Course Introduction – Western Music: Beginnings to Baroque (HUMN 310/MUSI 310)

Athabasca University’s new HUMN/MUSI 310 course, Western Music: Beginnings to Baroque, provides students with an in-depth appreciation, both written and auditory, of early Western music. The course structure features a timeline approach and examines music throughout periods in history, enabling students to observe and analyze the trends and variations in music over the centuries. Course professor and published author, Dr. David Gregory, is excited about HUMN 301 and the fantastic learning experience it offers interested students. His favourite aspects of this course are so numerous, It’s ?hard to choose!? he commented.

The course content of HUMN 310 consists of 13 units, each of which features a relevant musical ?era.? The first three units of the course explore the rudiments of early music in our civilization. Students focus on the music of the ancient world and common instruments of the time. The music of the Early and Central Middle Ages is also examined, with discussion on popular composers and background information on historical events at the time.

In Unit 4, students discuss music from the Late Middle Ages. This involves education about 13th century music theory (Frances Cologne and Ars Antiqua); also, students learn about the new Nova Ars style, which was becoming popular at the time. The featured musician in this era is Guillaume de Machaut; both his religious and secular music are examined.

Unit 5 explores pre-Renaissance music, starting with the Italian music at the time (Florence, Jacopo da Bologna, Francesco Landini, Guillaume Dufay). Students also learn about English music at this time, from the Old Hall Manuscript to Power and Dunstaple. Music in the French courts at the time is paralleled, as is the Low Countries music of the same era.

The Renaissance was a time of growth in the arts, and music was no exception. Dr. Gregory commented that the ?polyphonic church music of the Renaissance is some of the most beautiful music ever written…? His favourite Renaissance composer is Thomas Campion. ?Anyone who doesn’t know him and gets introduced to him through the course, is in for a treat,? he smiled.

The Renaissance unit in HUMN 310 also includes Renaissance madrigals, ?both Italian and Elizabethan/Jacobean,? says Dr. Gregory. Additionally, students will discover the Renaissance music in Italy, France, and the Netherlands. The unit also contains information on ?the instrumental music,? consisting of popular instruments and advances in music theory.

Unit 7 covers the time period of the Protestant Reformation. Music trends before and after this historical event are examined, enabling students to landmark differences. Pre-Reformation composers studied include Innsbruck music composed under Maximilian I, as well as the compositions of Hofhaimer and Isaac. Post-Renaissance music studied includes that of Luther and Johann Walter, as well as the music at the time in France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands.

Unit 7 would not be complete unless it also addressed the music of the Counter-Reformation, which it does in detail, focusing on Orlande de Lassus and the music at the Court of Munich; Giovanni Pierluigi de Palestrina; Tomas Luis de Victoria; and Spanish vocals.

Unit 8 delves into Tudor England and Late Renaissance Italy, focusing on the music and composers surrounding this era. Tudor music involved music in English courts at the time of King Henry VIII and the English Reformation; it also had gifted composers, including Tallis, Weelkes, and Bryd.

As with the majority of the units in HUMN 310, where applicable, students are encouraged to discuss the popular instruments of that time. Music in Late Renaissance Italy was achieved by some of the following composers studied in this unit: Gesualdo and also Monteverdi (his early music).

Units 10 to 12 are devoted to exploring the masters of the Baroque era. Students deepen their understanding of Baroque Italy, and the religious and secular music of the time. The Baroque music of Germany, France, and England are also explored, including a significant portion of the talented composers of each.

The final unit of HUMN 310 is reserved for Johann Sebastian Bach. In this unit, students will focus on Bach’s music from all aspects: keyboard, chamber, orchestral, cantatas, motes, oratorios, passions, and Masses. The ?early life and musical influences? of Bach are also considered, as are his phases of musical development.

The course evaluation of HUMN 310 consists of four oral assignments (worth 20 per cent total), two written assignments (20 and 25 per cent, respectively), and one final exam (weighted at 35 per cent).

The oral assignments are completed via telephone. Dr. Gregory emphasized that students find these short assignments highly useful because the assignments facilitate ?brief reviews of some or most of the important topics covered.? Oral assignment examples include a ?five-minute talk outlining the development of English music from Dunstaple to Purcell.?

Students are given significant leeway in the two essays in HUMN 310. The choice of topics is very broad, with the only restriction being that the topic chosen is in a specified music era. The first essay’s topic should be specific to the Medieval to Renaissance eras; for the second essay, students can write about any aspect of Baroque music.

Dr. Gregory encourages students to visit his bibliography page. Not only does this link give students an overview of Dr. Gregory’s personal history, enabling them to better know their professor, it also provides information on his radio program (CRUA), and other publications. Dr. Gregory’s most recent publication is a book featuring Victorian music, Victorian Songhunters, and he is currently authoring the sequel.

For more information on HUMN 310, visit the course syllabus here.

%d bloggers like this: