Music 255: Modern Music

Teacher: Andrew Frankhouse -- 
Extra Help: Mondays and Thursdays | 3-4:30PM | Room 150

Students Please Note: Google Classroom will serve as the primary source for information and updates for this class.  Please follow the appropriate link below to your Google Classroom page:

Course Overview

Modern Music begins with the crisis of tonality in the late 19th century, and follows the search for a new musical language, both in Western Europe and the United States.  Students will use new modes of analysis to deconstruct complex and groundbreaking works from Stravinsky’s riot-inducing Sacre du printemps, Schoenberg’s bizarre Pierrot Lunaire, Varese’s visionary Poème électronique, and the unmistakable Americana of Copland’s Appalachian Spring.  Students will also perform research to make connections between prominent Modernist musicians and other artistic figures of their time, and to explore the relationship between music and the rapidly changing social, political, and technological realities of the 20th century.  

Essential Questions

What musical and nonmusical factors led to the emergence of diverse Modernist styles?  

What was the public’s response to this “new music”?

How are the philosophy and aesthetics of Modernism connected to and/or derived from the economic, social, and political realities of Europe and the United States?  

Unit 1

Post-Romanticism and Impressionism

Unit Goals

  1. Revisit the philosophy, music, composers, characteristics, genres, ensembles, and instruments of the Common Practice Period, including Baroque, Classical, and Romantic styles.

  2. Discuss the crisis of tonality and the possible paths forward, including the approaches of Claude Debussy and Modeste Mussorgsky.  

  3. Explore Richard Strauss’ Elektra, the implications on tonality therein, and his subsequent reversal toward Romanticism.   


Impressionism Comparative Analysis Essay

Unit 2

Parisian Modernism and Neo-Classicism

Unit Goals

  1. Familiarize students with the social, artistic, and intellectual climate of Paris ca. 1910, with particular emphasis on Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau.

  2. Explore the lives of Igor Stravinsky, Erik Satie, and “Les Six”.

  3. Examine the unprecedented collaboration between Pablo Picasso, Erik Satie, and Jean Cocteau in the creation of Parade.

  4. Compare and contrast Stravinsky’s Modernist and Neo-Classical styles through analysis (Le sacre du printemps, Pulcinella).


Contemporary Cubist Ballet Design

Unit 3

The Second Viennese School

Unit Goals

  1. Examine Schoenberg’s compositional philosophy and the relationship to that of previous Viennese composers.

  2. Explore the lives and music of Schoenberg, Alban Berg, and Anton Webern and their solution to the “crisis of tonality” (12-tone serialism).

  3. Compare and contrast the music of the Second Viennese School via Pierrot Lunaire (Schoenberg), Sechs Bagatellen (Webern), and Violin Concerto (Berg).

  4. Observe the Second Viennese School’s approach to the genre of opera via Berg’s Wozzeck.


Wozzeck Character Diaries

Unit 4

Music in America I: Art Music

Unit Goals

  1. Examine the emergent role of the United States as a twentieth century economic, cultural, and artistic force.

  2. Seek out the roots of American Art Music, including William Billings and Anthony Phillip Heinrich.

  3. Explore the influence (and eschewing of) European tradition in the music of Charles Ives and Aaron Copland.

  4. Analyze prominent American works (Central Park in the Dark, Concord Sonata, Rodeo, Appalachian Spring, Lincoln Portrait)

Unit 5

Music in America II: Vernacular Music

Unit Goals

  1. Explore the origins of American vernacular music, including Native American Music, the songs of Stephen Foster, African American work songs and church music, Appalachian folk music, and the blues.

  2. Correlate emergent musical styles and practices with cultural, political, economic, and social change in the United States.

  3. Consider the relevance (or irrelevance) of labels like “high art” and “low art” or “art music” and “vernacular music”.


In-depth comparative analysis of American works.