Europe Writing Assignment

This assignment is broken up into three parts.  Please type all three parts, clearly labeling each section and submit in one file through Canvas.  It will be graded as follows:

Please write at least 500 words (12 pt. Times New Roman). You may write more, but be as concise as possible.  Excessively long papers may not be read in full.

You will be given one of three possible grades, based on the strength of your submission. Here are the general guidelines:

Excellent, full credit = clear and articulate writing style; reflects thoughtfully on the topic; meets 500-word minimum.

Satisfactory, half credit = good writing, but unclear at times; satisfactory reflection on the topic, but could elaborate more; does not meet the 500 word minimum

Not acceptable, no credit = failure to turn in assignment, or makes little effort to seriously engage with the assignment


Let’s begin…

Of all the units we will study, European music is probably the most familiar to us.  But how did European music begin, why do we notate music the way we do, and what influenced its development?  Does all European music sound the same?  In this unit we will explore these questions and more.


Part 1: Medieval Europe and the Invention of Harmony

            Arguably two of the most important things that European music has given the world is the notation system many countries use (five line staves, four clefs, major and minor scales) and the idea of harmony.  Let’s look at how all this began:


Music and theology

Music in the Middle Ages was closely tied to the Roman Catholic church.  Much of the purpose of music was to teach the theology and enhance worship services.  Remember, during this time not many people were literate and books were few and far between.  By putting the theology to music it made it easier to remember.  Because of this close association with the church, theological ideas began to be mixed into the musical theory.  For example, perfect (the ones that sound clear and consonant) intervals were preferred            to the more dissonant ones (more about that here if you are interested (Links to an external site.)) and the number three (representing the trinity) shows up a lot in music, such as in triads.  In fact, one interval became associated with the devil and was forbidden.  This interval is known as a tritone and is the opening interval in “The Simpsons” theme.  Please read the following article about the importance of the tritone in western music: (Links to an external site.)


These theological influences in music continue to define our aesthetic.  A tritone is still often avoided in music unless for effect (though it is used for sirens and warnings) and we are all innately trained to think certain intervals and rhythmic groupings are preferable to others.  Many of these preferences can be traced back to the medieval monks who formed the foundational basis of our music.


Guido of Arezzo and the Guidonian Hand: 

            One of the great movers and shakers in early music history was Guido d’Arezzo.  He developed a way to teach large groups of people songs quickly and also developed a way to notate music so it could be taught anywhere.  This was a huge development because it opened up musicians to new ideas and new styles and also created a way to preserve music.  Read the following articles and watch the following YouTube videos which summarize Guido’s game-changing developments.


Origins of musical notation: (Links to an external site.)

   (Links to an external site.)


Guido: (Links to an external site.) (Links to an external site.)

(origins of hand)

            Ut solfege (Links to an external site.)


Over time, musicians got tired of singing the same part, so they began to innovate.  It started by singing the same melody in octaves, then in perfect fifths.  Soon an idea emerged that allowed for harmonization in a style known as polyphony.  The two earliest known innovators of this style were Leonin and Perotin who developed what came to be known as The Notre Dame school of polyphony.  Read the following articles about that and the development of chord progressions:


Notre Dame School: (Links to an external site.)


Development of harmony: (Links to an external site.) (Links to an external site.)


From these simple origins  developed a system of harmony that is still used today throughout the world.  Everything from John Williams to Beyoncé is built on the groundwork laid down by those early medieval monks.


Part 1 Writing Assignment:

  1. Pretend you are trying to explain the origins of western music to someone you are in self-isolation with. Summarize the readings into a paragraph or two that traces the foundations of western music and harmony.
  2. What was your reaction to the Guidonian Hand? Do you think it would be easy to learn music that way?


Part 2: Nationalism

            Nationalism is a human invention, just as political borders are.  Nation-states characterize Europe and were formed as a result of US independence, French Revolution, and other local uprisings.  Nation-states differ from kingdoms and empires because the power resides IN THE PEOPLE of the state rather than monarchs and dynasties, as they had previously throughout the history of Europe.  They are secular and have no “divine” origins (divine right of kings).  The idea of the nation-state grew out of the ideas of the Enlightenment and Romantic philosophy (which also heavily influenced the Founding Fathers decision to fight for independence), as a new way of organizing large groups of people.

            In order to understand more about the Enlightenment and how it influenced nationalism watch and read the following:


Age of Enlightenment: (Links to an external site.) Read and Watch

What is Enlightenment (Kant): (Links to an external site.)

Origins of nationalism: (Links to an external site.)


