Music Composition

Academic Year 2022 – 2023

General Information


Program Offerings:

  • Ph.D.

Director of Graduate Studies:

Juri Seo (Composition Ph.D.)

Graduate Program Administrator:


Princeton offers a very open curriculum in which students are free to pursue their own individual compositional interests. At the core of the program is the student's own creative work, carried out in regular consultation with members of the composition faculty. 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 during their first two years of study.


Application deadline
January 3, 11:59 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (This deadline is for applications for enrollment beginning in fall 2023)
Program length
5 years
General Test not accepted

Additional departmental requirements

Scores and recordings can be accepted in the following formats:

                * Preferred Method - Create a simple website for your Princeton portfolio and enter the URL in the space provided within the application.  If you choose to link to your public website, please give us directions about which pieces we should listen to and in what order, keeping in mind that our time is limited.  Aim for about three pieces.

                * Upload Method - Upload your scores and recordings in the space(s) provided within the application. Please refer to the File Upload Requirements for more information. A maximum of six files will be accepted with each file 10MB or less.

Samples of written work (analyses, term papers, etc.) are also encouraged.

Program Offerings


There are no specific core curriculum requirements, but all students are expected to take a variety of seminars 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 musically possible; and (3) to develop a sense of the context in which the student's own work exists by studying and writing about other music.

Students are not required to attend weekly composition lessons with a specific teacher; instead they are encouraged to meet with a range of faculty members as they feel appropriate. In addition to these consultations, there are a variety of ungraded seminars, two or three of which are given each term, chosen by students and faculty on the basis of current interests and needs. By the end of the first year of study, the student is expected to complete at least one composition and a short paper that engage musical concerns central to the student's development. In response, the faculty discusses goals and strategies for the second year and establishes specific areas of emphasis for the general examination. In both years, compositions are normally written with currently available instrumental and electronic resources in view. Students are expected to help prepare performances 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. Students are responsible to confer with the DGS about the status of their language exams.

Additional pre-generals requirements

Students are required to live in Princeton for the first two years of the program.

General exam

The general examination, normally taken at the end of the second year, is designed to establish the candidate’s readiness to undertake the Ph.D. dissertation. As part of the process, second-year students jointly produce a concert in which they respond to the music of an established composer, arranging a performance of their "response pieces" as well as they music they are responding to.  The examination itself has four parts, two of which are analytical.  These typically focus on one old and one new repertoire (e.g., Beethoven symphonies or Brahms piano music for the old repertoire; and the music of Miles Davis or Saariaho for the new). In the third part of the exam, students are asked to design a syllabus for a graduate seminar, perhaps on a particular topic (e.g., "Music and Politics"). The last quarter of the exam concerns the student's academic and compositional work.

Qualifying for the M.A.

The Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) degree is normally an incidental degree on the way to full Ph.D. candidacy for students in Music Composition and is earned after a student successfully completes the general examination.  It may also be awarded to students who, for various reasons, leave the Ph.D. program, provided that the following requirements have been met: all courses taken in the first two years have been successfully completed (with no incompletes), the first-year paper and compositions have been successfully completed, the language requirement has been met, and at least half of the general examination has been passed.


Students normally teach during some but not all of their first eight semesters, and never in the first year; fifth-year students can only receive funding if they are also teaching in that year.

Dissertation and FPO

After the successful completion of the general examination, the student begins 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.

The Ph.D. dissertation comprises an original composition and a scholarly essay, both developed in consultation with two advisers. There are many combinations that could satisfy the requirements and lead to a successful dissertation. On one end of the spectrum is a large symphonic work, electro-acoustic work, two-act chamber opera, or large portfolio containing a variety of works, coupled with a smaller 30-50 page scholarly article dealing with any issue of interest to the author including but not limited to the broader artistic context and technical antecedents and exegesis of the candidate's own work. On other end of the spectrum would be a composition of relatively short duration and small forces coupled with a large (for the sake of example) 200-page monograph similarly, but more deeply and/or broadly, exploring a topic of interest. These extremes are merely meant to be flexible guidelines delineating a large continuum within which the student, in consultation with the faculty, can find the balance that best represents their contributions to the field. Work will commence with a primary adviser, joined later by a second adviser (commonly referred to as a second reader). These advisers are charged with guiding the student to a successful balance of composition and scholarship, based on the student's own interests and goals.

In the third, fourth, and fifth years, students are expected to make steady progress on both their composition and the scholarly portion of their dissertation. Since the written portion of the dissertation varies widely in length and scope (again, from 30-50 pages on the lower end to more than 200 pages at the upper end when balanced with less ambitious musical composition) and since students write scholarly prose and compose with different degrees of facility, targets for progress can be modified at the discretion of the DGS (up to and including the dissertation proposal) or the student's adviser (once chapter-writing has begun).

