The field of composition today is complex. The graduate program in composition at Princeton offers a course of study designed to enable each of its students to understand the field and to contribute to it in a productive, resourceful, and individual way.
Plan of Study
At the core of the program is the student's own creative work, carried out in regular consultation with members of the composition faculty. Arranged around this core are a variety of seminars, three or four of which are given each term, as chosen by students and faculty on the basis of current interests and needs. There are not any specific requirements, but all students are expected to pursue a variety of interests during the first two years. These courses have three principal aims: (1) to develop and sharpen the skills each student needs to realize his or her compositional intentions; (2) to expand each student's conception of what is possible in construing and creating music through theoretical and compositional speculation and experimentation; and (3) to develop a larger and sharper sense of the context in which the student's own work exists, and on which it depends, by continued study of a variety of existing music and by writing about music. Although the number of students enrolled in the program is small (three to five are enrolled each year), the diversity of their backgrounds and interests can be remarkable. The lively exchange of ideas among composers of markedly different approaches is an essential feature of the program. Because of this, students are required to live in Princeton their first two years of study.
By the end of the first year of study, the composition student is expected to complete a composition and a paper that engage musical concerns central to the student's development. In response to this work, goals and strategies for the second-year composition and paper are discussed with each student by the entire composition faculty, and the specific areas of emphasis for the general examination are established by faculty and the student in consultation. In both years, compositions are normally written with currently available instrumental and electronic resources in view. Students are encouraged (in fact, before taking the general examination, are required) to help prepare sonic realizations of at least some of their work.
Each student is asked to demonstrate, before taking the general examination, a working knowledge of some ancillary discipline relevant to his or her concerns as a composer: a relevant foreign language, or a relevant computer language or some other discipline that the case may suggest. The language requirement is normally satisfied by examinations administered by appropriate campus departments as part of intensive reading courses. The language requirement must be passed before a student can be admitted to the general examination. Students are urged to satisfy the language requirement during the first year of graduate study. It is the student’s responsibility to confer with the DGS about the status of their language exams.
The general examination, normally taken at the end of the second year of study, is designed to establish the candidate’s readiness to undertake the Ph.D. dissertation. The examination has two parts: part one focuses on the candidate’s original second-year work (a composition and a paper), including a recording of the composition, and any related matters; part two explores the larger issues and contexts of this work by establishing the candidate’s command of music and musical discourse within several substantial musics, agreed upon the year before. In a given year, for example, part two might emphasize a particular modern work, Beethoven’s late chamber music, and post-World War II European semi-improvisatory music; in another, the emphasis might be on Impressionist orchestral music and the American “experimental” tradition. In some years a question is posed to frame a discourse about a body of music.
The requirements for advancement to candidacy for the Ph.D. are the successful completion for all required course work (with no incompletes) the first-year paper and composition(s), and the language requirement, as well as passing at least half of the general examination.
Dissertation and Final Public Oral Examination
After the successful completion of the general examination, the student begin the process of consultation with faculty members that leads to the candidate’s formulation of a Ph.D. dissertation proposal and selection of an appropriate faculty adviser. This proposal, completed during the third year of study, should describe in detail the goals and strategies of a twofold dissertation project in composition and prose—a unified project clearly expressive of the candidate’s central concerns in the field of contemporary music. During the two post-generals years of study, Ph.D. candidates remain eligible to enroll in graduate courses. The dissertation, followed by a final public oral defense, completes the requirements for the Ph.D.
Performance and Performers in the Composition Program
Hearing a new composition realized is a critical part of a composer's education. The performing ensembles and the electronic and computer music facilities at Princeton are designed to meet this need.
The Composers' Ensemble at Princeton utilizes outstanding performers, chosen not only for their technical mastery but also for their qualities as sympathetic and resourceful collaborators with composers. It is expected that each graduate student working in instrumental and vocal music will have at least one composition prepared by the ensemble each year. In addition, composers have ample opportunity to consult with ensemble members prior to or in the course of actual composition. The Princeton University Orchestra makes several hours of rehearsal time available each semester to graduate orchestration class members for readings of students' orchestrations; it also performs student compositions. The selection of a student work for performance by the orchestra is determined by the conductor of the University Orchestra and the composition faculty. Students are encouraged to present additional concerts on their own and to participate in all University and music department performing ensembles.