While Nationalism has many advantages, there can also be a dark side to it.  For instance, is it is heavily cited as a driving force behind WWI (and by extension WWII).  After WWII, Europe moved toward a more cooperative model, but that is starting to shift back to a more nationalistic approach.  Please read the following articles on these issues below:


            Nationalism and WWI: (Links to an external site.)

            Nationalism Today: (Links to an external site.)


Part 2 Writing Assignment:

  1. Summarize Kant’s argument as laid out in “What is Enlightenment?”. What are your thoughts and opinions on this?  Do you agree with him or not?
  2. What are the pros and cons of nationalism? What are your opinions on nationalism?  How do you feel nationalism has shaped history and our modern life?


Part 3:  Nationalism in Music

            Now we finally get to the fun part – the Music!  I’ve put together a playlist of different examples of music from around Europe.  The playlist is pretty long but don’t fret – we will be using it for two writing exercises and many of them are optional (I threw on a few just because they are interesting).  The first ten are required listening for this exercise.  The rest are just for fun.  Feel free to listen if you want to.


Europe YouTube playlist: (Links to an external site.)


Listen to examples of music from countries in Europe.  The first three are from Britain (I couldn’t choose a favorite) and will give you a good introduction to the sound of a western orchestra. 


#1 Jupiter: This is a movement from Gustav Holst’s (yes, he’s British despite how his name looks) suite “The Planets”.  It incorporates the popular and beautiful British folk song “I Vow to Thee My Country” into the tune.  The other most famous movement from this suite is “Mars”.  For further exploration listen to Mars and see if you can hear the similarities between it and many popular sci-fi soundtracks such as Star Wars.


#2  Lark Ascending: This is one of Vaughn Williams most famous works and a gorgeous example of British national style.  Note the open harmonies, lack of dissonance, and simply melody.  For more about Vaughn Williams read this: (Links to an external site.)


#3 is an example from the British Proms, which is an annual series of concerts in the UK.  The last one always closes with patriotic favorites including a rendition of Rule, Britannia and as you can see, things can get a little crazy.  More about that tradition here: (Links to an external site.)


#4 is an example of Finnish music.  In fact, this song has become the unofficial anthem of Finland (much like America, the Beautiful is here).  Many of you may recognize the chorale melody in the middle.  It has become a very popular hymn.  This song was an important one to the people of Finland while they were struggling for independence and became a rallying cry of sorts.  You can learn more about the controversial history of the song here: (Links to an external site.)


#5 is from Russia and is an example of a work by one of “The Mighty Five”, a group of composers determined to make a “Russian” style of music and break free from the Italian and Germanic tradition.  More about them can be found here: (Links to an external site.)


#6 is an example from Hungary.  More about Liszt, a famous Hungarian nationalist can be found here: (Links to an external site.)


#7 Bedrich Smetana is a composer whose works are not only closely tied to nationalism (he is credited as being the “Father of Czech Music”, but also the independence movement in his country.  Listen to The Moldau, Smetana’s tone poem about a river that winds from the mountains, through the Czech countryside to Prague.  It is a piece that speaks of his deep love for his country and throughout it you can hear the scenery around the river change.  Listen for these changes. 

            More about Smetana: (Links to an external site.)

            More about The Moldau: (Links to an external site.)


#8 Of all the instruments indigenous to Europe, the alpenhorn is by far my favorite.  No survey of European music, in my opinion would be complete without listen to these. More info on their use an history here: (Links to an external site.)


#9 This is probably my favorite YouTube video to show in class.  Be sure to turn up the speakers for this one.  It shows the synthesis of nationalist style, early music, western harmony, and modern film score practices all in one.  The composer, Einar Selvik (who will be touring Dallas in October with his band Wardruna) began as a death metal singer and then got interested in the early Nordic music.  He incorporates many different elements into this piece.  Bet you never thought you’d be listening to Icelandic Viking Orchestral Death Metal in class before!


#10 This one gives you more information about how Selvik creates his music.


Part 3 Writing Assignment

  1. What was your favorite video and why?
  2. Explain three ways in which the music from different countries were distinctive (i.e. what made them British or Scandinavian).
  3. List five things you learned from the supplemental readings listed for the videos that you found interesting. By this I mean five total, not five for each video.
  4. What was your impression of video 9?
  5. Explain in a paragraph or two if/how an understanding of the history of the origin of music and the influence of nationalism enhanced your listening experience for these pieces.
  6. Program notes are often handed out to audience members before a concert to help them understand the context of a piece of music and thus enjoy it more. Choose one video and write “program notes” for it.