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The University of Southampton

MUSI2092 Explorations in Composition

Module Overview

This module focuses on composition that endeavours to innovate within and extend beyond musical conventions through actively exploring new possibilities, taking risks and experimentation. We’ll delve into a wide range of compositional approaches and techniques that developed during the second-half of the twentieth century and twenty-first centuries. We’ll look at composers who created new musical ‘languages’ (e.g. systematic composition); sounds (e.g. extended instrumental techniques); forms of music notation (e.g. graphic scores); and relationships between composers and performers (e.g. structured improvisation). Reflecting the plethora of approaches available to the twenty-first century composer, we’ll explore music across a range of styles, and in your compositions you can incorporate the approaches we explore into the musical idiom of your choice. - your piece can be Classical, Heavy Metal, Country or in any other idiom, so long as it is notated and adventurous! Where possible, your second assignment composition will be workshopped and recorded by professional guest musicians.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

develop your skills in musical composition - develop your range of compositional techniques and approaches. - develop your range of ways of thinking about composition. - develop your music notation skills.

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • key technical devices and formal procedures that have developed during the second half of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries
  • key aesthetic issues relating to music composition.
  • good-practice within conventional musical notion; good-practice within un-conventional musical notion; and a greater understanding of how to communicate your ideas in musical notation.
Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • compose short works
  • implement key technical devices and formal procedures in your own composition
  • use standard and non-standard music notation effectively


A series of topics will be presented over the semester with each topic exploring compositional approaches. Examples of topics that may be explored include: - Isorhythm - Serialism - Micro-macro form - Aleatoric scoring techniques - Graphic, open-instrumentation and text based scores - Repetition - Extended tonal and modal approaches, including polytonality - Writing for solo instrument - Writing for a chamber ensemble - Notation software skills Examples of specific pieces that will be considered and analysed include: - Anton Webern, Variations for Piano - Arvo Part, Collage on B-A-C-H - Charles Ives, The Cage (1908) - Darius Milhaud, Botafogo - Miles Davis, Bitches Brew - Terry Riley, In C - Witold Lutoslawski: Symphony No. 3 - Claude Debussy, Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp - Phronesis, Abraham’s New Gift - James Saunders, Everybody do this - Morton Feldman, The Viola In My Life No. 2 - Steve Reich, Eight Lines - Bernhard Lang, DW16 - Conlon Nancarrow, Study No. 11 for Player Piano - Jennifer Walshe, THIS IS WHY PEOPLE OD ON PILLS - John Coltrane, Naima - Louis Andriessen, Workers Union - Olivier Messiaen, Liturgie de cristal - Pierre Boulez, Structures 1a

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include: - Lectures - Individual tutorials - Workshops Learning activities include: - Individual study - Library-based research - On-line based research

Wider reading or practice42
Practical classes and workshops2
Completion of assessment task42
Preparation for scheduled sessions42
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Larry Austin (1989). Learning to compose: modes, materials and models of musical invention. 

Arnold Schoenberg (1967). Fundamentals of musical composition. 

Arnold Whittall (1999). Musical composition in the twentieth century: Music since the First World War. 

Oliver Messiaen (1956). The Technique of my musical language. 

David Cope (1977). New Music Composition. 


Assessment Strategy

For 3rd level students taking this unit, expectations will be higher than those for 2nd level students, and the assessment criteria will be accordingly stricter. In particular: - Assignments should demonstrate a broader degree of focus and detail; control over material; formal sophistication; and reflect a more mature response to the set compositional task. - For score based work, optimal standards are required in terms of the physical appearance of work and following the standards of good-practice musical notation. - For written work, optimal standards of presentation are required in terms of spelling, punctuation, and grammar; sophistication of vocabulary; provision of footnotes; inclusion of full bibliographic and related details; physical appearance of work, etc. In short, 3rd level students should aspire at all times to the highest possible levels of undergraduate work.


MethodPercentage contribution
Composition 50%
Composition 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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