Frank Heidlberger, Chair

The Division of Music History, Theory, and Ethnomusicology is a vibrant contributor to the College of Music. MHTE maintains a full range of academic programs from the bachelor's to the doctorate. In fact, the Ph.D. program, celebrating more than a half-century of activity, was the first in the university. Today more than 70 students are enrolled in its graduate programs.

The division offers the B.A. in Music with an emphasis in Music History; the B.M. in Music Theory, the Master of Arts in Music with concentrations in musicology, ethnomusicology, music theory, and musicology with an emphasis in early music performance; the Ph.D. in Music with concentrations in music theory, and musicology.

As a hub of academic activity, the division fosters a wide range of projects and initiatives. Students are encouraged to take advantage of our faculty's vast expertise in historical musicology, theory, and ethnomusicology. Division faculty members have been recognized with significant awards for outstanding teaching, research, service and the promotion of diversity in teaching and across campus. Read More


Area Coordinators:
Danny Arthurs, Music Theory
Steven Friedson, Ethnomusicology
Margaret Notley, Music History

For additional information about our programs, please contact Prof. Frank M. Heidlberger, division chair, at

Upcoming Events:

Wednesday, March 25, 4-5pm, Music Building, 321
Reception to follow in the Green Room.

Paul Dworak

Title: Vowel Set Transformations and Vowel Harmonies in Claude Debussy’s Proses lyriques

Abstract: In Proses lyriques, Debussy developed new methods for setting text to music. The music critics in Paris and Brussels who reviewed this composition between 1894 and 1914 were in most cases highly critical of the work. Their reviews indicated that they did not understand the innovations that Debussy had introduced in this composition, but instead focused on their belief that the songs abandoned traditional principles for writing poetry and for setting the text to music. Debussy wrote the text for the four songs of Proses lyriques. He used the innovations in writing verse that were introduced by Charles Baudelaire and that culminated in works of Stéphane Mallarmé. In particular, Debussy used the literary genre of prose lyrique that was cultivated by the Belgian writer Arnold Goffin and some of his contemporaries. Prose lyrique was a synthesis of poésie lyrique and developments in vers libre that were prominent in poèmes en prose. Mallarmé and Remy de Gourmont, in particular, encouraged writers to be aware of the harmonic and rhythmic aspects of the words that they selected in their verse. This lecture discusses the early performances of Proses lyriques and the reviews written during the two decades after its composition. It also discusses the development of verse during the second half of the nineteenth century. This discussion provides a context for understanding both the artistic environment in which Debussy composed these songs and the innovations that he implemented in this composition. Among these innovations were his exploration of the harmonic nature of vowels and how such harmonies could be notated for the piano; vowel sets and their transformations; the use of vowel sets as counterpoint to the piano and vocal lines; and transformations of vowel sounds using techniques that include spectral inversion and acoustical mixing of vowels.

Wednesday, April 15, 4-5pm, Music Building, 321

Guest Lecture: Greg Barnett, Rice University

Title: TBA

Wednesday, May 6, 4-5pm, Music Building, 258

MHTE Honors Day

Come recognize outstanding students, chat with faculty and fellow students, and enjoy Pizza and refreshments!

Recent Lectures:

Wednesday, March 11, 4-5pm, Music Building, 321
Reception to follow in the Green Room.

Amanda Minks, University of Oklahoma

Title: “Mapping Culture across Borders: Music Research and U.S.-Mexico Relations in the 1930s and 40s”




In the 1930s and 40s, recording technology and music research were increasingly put to work in the documentation of local musics as a representation of regional, national, or universal human heritage in the Americas.  This work was carried out under the auspices of national and international organizations that crafted cultural policies along with hierarchies of difference and value.  The intellectual, political, and artistic interaction between Mexico and the United States was especially intimate and multilayered due to their shared history and border.  In this presentation, I will examine how U.S. music researchers such as Charles Seeger, Henrietta Yurchenco, and Alan Lomax engaged (or failed to engage) with Mexican music, and how their projects intersected with broader inter-American politics.  I argue for a more nuanced view of a history that is usually reduced to either celebratory homage of disciplinary forebears or critical dismissal of cultural imperialism.  This analysis helps to recover the role of Mexican and other Latin American musics in the development of ethnomusicology as a discipline and practice.  More broadly, it historicizes the contemporary discourse of Latino influence in the U.S. by emphasizing the deep roots of Latin American music in U.S. territory, and the long- term mutual influence between the U.S. and Mexico in cultural and political realms.

