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Music introductory reading list


The following is intended as a guide to help you to start preparing for a degree in music – and it is just a guide; you are not expected to complete all of this reading and listening before you begin your degree! Although I have included reading and listening suggestions, I would like to emphasize that that there are no books, scores, or recordings that you are expected to buy: the libraries in Cambridge are excellent, and you should be able to borrow anything you need once you are here.

Further guidance may be found on the Faculty of Music website:

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you would like any further reading recommendations or advice.

In your first year you will study the following subjects

The Cambridge degree places an emphasis on Music as a subject of intellectual enquiry: you can get a sense of the breadth of this enquiry from books such as Nicholas Cook, Music: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2000), and The Cultural Study of Music: A Critical Introduction, edited by Martin Clayton, Trevor Herbert, and Richard Middleton (London, 2012). Kenneth Gloag and David Beard’s, Musicology: The Key Concepts (Abingdon, 2005) offers a helpful introduction to some of the musicological terms you will encounter during your degree.

Harmony and Counterpoint

The repertory you will look at for this part of your degree ranges from the later sixteenth century (sacred music by Palestrina and Victoria, for example) through the Baroque (J. S. Bach, Corelli, Handel) and Classical periods (sonatas and string quartets by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven), to the beginnings of Romanticism (Schubert Lieder). If you have not previously had the chance to study harmony and counterpoint, playing through Bach chorale harmonisations is a good place to start. It’s also really helpful to try to play through scores of Classical string quartets, such as Haydn’s Op. 17 quartets; these quartets, and the Bach Chorales, are available to download for free from Whatever pieces you do play through, as you play them, think about how they’re structured, and how the harmony works.
You may also find it helpful to begin to look at some guides to harmony and counterpoint, such as:


Music analysis is the attempt to answer the question ‘how does this music work?’. In your first year, your study of analysis will concentrate on music from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, so getting to know music from these periods is really useful. In particular, becoming familiar with the set work, J.S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier Vol. 2, will be very helpful preparation.
It’s also worth having a look at the following text, which provides a good introduction to some of the ways in which you can think about musical structure and form:
Nicholas Cook, A Guide to Musical Analysis (Oxford, 1994)


Studies of the history of music form an important part of the Cambridge course. General histories of music will provide an outline of the main trends in Western music, but remember that research in music history is continually challenging many older perceptions. In fact, whatever you read, be it music criticism in the newspapers, online blogs, or books both old and new, read it critically, and think carefully about whether you agree with it.

In your first year, you will study the history of music in the Early Modern Period (ca. 1580-1750), and the long nineteenth century (ca. 1770-1914). It would be useful to begin preparation for the course by reading a general history of Western Music, such as Paul Griffiths, A Concise History of Western Music (Cambridge University Press, 2009), or Peter Burkholder, Donald Jay Grout and Claude V. Palisca, A History of Western Music (New York, multiple editions), which will give an overview of the periods that you will be studying. For an excellent introduction to the history of opera, you could have a look at Carolyn Abbate and Roger Parker, A History of Opera: The Last 400 Years (Penguin, 2012).

Useful books that are focused on periods that you will study in your first year, include:

Listening suggestions:
The more listening to music from any period, and of any genre, that you can do, the better! (Radio 3 is great for this, as are free music streaming programmes). But in preparing for the first year of your degree, it will be particularly helpful to familiarize yourself with music from the Medieval to Romantic periods. The list below is, of course, very far from comprehensive: it’s simply intended as a starting point for beginning to explore some of the works that you will look at in the first year of your degree. Where possible, follow the music with a score – once again, many of the scores are available to download for free from

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you would like any further reading recommendations or advice.

Dr Delphine Mordey,
Director of Studies in Music
March 2019