Skip to main content

Unit information: Compositional Strategy in 2017/18

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Compositional Strategy
Unit code MUSI20047
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Louis Johnson
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Music
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This unit builds on first-year composition and provides a technical platform and pre-requisite for further studies in Composition. Weekly lectures will present major developments in music from Debussy to the present day, in terms of listening and close study of works by major composers (such as Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Webern, Messiaen, Bartok, Lutoslawski, Ligeti, Berio, Birtwistle, Carter, Feldman, Adams, Macmillan and aspects of popular music). Typical compositional techniques will be illustrated and followed up in weekly technical exercises covering aspects of motivic thinking, serialism and combinatoriality, advanced harmony, matrices, modes, rythmic techniques, isorythm, vocal, orchestral and chamber instrumentation and textural composition.


This unit aims to develop compositional skills introduced at Level C through detailed investigation of a wide range of key 20th-century stylistic models (both in lecture and seminar settings), and to equip the student for further studies in composition, by means of detailed study of major works and written exercises on the use of associated techniques.

Intended learning outcomes

  1. understand a number of major pieces of music and many of the major developments in music since 1900
  2. understand the interdependence of style and technique
  3. analyse a variety of new music in an appropriate manner
  4. employ a variety of techniques in written exercises
  5. write (by hand, and optionally by computer) effective musical notation and scoring

Teaching details

Weekly Lecture and Seminar (1 hour each).

Assessment Details

Summative assessment of four pieces of coursework, equally weighted (4 x 25%), submitted as a portfolio at the end of the unit. All four pieces must be included in the portfolio to gain credit for the unit. (ILO 1-5)

Formative feedback is given during the unit on exercises (Tasks 1-4), which then lead into compositions (Projects 1-4). Each Task and corresponding Project become, together, one of the four coursework submissions for summative assessment. Submission of the exercises is not monitored for credit, prior to the portfolio submission, but is strongly encouraged.

Reading and References

  • Adler, S., The Study of Orchestration 3rd ed. (New York, 2002)
  • Hall, M., The Music of Harrison Birtwistle
  • Olivier Messiaen, Quattuor pour le fin du temps
  • Other scores and recordings as specified
  • New Grove entries on Schoenberg, Webern, Stravinsky, serialism, rhythm etc.