Musical Essay Questions

Music Appreciation Final Examination

Review and Take-Home Essay Questions



During this semester, we have studied the music of three major historical periods in concentrated detail: the Baroque, the Classic and the Romantic. (Other important periods -- including the Medieval, the Rococo and the 20th Century -- have been discussed only in passing and will not be a part of the final exam.)

The final exam is your opportunity to demonstrate your understanding of the music of those three major periods in as much detail as possible.

You will hear selections which are representative of each of the three periods. The music will be taken from your CDs and will be pieces which have been assigned on your syllabus and/or pieces we have discussed during the semester.

1. Include in your answers a brief discussion of the following topics:
     a. Melody;
     b. Harmony;
     c. Rhythm;
     d. Texture;
     e. Length (performance duration);
     f. Structure/form.

2. Using the same six topics above, include the reasons why a selection cannot be a product of any other period.

3. Review each composer's biographical information and the historical background of the specific musical example. This information will be helpful later in the test.

4. Review relative culture/historical landmarks. You may mention representative paintings, sculpture, architecture, and/or literature (including poetry and plays) as well as major political/social events in your answers.

Before the final, review the following terms, titles, names and dates:

Tone Poem
Bel Canto
Nationalism (examples of Italian, French & German)
fin de siècle
Verismo opera, Musical Drama (Wagner), Operá Comique, Singspiel, Opera Seria & Opera Buffa
Liszt and Pagannini
Absolute/Program Music
Cosima Wagner
Fanny Mendelssohn
Ritornello/Ideè Fixe/Leitmotive
Georges Sand
Incidental Music
Clara Schumann
12-Tone Music
Leontyne Price
"New Times For Music"


Choose one question from each of the three major periods listed below, for a total of three essay answers. Each essay question must contain at least one specific musical example (title and composer) and must be expressed in a minimum of four, grammatically correct sentences.


1. Explain the term "Contrapuntal Music" and give musical examples of your description.

2. Explain the term "The Golden Ratio" and give musical examples of your description.

3. At the end of her lament, Dido cries out "Remember me! Remember me!". How does her plead capture the mood of the Renaissance? Do her words make her a Greek or Roman heroine? Why?

4. Describe in detail a typical work week in the life of JS Bach. Begin with Monday morning and conclude with Sunday services.

5. Describe the standard formula for the music found in a typical Baroque opera or oratorio. Be sure to include a discussion of the musical form which provides plot information and that which expresses a character's thoughts.


1. Analyze the finale of Act II in The Marriage Of Figaro. Begin with Susanna's solo and continue through the next 20+ minutes until the curtain falls. Your answer must include a comparison with the standard opera form which existed prior to this composition.

2. Diagram the three major sections of a composition in the Sonata (Allegro) Form in complete detail. Include the name of an example which supports your answer.

3. We made a list of ten possible composition techniques that a composer might use in the development section of a Sonata (Allegro) form or as part of a variation in a "Theme And Variations" composition. List and describe any six of those techniques now.

4. Explain two of the primary differences between the development section of a Sonata (Allegro) form and "Theme And Variations".

5. Explain how Susanna (The Marriage Of Figaro) and Leporello (Don Giovanni) are radical characters and thereby symbolic of the entire Classical period. Your answer must include a discussion of the musical and social/political implications presented by each character.


1. Discuss the premiere of Beethoven's 9th Symphony, including the week long rehearsal period leading up to the performance and the audience's reaction.

2. Detail the musical journey down the Moldau. Explain how the composer created each vignette.

3. Explain the music and political connection between Richard Wagner, Richard Strauss and Adolf Hitler. Include a discussion of Hitler's use of their music, and his love of the last line of Act I of Die Walkuere: "Now let our race continue".

4. Discuss the term "impressionism". How did it originate? What were the aesthetic goals of the composers/painters/writers, etc. of that period?

5. Explain the stylistic difficulties for a pianist performing a Chopin nocturne. Include the left hand style vs. the right hand style.

6. Discuss the Metropolitan Opera premiere of Salome. Include the final dress rehearsal, premiere and subsequent actions of the city of New York.

7. Discuss the events immediately following the premiere of Igor Stravinsky's Rite Of Spring in Paris.



List Of Top 25 Excellent Essay Topics About Jazz Music

Stumped about what to write for your jazz history class essay, term paper or freelance writing gig? This list is full of great topics for an essay, dissertation or article. Jazz is a great essay or research term paper topic because there is just so much to talk about! It is a musical genre that began as American, and since the beginning, it has transformed, defined an era, and touched the lives of many people, including the prominent Louis Armstrong. Vague topics can be explored in great depth because jazz is rich in culture and history. You may find yourself, while exploring one topic, exploring various cultures and time periods.

  1. How Jazz has changed over its lifetime since its inception in the late nineteenth century.

  2. The difference between jazz and “white jazz”.

  3. The influence of Ragtime on European composers.

  4. Pentatonic scales and Arabian stylistic influences in the early development of the Blues.

  5. The International Sweethearts of Rhythm and the feminist movement.

  6. Brass Bands and the escape from poverty.

  7. Ellington’s “American Music” and his influence on Jazz

  8. The portrayal of the Jazz Age in “The Great Gatsby”.

  9. Jazz and the Modernist movement.

  10. Was the “Jazz Age” the ruin of Jazz?

  11. The European migrants influence on Jazz.

  12. The Impact of electronics on Jazz in the Sixties.

  13. The emergence of Jazz in Japan.

  14. Improvisation in Jazz and its relation to modern rap.

  15. The role of Jazz in American 1920’s culture.

  16. Women of Jazz and their struggle in a male dominant industry.

  17. The musical influence of Louis Armstrong; his history and legacy.

  18. The emergence of flapper women in the Jazz Age.

  19. Is Jazz celebratory to black culture or a reminder of oppression?

  20. Jazz during the Great Depression.

  21. The first Jazz records and their influence on subsequent records.

  22. The influence of Jazz and the Blues on Jamaican Reggae.

  23. What is “Pure” Jazz?

  24. The art of the Jazz Album.

  25. The history and evolution of Latin Jazz.

Writing about Jazz is full of possibilities and discoveries. You’ll always learn something new while researching and writing your essay or term paper, whether it is about history, culture, or the lives of people. Infusing your paper with all three will give you a fleshed out and rounded paper to turn into your professor or client.

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