Musicology Department

The MA Exam in Musicology

The MA Examination is given each April. The morning portion involves responding to specific questions about three compositions. The afternoon is devoted to three essays intended to test your ability to develop a music historical narrative. These questions are drawn from a pool provided several months in advance. Exam questions are solicited from all members of the musicology faculty.

Here are the instructions that will appear on each section of the examination, with some explanatory commentary that may help you prepare.

Part I (morning): Scores/Recordings.

“Three scores or recordings are provided, one each from (1) antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance; (2) the Baroque and Classical eras; and (3) the Romantic era and years since.. Each composition is accompanied by a set of questions, which are intended to guide you through the analysis of the pieces.  Your essays should include the material covered in the questions, but not necessarily provide ‘answers’—write a single continuous essay for each score or recording.” [Time: ca. 3 hours]

The questions asked might be similar to those asked on a styles examination, i.e., questions about genre, compositional technique, features of rhythm and meter, features of instrumentation, comparisons with other compositions of a similar type, and so on.

Part II (afternoon): Prepared Essays

“This part is arranged in three sections concerning material from (1) antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance; (2) the Baroque and Classical eras; and (3) the Romantic era and years since. Each section consists of a question or topic, selected from the list circulated in advance, which you should address in an essay. Your treatment should provide sufficient detail (such as references to specific compositions, chronology, and so on) to indicate your familiarity both with the music and with the historical issues of the question or topic.” [Time: ca. 80 minutes for each section]

You will have had a chance to prepare these topics in advance, since they are drawn from the pool made available at the end of the Spring semester. You should have an outline in mind, as well as the key examples you plan on using; notes are not allowed in the examination room.  Secondary literature is not the focus of these essays—the committee will focus on your knowledge of repertory and of generally accepted connecting threads, although if you know particular scholarship about the topic you are welcome to bring it in.

The exam is given once each year, in April; exceptions may be granted only for extreme circumstances.  A student who needs to request a change in schedule, or misses the scheduled exam, should submit to both the Department Chair and the Exam Committee Chair a request explaining the circumstances.  For such requests, and for students who have failed the exam, the Committee will determine on a case-by-case basis the most practical date for an exam re-take.

MA musicology students have access to a Box folder housing the current pool of essay questions for Part II together with a copy of the entire previous year’s exam.  

Click here for the next scheduled exam date.