Music Literature


Peter Kun Frary


Welcome to Music Literature. This is a course about listening to music with understanding. You're already good at listening to music? Indeed, humans come fully equipped for this task but there are a few things you can do to step up your listening game. And it's all about the understanding part. Don't worry, we'll work on the understanding part one step at a time throughout the semester.

Composition with Violin 1912 | Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) | Leonard A. Lauder Cubist Collection

What's it all about?

Our focus is on Western art music created during the last one thousand years of European and American history. What most people call classical music. So no jazz, pop, folk or non-Western music (there are separate courses for those styles). One thousand years encompasses a lot of music so the material is distilled down to the most representative pieces from each era. There are six main stylistic eras for music:

  • Medieval (450-1450)
  • Renaissance (1450-1600)
  • Baroque (1600-1750)
  • Classical (1750-1820)
  • Romantic (1820-1900)
  • Modern (1900-)

Music of each era will be examined from a stylistic, historical, social and cultural perspective. First, we'll investigate the characteristics that define style, e.g., melody, harmony, texture, form, etc. Next, we'll delve into the function or purpose of the music. For example, was it created for ceremonies, worship or entertainment? Finally, the times and lives of the composers will be studied and linked to their creations. In short, we won't merely passively listen to pretty pieces but will also learn the how, why and where of what we listen to.

Before embarking on our one thousand year journey, we'll build a foundation of musical concepts and terms as a basis for listening and discussion. For example, we'll learn instrument names and words for describing musical technique and sounds. These concepts and vocabulary are called musical elements and the first few weeks of the semester will be spent reviewing them. An understanding of the elements of music will increase both your involvement in listening and enjoyment.

If you'd like to read about the author of this textbook, click on the link to the next page. Otherwise, click on the Elements link at the bottom of this page to start learning the secrets of music.

Enjoy your musical journey through one thousand years!

Pro Arte Playing Schoenberg 1945 | Prentiss Taylor (1907-91) | Smithsonian American Art Museum

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