DMA and MM Comprehensive Examinations

Comprehensive examinations are administered twice each year, once in the Fall Semester and once in the Spring Semester. All graduate students must pass the comprehensive examination before they can be admitted to candidacy in their degree program. Students who fail on the first attempt are allowed to take the examination a second time, but not in the same semester.

Students who plan to finish the MM degree in two years or in two years and a summer, or the DMA degree in three years or three years and a summer, should plan to take the examination in the Fail semester of their second year (MM) or the Spring Semester of the second year (DMA). Since students are not eligible to take the comprehensive examinations until they are enrolled in the last semester of their required course work, careful attention should be given to the selection of courses so that students may take full advantage of the rotation (most theory courses are offered semiannually). Students are not required to take the examinations in the second year; however, postponement is likely to increase the amount of time required to finish the degree.

Information regarding the structure and content of the comprehensive exam may be found in the Graduate Handbook.

Theory Segment

Five compositions are selected for the MM examinations and five compositions are selected for the DMA examinations each Fall and Spring. Lists for the next set of examinations are posted immediately after the current Fail and Spring Examinations have been completed. Students should begin their preparations as soon as the lists are posted and should expect to study those scores continuously and in great depth for the several months before they plan to take the examination. The focus of the entire examination will be on those five compositions. DMA examinations in theory last two hours. MM examinations in theory last one hour. All scores and recordings of the assigned compositions are placed on reserve in the Gorgas Music Library under the numbers MUS 598 and 698 respectively.

Comprehensive examinations in theory emphasize analysis. It is critical that graduate students develop the ability to formulate representative and useful questions about examples from the literature; and, through analysis in depth, that they provide useful answers to those questions and similar representative questions asked by the faculty. Students are encouraged to use the library to the fullest; however, their knowledge of the assigned literature is expected to go beyond what they may glean from simply reading discussions in typical undergraduate texts. Research in preparation for the comprehensive examination should lead them to some of the more detailed and technical information found in journals that specialize in theory. Even that level of inquiry can not replace their having studied the assigned compositions in great depth over an extended period.

After all is said, it is the requirement of the faculty that students demonstrate their ability to analyze compositions independently. Knowledge of the theoretical literature as important and helpful as that may be, is seen as a valuable reference, not the main issue. Citation of the work of any theorist whose observations are mentioned in the examination are expected to be fully credited, of course.

Sample Questions


Sample Theory Questions for Master of Music Degree

Chopin: Mazurka in G minor, Op. 24, No. 1
Provide a formal chart of the entire work. At minimum your chart should indicate: (1) all phrases, phrase groups, and sections; (2) the opening and closing harmonies (using Roman numeral/figured bass symbols) associated with each of these groupings; (3) cadences; and (4) all key changes.

Beethoven: Bagatelle in G minor, Op. 119, No. 1
Provide a complete Roman numeral/figured bass/nonharmonic tone analysis.

Brahms, Intermezzo in A major
Discuss exceptional features of rhythm. Consider the relationships between rhythm, harmony, and phrase structure.

Haydn Symphony, 101, mvt. 1

  1. Analyze the harmony in mm. 25-48.
  2. Provide an analysis of the keys articulated in the development. Explain the tonal logic of these keys.
  3. Are thematic and motivic materials from the introduction related to the principal themes of the work? If so, identify these materials in the score and analytically illustrate their relation to subsequent themes.d.  Why is the term “sectional” appropriate in describing the development? Which musical attributes serve to partition the development?

Ravel, Sonatine
Cite impressionistic devices found in movement 1. Consider harmony, scale/mode, voice-leading, rhythm, and the like. In the score, identify and label examples of all devices you cite.

Wagner, Wesendonk Lieder
Provide an analysis of harmony and keys in Schmerzen. Write an essay that considers the nature of chromaticism in Schmerzen. Refer to your analysis to provide specific illustrations of how the chromaticism behaves. Also, consider the general nature of chromaticism in all five songs.

Sample Theory Questions for Doctor of Musical Arts Degree

Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 in E flat, Movement 1
Discuss the unusual move, linearly, to C# in bar 6 of this movement. How do you account for this harmonic motion locally? Is there a significant structural reason for this motion? What is the significance of the rhythmic displacement Beethoven associates with this motion to C#? Is this rhythmic displacement amplified in the larger design of the work?

Debussy: String Quartet, Movement I
Analyze the harmony of this movement from the beginning to rehearsal figure I. What harmonic materials is Debussy using? How does this approach to harmonic unfolding support Debussy’s conception of theme, phrase and cadence?

Schoenberg: op. 25, Movement IV “Intermezzo”
Discuss Schoenberg’s partitioning of the twelve tone set in this work. Identify the partitions and discuss how they are developed throughout the piece.