Wednesday, November 19, 4-5pm, Music Building, 321

Donna Buchanan

Title: A Bulgarian Rite of Spring: Bells, Mummers, and Mana in “Balkansky”’s Cosmology for Social Change


Since 2009, the Bulgarian multimedia project “Balkansky”, a collaboration between graphic designer-photographer Ivo Hristov and graphic artist-composer Ivan Shopov, has released two concept albums of electronic dance music, Kuker (2009) and Orenda (2012), on the independent recording label Kuker Music, with accompanying music videos and artwork.  As their titles suggest, both albums draw extensively upon nature worship, Christianity, and other belief systems, particularly apropos the mid-winter and springtide mummers called kukeri or survakari and the bells that are their sonic spiritual weapons.  Drawing upon the ethnomusicological fieldwork conducted with mummers, artists, bellmakers, and musicians between 2008 and 2013, my paper explores how Balkansky has cultivated and artistically repackaged key symbols and imagery of older calendrical customs and agrarian rites, communicating them back to the Bulgarian public in a contemporary popular culture format that reveals the artists’ cosmological manifesto for social change. 


Monday, November 17, 2014, Music Building, 321

Emily Green

Assistant Professor of Music, George Mason University

Title: "For it will, as he believ'd, appear once more": On the Advertisement, Circulation, and Collecting of Music in the Late Eighteenth Century


In 1763, a very silly tune, "Come Haste to the Wedding," was performed in a pantomime by William Harvard at Drury Lane in London. By 1774, a print of this tune had made its way to the collection of Louisa Wells in Charleston, South Carolina. In 1992, Louisa's collection was bought by the Library of Congress. This paper explores the repeated reception of this object with the goal of modeling the various ways in which late eighteenth-century music was read and understood. Characteristics of this print, including its miscellaneous quality, its advertisement as a "favourite" song, and its rondo form, are examined alongside advertising and collecting practices, as well as literature of the day.

Monday, November 3, 3pm, Music Building, Room 321
Rebecca Geoffroy-Schwinden

Title: Who Put Class in the French Classical Style?


With their focus on opera, popular song, and politics, scholars have debated the existence of a French classical style during the French Revolution (1789¬1799).  Because of this focus, a framework that considers the unique social and economic circumstances of composition must be established before we can approach the aesthetics of French instrumental music from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.  These circumstances reveal class as the central factor of any French classical style that may have existed. Unlike their European counterparts who participated in a largely individual symbiotic process of composition and influence, the coherent professional class of musicians that emerged during the Revolution intentionally collaborated toward what they hoped would become a distinctively French musical style.  By placing detailed archival research on musicians during the Revolution within broader socio-economic contexts, I will argue that, far from constituting mere political propaganda, French composition during this period was predicated upon complex negotiations within an emergent professional class.  My talk will focus upon these negotiations and will offer a framework for approaching this repertoire.

Wednesday, October 22, Music Building, 321

Mary Channen Caldwell

Title: Singing to Learn and Learning to Sing: A Premodern Approach to Grammar and Religion


Songs for learning are essential to the culture of childhood—from the soundtrack of Sesame Street to the ABC Song, music helps young and old alike acquire and embody knowledge through repeated performance. Song at the most basic level of medieval education, however, has rarely received attention beyond the simple acknowledgment of its presence within cathedral and song schools. A group of sacred Latin songs surviving from the twelfth to the fourteenth century nevertheless signal the rich culture of learning songs in the lives of medieval school children, designed as they are to instill in performers and audiences rudimentary concepts of grammar and theology. This collection of rhymed, rhythmical, and sacred Latin songs is marked by two significant features: first, each song is structured around noun declensions, noun and adjective agreements, and verb conjugations; and second, each song shares the musical and textual scaffolding of a refrain.

These remarkable songs not only allow for the challenging exercise of fitting changing grammar patterns into rhythmical, rhymed poetry, but also provide an inherently repetitive, performative, and communal space for memorizing grammar through their refrain forms. In addition to the learning goals suggested by grammatically-shaped lyrics, these refrain songs are spiritually edifying. Preserved in sources including the well-known Notre Dame manuscripts of the thirteenth century and the fourteenth-century Moosburger Graduale, the music-poetic works serve as musical glosses for religious feasts special to the calendar of medieval children: the Feast of St. Nicholas, Christmas, the Feast of Fools, and the New Year. With their focus on devotional moments showcasing youth participation, these sacred grammar songs are the playful product of didactic impulses emerging equally from the schoolroom and the church. By fusing basic grammar and religious ideology onto ostensibly “fun” songs, performers are, like children singing along with Sesame Street, effortlessly engaged in informal yet deeply embodied learning.  

