Module Catalogue 2020/21

MUS2017 : Historic Techniques of Composition

  • Offered for Year: 2020/21
  • Module Leader(s): Professor Magnus Williamson
  • Owning School: Arts & Cultures
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 1 Credit Value: 10
Semester 2 Credit Value: 10
ECTS Credits: 10.0
Pre Requisites
Code Title
MUS1044Composing and Analysing Music
Pre Requisite Comment

MUS1044 or equivalent.

Co Requisites
Co Requisite Comment



•1.       To acquire an informed understanding of historic repertories through the act of composition;
•2.       To draw upon historic theory and methods as compositional tools;
•3.       To illuminate scholarly understanding of historic techniques through practical experience;
•4.       To develop compositional facility in at least one historic idiom;
•5.       To deepen understanding of the relationship between theory and practice before 1900;
•6.•       To foster clear understanding of the key concepts relevant to the genres under investigation:
for instance, developing an awareness of the differences between concords/discords, essential/inessential, and structural/ornamental notes;
•7.       To draw upon, and contribute to, on-going research projects of relevance to this field of study.

Outline Of Syllabus

This module engages with musical repertories from before the twentieth century. Students are introduced to one or more idiom: counterpoint from the sixteenth, seventeenth or eighteenth century; fugue; Classical forms; or nineteenth-century harmony, usually song. The stylistic choices on offer will vary according to circumstances (staff availability and current interests, and the aptitudes of participants).

The weekly rota of topics will therefore depend according to the stylistic specialism(s) on offer. Typically the module consists of fortnightly alternations of lectures and seminars (weeks 1-16) and a series of seminars and tutorials that focus upon composition projects; during 2020-21, present-in-person teaching will focus upon the completion of exercises completed by participants in real time, with ‘live’ feedback; asynchronous teaching will focus upon the completion of more extended exercises, and upon historical contexts and materials. Exercises and readings will be set each week, part of which should be completed between the two main teaching sessions of the week; fully completed exercises will be marked in readiness for the next week’s teaching. It is imperative that participants regularly complete the set tasks.

In 2020-21 there will be offered a choice of specialism: Reconstructing Renaissance Polyphony. This will enable students to participate in the AHRC-funded project Tudor Partbooks: the manuscript legacies of John Sadler, John Baldwin and their antecedents. Participants will be able to contribute directly to the publication of a facsimile reconstruction of the Baldwin Partbooks (GB-Och Mus. 979-983), now in its latter phases of preparation.

Learning Outcomes

Intended Knowledge Outcomes

To help students acquire advanced awareness of:
•1.       Musical textures and structures pertaining to the genre(s) under investigation;
•2.       The interrelationship between composition and theory before 1900 through investigation of selected exemplars;
•3.       The compositional tools that were variously available at different chronological moments;
•4.       The issues raised by practice-led investigation of historic compositional techniques;
•5.       Terminology and techniques appropriate to the time(s).

Intended Skill Outcomes

Students should acquire and develop the following abilities:
•1.       To observe and identify advanced compositional processes in modal and tonal music;
•2.       To represent musical knowledge of an idiom through the means of musical notation;
3. •       To develop aural perception as a cognitive tool for understanding historic repertories;
•4.       To use compositional techniques appropriate to the idiom under investigation;
•5.       To generate musical materials that are stylistically congruent with that idiom (i.e., it sounds correct);
•6.       To identify (and, if appropriate, replicate) stylistic traits appropriate to specific times or individual composers, for instance through the re-composition of missing voice-parts.

Teaching Methods

Please note that module leaders are reviewing the module teaching and assessment methods for Semester 2 modules, in light of the Covid-19 restrictions. There may also be a few further changes to Semester 1 modules. Final information will be available by the end of August 2020 in for Semester 1 modules and the end of October 2020 for Semester 2 modules.

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Structured Guided LearningLecture materials161:0016:00Demonstration. Asynchronous, online
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching80:304:00Tutorials to discuss projects: online
Guided Independent StudySkills practice1001:00100:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops161:0016:00Synchronous: either present-in-person or online according to circumstances
Guided Independent StudyProject work641:0064:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

The student experience is built around a combination of demonstrations and workshops in which a series of compositional types and technical challenges is introduced and practised (weeks 1-16). Later in the module (weeks 16-22), tutorial tuition becomes more frequent, as participants prepare their final assignments and focus on more individualised tasks.

Reading Lists

Assessment Methods

Please note that module leaders are reviewing the module teaching and assessment methods for Semester 2 modules, in light of the Covid-19 restrictions. There may also be a few further changes to Semester 1 modules. Final information will be available by the end of August 2020 in for Semester 1 modules and the end of October 2020 for Semester 2 modules.

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Portfolio2A75Final portfolio
Portfolio1A25Interim portfolio
Formative Assessments
Description Semester When Set Comment
Prob solv exercises1MEach week an assignment will be completed and marked, providing regulation opportunities for feedback and skills develoment
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The final portfolio comprises between two and five composition tasks, the weighting of which will depend upon the scale and complexity of the repertory studied (indicatively: five short songs; four fugal expositions; three vernacular anthems; two Latin motets; one sonata movement; or appropriate combinations of the above). The task will also vary in scope according to the date of the repertory: an essay in Renaissance composition may include an element of transcription and commentary if appropriate, or the completion of an incomplete surviving piece through the reconstruction of missing voice-parts; other repertories, for instance, nineteenth-century song, will focus upon the choice and setting of appropriate texts in English, French or German.

The interim portfolio, submitted at the end of the first semester, provides evidence of engagement with (and understanding of) the content of the module, enabling the student to receive feedback and the module leader to respond to the cohort’s technical attainment.


Past Exam Papers

General Notes


Disclaimer: The information contained within the Module Catalogue relates to the 2020/21 academic year. In accordance with University Terms and Conditions, the University makes all reasonable efforts to deliver the modules as described. Modules may be amended on an annual basis to take account of changing staff expertise, developments in the discipline, the requirements of external bodies and partners, and student feedback. Module information for the 2021/22 entry will be published here in early-April 2021. Queries about information in the Module Catalogue should in the first instance be addressed to your School Office.