Final year - Optional modules - Music

Sound in Society

This module provides an introduction to the field of Sound Studies, including both the conceptual framework as well as practical techniques. We will begin with an overview of the field and its formation in 2004 through a consideration of the work of Trevor Pinch, Karin Bijsterveld and R Murray Schafer. Subsequent weeks will cover topics such as soundscapes, sound and the animal world, noise and silence in philosophy, the engineering of sound, sound and radio art, and synaesthesia research in cognitive psychology.

The Singer’s Survival Guide

By the mid-seventeenth century the development of an opera repertoire for a certain type of paying public was well under way. Yet, while this certainly changed the cultural landscape of secular vocal music from that point forward, it did not eradicate the popular interest and development of vocal music for private chamber settings, including sacred themed music for private use and making. Studying other vocal genres and the venues in which they were performed side by side with opera at this crucial moment in operatic history presents us with a more complete picture of singing culture from 16050 to the 1750s. In order to become a success in this climate, singers not only needed to be musically but also politically savvy. This module will explore the political and social systems which these singers needed to negotiate and exploit in order to maintain their popularity and social status. We will also focus on the social and cultural issues which shaped the musical development of the different repertories in which they were expected to participate. Musical features of these genres will be studied side by side with the patrons, singers, and composers of these repertories, and will be interpreted through issues of gender, class/social status, reception, the musical canon and the conception of the early modern body.

From Glinka to Glazunov

This module will examine the music composed when Russian musicians were becoming more conscious of their national identity and attempting to create a distinctive national style of composition. The composers examined will include Glinka, Tchaikovsky, Rubinstein, Balakirev, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Liadov, Borodin and Glazunov and we will attempt to find out what, if anything, made their music distinctive from that of the contemporary ‘mainstream’ Western tradition. The relevant social, political and cultural context will also be examined.

British Musical Renaissance

The ‘British Music Renaissance’ has been commonly dated to the first performance of Parry's Prometheus Unbound in 1880. From that date, it has been argued, Britain gradually shed its status as 'das Land ohne Musik' (the land without music), with the work of such composers as Stanford, Parry, Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Holst and many others all encouraging the development of a musical culture which Britain had previously lacked. This course examines the work of these and other composers active in Britain between 1880 and 1914, the relative importance different musical genres (opera, operetta, art song, oratorio, secular cantata, symphony, orchestral music etc.), and British cultural and social attitudes to music and musicians, via a mixture of case studies and historical research.

Handel in London

A Saxon educated in Germany and Italy, Handel moved to cosmopolitan London in the early 18th century and forged a successful career as a composer, performer and impresario. He put opera in England on a (relatively) stable footing and virtually invented the English oratorio and organ concerto. He was both a master of the state occasion, a mirror of the human condition and a superlative musical dramatist. Examples of his anthems, operas, concertos and oratorios will be examined in this module against the social, political and cultural background of 18th-century London. The module will also explore the sources and nature of his musical style and the concept of 'drama' as understood at the time, especially in relation to his operas and oratorios, and consider questions relating to performing practice and to the idea of a musical 'work'.

Music, Place and Identity

This module is concerned with understanding the relation of music to concepts of place and identity. In addition to a broad theoretical overview of topics related to place (including theories of locality, nationalism, transnationalism, diasporas, and indigeneity) as developed in fields as diverse as history, cultural geography, and anthropology, the module will cover seminal ethno/musicological works on how musics inscribe place-based senses of cultural belonging. Topics and examples may include occupation and cross-cultural collaborations in Palestine/Israel, transnationalism and cultural diplomacy in the Eurovision Song Contest, music and governmentality in the Caribbean, contemporary Native American and First Nations indigenous musics, European art music and colonialism, diasporic South Asian music in the UK, the role of music in the Arab Spring, and music in Birmingham.




Modules and courses are constantly updated and under review. As with most academic programmes, please remember that it is possible that a module may not be offered in any particular year, for instance because a member of staff is on study leave or too few students opt for it. The University of Birmingham reserves the right to vary or withdraw any course or module.