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Octatonic Pitch Structure and Motivic Organization in George Walker's Canvas for Wind Ensemble, Voices, and Chorus

Description: Canvas was commissioned by the College Band Directors National Association (CBDNA) Consortium in fall 1999 for the CBDNA Biennium National Conference to be held at the University of North Texas in February 2001. This substantial and profound three-movement work is Pulitzer Prize winning composer George Walker's first work for wind ensemble and is a milestone in wind composition at the turn of the millennium. This analysis considers Walker's sophisticated use of octatonic collections and their subsets. Walker uses the three transpositions of the octatonic scale as a harmonic framework for the work. Within this framework, specific subsets of the collection are used in traditional harmonic ways. A hierarchy of pitch sets is created, lending a "tonic" function characteristic to prevalent and specifically placed sonorities. Onto this "canvas" of octatonic harmonies, Walker "paints" specific motivic gestures. These motivic gesture monopolize specific intervallic relationships that are initially presented in the beginning of the work. Certain motivic techniques are then employed in the ongoing development of the motivic content. These motivic techniques include melodic suspension, interval alternation, double stroke articulation, irregularly recurring patterns, chordal punctuations, interrupted sequences, and dramatic uses of silence. Formally, Walker uses short "cells" of similar motivic and harmonic content as a tool of organization.
Date: May 2003
Creator: Nelson, Ryan
Partner: UNT Libraries