Composition Class: Books and Listening List

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 I’m teaching the composition class at Westminster Choir College for the first time this fall. The course includes all of the first-semester composition majors as well as non-majors interested in composing (or, perhaps, needing an elective).

We’re going to be using three books as texts during the term:

-                   Modal Counterpoint, in the Style of the Sixteenth Century, Ernst Krenek (Boosey).

-                   The Study of Fugue, Alfred Mann (Dover).

-                   A Basic Course in Music Composition, Ralph Shapey (Presser).

Each of these is a small primer on one of the big, central topics in the craft of composition: Sixteenth century counterpoint, fugue, and twentieth century composition approaches. I like that two of them are exercise-heavy – the Krenek and Shapey – while one includes a more historiographical approach, with plenty of examples from the literature. Each author strikes a different tone: Krenek is thorough-going, Mann authoritative and Shapey brilliantly creative, if a bit on the cranky side.

None of them are complete discussions of their respective topics. But each provides a tantalizing, instructive introduction. The three are easily portable; making them easy companions for student composers to take along to muse over on the quad, in the library, or off-campus. What’s more, the combined price tag is less than the cost of many textbooks.

Next up: the listening list. I’m very open to thoughts from Sequenza 21 contributors and readers. Which pieces do you think are essential listening and study for first-semester composers? Drop some suggestions in the comments section!

I have a feeling the toughest part of preparing the course will be winnowing this down to a manageable number of pieces!