Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Literature About Music from Beethoven to Kanye

ENGL 254.601
crosslisted as: COML 109
instructor(s):
T 5:30-8:40 pm
fulfills requirements:
Sector 5: 19th Century Literature of the Standard Major
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major
Pre-1900 Seminar Requirement of the Standard Major

       This course will survey the different ways we have written about music from the Romantic era in the early nineteenth century to the social media of the present day.  Though we will read concert and album reviews, criticism from journals and periodicals, memoirs, manifestos, philosophical treatises, and tweets, the course will focus on writing that is somehow literary: taking writing as an art which identifies something desirable in music as a fellow art. Starting with Arthur Schopenhauer and E.T.A Hoffman’s veneration of music as the most powerful emotional experience we can know, the course will proceed through symbolist poetry by Stephane Mallarmé, the aggressive nonsense art of the Dadaists, musical counterpoint in Bach and James Joyce, jazz in the works of the Harlem Renaissance, the wild experimentation of John Cage and Black Mountain College’s musical “happenings,” the effortless aesthetic of the Velvet Underground and the New York School poets, the implications of punk rock as a literary movement, and the emergence of hip hop in the late 2000s as a conceptual art form and high-cultural phenomenon. Above all, we will discover the astounding breadth of what the terms “literature” and “music” can mean, and how neither can ever hope to separate itself, completely, from the other.