Music 150

University of California, Irvine
Winter 2015


Assignments are listed in reverse chronological order.
Assignments will be added over the course of the quarter for each upcoming class session.

For Thursday March 12, 2015

Prepare to present a performance of your final composition. Class will meet in Music and Media Room 218.

For Tuesday March 10, 2015

1) Read the Wikipedia article on algorithmic composition, and read as many as possible of the related articles linked in the See also section of that page. Consider what aspects of the compositional process lend themselves to formalization and systematization.

2) Establish a rehearsal time with the performers of your final composition project, and begin rehearsing in preparation for the performance.

For Thursday March 5, 2015

Turn in the completed score of your final composition project. (If it's a handwritten score, turn in a xerox copy, not the original.) You may either turn it in by hand in class, or deposit it in the EEE DropBox called "CompositionProject".

Distribute parts to all of your performers.

For Tuesday March 3, 2015

Read Thoughts on Composition and Improvisation by Christopher Dobrian.

Listen to In the In-Between by Christopher Dobrian and study the score. Think about the role of improvisation and performance indeterminacy in this piece.

For Thursday February 26, 2015

Turn in a xerox copy of the work you've accomplished so far for your final composition project.

For Tuesday February 24, 2015

Read chapter 8, "Rhythm and Meter", pp. 89-98 from Techniques of the Contemporary Composer by David Cope.

Listen to Falsetas Móviles by Christopher Dobrian, and analyze the score.

Listen to Upon Reflection by Christopher Dobrian, which exists in two versions, one for piano four hands and one for piano solo with interactive computer partner, and analyze the score. (The solo performance by Koppelman follows the score closely; the duo performance by Akagi and Akagi reorders certain sections of the score in the middle of the piece.)

For Thursday February 19, 2015

Listen to Entropy by Christopher Dobrian. Read the CD liner notes. Come to class ready to ask questions about the piece.

Listen to There's Just One Thing You Need To Know by Christopher Dobrian. Read the CD liner notes. Do your best to analyze the underlying guiding principle behind the pitch selections in an excerpt from the score. (Here is an excerpt of the recording that more or less corresponds to that score excerpt.) Come to class ready to ask questions about the piece.

For Tuesday February 17, 2015

Read "Cross-Domain Mapping", Chapter 2 of Conceptualizing Music by Lawrence M. Zbikowski. [You will need to be on the UCI LAN or accessing it via VPN in order to read this book online.]

Think seriously about how metaphorical thinking and cross-domain mapping can be useful to you as you try to understand music and as you think about composing music. Beyond simply being "inspired" by a metaphor, do you think that actual cross-domain mapping--seeking direct correspondences between music and some other domain or concept--can be useful to you in composing your piece? How might you rigorously pursue and define such correlations as a way of directing your compositional choices?

Read two pages of "The Composition of Music" (excerpt) from Poetics of Music by Igor Stravinsky.

Consider, in particular, these quotes:
"The more art is controlled, limited, worked over, the more it is free.
"As for myself, I experience a sort of terror when, at the moment of setting to work and finding myself before the infinitude of possibilities that present themselves, I have the feeling that everything is permissible to me. If everything is permissible to me, the best and the worst; of nothing offers me any resistance, then any effort is inconceivable, and I cannot use anything as a basis, and consequently every undertaking becomes futile. ...
"I have no use for a theoretic freedom. Let me have something finite, definite...
"My freedom thus consists in my moving about within the narrow frame that I have assigned myself for each one of my undertakings.
"I shall go even further: my freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles."

Think about how the idea of constraint, lack of freedom, can be useful when making decisions (such as compositional decisions). Compare Stravinsky's poetical discussion of freedom with this matter-of fact statement:
By limiting your vocabulary -- be it pitches or any other component of the music, be it for an entire movement or any portion of time -- you a) free yourself from having to think of all the possibilities that do not belong, b) help ensure unity, coherency, and clarity by not confusing the issue with things that don't belong, and c) help create something clearly defined (from which some things are clearly absent) that can then be contrasted with something else.

