Courses taught by Karen Desmond

Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

Roman de Fauvel (graduate seminar), Spring 2018

This seminar delves into the fascinating Roman de Fauvel allegory, copied in a sumptuous manuscript in the early decades of the fourteenth century and now housed at the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Replete with illustrations and musical insertions that add biting political commentary to the tale, the poem centers on a monstrous fawn-coloured horse, Fauvel, who, with the help of Lady Fortune, has risen from his lowly stable to reign within a grand and glittering palace, fawned upon by his courtiers. Topics to be covered in this hands-on seminar include the manuscript’s palaeography and codicology, its music notation and illuminations, the vernacular literary traditions it draws upon, political and social history, and close readings of its music and text.

Brandeis University, Waltham, MA

Analyzing Early Music, 1300-1600 (graduate seminar), Spring 2018

This seminar comprises an investigation of analytic approaches to early music (pre-1600), including such issues as text-music relations, tonal structures, compositional planning, use of pre-existing material.

Roman de Fauvel (graduate seminar), Fall 2017

(see Harvard University above for description)

Exploring Western Music (undergraduate lecture course), Fall 2017

This class is a general introduction to the materials, forms, and contexts of western music, with a focus on close analytical listening, and the class is open to to non-majors. In this class you will learn how to identify specific features of music and how the combination of these features contributes to music’s power to move us as individuals; and situate music within its broader cultural and societal context, thus deepening your understanding of both music and society.

Seeing Sound: The History and Practice of Notation to c. 1500 (graduate seminar), Fall 2016, Fall 2018

The late ninth century witnessed a major technological breakthrough in the transmission of Western music that was to have far-reaching consequences. Chants that had been taught orally for several centuries began to be encoded on parchment using signs placed above text syllables that recorded the shape and contour of the chant melodies. Systems of music notation spread rapidly across Europe, and took root as the way to record, archive, share, and (eventually) compose music. This graduate seminar course examines the form and function of music notation, and how the writing down of music transformed music practice. Students will transcribe music from a variety of medieval and Renaissance notation systems, and will work directly with high quality facsimiles and online reproductions of the original manuscripts.

History of Music I: Ancient to Baroque (undergraduate lecture course), Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2018

This class is a survey of music history from the early Middle Ages to the beginning of the 17th century, considering major styles, composers, genres, and techniques of musical composition from a historical and analytical perspective.

Proseminar in Medieval Music (graduate seminar), Fall 2016

This course focuses on three repertories of medieval music in Western Europe: plainchant, French secular song, and the motet. In addition to listening to lots of music (and analyzing and composing), we will consider some concepts central to the study of medieval music, such as: the the role of the composer and performer; institutional and political contexts for the performance and composition of music; the relationship of theory to practice; intertextuality; technological developments in the transmission of music; the medieval art of memory; and conceptions of auctoritas in the Middle Ages.

History of Music III: 19th- and 20th-century Music (undergraduate lecture course), Fall 2016

Surveys music history from c.1830 to the present, considering major styles, genres, and techniques of musical composition from a historical and analytical perspective. Styles and composers represented include Chopin, Liszt, Wagner, impressionism, serialism, Debussy, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Bartok, and Babbitt.

McGill University, Montreal, Canada

Medieval Music (undergraduate lecture course), Fall 2015

This course focuses on three important repertories of medieval music in Western Europe: plainchant, secular song in France, and the polyphonic motet. In addition to listening to lots of music (and singing and composing), we will consider some concepts central to the study of medieval music, such as: the the role of the composer and performer; institutional and political contexts; the relationship of theory to practice; intertextuality; technological developments in the transmission of music; the medieval art of memory and conceptions of auctoritas in the Middle Ages.

University College Cork, Ireland

Musicology and Theory: Research Questions in Medieval Musicology (graduate seminar), Fall 2013

An introduction to the discipline of musicology, its principal theories and its interaction with related disciplines. The focus in this section of the course (weeks 1 to 6) will be on recent developments and debates in the fields of medieval musicology and medieval studies. The first two weeks will serve as an general introduction to musicological methods and research techniques. In the weeks three through six we will examine the views, methods, and writings of many prominent medievalists and musicologists, and come to an understanding of where the field stands today.

Music and Ideas: Musicology (undergraduate lecture course), Spring 2013, Fall 2013

One of the core disciplines in the study of music, musicology is a set of tools that allows scholars to engage with music’s history, analyze how musical styles and languages function, and explain its social and cultural roles. This course introduces some of these tools and explores samples of the great diversity of music scholarship. Among the topics considered will be music and history; music and identity; music and politics; music and the body; and music and performance. Syllabus available here: http://www.arsmusicae.org/wordpress/musicandideas (NB: some of the pages are only accessible by students registered in the course)

Silly Love Songs: Voicing Love in Western Music (undergraduate lecture course), Fall 2012, Fall 2013

Through a focus on two case studies – medieval song and the courtly love ethos, and the songs of Doris Day and post-war America – this course examine how ideologies of love and relationships are propagated through love song repertories. We analyse didactic texts such as Andreas Capellanus’s The Art of Courtly Love; the dream-vision The Romance of the Rose; Machaut’s narrative dits; movies and TV shows from the 1950s. Course work includes staging in-class debates on the values of love, composing love songs, and individual research. Themes examined include pursuit and fulfillment, erotic desire versus spiritual attainment, relationships, family, and the societal value of love. Syllabus available here: http://www.arsmusicae.org/wordpress/silly (NB: some of the pages are only accessible by students registered in the course)

Difference and Otherness (undergraduate lecture course), Spring 2012

Investigates the role music plays in articulating divisions and distinctions between peoples, and examines whether music reinforces or transcends notions of difference and otherness. Focuses on three case studies (Early Modern Opera; Schubert; Animals in Medieval Music) in order to explore the role of identity (gender, sexuality, nationality) in the performance and consumption of music. Examines how the concepts of difference and otherness relate to musical historiography, musical aesthetics, the musical canon, and meaning in music.

Musicology and Text (graduate seminar), Spring 2012, Spring 2013

Introduces the field of musicology; focuses on the tools and methodologies musicologists use to interpret, contextualize and critically evaluate their primary sources (bibliography, codiocology, analysis, critical theory). Students are encouraged both to deepen their awareness of the historical and cultural contexts of selected case studies and to broaden their knowledge of relevant music repertoires.

Senior Research Forum (undergraduate final-year seminar), Spring 2012

The objective of this module is to acquire an understanding of the nature and variety of work done by composers, performers and music scholars through exposure to active professionals in these fields who will make presentations to the class. Students will be encouraged to develop and articulate their own professional aspirations and goals. For assessment, they will compile a learning journal as the course progresses and prepare a personal project.

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