Dr. William Benjamin

Professor Emeritus of Music (2014), Music Theory

Former Director, UBC School of Music (1984 - 1991)

BMus (McG), MFA, PhD (Prin)



I was born in Montréal, Canada, and was educated in that city, studying piano at the Conservatoire de musique et d’art dramatique du Québec, and obtaining a Mus. Bac. in composition from McGill University in 1965, when I was 20. My goal at that time was to be a composer, and I pursued it through graduate studies at Princeton University, where I obtained a M.F.A. in 1968 and a Ph.D. in 1976. I began my teaching career in the U.S., at Wellesley College (1970-72) and the University of Michigan (1972-78). With all my teaching assignments being in theory, I found my interests shifting to that burgeoning field, and have made my principal public contribution, over the years, as a theorist. I came to the University of British Columbia in 1978 as an Associate Professor and was promoted to Professor in 1983. From 1984 to 1991 I served as Director of the UBC School of Music, from 1991-96, and as Graduate Advisor in Music. Over the past decade, my research interests (see below) have shifted to music aesthetics, regarded from a cognitivist perspective.

Graduate Students

I have supervised the thesis and post-doctoral work of 25 individuals: seven MA's, three M.Mus.'s, seven DMA's, seven Ph.D.'s (one of whom also did her MA with me), and two post-docs. My students since 2000 have completed or are completing the following projects:


1. Gordon Paslawski. An analysis of Bartók's First Sonata for Violin and Piano, Movement I. 2007.
2. Rebecca Simpson. Harmony and voice-leading in music by Philippe Gaubert: innovation in a traditional context. 2003.
3. Patty Wu. Span structure in Robert Schumann's late works. 2002.
4. Reza Mansoori-Dara. Divine and sublime creativity: a comparision of Schenkerian and Ciceronian principles. 2001.


1. Katarzyna Marczak. Balancing music and mimetic gesture in a performance of Stockhausen's Harlekin for solo Clarinet. In progress.
2. Carolina Plata-Ballesteros. Form in the song collection Con Antonio Machado by Joaquin Rodrigo. In Progress
3. Erika Crinó. A performing analysis of Béla Bartók's Three Burlesques, Op. 8c. 2006.
4. Janina Kuzmas. Unifying elements of John Corigliano's Etude-Fantasy. 2002


1. Linda Kaastra. Empirical frameworks for the study of music cognition: a performer's perspective. 2008.
2. Rebecca Simpson. Transformational, tonal, and rhythmic perspectives on Messiaen's technique of composing with modes of limited transposition. 2008.
3. Yvonne Gillespie. Thesis will deal with the functions of triads in the string quartets of Shostakovich. 2008.
4. Ross Braes. An investigation of the jeux de timbres in Claude Vivier's instrumental works of 1979-80. 2003.

My Research

Over the years I have written papers in the theory of harmony, analysis of late-Romantic chromaticism, analysis of early atonality from the standpoint of chromatic harmony, theory of meter, analytical methodology, and many other subjects.

For the 2008 calendar year, I was appointed a Distinguished Scholar in Residence at the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies, at UBC. If you want to hear a talk I  gave on the subject of my current research, visit the PWIAS website.

To survey my publications and other writings, consult the copy of my C.V visit my website.

Selected Publications

  • Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 17, K. 453, movement I: an analysis. In Analytical Studies in World Music (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006): 332-376.
  • Music through a narrow aperture: a qualified defense of concatenationism. Revue Internationale de Philosophie, 6/4 (2006): 515-522.
  • Ordinary musical memory as a determinant of musical value. In Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition, Evanston, IL, 2004. Eds. Lipscomb, S.D., Ashley, R., Gjerdingen, R.O., Webster, P. Causal Productions, CD-ROM.
  • Distinctive and Original Features of the Pitch Structures of Wolpe's Later Chamber Music. In On the Music of Stefan Wolpe: Essays and Recollections (New York: Pendragon Press, 2003), 270-288.
  • Alternatives of Voice: Anhalt's Odyssey from Personalized Style to Symbolic Expression. In Istvan Anhalt: Pathways and Memory (Montreal and Kingston: Queen's University Press, 2001), 164-307.

Courses Taught

I have taught just about every recurring music theory course at the School of Music at one time or another. In recent years my courses have included:

  • Music 411/500—Analysis of tonal music
  • Music 412/500—Analytical studies in the development of musical modernism
  • Music 414—Eighteenth-century counterpoint
  • Music 430—The music of Schumann
  • Music 450—The symphonies of Beethoven
  • Music 501—Readings in Schenkerian Theory
  • Music 532—Special topic: The pleasures of memory in the practices of music

I have also taught a sequel course in the analysis and composition of fugues (as Music 403).