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The Rest Is Noise: 20th Century Music - MUS00068C

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  • Department: Music
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Martin Suckling
  • Credit value: 10 credits
  • Credit level: C
  • Academic year of delivery: 2018-19

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2018-19

Module aims

The aims of this project are twofold. The first is to offer an introduction to the hugely varied music of the twentieth century. The starting point will be specific compositions; we will consider not only how they work but also how they can be understood. We will also take a broader view, exploring a variety of isms in twentieth century composition, tracing some of these trends across artforms.

The second aim is to consider issues of canonicity and genre, how these tools can be used and potentially abused, why they were of particular concern to twentieth century composers, and how they impact on our lives as writers, performers, composers, and members of the everyday music-loving public. Problems of communication, issues of (public) engagement, and the challenges of programming when music written a century or more ago is still considered dangerously modern will also feature.

The course will be delivered through lectures, discussions, weekly assignments, performance workshops and student presentations.

Module learning outcomes

Subject content

  • acquired a general knowledge of music of the twentieth century;
  • a more detailed knowledge of several key works of the twentieth century;
  • an understanding of the problematic nature of the musical canon and its impact on concert life, composition, and musicology;
  • an understanding of some of the issues that shaped the music of the twentieth century

Academic and graduate skills

  • devise original submissions that demonstrate engagement with the material introduced in the project, and knowledge and understanding of related key ideas;
  • draw on recently-acquired knowledge of research techniques, critical thinking and creativity;
  • explore scholarly or creative works in the public domain to discover others ideas about their chosen topics, and use, quote and reference those ideas correctly;
  • communicate findings and ideas in coherent and logical ways;
  • use appropriate examples and case studies to illustrate issues discussed;
  • express and explain their own understanding of, and thoughts about, chosen topics, also advancing some original ideas;
  • present effective group or individual seminars on chosen topics;


Task Length % of module mark
Essay (PROJ)
N/A 90
Oral presentation/seminar/exam
Seminar (ORAL)
N/A 10

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Essay (PROJ)
N/A 90
Oral presentation/seminar/exam
Seminar (ORAL)
N/A 10

Module feedback

Report form, with marks to student no later than 6 weeks from submission of assessment

Indicative reading

  • Boulez: Le marteau sans ma®tre
  • Birtwistle: Silbury Air
  • Carter: A Mirror On Which To Dwell
  • Lachenmann: Grido
  • Ligeti: Lotano
  • Messiaen: Oiseaux Exotiques
  • Sibelius: Tapiola
  • Webern: 5 Pieces for Orchestra Op. 10

Selected Reading

  • Griffiths, Paul. Modern Music and After. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.
  • Morgan, Robert. Twentieth-century Music: A History of Musical Style in Modern Europe and America. W. W. Norton & Co., 1991.
  • Ross, Alex. The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007.
  • Taruskin, Richard. Music in the Early Twentieth Century. Vol. 4. 5 vols. Oxford History of Western Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.
  • Taruskin, Richard. Music in the Late Twentieth Century. Vol. 5. 5 vols. The Oxford History of Western Music. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.
  • Whittall, Arnold. Musical Composition in the Twentieth Century. OUP Oxford, 2000.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): changes to courses

The 2020/21 academic year will start in September. We aim to deliver as much face-to-face teaching as we can, supported by high quality online alternatives where we must.

Find details of the measures we're planning to protect our community.

Course changes for new students