21M.542 | January IAP 2010 | Undergraduate

Interdisciplinary Approaches to Musical Time


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 4 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session, for four weeks

Three weekend evening concerts with 90 minute pre-concert forums

Three open rehearsals on the day before each concert

Course Overview


This course is an interdisciplinary exploration of three broad themes concerning music in relation to time.

  1. Music as Architecture - the creation of musical shapes in time;
  2. Music as Memory - how musical understanding depends upon memory and reminiscence, with attention to analysis of musical structures; and
  3. Time as the Substance of Music - how different disciplines such as philosophy and neuroscience view the temporal dimension of musical processes and/or performances.

Concerts and Forums

The concerts by the Boston Chamber Music Society (BCMS) commingle works by great composers of the past (e.g., Beethoven and Dvorak) and contemporary composers (e.g., Libby Larsen and MIT professor Peter Child).

The three pre-concert forums bring together experts from various disciplines within MIT and elsewhere, to talk about the concerts in relation to the three themes. The exploration is both multi-media and interdisciplinary across the arts and sciences, using projections of film, painting, sculpture, and poetry. Panelists on each forum will discuss on their own work and the music of the evening. BCMS musicians will be on hand to demonstrate and discuss aspects of the music.

Classroom Meetings

The daily class meetings will be devoted to discussion of these events (before and after), and presentations by various MIT guest speakers about a particular topic of their choosing. The presentations may be related to an artwork (e.g., a novel, a painting, a film, or another piece of music), a cultural object (e.g., a building, a musical instrument, or a specific type of media technology), or to some relevant scientific research project (e.g., in the field of music cognition). Students are also expected to give an informal classroom presentation, which might also include musical performances, to be arranged in consultation with the instructors. For those taking the class for credit, attendance at all three concerts and forums is required, as are short written responses to these events.


Session Key
C = Classroom session
R = Open rehearsal
E = Forum/concert event

Week #1
C1 Martin Marks Overview, getting acquainted, the syllabus, concerts, student projects  
C2 Marcus Thompson Class discussion Student projects organized
R1   Open rehearsals for concert 1  

Forum 1: Time as shape

Michael Cuthbert (musicology, moderator)

Robert Jaffe (physics)

Libby Larson (composer)

Sara Brown (scenic design)

Concert 1

Andrew Imbrie, serenade for flute, viola, and piano

Libby Larsen, Black Birds, Red Hills

George Crumb, E_leven Echoes of Autumn_

Maurice Ravel, Piano Trio in A Minor

Week #2
C3 Michael Cuthbert (Professor of Music) Repeating time: minimalism and the structure of Reich’s Four Organs Written reponses to forum & concert 1 due
C4 Paul Schechter (Professor of Astrophysics) A physicist’s understanding of the concept of spacetime Project proposals due
C5 Michael Ouellette (Lecturer in Theater Arts) On Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen  
C6 Donald Sadoway (Professor of Materials Science and Engineering) ‘Everything I needed to know I learned in 3.091’ (using art, literature, music, and film to teach chemistry)  
R2   Open rehearsals for concert 2  

Forum 2: Time as Memory

Bruce Brubaker (piano/contemporary music)

Peter Child (composition, moderator)

Deborah Stein (music theory)

Concert 2

Ludwig van Beethoven, String Trio in E-flat Major, Op. 5

Peter Child, Skyscraper Symphony

Antonín Dvořák, String Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 97, “The American”

Week #3
C7 George Ruckert (Senior Lecturer in Music) Measuring time: meters, cycles, and patterns in Hindustani music Written reponses to forum & concert 2 due
C8 Christopher Ariza (Visiting Professor of Music) Events per unit of time: density as a compositional parameter in the music and synthesis techniques of Iannis Xenakis  
C9 Stephen Tapscott (Professor of Literature)

Deeper into Muybridge: a poet’s view

R3   Open rehearsal for concert 3  

Forum 3: Time as the Subject and Substance

Ellen Harris (musicology, moderator)

Lewis Lockwood (musicology)

Paul Matisse (sculptor)

Stephen Tapscott (poet)

Concert 3

W. A. Mozart, Oboe Quartet in F Major, K. 370

Charles Loeffler, Two Rhapsodies for Oboe, Viola, and Piano

William Grant Still, suite for violin and piano

Lukas Foss, T_ime Cycle_

Week #4

Charles Shadle

(Senior Lecturer in


Time and structure in a film score for D. W. Griffith’s Ramona (1910) Written reponses to forum & concert 3 due

Mark Harvey

(Lecturer in Music)

In the moment: jazz time and improvisation

C12   Student projects & performances  

Student projects & performances



Course Info

As Taught In
January IAP 2010
Learning Resource Types
Other Video
Lecture Videos
Written Assignments with Examples
Presentation Assignments with Examples