Words and Music

  • Module Leader: Professor Roger Marsh
  • Level: C/4 (1st year students), I/5 (2nd year students), H/6 (3rd year students)

Aims and content

An investigation into the special relationship between words and music. An exploration of the many ways in which words and music have been combined at various periods of musical history and in various cultures. Why do we sing?  What do we sing? How do we sing? Consideration of the difference between the setting of existing texts (for example in classical music) and the composition of texts alongside music (for example in popular music).  The topics covered will be wide ranging, and students will have an opportunity to propose pieces or topics for discussion.  Students will also be expected to contribute to seminar discussion of required reading, listening and score study, and will give seminar presentations individually or in small groups.


An essay of 5,000 words on a topic to be agreed individually with the module tutor.

Reading and listening

The topic is so broad that the following list should be taken as merely a guide to some of the areas which will be covered.

English Song

  • Hold, Trevor,  Parry to Finzi: Twenty English Song Composers.  Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2002.
  • Banfield. Stephen. Sensibility and English Song.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985
  • Listening: Songs by Finzi, Quilter, Warlock, Ireland, Britten


  • White, Eric W. Stravinsky: the composer and his works.  London: Faber, 1966.
  • Ledermann, Minna. Stravinsky in the Theatre.  Da Capo, 1975.
  • Stravinsky, Igor. The Poetics of Music.  Vintage Books, 1956.
  • Cross, Jonathan (ed.). The Cambridge Companion to Stravinsky.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
  • Listening: Stravinsky:  Oedipus Rex, The Soldier's Tale, Les Noces


  • Jarman, Douglas.  Kurt Weill – an illustrated biography.  London: Orbis Press, 1982.
  • Blake, David (ed.). Hanns Eisler- a miscellany.  London: Harwood, 1995.
  • Nadar, Thomas, R.  Music of Kurt Weill, Hanns Eisler & Paul Dessau in the dramatic works of Brecht.  1978.
  • Listening: Brecht/Weill: Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera),  Mahagonny Songspiel; Brecht/ Eisler:  Songs

Joyce and Beckett


  • Dunsby, Jonathan.  Pierrot Lunaire.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
  • Richter. Gregory.  Albert Giraud’s Pierrot Lunaire. Truman State University, 2002.
  • Listening: Schoenberg:  Pierrot Lunaire Op. 21; Marsh: Pierrot Lunaire – 50 Rondels Bergamasques  (NMC D127)


  • Calvino, Italo,   Six Memos for the Millennium.  London: Vintage Books, 1993.
  • Mellers, Wilfrid.  Caliban Reborn.  London: Gollancz, 1968.
  • Kivy, Peter. The fine art of repetition: Essays in the philosophy of music.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
  • Kivy. Peter. Osmin’s rage: philosophical reflections on opera, drama, and text.  Princeton, 1988.
  • Dunsby, Jonathan.  Making Words Sing.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the taught part of the project all students should:

  • have developed a critical approach towards vocal music of many kinds.
  • be familiar with the variety of approaches taken by composers working with texts.
  • be aware of wider literary and cultural questions, and have considered their own positions on these issues;
  • have developed their presentation skills

First years: On completion of the module, in their independent work, students should demonstrate Learning Outcomes A1-A7

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

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