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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The contrapuntal style of Healey Willan Renwick, William Jonathan Michael


Healey Willan was a Canadian composer who succeeded in integrating a broad range of stylistic characteristics into a personal musical idiom. It is the object of this paper to examine various elements which make up the unique style of this composer, so as to provide a foundation for a better appreciation of the value of his work. The first chapter deals with the varied influences on the composer's development, and outlines the different styles which affected his work. A discussion of his pedagogical methods illustrates that his teaching bears a close relation to his compositional work. Chapter Two begins the actual study of Willan's music by examining in detail two important aspects of the music's surface structure: dissonance treatment and parallelism. Willan's treatment of dissonance usually follows the rules of traditional part writing, but he attempts to express new ideas within the established norms. Willan often uses parallelism as a way of enriching a basic contrapuntal structure, and this chapter examines a variety of textures which result from such enrichment. The following chapter deals with aspects of the music which serve as recurring "fingerprints" of the composer. The special recurring features treated here are 1) consecutive minor chord patterns, 2) chromatically based episodes, 3) a characteristic pattern of initial ascent and 4) the use of a closing formula based on the Gregorian "Amen". Following this discussion of the various surface aspects of Willan's style, Chapter Four turns to a study of the composer's harmonic technique, as manifested on various levels of structure. An outstanding feature of Willan's harmonic style is his avoidance of the dominant function, which is often replaced with material from the subdominant side of the harmonic spectrum. Both in the surface melodic patterns and in the larger formal designs of entire pieces, this avoidance of the dominant is clearly in evidence. The final chapter of this thesis discusses Willan' use of two-part counterpoint, both as a surface organizational procedure, and as a basis for the design of entire pieces. The final analyses illustrate the combination of a rigourous contrapuntal structure in the form of a two-part framework, and a harmonic plan which deliberately avoids the dominant in favour of harmonies involving the subdominant. It is hoped that by examining significant aspects of Willan's style, this study will enable an assessment of the value of his work.

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