Music History Anthologies

The University at Buffalo is the first institution at which I’ve encountered the undergraduate music history survey being delivered across only two semesters. Brandeis University offers a sequence of five courses, as I recall, but with the requirement that students take just three of them. The music history faculty here at UB have recently been thinking about which printed anthology of scores works best as a course text for the survey, the challenge being that most publishers now seem to divide the sequence into three volumes instead of two.

While thinking about this question, I have found it difficult to avoid broader considerations of course content and teaching style. A complex topic! But if we begin by taking the question at face value, there remains at least one ready solution.

To begin with, the anthologies associated with the “big four” undergraduate music history titles are Norton’s Norton Anthology of Western Music, Oxford’s Oxford Anthology of Western Music, Pearson’s Anthology of Scores for A History of Music in Western Culture, and Schirmer Cengage’s Anthology for Music in Western Civilization. It’s true that those from Norton and Oxford are each published in three volumes. But those from Pearson and Cengage are published in just two. The Pearson anthology is apparently out of print; I have never encountered anyone who actually used it. The Cengage anthology was last updated in 2010 but remains available through both the publisher’s website and Amazon.

I have recently been teaching the first half of the survey with the Norton anthology (vol. 1 of 3), which aligns with the course well enough, but I did use the Cengage anthology in 2016 with no ill effects. In fact, without simultaneously assigning the main history textbook, the blurbs that accompany each score here often seem easier to follow than those in the Norton anthology. (N.B. I am writing about the two-volume “media update” from 2010, not the three-volume edition from 2005.) Like the other anthologies, this is accompanied by a CD set of recordings, but I tend to prefer assigning my own recordings—often posted from YouTube to our Blackboard course site—to help with ease of access.

I imagine that the above anthology could continue to serve as a satisfactory text for two-part music history sequences, at least until it falls out of print. This is where the broader curricular issues to which I alluded above come into play. For example, another solution—perhaps better suited to a course that examines just one or two works per week— is for the instructor to rely on scores from IMSLP or similar open-access websites. I took this approach a few years ago in an upper-level elective on the history of the mass, and the benefits were twofold: not only were the scores available free of charge, but their relative age also helped the students to consider the works themselves as historical artifacts. This approach only works (legally) through the early twentieth century, of course, but I like to pair it with final presentations in which the students themselves lead their peers through works of a more recent vintage. If the instructor were to approach the second half of the survey as largely “Beethoven through Berg,” plus a bit more, then this might work well. But when the imperative is truly to reach the present day or at least the late twentieth century, as befits departments (such as mine) with strong composition programs, then I see why a copyright-cleared anthology might be especially useful.

I have also been receiving a series of rather breathless announcements from AR Editions about their new digital anthology, the AR Music Anthology, which features both scores and recordings. This provides another possible solution to the survey anthology question, for those willing to brave the world of online subscription “textbooks.” I’m not quite there yet, personally, even as a fairly young, iPad-wielding professor. But perhaps the bottom line with regard to much of what I have written above is that the choice of textbook should suit not only the required curriculum but also the preferred teaching style of the instructor.