Cornelius Cardew

New Sounds: Classical Music in the 21st Century

Instructor: Nathan Shields
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

In what sense can a 21st-century work of music be called “classical”? If the term denotes a tradition, what meaning can it have in a period of (what’s widely felt be) musical postmodernity—one defined by the lack of any dominant style or agreed-upon canon of taste? What, indeed, unites—formally, technically, or aesthetically—the diverse array of “new music” to which the label classical is still, habitually, attached? How should the new classical music of the 21st century be understood today?

This course is at once a survey of the contemporary music we call classical and an attempt to discern the deeper unities, both artistic and social, beneath its bewilderingly diverse surfaces. Through an examination of the major compositions and movements of the past two decades, we will explore the kaleidoscopic landscape of contemporary music both from the inside, documenting its stylistic developments and artistic triumphs, and from the outside, examining the ways in which it reflects the deeper cultural, political, and economic transformations through which we are living. We will listen to works by Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Elliott Carter, Laurie Anderson, Thomas Adès, George Benjamin, Kaija Saariaho, John Zorn, Georg Friedrich Haas, Hans Abrahamsen, Unsuk Chin, and others, considering their relation to the divergent tendencies and tensions shaping the contemporary music world—from the influence of technology and popular music, to its often contentious relationship with the classical-music establishment, to its confrontation with the legacy of modernism. Through readings by Fredric Jameson, Jacques Attali, Carolyn Abbate, Simon Reynolds, Lydia Goehr, Alex Ross, Marianna Ritchey, and William Robin, we will place this world in the context of the institutions and ideologies that have formed it, from the Romantic orchestra to the neoliberal academy. And finally, we will attempt to synthesize these diverse strands of art and commentary into something like a musical history of the present, one that illuminates the ways in which contemporary music reflects—and perhaps also addresses—our own situation.

Course Schedule

Thursday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
September 15 — October 07, 2022
4 weeks


Registration Open

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