If you don’t know exactly what Mozart did and when, you will have trouble making any kind of argument.If you are crafting an argument about how music relates to historical circumstances, then you should discuss those musical elements that most clearly support your argument.You may have the opportunity to attend a live concert and report on it.
However, in all of these examples, you are only describing the music. Often, you will be asked to make an argument about a particular piece of music. Once you understand the expectations of the day, you can identify the specific ways that Beethoven’s Ninth is different as well as what specific moments of the work (the entrance of the choir, the grand recapitulation which begins the last movement, etc.) you can cite as evidence for your argument.
For example, instead of saying “The chorus of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit” sounds angrier than the verses,’ you might argue that, “The added distortion in the guitar, increase in volume, and additional strain on Kurt Cobain’s voice give the chorus of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ an angrier or more critical tone than the verses.” On occasion, or in some assignments, you may feel overwhelmed by the amount of technical vocabulary used to describe even the simplest musical gestures.
Over the past thousand years, the study of music (particularly Western classical music) has acquired a host of specialized terms from Latin, Italian, German, and French, many of which remain untranslated in common usage. If you have questions about these terms, ask your instructor or consult a reliable music dictionary.
A possible thesis might be “Because Mozart wanted a job in Paris, he wrote a symphony designed to appeal to Parisian tastes.” If that is your argument, then you would focus on the musical elements that support this statement, rather than other elements that do not contribute to it.
For example, “Though his Viennese symphonies featured a repeated exposition, Mozart did not include a repeat in the symphonies he composed in Paris, which conformed more closely to Parisian ideas about musical form at the time.” This observation might be more helpful to your argument than speculation about what he ate in Paris and how that influenced his compositional process.
Music often evokes strong emotions in listeners, but these may not be the same for everyone.