Week 1 (Jun 3): Broadly Applicable Techniques (Su19)

Last modified on August 4, 2023

This week, you will learn about postmodernism and its significance in music scholarship. You will also learn about narrative theory in literature and how it applies to music analysis.


This video introduces the concepts of intertextuality and postmodernism and articulates their significance in academic music studies. Works cited: .

Note: This video uses interactive technology. The picture-in-picture can be swapped or even viewed side-by-side. The video also uses a menu so you can quickly navigate to certain portions of the video. For more explanation, see this video from Kaltura.

download intertextuality slidesdownload intertextuality video captions/transcript

Narrative theory

Watch my instructional video on the basics of narrative theory for music, based on .

Note: This video uses interactive technology. The picture-in-picture can be swapped or even viewed side-by-side. The video also uses a menu so you can quickly navigate to certain portions of the video. For more explanation, see this video from Kaltura.

Complete the Concept Check quiz on Blackboard to see if you are understanding the basics of narrative properly.

download narrative slidesdownload narrative video captions/transcript

Due Wednesday: Response

Write a response essay (NB: NOT a summary!) to my intertextuality video, at least 700 words long.

More on response essays
A response essay is your personal take on the readings, and thus you shouldn’t be trying to write the “right answer,” but rather your opinion and reaction to what you’ve read. Remember that these are graded pass/fail, so anything you write is valuable in that sense. Feel free to use I/me pronouns and to freely express yourself (while remaining professional) and your opinion of the reading.

Here are some optional prompts for your essay:

  • Why is composer intent given so much importance in performance settings (private lessons, ensembles, etc.)? Why is this so different from how academia treats composer intent?
  • One common underlying assumption in composer-intent-based analyses is that the composition is reflective of the composer’s life—but of course, composers write music for many reasons. Give examples of other kinds of inspiration for compositions (or any other creative art) that are not based on lived experience. It might be helpful to note specific pieces.
  • “Fan theories” are kind of like the sort of literary criticism Barthes’s work makes possible—fan theories are fun to read even though they may not have anything to do with the author’s intent. Do you have a fan theory about a well-known movie, book, TV show, etc. that you enjoy even though it’s not “canon“?

Submit this by posting in your group’s “blog” on Blackboard.

Due Friday: Peer response

Respond to the members of your peer group by clicking the “comment” button under their blog post and typing your response directly into the text box, rather than uploading an attachment.

Due Sunday: Analysis assignment

You will analyze Chopin’s prelude in C minor from the Op. 28 preludes. This Chopin prelude is short and in a simple texture, yet full of narrative implications.


1. listening

Listen to recordings of the prelude several times while following along with the score, to get the music in your ears. This is a very short piece, so it will not take long.

Here are two recordings:

2. Identifying motives
Chopin motives a and b
has analyzed this piece as being based on two overlapping motives, which are both found in the melody of measure 1: motive a, a neighbor-note figure in quarter notes, and motive b, a stepwise descending figure with the dotted rhythm. This is shown in the picture on the right.

Go through the rest of the prelude and try to identify the fragments that can be based on motive or motive b. 

3. analysis

Now, try to create a narrative through the relationship between motives and as they develop through the piece. You can think of a and almost as two characters in a story.

Here is a starting point for you: in measure 1, think of these two characters (the motives) as being in cooperation with one another. The motives overlap nicely, and together they outline the tonic C minor triad. This gives a definite sense of gloom and lamentation.

For your analysis, write a short essay (<500 words) that answers the following questions:

  • Which motive represents order, and which represents transgression?
  • Which side of this battle (between transgression/order) do you, as the listener, sympathize with?
  • Which narrative archetype does this piece represent: romance, tragedy, comedy, or irony?
  • Why did you choose this archetype—in which passages does either order or transgression seem to be “in charge”?

In addition to tracing the motives, here are other elements that you may consider in any narrative analysis (this also comes from Almén):

  • Spatial and temporal aspects of the piece. For example: registral shifts or gaps, changes in a prevailing or normative key or rhythm, etc.
  • Any change or development in a musical parameter. For exmample: the sense of increasing momentum associated with accelerando passages.
  • Any programmatic associations linked with themes, motives, textures, or with the work as a whole.
  • Expressive markings as coloration of other meaningful events. For example: when extra emphasis is implied by a crescendo or marcato marking.
  • The use of text, descriptive titles, or supplemental explanatory material, when appropriate.


  • You will be assessed on the following concepts:
    • Good identification of motives throughout the entire piece
    • Proper application of order/transgression concepts
    • Good support for narrative archetype
  • You will be given detailed feedback through the rubric. Click “View rubric” in the gradebook to access this.
  • Assignments are always graded pass/fail, with a threshold of 70% to pass.


  • Submit only your short essay. There is no need to submit a separate score, but make sure it’s clear what aspects of the score you are referring to by using measure numbers, pitch names, etc.
  • Submit your assignment on Blackboard.
  • Upload your assignment as a .pdf attachment. Please do not use other file types.

Video feedback on assignments

In this short video, I clarify what sympathy does in a narrative analysis, and show the development of the a and b motives.

download feedback transcript


(The Almén is not found in our Readings folder because I don’t want you to look at it! Analyze the Chopin piece on your own, without consulting outside resources.)


If articles are not available online, you should be able to find them in the Readings folder on Teams.

Almén, Byron. 2003. “Narrative Archetypes: A Critique, Theory, and Method of Narrative Analysis.” Journal of Music Theory 47 (1): 1–39.
Austin, J. L. 1975. How to Do Things with Words: Second Edition. Edited by J. O. Urmson and Marina Sbisà. 2 edition. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.
Barthes, Roland. (1968) 1989. “The Death of the Author.” In The Rustle of Language, translated by Richard Howard. University of California Press.
Saussure, Ferdinand de. 1959. Course in General Linguistics. Edited by Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye. Translated by Wade Baskin. New York: The Philosophical Library, Inc.