Academic journal article Canadian University Music Review

Two Unpublished Instrumental Works by Healey Willan

Academic journal article Canadian University Music Review

Two Unpublished Instrumental Works by Healey Willan

Article excerpt

During 1980 the centenary of the birth of Healey Willan (1880-1968) is being observed and many performances of the composer's major works are taking place along with presentations of a number of unpublished and largely unknown works. Two of these latter are the subject of this paper: the first movement (Prelude) of the unfinished Suite for Organ and the single completed movement of the Sonata No. 3 for Violin and Piano.

One of Willan's most imaginative periods of instrumental composition occurred during the years immediately preceding and following his move to Canada in 1913. Many of the composer's most significant instrumental pieces date from this time (1908-16), notably the Prelude and Fugue in C Minor and the Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue in E flat Minor (undoubtedly his two greatest organ works), the Variations and Epilogue for two pianos, the Piano Trio in B Minor, and the Sonata No. 1 in E Minor for Violin and Piano.

After 1916, Willan's next large-scale instrumental venture was a projected Suite for Organ in four movements. Only the first movement of the work, the Prelude, was completed at the time (August 8, 1918).1 This fine Prelude has remained in manuscript and appears to have received its first performance only recently.

The title "Prelude" for the completed first movement of the Suite is somewhat misleading in that it gives little clue to the scope and size of the piece (which covers eleven pages of manuscript). It is known that Willan greatly admired the twenty organ sonatas of Josef Rheinberger and played a number of them himself. Rheinberger gave the title of "Prelude" to many of the first movements of his sonatas and it may be in this context that Willan is using the name here. Certainly Willan's piece is equivalent in magnitude and substance to any opening movement of a Rheinberger sonata.

In formal design the Prelude is similar to some of the early Baroque organ toccatas, with a freely rhapsodic opening section, a fugai middle section, and a final section again in free style. Example 1 illustrates the general style of the rhapsodic opening section. Within this seven-measure extract are contained the three main figures (marked a, b, and c) on which this section is built. Figure á is the flourish with which the movement commences, initially in A minor, and then in C sharp minor as shown; figure b is an example of Willan's colorful progressions of little-related chords, held together in this case by a descending chromatic scale in the upper part (a device - stemming from Wagner - which Willan had already used for the opening of his dramatic cantata Cleopatra of 1907); figure c, which reveals the influence of Franck and Rheinberger, but cannot be said to be an actual copy of either, is obviously useful for the working of sequential build-ups and developments (and is so employed).

The fugai middle section of the Prelude, commencing in C major, uses one of Willan's most progressive fugue subjects (Ex. 2):

The subject narrowly misses using all twelve notes - only the F is missing. There is a four-voice exposition, though the part-writing is treated rather freely after the third entry, and the fourth entry is incomplete. At the third entry a countermotive appears - shown in Example 3 and marked y - which is used subsequently in episodes:

The opening figure of the fugue subject (marked x in Ex. 2) is also employed extensively in the episodes. The use of both the x and y motives in an episodical passage is illustrated in Example 4:

Following its exposition, the fugue proceeds very freely, with only one full statement of the subject (in E major) in its middle section.

There is no final section to the fugue (i.e., a return to C major), but in its place a return to the main tonality of the whole movement, A minor, and a concluding section consisting of a repetition of part of the first section, with some variation (e.g., the left-hand triplet eighths of Ex. …

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