Sample Assignments on Music History
Essential basic skills
1) Draw up a list of the instrumental repertoire you have played recently, for example during the last two years. Place the pieces on a timeline according to the period they were composed. You can include ensemble repertoire and pieces that you have listened to.
Look at your timeline. Is music from certain periods more familiar to your than others? Does your timeline contain eras that seem difficult or obscure?
2) Alongside each piece on your list, add some other pieces that would help your understanding of the original pieces: for example, music from the same composer/same period/same type of composition/contrasting examples of the same type of composition/music that relates to your repertoire in some other way (through text, use, origin, mood, composition technique). Write down which sources you used in your search.
3) As you search for information about music, you need keywords. Choose a few pieces from your repertoire, and write a list of keywords that you can use to search for information that can support your study of these pieces. The name of the composer and the piece are the obvious keywords, but try to come up with other words that would bring up interesting information (e.g., words relating to composition type, style, structure, context of origin). Can you search for information and do you know good keywords in other languages? Test your words in library databases and Internet search engines.
4) Work with a friend and quiz each other on listening assignments. Each chooses five pieces from a record database. The other one listens to them and tries to identify the piece, style and possible composer. You can limit your range to include only certain types of music. Discuss other observations as well. (See also Music history listening exam, sample from 2014, the English version on p.3.)
More aspects and questions
1) Did it ever occur to you that some of the music that you play was originally notated in a different way to what you are used to? Look at the minuet on page 6 (p. 10 in the file) from the collection Harpsichord Pieces by Gaspard Le Roux, printed in Paris in 1705.
You can use the music to play the minuet, but you can also look at the page as a historical document which tells you about writing music over 300 years ago. When you look closer, you will see that the notation differs in many ways from the notation we are used to. What draws your attention? (Think "Find seven errors" type children's assignments!) Play the minuet! Did you discover new things?
Listen to a recording. (See, e.g., Naxos record database, the record LE ROUX: Complete Works for 1 and 2 Harpsichords, section Pieces in D Minor for 1 and 2 harpsichords. Naoko Akutagawa & Glen Wilson, Naxos.) Did you make additional observations?
Have you heard of Gaspard Le Roux? Do you remember other composers living at the turn of the 18th century? What do you know about 18th-century France? Do you know who was the king of France in 1705 when Le Roux's collection was published? Which period do you think Le Roux represents? Then, take a look at more information and additional questions on the piece.
2) Many terms referring to music, composition types and musical structures have different meanings in music from different periods: for example such terms as cadence, motet and sonata. Can you find more terms like that?. Find at least two different musical examples of each term.
3) Look at "Intervals and voice leading" on the harmony and voice leading page. Describe how the harmonic intervals (between simultaneously sounding tones) used in each example affect the character and atmosphere of the music. How does the use of intervals reflect the period of composition? Could you name other pieces that resemble the sample piece regarding their treatment of intervals?