PhD in Historical Musicology and Music Theory

Piano (left), Timpani (right).

Reflecting the faculty’s scholarly work, graduate seminars in Historical Musicology and Music Theory focus on specific historical repertories and methodologies that approach the study of music from diverse theoretical perspectives. Our faculty members have expertise in a wide range of music, and have been published in many of the leading English-language journals, including The Journal of the American Musicological Society, Early Music History, The Musical Quarterly, Music and Letters, Popular Music, Nineteenth-Century Music Review, Women and Music and The Journal of Musicological Research, as well as in numerous collections.

As a result, graduate students have the opportunity to encounter the following repertories in depth: the music of the Viennese Classics (up to and including late Beethoven), music of the Romantic era, the Second Viennese School, avant-garde music since 1945, American music, popular music’s, particularly country music, film music and postmodern musical practices. 

Additionally, graduate seminars offer training and exposure to more traditional modes of archival research, historical methodology, notation and bibliography alongside theoretical issues. Students will be exposed to and educated in critical theory concentrating on Adorno and feminist criticism, cultural studies that consider the representations of gender, race, and class in music and the relationship between music and the body, media studies, aesthetics and politics, as well as a wide range of philosophical issues, particularly those of the continental tradition. In this vein, our students benefit from the remarkable UB Music Library, with its excellent collection of scores and recordings, housed in Baird Hall. 

Such a variety of offerings is unprecedented from a faculty of modest proportions. Moreover, since graduate enrollment remains relatively select, the department is equipped to offer personalized attention impossible to find in larger programs. As befits the pioneering history of the department, this field of study is perfect for students with an interest in developing unique approaches to music that simultaneously engage with, and contribute to, the field of musicology.   

Course requirements (core)

The following is the approved normal course of study for students pursuing a PhD in Historical Musicology and Music Theory. In all cases, a student's particular program should be determined in consultation with his/her academic advisor.  Customized tracks, involving substitutions for required and elective courses, are encouraged. These must be planned in advance with the advisor and will require the approval of the Music Department Graduate Committee.

Required for all PhD students:

Course Credits
MUS 605 History of Music Theory I 4
MUS 606 History of Music Theory II 4
MUS 618 Bibliography 4

Additional requirements:

Course Credits
Foreign Languages (See below)  
6-8 Credits in the following: 6-8
Cognate of Elective Courses (See below)  
Comprehensive Examinations (see below)  
MS Thesis or Equivalent 8
Dissertation 1-14
Total Core Requirements 40

Course requirements (tracks)

Historical Musicology Track:

Course Credits
MUS 515/517; 525-530 Seminars in Musicology (6 courses) 24
MUS 625 Notation 4
MUS 554/613/614/621/629 Seminars in Music Theory (1 course) 4

Music Theory Track:

Course Credits
MUS 613/614 Seminars in Music Theory (2 courses) 8
MUS 621 Schenker Studies I 4
MUS 622 Schenker Studies II 4
MUS 629 Pitch Structures I 4
MUS 630 Pitch Structures II 4
MUS 515/517 Seminars in Musicology (2 courses) 8
Total Track Requirements (either track) 32
Total PhD Credits (either track) 72

Foreign Language requirement

Historical Musicology Track: Two foreign languages, one of which must be German. The second is usually French or Italian, although a language specifically appropriate to the student's proposed dissertation topic can be substituted upon petition.

Music Theory Track: Two foreign languages, one of which must be German. The other language is often French, although a different language can be substituted upon petition.

We advise students to complete the language requirement as early as possible, as many graduate courses require research in a foreign language.

Cognate or Elective Courses

Historical Musicology Track: Students need not declare a formal cognate area, though they may elect to take both of their required non-Musicology electives in a single discipline. Examples of disciplines in which elective courses might be taken include Music Theory, Composition, Comparative Literature, Computer Science, History, Media Study, and Arts administration. 

Music Theory Track: Two or more graduate courses in the same area (either within or outside of Music), related to Music Theory. Normally a student's cognate courses will contribute to or support the research to be done for the dissertation. Examples of possible cognate areas are Music Performance, Music Composition, Philosophy, Mathematics, Art History, Literary Criticism, and Acoustics.

Comprehensive Examinations

Historical Musicology Track: four separate examinations are taken after completion of all course work and language requirements.

  • Two 5-hour examinations in Musicology, each in an area outside the area of the proposed PhD dissertation. "Area" is usually defined chronologically (e.g., a hundred-year historical period), but might, with the approval of the Musicology faculty, be defined topically or methodologically.
  • One 8-hour examination in Musicology in the area of the proposed PhD dissertation.
  • Each of the three written examinations includes one substantial essay on an analytical/theoretical topic (usually a score analysis).
  • An oral examination in Music Theory and Musicology, including follow-up questions on the other portions of the examination.

Music Theory Track: four separate examinations are taken after completion of all course work and language requirements.

  • A 4-hour examination in Music Theory, including exercises in harmony or counterpoint, short analysis questions, problems in mathematical theory, and essay questions on recent theoretical literature.
  • Two 8-hour projects in analysis, addressing two substantial passages or pieces, one of which is in common-practice tonal style, the other from the 20th century. These projects are designed to test skills in orthodox modes of analysis (Schenker, set theory), as well as the ability to devise analytical strategies appropriate to the special features of a particular musical work. The student may use the research facilities of the University (libraries computer resources, etc.) in accomplishing these projects.
  • A 3-hour examination in Music History and the History of Music Theory.
  • An oral examination in Music Theory and Music History, including follow-up questions on the other portions of the examination.


Students who do not already have a Masters degree must submit a project that demonstrates advanced competence in research and writing. This project may be an MA thesis, a series of special papers, or a written work of equivalent scope and depth. The PhD dissertation must be a substantial original contribution to the field of Historical Musicology or Music Theory.

Retention Standards

All degree coursework must be completed with grades of "A," B," or "S."


Contact professor James Currie, Musicology Area Coordinator

Meet our Graduate Ambassadors