Music Composition

Composition I & III – Course Syllabus

The programmatic emphasis in music composition is intended for students with a thorough background in harmony, ear-training, and functional skills in music. Similarly, it is intended for students who demonstrate an aptitude for creative thinking and expression through music composition. Students will be exposed to the forms of music composition and will be encouraged to develop their own compositional style through composing for various combinations of instruments.

Course #: MUSI 3331, 4333.  Credits: 3
Semester: Fall 2019
Instructor: Earl MacDonald, Professor of Music
Class meeting time: Tuesdays & Thursdays, 11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Earl MacDonald’s Office: MUSB 207
Office Hours: Wednesdays, 10:10 – 11:00 a.m., Thursdays 12:30 – 1:20 p.m.,
and by appointment (room MUSB 207)

Lesson Appointment Times:
Tuesdays: 11:00AM: Abby, 11:30AM: Claire,12:00PM: Dean
Thursdays: 11:00AM: Michael, 11:30AM: Ian

Music Composition Assignments:

  1. Approximately five, 4 – 5 minute chamber works will be created, or the equivalent thereof.
    1. For our class purposes, “chamber works” will defined ultra-broadly as: art music, performed by one to twelve musicians, with one musician per part. Contrary to convention, solo and duo works will not be excluded from our definition. However, only one piece may be composed for solo instrument.
    2. Of these five pieces, one must incorporate graphic notation (exclusively, or in part).
    3. Short, song-form jazz pieces may be submitted, but because of their scope and function, as vehicles for improvisation with the absence of extended pre-conceived development, 3 short jazz songs will be considered proportional to a chamber work.
    4. Upon completion and prior to final submission, works will be “cleaned up” and entered into Finale, Sibelius or another form of music notation software (with the possible exception of the graphically-notated assignment). Writing with pencil and paper is encouraged (but not strictly enforced) during the early stages of composing.
  2. Listening journals will be kept to expand the students’ creative resources and imagination, through acquaintance with modern musical practices. Prioritize the exploration of composers and works with which you are the least familiar. Use a notebook. Each week, select at least one work from the provided list. Listen to it recurrently, in a focused manner, without other distractions. Entries do not have to be exceedingly long (a page or two would be acceptable; more would be welcome). List the composition date, instrumentation and a very brief synopsis of the composer’s biography/output. Points of discussion could include general impressions, noticeable influences (musical and non-musical), compositional techniques, orchestration, formal construction, harmonic considerations, dramatic moments (how they were achieved and what came before), highlights, and takeaway ideas you might wish to copy or further explore in your own work as a composer.


  • Compositional Output: 70%
    • The completion and quality of the 5 completed chamber works (or their equivalent) will account for the majority of one’s grade (70%). Each of the five musical compositions will be valued at 14% of the final grade.  (14% X 5 =70%).
    • “Quality,” for grading purposes, will be constituted and measured by:
      • the adherence to parameters defined at the onset. (For instance: If you wrote a fugue, does it conform to fugal conventions? If your piece is composed in a tonal style, does the voice leading follow the principles of common-practice harmony and counterpoint? If you composed a jazz “head,” does it swing rhythmically? et cetera)
      • taking heed of instrumental constraints (range, agility, etc.), a.k.a. “playability”
      • the clear, precise conveyance of one’s musical intent in the score and parts (including such details as tempo markings, dynamics, articulations, etc.)
    • Rough “deadlines”:
      1. Sept. 17/19,
      2. Oct. 1/3,
      3. Oct. 15/17,
      4. Oct. 29/31,
      5. Nov. 19/21
  • Listening Journals: 20%
    • A minimum of 12 entries are expected by the semester’s conclusion.
    • Journal entries will be discussed at each lesson.
    • The journal will be submitted for final review during the last week of classes.
  • Weekly work: 10%
    • To reinforce the discipline of writing consistently, at each lesson, a grade will be given based on the work generated during the previous week. This could include documented pre-compositional work, lists, journal entries, readings and progress towards completing the projects.

There will be no formal midterm or final exam for this course.