For each of the decisions you made in your list of (at least!) ten true statements you handed in, see if you can make one additional statement or condition that further defines that statement, and that further constrains your decision making. You don't need to hand it in, but it's an interesting and useful way to experiment with the idea of compositional rules that limit your theoretically infinite freedom and make your job as a composer easier.

Begin composing. Given that you have three weeks from today to complete your score, you should plan a regular work regimen and a timeline of intermediate deadlines that will keep you on track to completion.

For Thursday February 12, 2015

1. Prepare a 5-minute (no more) presentation in which you play for the class a favorite moment in music that you find particularly remarkable/attractive/ingenious, and analyze in detail why it is special, and why/how it works so effectively. The moment could be as short as a few seconds, and should not be longer than a phrase or two. Ideally, abstract and state one or more principles or ideas you think that musical moment exemplifies. You will need to prepare and practice your presentation carefully(!) in order to give a clear and thorough explanation in only five minutes. You can use the professor's computer to play audio from YouTube or Naxos Music Library, or (probably more efficiently) from a prepared sound file you provide on a USB flash drive. You can also show any graphic files you need for your explanation/analysis (in standard formats such as .jpg, .png, .pdf, .doc, .rtf, .ppt, .key) that you provide on a USB flash drive.

2. Make plans for your final composition project. Type out and hand in (and keep a copy for yourself!) a minimum of ten true statements about your project. (You should be able to do many more than ten.) Examples of true statements are: "The instrumentation will be piano trio (piano, violin, and cello)." "The duration of the piece will be approximately 3'30"." "It will be a 'theme and variations' form." And after making some very general statements of that sort, you can proceed to make more specific statements. For example: "The harmonic language will be tertiary, and will use mostly four- and five-note (occasionally even six-note) harmonies and almost constant accented appoggiaturas which create momentary dissonances but always resolve to the intended chord." "It will consist of a fast and dense 20-second introduction, followed by a simple statement of the melodic theme (about 30 seconds) by the strings with harmonic accompaniment by the piano, followed by four variations of that theme (1. playful dialogue between the two strings with sparse piano accompaniment, 2. statement by the piano in its high register while strings provide harmonic backing, 3. dark, slow, lugubrious statement with piano in low register, 4. bold, forceful, optimistic statement) and ending with a coda (about 30-40 seconds) that repeats one or two important motivic fragments from the theme while slowing the overall amount of activity."

[Note that I just provided five example statements off the top of my head. The decisions that went into making those statements were somewhat arbitrary, so they were easy to make, but they were also practical. Why piano trio? Those are instruments played by available students, and it's a common ensemble. Why theme and variations? I only need to come up with one thematic idea, and can then have fun experimenting with different settings of that idea. Why 3'30" long? That's about a minute of composing per week, and is long enough to state a theme and a few variations. Your decisions will help you decide what your piece will and won't be, and whatever you decide will be okay because you'll find a way to make your piece work within whatever constraints you give yourself.]

For Tuesday February 10, 2015

Attend the interview/performance by bassist/improviser Joëlle Léandre, Tuesday February 10, 2:00-3:20 in Winifred Smith Hall.

For Thursday February 5, 2015

Read pp. 1-34 of New Directions in Music (Sixth Edition) by David Cope, on reserve under "Dobrian" in the Arts Media Center. You can also find the Fourth Edition of the same book on the shelf of uncatalogued books. (Ask Ross for help if you can't find it.) In that edition, the pages are 1-38.

Practice your twelve-tone piano piece so that you can give an excellent performance of it in class.

For Tuesday February 3, 2015

Compose a short (1- to 2-page) "two-part invention" for piano solo using the basic 12-tone technique of pitch selection discussed in class and in the assigned readings.

