21M.260 | Spring 2016 | Undergraduate

Stravinsky to the Present

Instructor Insights

Course Overview

This page focuses on the course 21M.260 Stravinsky to the Present as it was taught by Professor Emily Richmond Pollock in Spring 2016.

This course provides an overview of the musical styles and techniques developed over the past 115 years. The anthology and supplemental listening present a range of art music aesthetics in a variety of genres such as chamber music, symphonic and choral music, and opera. Students tune their ears to novel sounds, hone their own preferences and aim to understand the motivations behind and importance of a wide diversity of compositional orientations, including Expressionism, Impressionism, atonality, neo-Classicism, serialism, nationalism, the influence of jazz and popular idioms, post-tonality, electronic music, aleatory, performance art, post-modernism, minimalism, spectralism, the New Complexity, neo-Romanticism, and post-minimalism.

Course Outcomes

Course Goals for Students

  • Become familiar with the musical languages developed since 1900
  • Listen to music precisely and describe it using appropriate terminology
  • Identify and analyze important features in notated scores
  • React independently and critically to unfamiliar works to understand how music is shaped by aesthetic, historical, and political motivations

Instructor Insights

"Students’ conversations become the class session. That’s how I teach. There’s not a lecture, I don’t hold forth on particular topics for many minutes on end. Students have already done the work. They’ve completed the readings, looked at the details that I’ve asked them to explore, and come to class ready to share their reactions. Rather than dispensing information, I spend my time helping students refine their ideas."
— Emily Richmond Pollock

Below, Professor Emily Richmond Pollock describes various aspects of how she teaches 21M.260 Stravinksy to the Present.

Curriculum Information


21M.301 Harmony and Counterpoint I or permission of instructor.

Requirements Satisfied

  • GIR
  • CI-M
  • HASS

21M.260 may be applied toward a Bachelor of Science in Music or a Bachelor of Science in Humanities and Engineering/Science.


Every spring semester


Grade Breakdown

The students’ grades were based on the following activities:

  • 20% Attendance and warm-ups
  • 15% Daily assignments
  • 10% Five short listening quizzes
  • 10% Two live event reviews
  • 45% Papers

Student Information


Fewer than 10 students

Breakdown by Year

Mostly juniors and seniors

Breakdown by Major

Mostly music majors or minors

Typical Student Background

Sometimes students come to a course like this one with a stereotypical bias against modern music, but in this case, that did not occur. Several students considered themselves composers and artists and were particularly excited to learn about twentieth-century music.

Read More/Read Less

All of the students had studied some harmony or music theory before enrolling in the course, but most had not taken a music history class before participating in 21M.260 Stravinsky to the Present. This is partly because the course is not taught as part of a sequence of music history courses. If I were teaching 21M.260 Stravinsky to the Present at an institution with many music majors (MIT typically has a handful of music majors each year), it would likely be taught as part of a music history sequence. Students would start with early music, learn how the Renaissance built on the medieval period, and then learn how the Baroque period built on the Renaissance period. After that, they’d learn how classical music broke all the rules from the Baroque period. When they’d finally arrive at the twentieth century, they’d know all the music that those twentieth-century composers would have known, which would allow them to understand musical concepts central to the course, such as that when Stravinsky was writing a fugue he was doing something Bach had done earlier in history. 

But because MIT students may have a limited prior understanding of “classical” music that came before the modern period, I have to keep that in mind. Often I have them access Grove ®Music Online to read articles that provide historical background about the concepts we’re learning in class.

Although it takes some adjustment to facilitate this course for students who don’t necessarily possess the standard historical narrative in their heads, it also affords some particularly engaging teaching moments. Serendipity happens when students bring in their own connections to music from the repertoire, often in ways I could not have foreseen because their backgrounds are so much more diversified than a standard curriculum can be. That’s always exciting.

Ideal Class Size

Around twelve students is the ideal class size for this course. This class size is small enough such that each student’s contributions can be heard during each session.

How Student Time Was Spent

During an average week, students were expected to spend 12 hours on the course, roughly divided as follows:

In Class

  • Met 2 times per week for 1.5 hours per session; 27 sessions total.
  • Class sessions were discussion-based, and included warm-ups.
  • Joseph Auner, author of the course textbook, was a guest speaker during one of the sessions.

Out of Class

Students completed anthology assignments and supplemental listening exercises, in addition to writing two formal papers and reviews of live events featuring music since 1900.

"While the anthology assignments helped students hone their score-reading skills, the supplemental listening exercises, for which I did not provide scores, had purely to do with what students could get from listening alone."
— Emily Richmond Pollock

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2016
Learning Resource Types
assignment_turned_in Written Assignments with Examples
co_present Instructor Insights