History of Western Music IV: 1900 to Today

Curriculum Guideline

Effective Date:
Course Code
MUSC 2420
History of Western Music IV: 1900 to Today
Language, Literature & Performing Arts
Start Date
End Term
Semester Length
15 weeks
Max Class Size
Contact Hours
4 hours per week
Method(s) Of Instruction
Learning Activities

Instruction will be primarily by lecture, enhanced by audio and visual materials. Flexibility in class presentation will allow for students to engage actively through question, comment, and discussion.  Students will be assigned listening and reading for each class.  Lectures will provide general contexts for detailed study of representative pieces of music.  Supplementary library and online resources will be recommended.  Students will be informed of concert performances by professional organizations such as Vancouver Opera, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, or Turning Point Ensemble, which might serve as curriculum enrichment. One or more appropriate field trips may be planned, including a visit to the Canadian Music Centre.

Course Description
This course explores western art music as an artistic and intellectual expression of culture in Europe and the Americas from 1900 to the present. Influences of jazz, popular, folk, and non-western music on western art music are also examined. The role of electronic technology in the creation of a global musical culture is explored. Students study music in relation to the other arts and in its social, cultural, and political contexts. Critical thinking about music and active listening to music are emphasized. Understanding of historical musical styles, forms, and genres is developed through analysis of compositional techniques and awareness of performance practices. Competence in researching and writing about music is expected. The ability to read musical scores and to understand theoretical concepts is essential for success in this course.
Course Content
  1. Music in Europe in the First Half of the Twentieth Century
    • War and revolution; economic inequality and social conflict
    • New ideas in philosophy, psychology, the arts and literature
    • From Impressionism to Cubism in painting; Monet to Picasso
    • Symbolism in French poetry and its effect on music
    • The new musical language of Debussy in France; style of Ravel
    • Satie and Les Six; anti-Romanticism and French Neo-Classicism
    • New national styles: Falla, Vaughan Williams, Janácek, Sibelius
    • Individual Russian idioms: Rachmaninoff and Scriabin
    • Modernism and Romanticism in the German operas of Strauss
    • Expressionist art and literature in Germanic and Nordic countries
    • Schoenberg’s musical style: from chromatic to atonal and twelve-tone
    • The Second Viennese School: Schoenberg, Berg, Webern
    • Stravinsky’s musical style: from Russian primitivist to neo-classicist
    • Bartók’s synthesis: Hungarian folk music and Viennese Modernism
    • Hindemith’s musical theories; New Objectivity; Gebrauchsmusik
    • Music under the Nazis in Germany; flight of composers to America
    • Formalism and Soviet Socialist Realism; Prokofiev and Shostakovich
  2. Music in America in the First Half of the Twentieth Century
    • Experimentalism in New England: the music of Charles Ives
    • From ragtime to blues and jazz; New Orleans jazz, swing, big band
    • New technologies; the impact of radio and sound recording
    • Synthesis of jazz and art music styles: Gershwin; Still
    • Copland’s musical style: from modernist to American populist
    • Musical theater and popular song; music for film
    • Musical theater works of Weill in Germany and America
    • Music of Varèse in France and America; the liberation of sound
    • Latin America: Villa-Lobos in Brazil, Chávez and Revueltas in Mexico
  3. Music in Europe and America in the Second Half of the Twentieth Century
    • New political, social and economic realities after World War II
    • Messiaen’s musical language in France; birdsong; rhythmic techniques
    • Britten’s musical language in England; role of the outsider in his operas
    • Ginastera in Argentina; objective and subjective nationalism
    • Stravinsky’s adoption of serialism in America; music for ballet
    • Total Serialism:  Babbit in America, Boulez in France
    • The university as patron of new music; composition as research
    • Nonserial complexity and virtuosity: Berio in Italy, Carter in America
    • American Experimentalism in sound:  Cowell, Cage, Partch, and Crumb
    • Musical ideas and techniques of Cage; chance, indeterminacy
