University of Notre Dame

Exploring the Composer's imagination

Course Number: MUS 13182 – 1
Instructor: Mary E. Frandsen

What inspires a composer to create a piece of music? With what ideas and materials does s/he begin? How do the composer’s decisions shape the listening experience? What sorts of messages might be encoded in a piece of music? These are just some of the questions that we will explore in this seminar, which is devoted to Western classical music from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. We will explore the composer’s imagination in famous works by Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Mozart, Beethoven, Rossini, Schubert, Mahler, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Strauss, Shostakovich, Messiaen, Adams, and others, composed for a variety of performance idioms, such as orchestra, chorus and orchestra, solo instrument, vocal ensemble, and solo voice. We will take a topical rather than a chronological approach, and look at the approaches of composers from different eras to musical virtuosity, the creation of musical variations, the musical realization (or “reading”) of a text, the composition of music without an explicit text, music and gender, etc. We will also explore ideas about musical genius and creativity.

Throughout the semester we will work to develop strategies for listening to and discussing music in an interpretive-analytical manner, while also learning to write about music. The time in class will be devoted to discussions of assigned pieces of music and readings; class requirements will also include frequent writing assignments of various types. No background in music is required, but class participation is vital.