detailed explorations of Beethoven's music and its ramifications on other composers. As heads were falling in Paris, a peculiar medical student cum composer, Hector Berlioz, was inventing program music; the women of privilege were swooning over Frederic Chopin and Franz Liszt, and everyone was talking about the newest Italian face in town: Gioacchino Rossini. Meanwhile, back in Vienna, a poor, syphilitic school teacher, Franz Peter Schubert, was inventing the modern art song and writing some of the most elegant instrumental music of the day. Later, Felix Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann would build on the contributions of Beethoven and Schubert and set the stage for the next musical revolutionary, Richard Wagner.

Mu 135. Music of the Late Romantics.9 units (3-0-6); to be offered Winter 1998.
Picking up in mid-century, Mu 135 affords us the opportunity to explore the music of numerous important instrumental and operatic composers. New national styles emerge and it is interesting to compare works by such diverse composers as Dvorak, Grieg, Gottschalk and Mussorgsky. Of equal interest is the diversity of operatic styles in composers such as Wagner (yes, we have to listen to "The Ride of the Valk¸re"), Verdi and Bizet. Again, video presentations of opera excerpts help students gain an understanding and appreciation for a genre (opera) which is frequently dismissed out of hand. The course ends with a look at important composers on the cusp of the 20th century: Strauss, Mahler, Debussy.

Mu 136. Music of Our Time. 9 units (3-0-6); to be offered Spring 1998.
No century has seen such political and social turmoil as the 20th century. Always reflective of the societies in which it exists, the music of the 20th century frequently mirrors this turmoil. The late-Romantic composers, particularly Wagner, Mahler and Strauss, left younger composers with a big problem: where to go next. There was not a single answer but multiple responses. Among the giants of the early part of the century, of course, are Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky, whose music could not be more different (they intensely disliked one another). Of great influence are composers with less familiar names: Bela Bartok, Olivier Messiaen, Alban Berg & Anton Webern, Karlheinz Stockhausen & Pierre Boulez. Pierre Boulez, still very much alive and well as conductor and composer usually visits Southern California in May and provides the students in Mu 136 the opportunity to hear him conduct several concerts by the LA Philharmonic. These always prove revelatory, thought-provoking and great fun.

Back to main page