What is it that makes a piece of music meaningful to us? It cannot simply be a question of its structure – of how it is put together – for the greater number of music lovers are untrained in musical grammar and yet are deeply affected by their listening experiences. How to explain their responses? The common wisdom that musical expressivity is due to the emotional dichotomy of happy/sad may be looked upon by the authorities as simplistic and uninformed, but it is nevertheless a reliable starting point of an inquiry, not because we must hold it as an ultimate truth, but because it is a deep-seated convention of Western culture. And so, the course begins with the premise that representation, by virtue of its capacity to access historical and cultural contexts, will unearth the ideas that a little by little, over time, and by association and example, absorbed into the raw materials – the ones and rhythms – of Western music.
Over six sessions the class will listen to and discuss various examples of instrumental music from every style period after 1700. For the most part, the instructor will play the pieces in question from the piano repertoire, but there will be an occasional guest performer as well.