21M.220 | Fall 2010 | Undergraduate

Early Music


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session


21M.301 Harmony and Counterpoint I

The ability to read music is absolutely essential.

Course Summary

This subject covers the history of Western music from antiquity until approximately 1625, about 2000 years worth of music. Rather than cover each topic at the same level of depth, we will focus on three topics in particular and glue them together with a broad overview of other important topics. The three topics, representing about 60% of the total class meetings, are:

  1. Chant: Structure, Performance, and Development
  2. Music in the Trecento (Italy 1340–1420)
  3. Elizabethan London

The course will also introduce many of the tools we use in studying music history such as manuscript study, original notation work (the musical equivalent of foreign language study), and historical performance practice.



Listening as much and as well as you can is an essential part of success in this subject. Plan to spend a minimum of six hours outside of class per week reading, listening, and studying. If you cannot mark out six hours in your normal schedule you probably do not have time to take this class. The average class meeting will have about 20 minutes of listening assigned, usually in the form of several short works, many of which are too dense to get at in a first hearing. Some of the listening may be passive or familiarity listening—putting on the songs while finishing a Chem. problem set or organizing your desk—but the majority will need to be active and without distraction. Make sure you have a place where you can do this listening undisturbed. I have tried as much as possible to get good recordings of great pieces; I hope they are enjoyable.

Writing Assignments

This is a Communications Intensive in the Major subject (CI-M) and thus we will introduce the tools used by professional music historians to communicate. In addition to some short one to two page assignments, there will be three papers:

  1. A paper on the performance of medieval music;
  2. A research and analysis paper which will be revised, improved, and resubmitted (note that several class sessions, in particular much of session 15, are preparation for this paper); and
  3. A set of program notes.

Each paper should be 5–10 pages. The papers serve three main purposes: to stimulate research interests in music before 1625, to improve your academic writing in general, and to improve your writing about music in particular. There will also be short assignments specifically focused on improving the quality of writing about music. (Presentations and other speaking assignments will make up the remainder of the CI-M requirement.)


There will be two hour examinations in class, at mid-term and the end of the term. No assignments will be due during exam period.

Office of Sext

At the start of most sessions, the class will chant the Office of Sext for Tuesday (Feria Secunda ad Sextam), using appropriate chants for Lent, Passiontide, and the post-Easter season.

Office of Sext for Tuesday (PDF)


Your participation (including but not limited to attendance) is important. (See grading below). You should expect to be cold called to discuss the day’s listening and reading. The reading load is a lot lighter than most humanities classes, but I expect it to be done.

Concert Attendance

Attendance is required at one concert in which you are not a performer which include at least one piece (longer than 10 minutes) of a repertory is similar to that of this course (i.e., pre-1625). Turn in the concert program (or a stub if no program existed) and one page about its relevance to the class (5% total). I will announce some concerts (and church services with this music) of particular interest. Boston is an amazing town for Early Music so we should be able to find a number of great recitals as well. If you are not able to make the special event, then you may substitute a second concert report.

One Final Requirement

It’s great music, so let’s enjoy it. Please let me know if you ever have concerns about the class or if you have suggestions for changes or improvements.


Three papers 13.3% each = 40%
Two exams 15% each = 30%
Participation 20%
Assignments 10%

Other smaller assignments/quizzes will be figured into either the paper grade or the exam grade. Presentations, concert report, and attendance will come from the participation grade. A failing grade may be assigned for failure of any of the components of the class.

Required Texts

Wright, Craig, and Bryan R. Simms. Music in Western Civilization, Volume I: Antiquity through the Baroque. Thomson/Schirmer, 2006. ISBN: 9780495008651.

Students will be given additional handouts (the “course anthology”) with score excerpts and supplemental readings, and a list of books placed on reserve.

For OCW users, the book Anthology for Music in Western Civilization, Volume A (cited below as a recordings source) contains a subset of the scores used in class, along with other pieces that substitute well for many of the pieces not available at this OCW site.

Required Recordings

Many listening assignments are on the CDs accompanying Roden, Timothy J., Craig Wright, and Bryan R. Simms. Anthology for Music in Western Civilization, Volume A: Antiquity through the Renaissance. Belmont, CA: Thomson/Schirmer, 2006. ISBN: 9780495008798.

Other selections are from various sources, including individual CDs and the recordings that accompany the Norton Anothology of Western Music (NAWM).


In Focus 1: Chant: Structure, Performance, and Development
1 Introduction to Early Music and to Chant  
2 Antiquity to Chant Assignment 1 out: chant notation
3 The Purpose and Types of Chant  
4 Diversity and Development in Chant Assignment 1 due
Other Topics 1: From Chant to the Fourteenth-Century
5 Secular Monophony in the Middle Ages Listening quiz in class: 10 minutes
6 The Birth of Polyphony  
7 Polyphony (and some monophony) in the 13th and early 14th century

First paper due

Assignment 2 out: Analysis of Perotin style organum

8 Fauvel, Vitry, Machaut and Music in France before 1370  
In Focus 2: Music in the Trecento (Italy 1340–1420)
9 Introduction to Trecento Music

Assignment 2 due

Assignment 3 out: Learning medieval notation from medieval manuscripts

10 Trecento Music and Musicology: Introduction to Research; Sacred Music Assignment 3 due
11 Simplicity and Complexity  
12 The End of the Trecento and The Rise of European Music  
  First Exam  
Other Topics 2: The “Renaissance” (1420–1600)
13 Music in the Mid-Fifteenth Century 1440–1480  
14 Vocal Music: Josquin, his Contemporaries, and his Followers  
15 Discussion: How to revise a research paper Student presentations
16 16th century vocal and instrumental music Second paper due
  Special Event: Jane Alden, “Why Facsimiles?”  
**In Focus 3: Elizabethan London
17 Tutor England / The Elizabethan Madrigal  
18 English Music in Church and School Assignment 4 due: a few questions about Morley’s Plaine and Easie Introduction.
19 Instrumental Music and Lute Song (Doug Freundlich, Guest Lecturer) Revised second paper due
20 Music in London Society Assignment 5 due: One-page madrigal review
  Second Hour Exam  
Other Topics 3: New Developments on the Continent, 1570–1620
21 Madrigal and Drama in Late Sixteenth-Century Italy; Music in Venice  
22 The Rise of Opera and a New Style Third paper due

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2010
Learning Resource Types
Projects with Examples
Lecture Notes
Written Assignments with Examples