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Unit information: Inside Medieval Music in 2018/19

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Unit name Inside Medieval Music
Unit code MUSI30122
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Professor. Hornby
Open unit status Open

Technical knowledge of music (ability to read notation fluently is essential; music A level or Associated board grade 8 or equivalent may be required)



School/department Department of Music
Faculty Faculty of Arts


Medieval music is often approached as a survey, with the development of musical style driving the discussion. In this unit, we take a totally different approach. We take a case study every week of a piece of medieval music, or a small group of pieces, and get right inside it. We will examine these pieces in their historical, cultural and social context. We will explore different ways of analysing them, in order to find ways of understanding their practical and aesthetic value, in their own time and today. We will explore what this kind of music might have meant to the people who created, performed and heard it. Students will build up an expert sense of different ways in which medieval music can be approached productively by scholars, and will be able to participate in scholarly debates about different conceptual and methodological approaches to the repertoire.

This unit aims:

  • to give students an opportunity to expand the breadth of their historical knowledge in the field of medieval music
  • to expand their knowledge of the associated musical repertoire and to be able to comment accurately and perceptively on matters of style and structure
  • to develop their ability to assemble and assimilate information from a wide variety of sources
  • to engage in critical evaluation of texts about music
  • to develop effective and detailed arguments, both orally and in writing to display competence in the practices, processes, techniques and methodologies that underpin musicological practice

Intended learning outcomes

At the end of the unit, students will be able to demonstrate:

1. detailed knowledge and understanding of specific musical pieces from the middle ages studied in class, from a variety of methodological perspectives (analytical, style-historical, notational, cultural)

2. detailed knowledge and understanding of a related musical repertoire, studied independently, with a focus on one or more of its musical language, notation/performance, or cultural context

3. detailed knowledge and understanding of scholarly debates that surround the studied musical repertoire

4. the ability to incorporate a consistently strong grasp of detail with respect to content

5. the ability to argue effectively and at length (including an ability to cope with complexities and to describe and deploy these effectively) in a written format

Teaching details

11x2 hour classes for the whole cohort

Assessment Details

1x3000-word essay (50%)

Individual workfile (50%). This consists of blog entries of up to 1000 words for any five weeks of the course, summarising the key points of the material encountered in pre-class reading and responding to it critically. Students will post their entries on a course blog. Students submit 5 weekly posts in order to pass this unit. The best three marks will count towards the unit mark

Both assessments will demonstrate the learning outcome (1). The workfile will in particular provide an opportunity for the students to demonstrate (1) and (3); the essay will in particular provide an opportunity for the students to demonstrate (2), in light of (3), as well as (4) and (5).

Reading and References

Mark Everist, Music Before 1600, Models of Musical Analysis 2. Oxford: Blackwell, 1992

Margaret Bent, ‘The Grammar of Early Music’ in Tonal structures in early music Ed. Cristle Collins Judd (2000)

Suzannah Clark, ‘S’en dirai chanconete’: hearing text and music in a medieval motet’, Plainsong and Medieval Music 16 (2007), 31-60

Dolores Pesce (ed), Hearing the Motet: essays on the motet of the Middle Ages and Renaissance (OUP, 1998)

Margot Fassler, The Virgin of Chartres: Making History through Liturgy and the Arts (Yale, 2010)