Here are some guidelines for the composition.
1) Make a 12x12 matrix based on your row, as demonstrated in class and in the handout. This will be your source material for pitch choices.
2) Once you have made the matrix, make all pitch choices by reading horizontally or vertically (backward or forward, up or down) through the matrix. Use one entire version of the row before going on to another.
3) Only one note at a time per hand is allowed, as in a Bach two-part invention. If you want to express a "harmony" (the impression of a vertical sonority of simultaneous pitches), you can express it melodically the way Bach did, by thinking of the melody as an "arpeggiation" outlining the intended harmony.
4) You may use a two-note trill or tremolo to convey the impression of simultaneity if you'd like and if it's appropriate in your piece, but in general you should not use other sorts of repetitive figures (such as Alberti bass, for example, or ostinato).
5) You may either use a single version of the row to make pitch choices for both voices, or you may use two simultaneous versions of the row, one for each voice. In either case, the ordering of the pitches' occurrence must be maintained.
6) Some brief tonal implications will naturally occur. However, I recommend not going out of your way to make the music sound tonal. Instead, focus on particular intervals and note groups that occur in the row, and emphasize those.
7) Use other aspects of the music besides pitch classes to give the piece coherency: rhythm, dynamics, register, and motive.
8) As in Bach's inventions, imitation between the two voices might help give coherency to the piece. Imitation or not, some recurring motive of rhythmic pattern and/or melodic contour will probably be helpful.
9) Be sure to include tempo marking(s), dynamics, articulation, pedaling, etc. Those will be important for expressing the music fully.
10) Compose a piece that you can perform well yourself(!).

Bring a copy of the score and a copy of your matrix to class to hand in. We'll play the pieces on Thursday February 5.

For Thursday January 29, 2015

Practice your part for the short pieces (if any) that you'll be performing in class, to the point where you can play it accurately and expressively.

For Tuesday January 27, 2015

1. Write a one-to-two-page duo composition for melodic instrument and piano, using ideas and techniques you observed in your analysis of the two movements (I and V) from Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time) by Olivier Messiaen.

Bring 3 xerox copies of your piece to class, for melodic instrumentalist, pianist, and professor.

2. Read about twelve-tone composition technique on Wikipedia.

You can read another take on the same topic in a primer on twelve-tone technique by Mark DeVoto.

Study movement II of Variations for piano, op. 27, by Anton von Webern.
You can find the score here: (the fourth page of the PDF file)
And you can listen to a performance of the whole piece here: (at time 1:32)

You can read about this work on Wikipedia in an article that includes some historical information and some analytical observations.

You can find an extremely detailed analysis of this movement in the article "Webern and 'Total Organization': An Analysis of the Second Movement of Piano Variations, Op. 27" by Peter Westergaard. Read at least the first few pages. You must be on the UCI LAN or logged into it via VPN to access this article.

For Thursday January 22, 2015

Practice your part for each of the short chorales that you'll be performing in class. Work till you feel confident that you can sing your parts independently -- accurately and expressively.

For Tuesday January 20, 2015

1. Compose a one-page, four-phrase piece for SATB choir, in which you use quartal/quintal harmonies almost exclusively. In the first phrase, use quartal chords (mostly three-pitch or four-pitch structures) that are derived exclusively from perfect fourths (though you may use diverse inversions) and that are fully or almost fully contained within a single diatonic scale. In the second phrase, introduce some chords that include an augmented fourth or a diminished fifth, and allow the voice-leading tendencies of that interval to guide the harmonic movement, without necessarily staying within a single diatonic scale. In the third phrase deliberately avoid staying within one diatonic scale, and explore some chord types that can result from five-pitch and six-pitch structures (with some pitches "missing", because there are only four voices). In the fourth phrase, return to the "tonic" scale, and return once again to three-pitch and four-pitch quintal chords, to achieve a stable ending.

Do not use a text in your composition; instead, choose a syllable -- such as "oo", "ah", or "la" -- that you think will make the singers' job easiest and will sound good. Don't forget to include tempo and dynamic information. Consider the appropriate vocal range for each voice type (assuming non-professional singers), and of course try to write singable, elegant melodies for each voice while retaining good voice-leading between chords.

Bring five xeroxed copies of the score to class: one for each singer and one for the professor.

2. Study movements I and V of Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time) by Olivier Messiaen.
You can find the score here: (pp. 1-6 and 20-22),
you can hear Mvt. I ("Liturgie de cristal") here:,
and you can hear Mvt. V ("Louange à' l'Éternité de Jésus") here:

Read the Wikipedia definition of the term isorhythm. Note the definitions of the terms talea and color.

In Messiaen's book The Technique of My Musical Language, on reserve in the AMC, read pp. 14-30 on rhythm and pp. 47-54 on harmony in the first volume. Accompanying examples are in the second volume.