Mahler, Symphony No. 2, Urlichta
Provide a harmonic analysis of the entire movement. You may provide a Roman numeral/figured bass analysis if appropriate or a linear analysis. Be sure to indicate all keys.b. Discuss the tonal design of the movement and the role of chromaticism.

Dallapiccola: Goethelieder
Ever since the publication in 1963 of John MacIvor Perkins’s “Dallapiccola’s Art of Canon” (PNM vol. 1, no. 2: 96-106) it has been widely assumed that canon in particular and imitation in general are defining characteristics of the musical language of Dallapiccola’s late works. Provide an analysis of song number 7 that tests the relevance of these concepts to this particular work. Your discussion should address relations between pitches as well as pitch classes, rhythm, and any other dimensions germane to the topic at hand. In evaluating your answer I shall look for clear evidence of your command of the concepts of atonal theory and your ability to use these in analytically meaningful ways.

Mozart: Symphony K. 551, mvt. 4
Figure 1 on the attached sheet provides a harmonic and contrapuntal simplification of measures 207 through 213. Figure 2, immediately below figure 1, further simplifies the first simplification. Continue these two simplifications through and including measure 225, maintaining as closely as you can the degrees of simplification already established in each figure. Neatness counts: be sure, for example, that you maintain the correct vertical alignment between the two stages. Provide a Roman numeral/figured bass/non-harmonic tone analysis of both stages once they are complete.

Bach: St. Matthew Passion
The figure on the attached sheet provides a harmonic and contrapuntal simplification of measure 17 through 20 (loosely inspired by H. Schenker’s 1923 analysis in Der Tonwille). Continue this simplification through and including measure 30, maintaining as closely as you can the degree of simplification already established in the figure. Provide a Roman numeral/figured bass/non-harmonic tone analysis of the simplification once it is complete.

Debussy, Sonata for Cello and Piano, mvt. 1, and Haydn, Symphony 104, mvt. 1
We use the term “tonal” in a variety of related but distinct senses; the Debussy sonata and the Haydn symphony are both “tonal,” yet each self-evidently is the product of a different tonal syntax. Compare and contrast the ways each of these two pieces establishes a tonality, demonstrating how they differ and what they have in common. Remember: this is a theory question, not a history question: your argument must be analytical and must be supported by specific examples from the two pieces; music paper has been provided. Your essay should demonstrate your understanding of the relevant technical similarities and differences between the musical languages of the two works, and should address linear, harmonic, and intervallic aspects of the music.

Bach: Cantata No. 4
Compare and contrast the use of the hymn tume in the Sinfonia and Versus I.Your essay should include detailed analysis of passages relevant to your discussion, and this analysis should engage questions of harmony and voice leading as well as questions of theme and motive.

Elliott Carter: String Quartet #2
Discuss the use of interval, all-interval tetrachords, polyrhythm, and “metric modulation” in this work. Your essay should address, as appropriate, the question of how these factors relate to one another as well as the extent to which they are independent.

Berg: Chamber Concerto
Summarizing his discussion of the Concerto, George Perle, in The Operas of Alban Berg: Lulu, makes the following claim:

Remote from Berg’s subsequent work as the Chamber Concerto thus is in important technical respects, there are nevertheless numerous explicit features that point to the music of Lulu: the paraphrased restatements of large formal divisions; the employment of a special rhythmic motive with an important structural role; . . . the association of independent twelve-tone sets and the use of non-serial as well as serial sets; the characterization of each series by a specific linear contour that has priority over all others assigned to the given series; the presence of a pervasive harmonic [i.e, intervallic] atmosphere that has priority over any given set. [p. 6]

Write an essay in which you defend Perle’s claims by citing specific passages from the first movement of the work which exemplify the characteristics he mentions.

Stravinsky: Variations for Orchestra
Discuss the formal organization of the Variations (its division into sections, subsection, and so forth) and its relation to Stravinsky’s idiosyncratic serial procedures. In evaluating your essay I shall look for clear evidence of your understanding of such typically Stravinskian technical devices a “rotation.”

Sample Composition Questions for Doctor of Musical Arts

Students enrolled in the Doctor of Musical Arts degree must answer four questions in the major area on their comprehensive examinations. The following are sample questions for students enrolled in the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Composition.

  • Discuss several approaches to pitch structure that have emerged since 1945. Specifically, what techniques for dealing with this element of compositional structure have been important? Please refer to specific composers and works.
  • Discuss counterpoint in your compositions. In what ways do you contol the vertical and horizontal dimensions of your music? In detail, compare your contrapuntal techniques to least one other late 20th century composer. Cite specific works and provide detailed information about the composer’s contrapuntal designs.
  • Discuss “spectral composition.” What are the musical and psychoacoustical principles underlying this philosophy? Please refer to specific composers and works.
  • Discuss orchestration as a structural attribute in your music. In what ways do you correlate timbre and other musical attributes (e.g., pitch, rhythm, register, pacing, or the like)?