Monsters, Magic, and Madness in Western Music (MHI4136.01)

Joseph Alpar

Magic bullets forged in a pact with the Devil. A blood-stained bride driven to despair and murder on her wedding night. An opium dream of a diabolical witches’ Sabbath. Composers and performers have represented horror, madness, magical creatures, and supernatural elements in innumerable and thrilling ways since the Middle Ages. In this course, we will study key musical works that engage with the supernatural. We will listen to and watch several operas, symphonic works, solo instrumental and vocal pieces, sacred musical works, and examples from popular music and horror film soundtracks. Throughout the course we will consider how composers built a rich musical language to depict the supernatural, often pushing the boundaries of harmony, melody, and rhythm and deviating wildly from established musical norms. We will learn how composers and their works were in active dialogue with the philosophical, scientific, religious, and literary movements of their time, reading excerpts of key works connecting musical aesthetics with magic, science, the visual arts, spirituality, the sublime, and the ambiguous boundaries between the natural and supernatural worlds. Our course will be brimming with infernal demons, benevolent deities, mischievous fairies, unhinged clowns, sorcerers, ghosts, tombs, caves, prophecies, dungeons, monsters and incredible music.

Homework will include readings, listening assignments, journals, brief in-class presentations, and papers.

Learning Outcomes:
Students will:
• Become familiar with key works of Western music
• Examine the relationship between music and the supernatural across more than 900 years (from the Middle Ages through the early 21st century)
• Analyze ways in which composers depicted the supernatural, madness, and other elements of horror musically
• Read works of philosophy and literature, drawing connections between them and the musical works we will study.
• Strengthen their analytical and writing skills through various written assignments
• Build aural skills through active listening to musical examples in class and for homework

Delivery Method: Fully in-person
Prerequisites: By permission of instructor (contact:, prior coursework in history, music history, ethnomusicology, or another relevant discipline involving writing and research.
Corequisites: Attendance at relevant concerts and class events during the semester
Course Level: 4000-level
Credits: 4
M/Th 1:40PM - 3:30PM (Full-term)
Maximum Enrollment: 18
Course Frequency: One time only

Categories: 4000 , All courses , Four Credit , Fully In-Person , History , History , SCT
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