In Mvt. I of the Quartet for the End of Time, study the cello part and the piano part in particular, and see if you can identify repetitions of rhythmic patterns and repetitions of pitch patterns that the composer uses in isorhythmic fashion. In the violin and clarinet parts, how does the composer use particular motives to characterize those instruments' role in the quartet texture?

In Mvt. V, determine the scale on which the movement is primarily based, note which are the most important and common chords used, and see if you devise your own theory of how they're related: how do you surmise Messiaen was thinking about the relationship of scale, melody, and harmony?

For Thursday January 15, 2015

Practice your part for the short pieces (if any) that you'll be performing in class, to the point where you can play it accurately and expressively.

For Tuesday January 13, 2015

1. Compose a 1-page piece -- no more, no less -- for violin (or viola, or cello, or flute) and piano "in the style" of movements I and IV of Hovhaness's Seven Love Songs of Saris (i.e. using only the specific stylistic traits we identified in class). Bring 3 xerox copies of your piece to class. (This is important so that violinist, pianist, and professor can each have a copy.)

2. Study the song "Un Cygne" from Six chansons by Paul Hindemith.
You can find the score here:
and you can listen to it (with score) here:

3. Analyze the opening phrase (from the beginning till the downbeat of measure 5) and the closing phrase (from the pickup of measure 18 till the end) of "Un Cygne" by Paul Hindemith, focusing on the chord structures. (See below.) Write out your analysis on staff paper (or computer-printed), reordering the chord voicings to show the underlying harmonic structure, and supplementing that with any other comments or observations you make about the piece. Bring your analysis to class to hand it in.

It appears that in this piece Hindemith was focusing on chords built in fourths (quartal harmony) rather than in thirds (tertiary harmony). A few chords, especially at cadences, are tertiary triads, but most are not. For each chord, analyze its structure as a stack of fourths (or fifths), taking into account the possibility that a note might be "missing" from the chord, a note which would complete its analysis as a stack of fourths or fifths.

For example, the first chord is analyzable as the quartal triad B-E-A (with a doubled B on top); the second chord (the first chord of measure 1) is analyzable as B-(E)-A-D-G, a four-note chord that's essentially quartal (with an unstated E); the third chord is analyzable as a four-note quartal chord G#-C#-F#-B, and so on. In retrospect, you can see that the second chord can also be analyzed as a three-note quartal passing chord A-D-G where the B is a pedal tone (exists in the same voice in all three chords) and the other three voices move by step from the first chord to the third chord. Continue analyzing the chords in this way for the opening phrase and the ending phrase, writing each chord out as a stack of fourths or fifths on a separate piece of staff paper (except when you think a tertiary interpretation is more reasonable). Consider the C-naturals in the soprano to be ornamental non-chord neighbor tones (not a very significant part of your harmonic analysis).

What, if anything, are the traditional scale-based, classical harmonic implications of these chord progressions? What, if anything, do you think is a tonic note? How do you justify that interpretation? What classical principles of counterpoint and voice-leading do you think the composer was employing, and in what ways does he stretch or modify those principles for dramatic/poetic effect?

In his book The Craft of Musical Composition (on reserve under Dobrian in the Arts Media Center), Hindemith explains his theories of chord roots determined by intervallic dominance in complex chords. What are some characteristics of quartal/quintal chord structures, in terms of their tonal implications and sonic quality? How are they like, and how are they unlike, tertiary chords?

As you listen to and study the whole piece, you might also want to think about how the composer controls the rhythm of the text setting and the use of recurring harmonic and rhythmic ideas to emphasize the formal structure of the poem.

For Thursday January 8, 2015

Listen to and study movements I and IV of Seven Love Songs of Saris by Alan Hovhaness.
You can listen to them here:
and you can see the score for those two movements here:

What can you say about the tonal materials (scales and chords) Hovhaness uses as the basis for these two movements?
What can you say about the relationship of melody and accompaniment?
Can you make a list of all the traits that these two movements share?

Come to class prepared to contribute to a discussion of the pieces and the questions above.

This page was last modified March 10, 2015.