The graduate program in historical musicology at Columbia is one of the oldest and most distinguished in the United States. It was founded in 1932 by Paul Henry Lang, who set the tone for a broadly interdisciplinary, humanistic approach to musical scholarship that continues today. Since its inception the program has embraced and fostered research in Western music and musical thought of all eras, from antiquity to the present. Music is studied through primary sources, the analysis and development of style, and in wider historical, cultural, and social contexts. The central component of the graduate composition program is the composition seminar, which includes individual lessons.
Students normally take 6-7 years to complete a PhD, or 5-6 if they arrive with a master's degree from another comparable institution. During the first three years, students are involved intensively with coursework. In the first year, students will take two of the three proseminars in the musicological areas (Historical Musicology, Theory, Ethnomusicology), as well as lecture courses or research seminars in more specialized topics. Students are also encouraged to take courses outside the Music Department in areas of interest to them. In the second semester of the third year of graduate study, a student will normally work with a faculty member in an MPhil Seminar, essentially a tutorial in which a dissertation topic is developed through guided reading and weekly discussions. At the end of the Seminar a dissertation prospectus is prepared and then orally examined by a faculty committee of at least three.
The PhD dissertation is a document representing original research and thought. Most dissertations in Historical Musicology take approximately 3 years to complete, from the date of proposal defense. The dissertation process is supervised by the faculty sponsor (normally the faculty member with whom the student has taken the MPhil Seminar). In addition to the sponsor, two faculty members from the Department serve as readers. When the dissertation is deemed ready for defense, two additional readers from outside the Department are appointed (for a total of five).