Music 343 Final Paper

Fall 2015

Paper—Two Approaches to Writing about Music

Selecting a Piece
Part I
Part II
Possible Topics
Library Resources Page for Music 343

Selecting a Piece

You can choose any piece of music written before 1750. The score can be taken from NAWM or from any scholarly edition. Research materials are harder to find for some pieces than for others, and you must do some preliminary work in the library before you make your final decision. Only two other restrictions apply: you must choose a piece that interests you, and you must choose a piece for which you can find both score and recording.

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The Paper—Part I

The paper must include two parts. In Part I, you must thoroughly describe one of the first performances of the piece you have chosen—but you must describe it as if you were there! To begin Part I, imagine that you are a real person at one of the first performances of your piece. You can be the composer, a performer, or a listener. You could be a medieval monk at Vespers, a Renaissance lady at court, a merchant attending Mass, a Baroque musician in the orchestra pit of a Venetian opera house, or whatever you choose. Once you decide who you want to be, learn all you can about the appropriate setting for the musical performance:
  • the surroundings—city, building, etc.
  • the type of occasion or service
  • the type of people who might be present
  • customs or behaviors associated with the occasion
  • performance practice
Your research must lead you to a variety of library resources (books, scholarly journals and periodicals, etc.) about many subjects (history, architecture, art, etc.)—NOT JUST MUSIC SOURCES!

When research is done, write a detailed account of your quasi-fictional experience (à la Barbara Lachman’s Journal of Hildegard of Bingen) in which you describe:

  • the music you hear, the sounds and the manner of the performance (this is the most important part!)
  • your reaction to it
  • the setting (place/occasion/people) in which you hear it
  • the performers, etc.
Identify who you are, to whom you are writing to, and why. Part I could be a letter to a friend or employer, or it could be an entry in a personal journal written for your own pleasure and reflection. This is creative writing, but it must be based on solid research.

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The Paper—Part II

In Part II, write an analysis of the same piece (or a single movement or excerpt, if it is a major work, e.g., concerto, oratorio, opera, etc.) as if you were a 21st century music student (which you are!). It will be helpful to find sources that describe typical features of your work’s genre, but I am not looking for copious research in Part II—I want you to listen carefully, study the score, and come up with your own analysis. Use all the tools you have learned in theory and history courses to describe principal style features, the structure (form), the relation of words and music (if applicable), and so on. Your work in Part I may illuminate this study, and vice versa. Go beyond mere description and consider such questions as:
  • What does the piece express? Which elements contribute most to the work’s overall effect?
  • What elements create unity, coherence, and expression in this piece?
  • As best you can tell, how is it representative of its genre, style, or technique? How is it unique?
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Part I must be at least 3 pages long (word-processed, double-spaced). Document your sources either with footnotes (see Lachman’s Journal), endnotes, or by annotating the Part I bibliography (if you feel footnotes would look out of place in an “authentic” account written before 1750!). Part II must be at least 2 pages long (word-processed, double-spaced).


  1. Title Page
  2. Part I (3 pages)
  3. Part II (2 pages)
  4. Bibliography
  5. The score (only if not in NAWM and your instructor does not own a copy and it's not available through one of the score databases on the MUS 343 library web page)

The bibliography must follow MLA format. Finding and using good sources is crucial to the success of your paper. Good quality print sources are nearly always more valuable than online sources; a bibliography with mostly online sources will not get you as good a grade as one with many print sources. The following must be included in your final bibliography as a bare minimum for a “B” grade (an “A” bibliography will add a variety of other materials that deal specifically with your piece, with at least 15 strong sources):

  • 1 dictionary/encyclopedia entry (use Grove Online!)
  • 2 articles from scholarly journals or periodicals
  • 1 period history (a comprehensive book that covers the history of music in a single era)
  • 2 books that deal with your topic as specifically as possible
  • 2 non-music (art, history, etc.) sources
  • 1 book on performance practice (similar to those you consulted for the Middle Ages Research Project—others are on RESERVE as well)
  • The score
  • The recording you used (must be a period instrument performance!)
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Possible Topic Choices

  • Chant in a medieval abbey (all men? or all women?)
  • A Pérotin organum quadruplum at Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris
  • A Du Fay Mass or motet at Cambrai Cathedral
  • A chanson at the Burgundian Court
  • A Renaissance Mass in the Sistine Chapel
  • A polychoral Gabrieli motet at St. Mark’s, Venice
  • A madrigal at the Italian court of Ferrara or Mantua
  • An opera at the La fenice theater in Venice
  • A lute song at the court of Elizabeth I or James I, London
  • An opera at the court of Louis XIV, Versailles
  • A trio sonata in a church (your choice) in Rome or in a Roman citizen’s private home
  • A keyboard dance suite at Versailles
  • A concerto in a Venice orphanage
  • A Bach cantata at Thomaskirche, Leipzig
  • Another topic of YOUR choice (must be approved by instructor!)
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If you follow all of the steps above and take the time to do a decent job on your paper, any of you can easily earn an A or B. In Part I, I want to see evidence of careful research and creativity. In Part II, I want to see your own thoughtful analysis, one that demonstrates knowledge of the music and its style. Both Parts should be “ready for publication”—that is, the writing should be clear and purposeful with no distractions of grammar, punctuation, spelling, or format.

Parts of the paper will be weighted as follows when I assign grades:

Part I 40%
Part II 30%
Bibliography 30%

—10% will be subtracted from your grade if you do not bring a complete first draft to class and participate in the peer review exercise on Monday, December 7.
—Late final drafts will lose one full letter grade (10%).

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Monday, August 31—First Day of Class
Start looking at potential paper topics.

Friday, September 4—Library Orientation
Class meeting in the library to learn about basic music research tools and sources relevant to your paper.

Browse through NAWM for possible paper topics.

Friday, September 25—List of Paper Topics (with Encounter 2)
Hand in a list of three possible paper topics.

Begin looking for bibliographic materials in the library. This library work will help you choose your topic. Submit interlibrary loan orders NOW.

Friday, October 9—Final Paper Topic & Short Bibliography (with Encounter 3)
Hand in you final paper topic choice.

Hand in a short, preliminary bibliography (7 entries in MLA format) that includes:

  • one dictionary/encyclopedia entry (Grove Music Online or New Grove required)
  • one scholarly article from a music journal or periodical (no reviews, please!)
  • one book dealing with your topic as specifically as possible
  • one non-music source (a book on art, architecture, political or cultural history, or some other discipline outside of music)
  • one period history (books that tell the full story of the music of a single era—i.e. Music in the Renaissance, Baroque Music, etc.)
  • score for the work you have chosen
  • recording of a period performance for the work you have chosen
Begin to flesh out your bibliography.

Monday, October 26—Final Bibliography (with Encounter 4)
Hand in the final bibliography (for Parts 1 & 2), typed and properly formatted. It must follow MLA format and must include at least the 10 “minimum” items listed under Format above.

Begin to map out the main points and arguments of your paper.

Wednesday, November 11—Paper Outline (with Encounter 5)
Hand in a one-page outline, flowchart, idea map, or summary of your paper.

Begin work on the first draft of your paper.

Monday, December 7—Complete First Draft
Bring complete first draft of your paper to class for a peer review exercise. Exercise will focus on strength of arguments and clarity of presentation.

Use written feedback to revise your paper.

Monday, December 14, 4:00 pm—Final Draft
Final version of paper is due.

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Page created 8/25/15 by Mark Harbold—last updated 8/26/15.