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Unit information: British Musical Modernism in 2016/17

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Unit name British Musical Modernism
Unit code MUSI20112
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Fairclough
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Music
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This unit will examine the history of British art music in the twentieth century up to and including the so called Manchester School in the 1950s. It will investigate this repertoire’s sensitive relation to the concept of musical modernism, thereby introducing students to the wider issue of period designations in the field of music history. It will also address issues of politics, gender and style in this repertoire in order to help students understand why both British music and its scholarship have developed in an ambivalent relationship to its continental European contemporaries. The unit will require students to apply a combination of textual and music analysis and historiographical methodology.

This unit’s aims are: 1) to introduce students to a repertory of 20th -century British music, modernism, and its history;

2) to develop students’ understanding of the role played by aesthetic and political considerations in this repertoire;

3) to develop students’ ability to critically analyse twentieth-century texts and music;

4) to develop students’ skills in critical thinking and contextualising;

5) to develop students’ skills in the oral and written presentation of their ideas.

Intended learning outcomes

At the end of the unit, a successful student will be able to

  1. Display substantial knowledge of the history of British music during the twentieth century up to and including the 1950s, and theories of modernism;
  2. Demonstrate familiarity with a variety of issues surrounding the scholarship of twentieth-century British music and modernism, showing a general understanding of current developments in these areas;
  3. Write critically and perceptively about these issues;
  4. Show awareness of relevant research methods and their application;
  5. Draw upon relevant research in terms of musical repertory and relevant bibliography;
  6. Engage critically with the diversity of musicological writing on the period.

Teaching details

11 x 2 hour seminars for the whole cohort.

Assessment Details

2,500-word essay (50%) and 2-hour exam (50%). Both the essay and the exam are summative. The essay and the exam will allow students to demonstrate Learning Outcomes (1), (2), and (3). The essay in particular will provide an opportunity for students to demonstrate Learning Outcomes (2)-(6).

Reading and References

1. Arthur Hutchings, ‘Music in Britain: 1918–1960’, in Martin Cooper (ed.), The New Oxford History of Music: The Modern Age, 1890–1960 (London, New York, Toronto: OUP, 1974), pp. 503–68.

2. Stephen Banfield (ed.), The Blackwell History of Music in Britain. Vol 6: The Twentieth Century (Oxford: Backwell, 1995), esp. ‘Introduction’ (S. Banfield), I.1 ‘British Music in the Modern World’ (A. Whittall), III ‘Art Music’ (P. Evans, J. Samson, M. Rye, S. Banfield).

3. Björn Heile, ‘Darmstadt as Other: British and American Responses to Musical Modernism’, Twentieth Century Music 1/2 (2004), pp. 161–78.

4. The Musical Quarterly 91/1–2 (Spring/Summer 2008): special issue ‘British Modernism’, esp. Byron Adams, ‘Foreword’, pp.1–7.

5. Matthew Riley (ed.), British Music and Modernism, 1895–1960 (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010), esp. ‘Introduction’ (M. Riley), ‘Vaughan Williams’s Antic Symphony (J. P. E. Harper-Scott).

6. Philip Rupprecht, British Musical Modernism. The Manchester Group and their Contemporaries (Cambridge: CUP, 2015), esp. ‘Introduction’ and chapter I.