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date: 06 June 2020

Berry, Wallace (Taft)locked

  • William Benjamin



(b La Crosse, WI, Jan 10, 1928; d Vancouver, Nov 16, 1991). American theorist and composer. He studied at the Paris Conservatoire (1953–4) and at the University of Southern California (PhD 1956). In 1977, after teaching music theory at the University of Michigan (1956–76), he was appointed head of music at the University of British Columbia. Despite broad recognition as a composer, including a 1978 award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, Berry largely reorientated himself in mid-career towards theory. His books and contributions to teaching and administration made him a leader in the discipline. From 1982 to 1985 he served as President of the Society for Music Theory.

Berry's music is in a freely dissonant, but at times tonally centric idiom, of wide expressive range. His works are energetic and rhythmically complex, yet precise in detail, and clear in phrase structure and formal outline. His theoretical work provides a balanced treatment of rhythm, texture and tonality. He views musical coherence as deriving from patterns of intensification (‘progression’) and détente (‘recession’). While this perspective has precedents in the work of Ernst Kurth among others, its originality lies in Berry's analysis of the concept of intensity in terms of concrete, measurable factors. He calls these ‘structural functions’ and treats them hierarchically. Of special value are his essays linking analysis with performance, that draw on his extensive professional experience as a pianist....

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Perspectives of New Music
Vancouver, Canadian Music Centre
Toronto, Canadian Music Centre
Journal of Music Theory