Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2017-2018 (archived)

Module MUSI1271: Composition 1: 20th-Century Innovations

Department: Music

MUSI1271: Composition 1: 20th-Century Innovations

Type Tied Level 1 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2017/18 Module Cap Location Durham
Tied to QRV0
Tied to W300


  • A-Level Music or equivalent.


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  • This module introduces the fundamentals of contemporary compositional thinking at Level 1, with an emphasis on practical experimentation. Compositional skills will be developed in the context of a broad historical / style study of key repertory of 20th- and 21st-century Western art music. It is also a practically-based introduction to contemporary music for students wishing to study performance musicology. The strong performance element of this course will enable students to achieve a greater technical and aesthetic understanding of contemporary classical music. It will also enable composers to gain a greater appreciation of the issues pertaining to the performance of new music. Students will acquire a broad range of techniques through the examination of a range of contemporary compositional approaches, with the aim of producing creative work, to be rehearsed, discussed and performed during practical composition workshops as an integral part of the course. A number of set works will provide technical and aesthetic models, as points of departure for the development of individual compositional interests.


  • The composition part of the course is intended to stimulate and develop creative potential through the study and practical use of innovative contemporary compositional and performance techniques, via a structured historical overview of music from the early 20th century to the present day. During any one year, compositional areas to be covered may include the following approaches and techniques: (a) Melody and Fixed Fields (b) Theatre and Gesture (c) Noise, Sound and Texture (d) Gradual Processes and Repetitive Structures Directed compositional exercises will be undertaken, using specific technical models and approaches from the western avant-garde, experimentalist, modernist and post-modern traditions of new music (often somewhat misleadingly termed ‘contemporary classical music’ in the UK), in order to help students explore sonic possibilities through the dialectics of constraint and freedom. Students will write compositional exercises for each other to perform, as an integral part of the course. The main areas of compositional thinking will be covered in ¬the first two terms based around more formal lecture/seminar-based teaching methods and practical workshops. The third term will be focussed around preparation for the assessed workshop performances. The performing element part of the course is intended to give students first-hand experience of devising, rehearsing and performing contemporary music in workshops and concerts as appropriate, encountering a range of different performance contexts, from solo performance, to larger ensembles. In addition, they will be introduced to elementary conducting skills pertinent to new music. As a practice-based introduction to contemporary music, it is as relevant¬¬¬ for performers and students wishing to study musicology and analysis, and is not only aimed at those students primarily interested in composition (i.e. those students who may already think of themselves as composers). The course will enable performance students to gain a greater appreciation of the technical and aesthetic aspects of contemporary music, just as it will also enable composers to gain a greater appreciation of the issues pertaining to the performance of new music. The wider contextual issues around contemporary composition will also frame the debates and discussions.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Students will gain a technical and critical understanding of contemporary western composition, embracing a range of technical approaches, aesthetics, concepts and forms.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Students will have first-hand experience of composing and performing music using compositional and performance techniques developed in the 20th / 21st centuries.
Key Skills:
  • Students will achieve a greater competence and experience in playing contemporary classical music and in performing in small and large ensembles.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Teaching will be by a combination of lectures, seminars and practical composition workshops.
  • The practical study of contemporary music demands the acquisition of subject-specific technical knowledge and aesthetic understanding (compositional models), and performance skills (rehearsal participation, creative interpretation, practical competence) and core skills (computer notation).
  • Students will be assessed in THREE different ways on the course: 1. composition portfolio; 2. creative participation in performance workshops 3. one-hour listening examination (stylistic recognition of new music).
  • The assessment of creative participation takes the form of TWO mini practical projects completed during the year, each evaluated in terms of participating skills, creativity in interpreting musical materials and concepts, and practical competence. A key aspect of creative participation is student involvement in the rehearsal and performance of each others’ pieces.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 21 1 hour 21
Workshops and Guided Rehearsals 4 1 hour 4
Tutorials 2 Michaelmas and Epiphany Terms (one per term) 1 hour 2
Key Skills (computer notation) 4 Michaelmas Term 2 hours 8
Reading and Preparation 165

Summative Assessment

Component: Composition Submissions Component Weighting: 50%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Composition 1 50% Yes
Composition 2 50% Yes
Component: Listening Examination Component Weighting: 30%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Listening Examination 1 hour 100% Yes
Component: Creative Participation in Performance Workshops Component Weighting: 20%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Practical Project 1 50% Yes
Practical Project 2 50% Yes

Formative Assessment:

Regular written and practical exercises, and participation in rehearsal workshops.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University