Music notation: a brief history

Course Dates: 13/01/25 - 24/03/25
Time: 10:30 - 12:30
Location: Keeley Street
How did our current system of Western staff notation develop and how have manuscripts, printed scores and software all contributed to its versatility? Suitable for those who have at least basic notation-reading skills. Break week: 17 Feb 2025.
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Full fee £249.00 Senior fee £199.00 Concession £174.00

Music notation: a brief history
  • Course Code: MD024
  • Dates: 13/01/25 - 24/03/25
  • Time: 10:30 - 12:30
  • Taught: Mon, Daytime
  • Duration: 10 sessions (over 11 weeks)
  • Location: Keeley Street
  • Tutor: Edward Breen

Course Code: MD024

Mon, day, 13 Jan - 24 Mar '25

Duration: 10 sessions (over 11 weeks)

Any questions?
or call 020 4582 0412

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What is the course about?

Through case studies of early manuscripts, incunabula, varying printed editions, graphic score notation and computer software programmes this course will chart a route through a wide variety of Western music notation to ask "What is a musical score?"
Each example will be studied via a piece of music and its notation to form both a study of music and materiality. We will also discuss score layout, and different approaches taken by an editor when preparing an edition of music e.g. editorial markings: fingering / bowing and expression.

What will we cover?

Topics will include:
- Gregorian chant and examples of unheighted and highted neumes
- Notation from magnus liber organi manuscripts
- Sumer is icumen in (The Harley Ms)
- Trent codices and 15th century notation
- The Harmonice Musices Odhecaton published by Ottaviano Petrucci in 1501 and music by Josquin
- My Lady Neville’s Virginal Book (William Byrd)
- Monteverdi: Lamento d'Arianna across several editions and realisations
- Orchestral scores including a symphonic movement by Haydn
- Graphic scores: Stripsody and Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima.

What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...

- Identify key features of music notation from different eras
- Demonstrate a deeper understanding of the relationship between notation, editor and performer
- Recognise and understand some different approaches taken by editors and performers.

What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?

This course is an in-depth topic: it assumes a broad familiarity in listening to this genre of music. There may be a focus on lecture style classes and specialist musical terminology, as well as homework tasks and /or reading lists for future reference. This course is suitable for those with an interest in listening to music and who wishes to find out more about the history of music scores. We will look at various scores and historical documents during this course.
• You need to be able to follow basic music notation to participate in these activities.
• All texts will be in English, or accompanied by an English translation.
• You can access further course materials online though Google Classroom during the course.

How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?

Tutor presentation, guided listening, class discussion and debate, video and score study.
Course materials will be shared via Google Classroom: handouts, scores, links to online audio and video, recommendations to encourage and support further reading and listening outside class.

Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?

Please have a pen and notebook to make your own notes during class. You may wish to purchase some of the music books or recordings discussed in class; links to these materials will be available after each session. You may also wish to attend or take part in live performances.

When I've finished, what course can I do next?

You may be interested in other topics in City Lit's wide range of Music history courses. For more information, visit our Guide to the Music history programme. You may also be interested in our Music theory and musicianship offer, or one of our many practical music courses.

Edward Breen Tutor Website

Edward teaches music history and music theory at City lit where he is Head of Programme: Advanced Studies in the School of Performing Arts. His specialism is early music (medieval, renaissance and baroque periods) and he completed his PhD in historical musicology at King's College London (2013) on the performance of medieval music. Outside of teaching, Edward is a regular contributor to Gramophone magazine and has lectured for Dartington International Summer School, London's Southbank Centre and The British Library. He has also worked as a researcher for BBC Proms and written for the journal Early Music (OUP). His recent essays are published in: The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Historical Performance in Music, (Cambridge University Press); The Montpellier Codex: Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Music 16 (Boydell Press); Recomposing the Past: Representations of Early Music on Stage and Screen (Ashgate 2018); and 30-Second Classical Music (Ivy Press).

Please note: We reserve the right to change our tutors from those advertised. This happens rarely, but if it does, we are unable to refund fees due to this. Our tutors may have different teaching styles; however we guarantee a consistent quality of teaching in all our courses.