Prior to the Final Public Oral (also referred to as FPO and dissertation defense), the two primary advisers make the determination as to whether the sum of composition and scholarship warrants a Ph.D., and that determination is then verified by the other members of the faculty dissertation committee at the FPO.


  • Chair

    • Daniel L. Trueman
  • Director of Graduate Studies

    • Elizabeth H. Margulis
    • Juri Seo
  • Director of Undergraduate Studies

    • Gavin Steingo
  • Professor

    • Donnacha M. Dennehy
    • Wendy Heller
    • Steven Mackey
    • Elizabeth H. Margulis
    • Simon A. Morrison
    • Daniel L. Trueman
    • Dmitri Tymoczko
    • Barbara A. White
  • Associate Professor

    • Juri Seo
    • Gavin Steingo
    • Rob C. Wegman
  • Assistant Professor

    • Tyondai A. Braxton
    • Nathalie Joachim
    • Jamie L. Reuland
  • Professor of the Practice

    • Gabriel Crouch
    • Michael J. Pratt
  • Senior Lecturer

    • Rudresh K. Mahanthappa
    • Ruth A. Ochs
    • Jeffrey O. Snyder
  • Lecturer

    • Darcy James Argue
    • Christopher Arneson
    • Liam N. Boisset
    • Brian E. Brown
    • Geoffrey L. Burleson
    • Ronald M. Cappon
    • Eric B. Cha-Beach
    • Ted Chubb
    • Kevin G. Deas
    • Vincent B. Ector
    • Martha Elliott
    • Rochelle K. Ellis
    • Alan Feinberg
    • John J. Ferrari
    • Nicole Glover
    • Jack D. Hill
    • Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek
    • Margaret A. Kampmeier
    • Francine Kay
    • David S. Kellett
    • Christopher A. Komer
    • Brian Kuszyk
    • Sunghae A. Lim
    • Andrew C. Lovett
    • Matthew Melore
    • David Miller
    • Miles Okazaki
    • Laura Oltman
    • Alberto Parrini
    • Matthew Parrish
    • Sarah C. Pelletier
    • Joshua Quillen
    • Barbara J. Rearick
    • Trineice Robinson-Martin
    • John M. Rozendaal
    • Stacey G. Shames
    • Sarah Shin
    • Adam Sliwinski
    • Jo-Ann Sternberg
    • Olivier P. Tarpaga
    • Jessica L. Thompson
    • Jason Treuting
    • Elio Villafranca-West
    • Robert J. Wagner
    • Nancy J. Wilson
    • Eric Wyrick
  • Visiting Professor

    • John A. Butt
  • Visiting Assistant Professor

    • Tomoko Fujita
  • Visiting Lecturer

    • Christopher T. Hailey

For a full list of faculty members and fellows please visit the department or program website.

Permanent Courses

Courses listed below are graduate-level courses that have been approved by the program’s faculty as well as the Curriculum Subcommittee of the Faculty Committee on the Graduate School as permanent course offerings. Permanent courses may be offered by the department or program on an ongoing basis, depending on curricular needs, scheduling requirements, and student interest. Not listed below are undergraduate courses and one-time-only graduate courses, which may be found for a specific term through the Registrar’s website. Also not listed are graduate-level independent reading and research courses, which may be approved by the Graduate School for individual students.

GER 523 - Topics in German Media Theory & History (also HUM 523/MOD 524/MUS 530)

Historical and theoretical investigations of media from the advent of writing systems, paper and the construction of single-point perspective to phonography, radio, telephony, and television and up through the critical reflection on cyberspace, rhetorics of PowerPoint, surveillance and data shadows. Issues explored include the relationship between representation and technology, the historicity of perception, transformations of reigning notions of imagination, literacy, communication, reality and truth, and the interplay of aesthetics, technics and politics.

MUS 504 - Medieval Musical Style and Notation (also HLS 540)

Examines musical notation along paleographic, semiotic, and aesthetic lines, and addresses theoretical and practical problems of transcription. Focuses on earliest notations of the Christian east and west and later, the emergence of rhythmic notation.

MUS 510 - Extramural Research Internship

MUS510 is for students in the department who wish to gain experience of central importance to their area of study by working outside of the University capacity. For composition students, this might include working with theater companies, dance troupes, or other relevant organizations. For musicology students this might include archival research or performance. Course objectives and content are determined by student's adviser in consultation with the external institution. Students submit monthly progress reports including goals and progress to date, and any evaluations received from host institution or published reviews of the final product.

MUS 512 - Topics in Medieval Music (also MED 512)

Source-critical, historical, and stylistic studies of one of the late medieval polyphonic repertories are studied.

MUS 513 - Topics in 19th- and Early 20th-Century Music

Text-critical and analytic studies in the works of one or several of the major figures are studied.

