The life of composer, pianist, and educator Gloria Wilson Swisher is a fine example of the fruits that can be harvested from decades of faithfulness – faithfulness to church, family, work, and community. Early success as a pianist and composer enabled Swisher ultimately to study with two of the most important composition teachers of the twentieth century, Darius Milhaud and Howard Hanson. The guidance she received from these two men resulted in a compositional style that is representative of late twentieth-century tonal concert music.
Swisher's oeuvre includes well over eighty works in diverse genres including concerti, opera, chamber music, and a wide variety of sacred and secular choral works. As the daughter of a trained singer and a professor of Romance languages literature, Swisher demonstrates in her choral settings (which represent over a third of her output) a clear understanding of the human voice and a love for language. Although she received a good deal of attention as an up-and-coming young composer in the 1950's and 60's, and has fulfilled a handful of important commissions through the years, Swisher's devotion to her family and her teaching career has largely diminished her ability to promote her own compositions. It is the author's hope that this dissertation will serve to expose Gloria Wilson Swisher's work to a broader audience and contribute to the growing interest in the study of composers of the Pacific Northwest. The dissertation includes four chapters: (1) an oral history based upon interviews with the composer, (2) an overview of her compositions with a complete list of works, (3) a study of her choral works, including an annotated catalogue, and (4) her Missa Brevis set in its original context, as liturgical music to accompany the communion service of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.
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