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Robison, Brian, 21M.263 Music Since 1960, Spring 2006. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare), (Accessed 09 Jul, 2010). License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

21M.263 Music Since 1960

Spring 2006

Collage of several music-related images.
Aspects of contemporary music. (Images clockwise from top left, courtesy of the photographers: mixing board fader by Chris Percival; prepared piano by Sue Ann Harkey; gamelan by Cathy Cole; orchestra by Pedro Sánchez, from Wikipedia.)

Course Highlights

This course features an extensive listening list with links to brief samples.

Course Description

This course begins with the premise that the 1960s mark a great dividing point in the history of 20th century Western musical culture, and explores the ways in which various social and artistic concerns of composers, performers, and listeners have evolved since that decade. It focuses on works by classical composers from around the world. Topics include the impact of rock, as it developed during the 1960s - 70s; the concurrent emergence of post serial, neotonal, minimalist, and new age styles; the globalization of Western musical traditions; the impact of new technologies; and the significance of music video, video games, and other versions of multimedia. The course interweaves discussion of these topics with close study of seminal musical works, evenly distributed across the four decades since 1960; works by MIT composers are included.



Course Description

We'll explore the ways in which various social and artistic concerns of composers, performers, and listeners have evolved since the 1960s, with a focus on works by classical composers from around the world. Topics to be surveyed include: the legacy of serial composition, and the panoply of reactions against it; the cross-fertilization of classical and other styles, including jazz, rock, and music of other cultures; the emergence of post-serial, neo-tonal, minimalist, and post-minimalist styles; and the impact of new technologies throughout the period. Discussion of these topics will be grounded in close study of landmark musical works, evenly distributed across the four-and-a-half decades since 1960. Works by MIT composers will be included.


Two books are required for this course:

Griffiths, Paul. Modern Music and After: Directions Since 1945. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1996. ISBN: 0198165110.

Duckworth, William. Talking Music: Conversations with John Cage, Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson and 5 Generations of American Experimental Composers. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 1999. ISBN: 0306808935.

Additional readings are assigned from several other sources.

Classroom Preparation and Participation

Please be sure to read the specified texts and listen to the specified works before the class meeting for which they're assigned. There's no such thing as a stupid question, but there is a clear distinction between questions (or comments) that demonstrate proper preparation, and those that indicate the lack of same. Depending on the size of the class, you ought to plan on contributing three to five questions or comments in each class meeting. (Anything less will be conspicuous as a deficit of participation; anything more suggests that you might give your peers more opportunities to contribute.)

Listening Quizzes

Four times during the semester, I'll administer a quiz in which I play excerpts from musical works and ask you to identify them as thoroughly as you can. For full credit, you'll need to identify the composer (first and last names), title (in the case of a single movement, naming both the movement itself and the larger work from which it's drawn), the year(s) of composition, and the techniques or trends that the music manifests (i.e., why did I assign this piece of music?).

Analytic Reviews of Live Performances

You're required to submit four reviews, each evaluating a live performance of a suitable musical work. Each review ought to be 1-3 pp. in length (ca. 500 words), and ought to distinguish between the strengths and weaknesses of the work and of the performance (e.g., a piece might be brilliantly composed, but sloppily performed...; or vice versa). Toward the latter end, you ought to learn as much as possible about each piece before attending the performance, especially if a recorded performance is available by which you can familiarize yourself with the work.

Term Paper and Presentation

During the semester, you'll choose and pursue a topic of research grounded in the techniques and trends that we survey. You may investigate a particular work, or a composer, or a musical style, and your choice need not be drawn directly from the music covered during the lectures. You may choose to consider your chosen topic strictly within the context of contemporary music history, or you may incorporate perspectives from another discipline, such as cognitive psychology, ethnomusicology, feminist theory, gender studies, literary criticism, mathematics, philosophy, theology, or the visual arts. That is, a purely analytic paper is possible, but your investigation of the music can be energized and enriched by engaging one of your extra-musical intellectual interests.

Additionally, you'll present selected findings to the class, during one of the May class meetings. I recommend that you prepare a text, from which you may read directly, of ca. 5-7 pp. in length, or perhaps slightly less (depending on the duration of the audio excerpts you play by way of illustration).

Summary of Grade Weights

Classroom Preparation and Participation 20%
Four Listening Quizzes 20%
Analytical Reviews of Live Performances 10%
Term Paper Prospectus and Draft 10%
Term Paper (Final Version) 10%
Classroom Presentation 10%
Final Examination 20%   Tell A Friend