    • Early electronic music in Europe:  Schaeffer, Stockhausen, Varèse
    • Texture and process in acoustic music:  Xenakis, Penderecki, Ligeti
    • Art in America: abstract expressionism, pop art, minimalist art
    • Minimalism in American music:  Riley, Reich, Glass, Adams
    • Spiritual Minimalism in European music:  Pärt, Tavener, Górecki
    • Neo-Tonality and Neo-Romanticism in reaction to Modernism
    • New forms of musical notation; graphic scores; microtonal resources
    • New roles for performers; extended vocal and instrumental techniques
    • Sound synthesizers, digital sampling, and computer music
    • Concert band and wind ensemble music in the university
    • Diverse women composers; Tower, Oliveros, Musgrave, Gubaidulina
    • Performance art, quotation and collage; mixed media
    • Postmodernism in art, architecture, and music; polystylism
  4. Popular Music in America in the Second Half of the Twentieth Century
    • From bebop to free jazz; third stream jazz/classical synthesis
    • From country music to rhythm-and-blues and rock-and-roll
    • The British invasion; creative innovation in music of The Beatles
    • Folk music and political protest in America; Dylan
    • Woodstock Festival, Hendrix, and virtuoso electric guitar techniques
    • Trends in jazz, rock, musical theater, film, and popular music
  5. Twentieth-Century Music in Canada
    • Colonialism, Internationalism, and Nationalism in Canadian art
    • British and French musical traditions; Willan and Champagne
    • Musical Modernism in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia
    • Women composers in western Canada: Archer, Coulthard, Pentland
    • Canadian League of Composers and Canadian Music Centre
    • Somers’s opera Louis Riel as monument of national historical identity
    • First Nations music as cultural expression and compositional resource
    • Landscape and the Idea of North in painting, literature and music
    • Schafer and World Soundscape Project at Simon Fraser University
    • Electro-acoustic composition on the west coast; Truax, Westerkamp
    • Influence of American popular culture on Canadian culture
    • The popular singer/songwriter as Canadian phenomenon; Lightfoot, lang
    • Integrating musical resources of Asia and the west; Chan and Louie
    • Multiculturalism; Canada as a home for world music
  6. Towards a Global Musical Culture in the Twenty-First Century
    • Politics, economics, technology and cultural exchange since 1990
    • Concepts, functions and transmission of non-western music
    • Elements of music seen from non-western perspectives
    • Selected examples from China, India, Africa, and Indonesia
    • World Beat and African music; cultural appropriation
    • Asian composers and western styles; Takemitsu, Sheng, Tan
    • Declining role of western art music in American culture
    • New roles for western art music in Asia and South America
Learning Outcomes

At the end of the course, the successful student should be able to demonstrate comprehensive knowledge of stylistic developments in music in Europe and the Americas from 1900 to the present by the following means:  aural identification of characteristics of representative pieces of music; visual analysis of representative musical scores; and written discussion of terms and topics appropriate to the period and its music.  The student should also be able to discuss general social, cultural, and political aspects of life in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.  Finally, the student should be able to demonstrate competent research and critical thinking skills in the completion of writing projects on topics appropriate to the period being studied.

Means of Assessment
Regular short quizzes (6-8) 10%
Short library assignments (2-3) 5%
Research and writing project on a major twentieth-century work 15%
Research and writing project on a major Canadian composer 10%
Major listening tests (2) 20%
Major written tests (2) 20%
Final examination (listening and written) 20%
Total  100%










Textbook Materials

Students will be required to purchase a standard text such as the following, along with its accompanying score anthology, for use in all courses in the music history survey:

  • Burkholder, J. Peter, Donald Jay Grout, and Claude V. Palisca.  A History of Western Music, 7th ed.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006.

Students will also be required to purchase a reputable music dictionary such as:         

  • Randel, Don Michael. The Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2002.

MUSC 2320 or permission of instructor