Composition 2 – Dr Thomas Simaku

  • Module Tutor: Dr Thomas Simaku
  • Level: I/5 (2nd year students), H/6 (3rd year students)
  • Pre-requisite: Students must first have completed Composition 1

Aims and content

Intended for second and third year students, the aim of this course is to address key issues of compositional techniques and idioms. The study of works by 20th & 21st century masters and the working out of a number of technical exercises (concerning the melodic, harmonic, contrapuntal and timbral aspects) will be the main focus of the project. The exercises will then serve as a starting point for a free composition.  All students will actively take part in seminars, as well as workshops, as composers and performers, and are therefore required to bring their instruments to the class.

The project is structured around lectures, seminars and study sessions. Workshops, where the students will try out their exercises and chunks of their main composition, are very much part of the course, as are the tutorials during the project and up to the final submission.


A well-presented portfolio consisting of all the exercises worked (and re-worked as necessary) during the course, and one substantial free composition (ca. 7 minutes).

Reading and listening

Suggested Scores

  • Bartók, Violin Sonatas, Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, Concerto for Orchestra
  • Berio: Sequenzas
  • Boulez: 12 Notations, Le Marteau Sans Maître
  • Debussy: Douze Etudes, Jeux
  • Kurtag: Hommage a RSCH, Kafka Fragments, 12 Microludes
  • Ligeti: Lontano, Horn Trio, Piano Etudes, Viola Sonata, Violin Concerto
  • LutosÅ‚awski: Livre pour Orchestre, Epitaph, Partita, Jeux Venetiens
  • Messiaen: Quartet for the End of Time
  • Saariaho: Petals for Solo Cello
  • Schoenberg: Op. 16, Variations for Orchestra Op. 31, Klavierstück Op.33a
  • Stravinsky: Variations
  • Takemitsu: Hika for Violin & Piano, Rain Spell for Chamber Ensemble
  • Webern: Op 5, Five Pieces for Orchestra Op.10, Symphony Op.21, Variations for Piano Op. 27

More works by the above composers, and others (!) such as Birtwistle, Grisey, Murail, Scelsi, Xenakis, Unsuk Chin (and many more!) can be found on YouTube!

Suggested reading:

  • Whittall, Arnold. Musical Composition in the Twentieth Century.  Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000.
  • Lester, Joel. Analytic Approaches to Twentieth Century Music.  London: Norton, 1989.
  • Ligeti, György. Ligeti in Conversation.  London: Eulenberg, 1983.
  • Boulez, Pierre.  Orientations. London: Faber, 1985.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the project the students should:

  • have developed a good understanding of compositional techniques as demonstrated in some key-works by 20th and 21st century composers;
  • have developed their presentation skills;
  • have acquired a deeper awareness of the fundamental issues of composition such as clarity of expression, coherence, unity and diversity within the overall formal structure;
  • by applying these principles and techniques in their compositions, have been encouraged to discover and develop the potential of their own creative voice.

Second years: On completion of the module, in their independent work, students should demonstrate Learning Outcomes B1-B6, B7 & B10

Third years: On completion of the module, in their independent work, students should demonstrate Learning Outcomes C1-C6, C7 & C10