MUS 514 - Topics in 19th- and Early 20th-Century Music

Text-critical and analytic studies in the works of one or several of the major figures are studied.

MUS 515 - Topics in the History of Opera (also COM 517)

Critical, historical, and analytic studies of music, language, and drama in the European operatic tradition are studied.

MUS 519 - Topics in Music from 1600 to 1800

This seminar explores one or more topics in the history, analysis, and interpretation of music of the seventeenth and/or eighteenth century. Recent seminars have included: Handel in Italy; Gender and Sexuality in the Music of Early Modern Italy; Francesco Cavalli: Sources and Interpretation; J.S. Bach.

MUS 520 - Topics in Music from 1600 to 1800

This seminar explores one or more topics in the history, analysis, and interpretation of music of the seventeenth and/or eighteenth century. Recent seminars have included: Handel in Italy; Gender and Sexuality in the Music of Early Modern Italy; Francesco Cavalli: Sources and Interpretation; J.S. Bach.

MUS 525 - Topics in Music from 1400 to 1600

Studies in one or more of the major vocal or instrumental repertories of the 15th and 16th centuries are explored.

MUS 527 - Seminar in Musicology (also MED 527)

Original work in areas of current musicological significance are presented to and reviewed by the seminar as the occasion arises. Emphasis is given to student projects, but work in progress by any member of the seminar may be discussed or a topic of particular controversy examined.

MUS 528 - Seminar in Musicology

Original work in areas of current musicological significance are presented to and reviewed by the seminar as the occasion arises. Emphasis is given to student projects, but work in progress by any member of the seminar may be discussed or a topic of particular controversy examined.

MUS 531 - Composition

Emphasis is placed on the individual student's original work and the study and discussion of pieces pertinent to that work.

MUS 532 - Composition

Emphasis is placed on the individual student's original work and the study and discussion of pieces pertinent to that work.

MUS 534 - Ends and Means: Issues in Composition

A consideration of the more elusive but fundamental aspects of composition: continuity; change (goal-directed, circular, sudden); tempo and texture; rhythms of harmony, contrapuntal interaction, succession of ideas, and surface attack; the "extra-musical;" contextual logic and ad hoc systems; and sonic image, form, and idea.

MUS 537 - Points of Focus in 20th-Century Music

Selected areas in 20th-century music are chosen for detailed examination and study. Representative works are subjected to critical scrutiny, and an attempt may be made to draw conclusions regarding larger theoretical, analytical, and social issues.

MUS 538 - Computer Music: Compositional Applications

The use and design of computer-based synthetic instruments and compositional software is studied. The emphasis is on the construction of computer-musical environments, for the realization of sound as well as for compositional assistance.

MUS 540 - Composing Opera

An introduction to some of the compositional problems pertinent to opera. Musical potentials of language and dramatic structure as well as theatrical potentials of music are explored through experiments in text setting and libretto construction.

MUS 541 - Seminar in Music Composition

A seminar focusing on the relationship (symbiotic or otherwise) between artistic creation and intellectual inquiry in compositional practice. Course will deal with practical concerns by sharing works in progress, recent works, and by hosting performers who are currently collaborating with members of the seminar. Although all composition graduate students are welcome, the seminar is especially geared toward first-and second-year students in composition.

MUS 542 - Instrumentation and Performance

A study of the characteristics of individual instruments, including extended contemporary techniques and writing arrangements for chamber ensemble and for orchestra. Special attention is given to problems of combining voice and instruments. The arrangements written for this class are performed by the Composers' Ensemble at Princeton and the Princeton University Orchestra, and problems of performance involving notation, rehearsal, and conducting are dealt with.

MUS 545 - Contexts of Composition

An examination of the proliferating variety of relations between composers and composition, in film, theater, and dance; technologically based systems and collaborative situations. Extended meanings of composition, including new applications made possible by technology and recording and the exploration of musical extensibility of subjects such as meditation, games, ritual, social action, and cognitive science.

MUS 548 - Creative Practice in Cultural Perspective

A consideration of the cultural context of creative practice, including social, political, and ethical factors. The course explores how creative practice manifests and challenges societal norms and how the role of the artist is situated in culture. Topics include specialization (vis-à-vis the amateur); cultural appropriation and representation; and identity.

MUS 550 - Current Topics in Theory and Analysis

The presentation and examination of an important work of current interest in theory and analysis and original research of faculty members and graduate students are explored.

MUS 561 - Music Cognition Lab

Under the direction of a faculty member, and in collaboration with an interdisciplinary group of students, visitors, and postdocs, the student carries out a one-semester research project chosen jointly by the student and the faculty. Open to any graduate student in Music, this course provides a hands-on opportunity to learn the tools, skills, methods, and perspectives of music cognition research.