Postgraduate Composition Studies

Postgraduate Composition Studies

Postgraduate composition studies at the University of Liverpool embrace an open-ended approach to artistic expression and musical media, mentored by an internationally active group of composers.

Much of the compositional activity of the department of music, especially that which interacts with technology, is underwritten by the Interdisciplinary Centre for Composition and Technology (ICCaT), which supports postgraduates and staff in investigating how music composition and sonic art forms intersect with technology, performance and perception. The centre affirms compositional practice as research through highlighting the important role that technological innovation plays in the creation of new music. Members' research is focussed both on musical practice as well as developing technological resources and software-based tools for intelligently interacting with computers.

The work of lecturers on staff encompass a wide array of aesthetics, activities, and interests, including composition for acoustic instruments, composing for instruments and computer sound, music for digital games, composition with visual media, electroacoustic composition, spatialisation and sonic image, music information retrieval, computer-aided composition, and composition and improvisation. A collection of recent work by composition staff in the music department may be found on ICCaT’s Research Gallery page.

Composers teaching in the department curate a diverse set of public concerts and activities which provide postgraduates with yearly opportunities to work with nationally and internationally renowned musicians and other collaborators. The main platform for postgraduate projects is the Open Circuit Festival, which began in 2014 and has hosted over two dozen events at the University of Liverpool since its inception.  Recent examples include premieres of postgraduate works with Royal Liverpool Philharmonic’s ensemble 10/10, Pixels Ensemble, and the flautist Richard Craig.  

Degrees and Staff

Current postgraduate composition degrees include a Masters and a PhD. Staff mentoring postgraduate composition students include Mr Matthew FaircloughDr Ben HackbarthDr Paul TurowskiDr Richard Worth, and Dr Oliver Carman

Composition Masters

The masters in composition is a research degree which consists of regular meetings with a mentor.  Although the course is supervised throughout, it has a modular structure, each module being essentially a ‘check-point’ towards the final product –  a portfolio of compositions plus commentary. Work undertaken in when studying full time includes:

Semester 1 modules 
SOTA701  Produce an annotated bibliography of music relevant to the student’s work
MUMA722  3 different items which are negotiated with the supervisor.  They can include presentations on formative music, research grant or project funding application, fieldwork, publicity, creating online materials, organising a concert, etc.
SOTA702  A composition with a ~2000 word commentary.
Semester 2 (to end of year) modules 
MUMA701  Major Composition Portfolio of 20-25 minutes of original music, and a 5,000-8,000 word commentary on the compositions.


Composition PhD

The PhD in composition is a 3 year degree which consists of regular meetings with a supervisor.  The degree culminates in the submission of a PhD portfolio, equivalent to a dissertation.

PhD in Composition portfolio guidelines (revised 2018):

Composers will submit a portfolio of compositions, sound art, and/or audiovisual media and a written commentary.  There must be a minimum of 60 minutes of music or equivalent and at least 10,000 words of commentary. In addition, the number of minutes of music added to the number of thousands of words of commentary must total at least 90.  Thus a submission may consist of 60 minutes of music plus a 30,000 commentary; or 70 minutes of music and a 20,000 word commentary; or 80 minutes of music and a 10,000 commentary. The sum of minutes of music and thousands of words of commentary may not exceed 110.

In the case of sound installations or multimedia works where the nature and duration is non-traditional, the equivalent value in “minutes” must be approved by the supervisors.  Students must outline the projected configuration of their portfolio and its components in their annual progress review (APR) at the end of their first year of full time study. This will be reviewed annually in their APR. Whilst in the majority of their works composers will normally pursue a consistent set of compositional methods, techniques and avenues of enquiry across the PhD portfolio, it is accepted that some work may diverge from this.

At least 50% of the commentary by word count should consist of a rigorous description of the central focus of your musical inquiry and original contribution. This will normally combine a theoretical discourse/framework, the novel approach developed in your work, along with some historical context for your original contribution. A substantial number of works in the portfolio must be integrated into this part of your commentary.

The remainder of the commentary should consist of extended descriptions of your works and their origins.  Every work included in the portfolio must be contextualised in the commentary.

How to Apply for Postgraduate Study in Composition

The music department encourages all prospective MRes and PhD composition students to submit a dossier of their work in advance of submitting their official application. If the submitted works are of sufficient quality, students will receive guidance on potential supervisors, assistance in developing their research proposal for the full application stage, and advice on funding possibilities.

To submit your composition dossier for consideration, please send the following materials to Ben Hackbarth <b.hackbarth@liverpool.ac.uk> (head of composition) in a single email:

1) your CV
2) a 100 word abstract of the intended research topic of your thesis
3) a maximum of three compositions (acoustic, fixed media, realtime electronic, multimedia, or installations) which meet the following criteria:

• scores should be in pdf format and include all relevant information to reproduce the work
• videos of works may be submitted
• multi-channel works must be submitted in stereo
• MIDI recordings are acceptable where audio recordings do not yet exist

Please note: Electronic submission of all materials in encouraged using download links that do not expire, such as dropbox; submissions by post cannot be returned to applicants.

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