Post-tonal Theory & Analysis

Music 148/248–Fall 2009
Post-Tonal Theory and Analysis
Professor Michael Zbyszynski

This course covers basic concepts and techniques employed in post-tonal theory and analysis. Topics covered will include pitch-class sets, combinatoriality, integral serialism, twelve-tone areas, formal, rhythmic, and motivic analysis. Students will study analytical techniques developed by mainstream music theory. The first half of the semester will cover the foundations of post-tonal theory. The second half of the semester will be devoted to recent research. We will consider research in this field within a critical context and push its boundaries by exploring new repertories. Coursework will include weekly readings, written assignments and a term paper. Students will be graded according to the quality of their written work and participation in class.


Readings will be assigned out of the following texts, on reserve in the library:

Cook, Nicholas A Guide to Musical Analysis (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1992)

Straus, Joseph Introduction to Post-Tonal Theory (NJ: Prentice Hall, 2005)

Learning Objectives


  • To have a developed understanding of cultural, political, social, and intellectual issues in diverse contemporary and historical musical & sound art practices.
  • To have distinctive creative ideas and the ability to realize them successfully on a professional level.
  • To be able to critically analyze & clearly identify strengths and weaknesses in her/his own work, & the work of others.
What does musical analysis tell us?

What is a musical analysis? What can it tell us, and why do it?

What is the difference between a good analysis and a bad one?
Reading:  Cook, Chapter 6
Introduction to pitch-class sets

Schoenberg, Opp. 15 and 19
Reading: Straus, Ch. 1-2

Stravinsky, Symphonies of Wind Instruments

This is the first piece in what Jonathan Kramer called “moment form.” Analysis by Kramer, Cone, and Taruskin will be compared.

Reading: Straus Ch. 3
Symmetry and Centricity

Bartók, String Quartet #4, I
Reading: Straus Ch. 4

Serial music

Webern, Symphony Op. 21
Schoenberg, Op. 33a

Reading: Straus Ch. 5-6
Text and Semiotics

Berio, Sinfonia


Lutosławski, Livre for Orchestra
Cage, Variations 2

Feldman, Rothko Chapel
Minimalist Process

Reich, Piano Phase and Violin Phase

Timbre and Gesture

Lachenmann, Tableau


Harvey, Mortuos Plango Vivos Vocols

Murail, Désintégrations

Student presentations

The final weeks of the course will be devoted to student presentations of individual pieces.  Each student will have one class period to present their analysis and will turn in a paper (approx. 15 pages) at the end of the term.

Analysis should be of a short piece from the last hundred years who’s musical vocabulary cannot be adequately described by tonal analysis.  “Short” is an intentionally subjective term, accounting for both temporal length and complexity.

Course Policies

Regarding Attendance
Students are expected to attend all classes for which they are registered. Academic work proceeds up to the date and hour of
the beginning of holidays and semester breaks and resumes promptly at the end of such breaks at the time specified in the academic calendar. Students are accountable for any work missed by absence from classes.
If you know you must miss a class (it falls on a religious holiday, for example), please contact me ahead of time and we can make arrangements.

Regarding Americans with Disability Act accommodations
Every effort will be provided to make this class universally accessible.  Though “reasonable accommodation” is the legal right of people with disabilities, this course is designed to be universally accessible for students regardless of disability or other individual categorization. Students with needs for alternate learning materials or strategies should contact SSD in the Cowell Building by calling 430-2130 in order for those accommodations and services to be arranged promptly.

Regarding missed and late exams and assignments
As a general policy, there will be no makeup exams.  Missed exams and assignments will be scored as a zero. Late assignments will be marked down by a grade point for each calendar day.  Please contact me if there are extenuating circumstances relating to late or missed work.

Regarding Academic Integrity
Students shall honestly prepare assignments and take examinations and submit them at the time and in the manner specified by the instructor.  The content of all submitted examinations and assignments is assumed to represent the student’s own work unless otherwise specified (e.g., group projects).

Plagiarism is a serious breach of academic trust. For purposes of the Mills College Honor Code, plagiarism is defined as
intentionally or knowingly using someone else’s ideas, words, and/or thoughts without properly crediting the source.  All work for which a
source is not cited is presumed to be that of the writer.
If the Academic Integrity Standards described above are violated, the instructor will decide on an appropriate response that may
include the assignment of extra work, lowering grades on a particular assignment, failure of the course, and/or the report of the incident to
the Provost and Dean of the Faculty for further sanction.