A:    94 – 100%, A-:   90 – 93%, B+:   86 – 89%, B:    82 – 85%, B-:   78 – 81%, C+:   74 – 77%, C:     70 – 73%, C-:    66 – 69%, D+:   62 – 65%, D:     58 – 61%, D-:    51 – 57%, F:    0 – 50%

Music Composition Listening List:

Earle Brown:

    • December 1952
    • Available Forms I & IICalder Piece, a musical composition by Earle Brown
    • Centering
    • Cross Sections
    • Color Fields

Witold Lutoslawski:

    • Cello Concerto
    • Livre pour Orchestra
    • Symphonies 2, 3, & 4
    • Prelude and Fugue for 13 Solo Strings

György Ligeti:

    • Aventures
    • Double Concerto
    • Piano Concerto
    • Cello Concerto
    • Hamburg Concerto
    • Chamber Concerto
    • Lontano
    • Violin Concerto

Morton Feldman:

    • Coptic Light
    • Oboe and Orchestra
    • Flute and Orchestra
    • Piano and Orchestra
    • Cello and Orchestra
    • For Samuel Beckett

Arvo Pärt:

    • Coro
    • Tabula Rasa
    • De Profundis
    • Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten and Tabula Rasa

Luciano Berio:

    • Laborintus I and II
    • Points on the Curve to Find
    • Sequenzas (orchestrated)
    • Concerto for two pianos and orchestra
    • Linea
    • Coro

Anton Webern:

    • Symphony, Opus 21
    • String Trio
    • Six Bagatelles for string quartet
    • Concerto for Nine Instruments

Alban Berg:

    • Violin Concerto
    • Wozzeck
    • Lyric Suite
    • Lulu

Arnold Schoenberg:

    • Five Pieces for Orchestra
    • Violin Concerto
    • Piano Concerto
    • piano music

Elliott Carter:

    • String Quartets 1,2, & 3
    • Triple Duo
    • Piano Concerto

Karlheinz Stockhausen:

    • Gruppen
    • Punkte

Béla Bartók:

    • string quartets

Hans Werner Henze:

    • Tristan
    • Palestrina

*The course content, schedule and grading scheme are subject to change at the instructor’s discretion. Note: This online syllabus/class schedule is a malleable, evolving, and frequently updated document. Check it frequently.

Communication policy

E-mail is the instructor’s preferred method of communication with students. Please allow 48-hours for replies. When requesting a meeting with me outside of my office hours, please submit several meeting time options. I prefer to be addressed as Professor MacDonald.

Some useful telephone numbers, websites and services:
Student Code

You are responsible for acting in accordance with the University of Connecticut’s Student Conduct Code. Review and become familiar with these expectations.

Academic Integrity

This course expects all students to act in accordance with the Guidelines for Academic Integrity at the University of Connecticut. Consult UConn’s guidelines for academic integrity. Cheating and plagiarism are taken very seriously at the University of Connecticut. As a student, it is your responsibility to avoid plagiarism.

Policy Against Discrimination, Harassment and Related Interpersonal Violence

The University is committed to maintaining an environment free of discrimination or discriminatory harassment directed toward any person or group within its community – students, employees, or visitors. Academic and professional excellence can flourish only when each member of our community is assured an atmosphere of mutual respect. All members of the University community are responsible for the maintenance of an academic and work environment in which people are free to learn and work without fear of discrimination or discriminatory harassment. In addition, inappropriate amorous relationships can undermine the University’s mission when those in positions of authority abuse or appear to abuse their authority. To that end, and in accordance with federal and state law, the University prohibits discrimination and discriminatory harassment, as well as inappropriate amorous relationships, and such behavior will be met with appropriate disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal from the University.

Additionally, to protect the campus community, all non-confidential University employees (including faculty) are required to report sexual assaults, intimate partner violence, and/or stalking involving a student that they witness or are told about to the Office of Institutional Equity. The University takes all reports with the utmost seriousness. Please be aware that while the information you provide will remain private, it will not be confidential and will be shared with University officials who can help.  More information is available at and


Except for final examinations, the instructor has final authority in permitting students to submit assignments late or make up examinations.


My lectures, notes, handouts, and displays are protected by state common law and federal copyright law. They are my own original expression and I’ve recorded them prior or during my lecture in order to ensure that I obtain copyright protection. Students are authorized to take notes in my class; however, this authorization extends only to making one set of notes for your own personal use and no other use. I will inform you as to whether you are authorized to record my lectures at the beginning of each semester. If you are so authorized to record my lectures, you may not copy this recording or any other material, provide copies of either to anyone else, or make a commercial use of them without prior permission from me.

Students with Disabilities

The University of Connecticut is committed to protecting the rights of individuals with disabilities and assuring that the learning environment is accessible. If you anticipate or experience physical or academic barriers based on disability or pregnancy, please let me know immediately so that we can discuss options. Students who require accommodations should contact the Center for Students with Disabilities, Wilbur Cross Building Room 204, (860) 486-2020, or

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