96548 - History of Music Composition Techniques (1) (Lm)

Course Unit Page

Academic Year 2022/2023

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course students will have acquired the analytical tools useful to understand the interweaving of relationships that links a theory of musical composition (explicitly formulated or implicit in the works) to concrete compositional procedures. Relief is given not only to the interweaving of theories of composition and the musical texts that can be referred to it, but also to the aspects that this interweaving has within a history of ideas. The grammatical aspects addressed will be intended to sharpen the ability to recognize and critically evaluate compositional structures, in order to increase the knowledge of the historical evolution of musical styles.

Course contents

Aspects of syntax and form in Johann Sebastian Bach's instrumental music

Since the musical discourse has a grammar, it is therefore provided with specific morphosyntactic and rhetoric functions. The course will investigate these functions in the sound architectures of Bach's music, with particular attention to the syntactic models inherited and handed down by him, to their contrapuntal and harmonic substance, and to their rhetorical dimension.


A) Basic texts

1) Caplin, William, What are Formal Functions?, in: W. Caplin, J. Hepokoski, J. Webster, Musical Form, Forms & Formenlehre. Three methodological Reflections, Leuven Univesity Press, Leuven 2010, pp. 21-40;

2) Dahlhaus, Carl, Phrase et période. Contribution à une théorie de la syntaxe musicale, “Analyse musicale”, 13/4, 1988, pp. 37-44.
NB: the italian version, Frase e periodo. Per una teoria della sintassi musicale (“Musica/Realtà”, n. 109, 2016, pp. 81-99), does not fully translate the original text from German (Satz und Periode. Zur Theorie der musikalischen Syntax, "Zeitschrift für Musiktheorie", 9/2, 1978, pp. 16-26).
This essay is possibly to be corroborated by reading: A. Schönberg, Fundamentals of Musical Composition, Faber & Faber, London 1967, §§ 1-7. NB: not the italian version (Suvini Zerboni, Milano 1969);

3) Mastropasqua, Mauro, Abbozzo di un nuovo sistema teorico-analitico dell'armonia tonale, in conformità alle consuetudini stilistiche di Bach. This essay is necessary for the harmonic analysis implications of the written test - see forward.

B) Further readings

4) Mastropasqua, Mauro, Logica musicale. Storia di un'idea, Bononia University Press, Bologna 2011, §§ 1-4 (pp. 13-86);

5) Kirkendale, Ursula, The Source for Bach's "Musical Offering": The "institutio oratoria" of Quintilian, "Journal of the American Musicological Society", 33/1, 1980, pp. 88-141.

Assessment methods

(1) Written test. Analysis of syntactic and formal functions (according to the methodology shown at lesson), of the main harmonic articulations and of the tonal plan of a piece assigned by the teacher the same day of the exam. Allowed time for the written test: 3 hours.

(2) Oral test. Discussion of the analysis above mentioned; questions about the contents of the essays in bibliography (on both the texts A and B).

Office hours

See the website of Mauro Mastropasqua