Friday, October 17, Music Building, Room 321

Lecture: Robert Pearson

Title: Editors, Architects, and the Revival of Polyphony in Late-Victorian Britain


The modern-day early music movement can trace its British origins to the first quarter of the twentieth century, when a sudden interest in sixteenth-century music resulted in dozens of new editions, recordings, and theoretical writings. Sixteenth-century vocal music neatly accommodated itself to the musical culture of Victorian Britain, which largely defined itself around its tradition of madrigal singing societies and amateur choruses. Yet despite the obvious success of the revival by 1930, most audiences who were exposed to these efforts at first resisted; at least one amateur chorus disbanded entirely because, as its historian put it, “sixteenth-century music was severe diet” for Britain’s amateur singers. Unlike the imposing scholarly editions of sixteenth-century music that emerged from the continent at the turn of the century, British scholars’ editions prioritized practical music-making above all and therefore resistance from amateur performers was a real concern. Editors faced a theoretical problem with no ready solution: how can one present sixteenth-century music as it was understood in its own historical time but still concede the Victorian reality that music should be accessible to amateurs?

The first revivers of polyphony in Victorian Britain did not have a theoretical framework available to help them navigate this tension. However, polemical public debates about the revival of Gothic architecture seem to have informed how they thought about the role of artifacts of cultural heritage in modern society. These debates about Gothic architecture often concealed attitudes toward the rapidly changing role of Catholicism in England, and resonated especially with revivers of Catholic polyphony, many of whom were Catholic converts themselves. Editors such as Richard Terry, John Moore Capes prepared their editions from inside historic Catholic cathedrals, and the editor Edmund Fellowes’ own residence at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor had recently undergone a restoration project that brought the architectural debates close to home. By the time of Donald Francis Tovey’s editions of 1910 and 1917, the architectural debates were for the most part dormant, but the methodological framework they generated still shaped his approach to editing. In this paper, I will demonstrate how debates about architectural restoration and preservation in Late Victorian society can shed light on early twentieth-century editorial experiments with sixteenth-century polyphony.

Joel Lester Residency, September 24-28

Below: Photographs from the Joel Lester Division Lecture on September 24, 2014; Photographer: Erin Lancaster


All lectures are open to the public.


Wednesday, 9/24

12:00-1:20pm - MUTH 6680 (Theory Pro-seminar, Jackson) - Music Building, Room 290

Lecture Title: "Some Thoughts on Prolongation and Voice Leading in Post-Tonal Music."


2:00-2:50pm - MUTH 5350 (Analysis & Performance, Jackson) - Music Building, Room 288

Lecture Title: "Listening to and Performing a Violin Sonata."


4:00-5:00pm - MHTE Division lecture - Music Building,  Room 321

Lecture Title: "Outer Form, Inner Form, and Other Musical Narratives in the First Movement of Beethoven's op. 14 no. 2."


Thursday, 9/25

3:30-4:50pm - MUTH 6710 (Analytical Systems I, Heidlberger) - Music Building, Room 321

Lecture Title: "A Half-Century Perspective on the History of Music Theory."


Friday, 9/26

1:00-1:50pm - MUTH 5550 (Professional Writing, Slottow) - Music Building, Room 2006

Lecture Title: "Writing about Music Theory"


2:00-2:50pm - MUTH 5370 (Analytical Techniques III, Schwarz) - Music Building, Room 2006 

Lecture Title: "Bartok's 'Diminished Fifth' (Mikrokosmos #101) and the Octatonic Scale"


Saturday, 9/27

9:15am-5:40pm - GAMuT conference, Music Building, Recital Hall.  

2:00pm - 3:00pm - Joel Lester Keynote address: "From 'a' to "The."

For more details about the conference, visit The GAMuT Conference page


MHTE News Archive (2012-2013)

The Graduate Association of Musicologists und Theorists (GAMuT) is a graduate student organization dedicated to providing a forum for the presentation of original research by its members. Recent research presentations have included "From Outward Appearance to Inner Reality: A Brief Journey Through Copland's Inscape," "Dropping the Beat: Formal Devices of Buildups in Trance and House Music," and “Smuggling, Betrayal, and the Handle of a Gun: Death and Autonomy in Two Narcocorridos." In addition, GAMuT offers a forum for discussion of matters relevant to the academic lives of its members and serves as an organized liaison between students and faculty in the Division of Music History, Theory, and Ethnomusicology. Each year, GAMuT publishes a journal, Harmonia, that features papers written by graduate students.