Approaching the Contemporary: Western Art Music after 1980 - MUS00069C

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  • Department: Music
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Mark Hutchinson
  • Credit value: 10 credits
  • Credit level: C
  • Academic year of delivery: 2018-19
    • See module specification for other years: 2016-17

Module summary

This project will provide an introduction to a number of central issues in the study of recent (mainly post-1980s) Western art music.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2018-19

Module aims

This project will provide an introduction to a number of central issues in the study of recent (mainly post-1980s) Western art music. We will be studying pieces about which there is little or no pre-existing academic literature; students will therefore be encouraged to create fresh interpretations, through a combination of thoughtful listening and an awareness of the broader streams of thought which inform this repertoire. We’ll use a number of case study pieces and composers as a lens to explore issues which recur frequently within this period – issues such as complexity and simplicity, the nature of sound, the status of the past, and the role of new music (and new art in general) within society.

The project will be taught through a combination of lectures, group discussions and practical exercises. The emphasis throughout will be on active participation. Students will have the opportunity to engage with analysis, issues of philosophy and aesthetics, composition and performance.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the taught part of this module, all students should:

• have a general awareness of a variety of post-1980s repertoire

• be familiar with a number of the core academic debates surrounding this music

• be challenged to reflect more deeply on the role played by ‘new music’ within


• be able to engage critically and creatively with specific pieces from this period

in group discussion and in their own work

• have delivered a short seminar to a small group

On completion of the module, in their independent work, students should demonstrate learning outcomes A1-7 & A9


Task Length % of module mark
2500 Word Essay
N/A 80
N/A 10
Oral presentation/seminar/exam
N/A 10

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

This project will be assessed by a combination of coursework, seminar presentation and essay. The coursework exercise will allow students to demonstrate their critical engagement with written sources; it will be set and assessed formatively during the project, but may be reworked before final submission. Towards the end of the project, each student will present an assessed seminar of around 20 minutes based upon a specific piece of music agreed in tutorial. This seminar will then be reworked into a 2,500-word essay in time for the final submission deadline. The weighting is as follows:

• Coursework exercise: 10%

• Seminar presentation: 10%

• Essay: 80%


Task Length % of module mark
2500 word essay
N/A 90
N/A 10

Module feedback

Written Feedback within 4 weeks.

Indicative reading

Pre-project listening: We’ll cover a wide variety of pieces, and will listen to excerpts of many of these during project sessions. The following are a good start for your own preparatory listening:

• Hans Abrahamsen: Schnee

• John Luther Adams: The Light that Fills the World

• Thomas Adès: Arcadiana

Richard Ayres: No. 37b

Brian Ferneyhough: La chute d’Icare

Tom Johnson: Failing

• György Kurtág: Officium breve, STELE

• György Ligeti: Études, Violin Concerto

• Tristan Murail: Treize couleurs du soleil couchant

• Steve Reich: Different Trains

• Kaija Saariaho: Lichtbogen, Lohn

Howard Skempton: Lento

Pre-project reading:

Dip into one or more of the following general introductions to contemporary music:

Griffiths, Paul. Modern Music and After, 3rd edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010

Ross, Alex. The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century. London: Harper Perennial, 2009.

Rutherford-Johnson, Tim. Music After the Fall: Modern Composition and Culture Since 1989. Oakland: University of California Press, 2017.

Taruskin, Richard. The Oxford History of Western Music, vol. 5: The Late Twentieth Century. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

• Whittall, Arnold. Musical Composition in the Twentieth Century. Oxford:Oxford University Press, 1999.

Have a look too at some of the composer interviews in the following collections:

Beyer, Anders. The Voice of Music: Conversations with Composers of Our Time. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2000.

• Ford, Andrew. Composer to Composer: Conversations about Contemporary Music. London: Quartet, 1993.

Service, Tom. Thomas Adès: Full of Noises. Conversations with Tom Service. London: Faber, 2012.

It’s also really worth having a look at the following blogs:

• Alex Ross:

• The Rambler:

• Tom Service music guides at

And have a listen to the BBC’s weekly new music radio show, Hear and Now:

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.