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Mark Morris’s Guide to Twentieth Century Composers

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Canada provides an example of a country attempting to create an autonomous modern classical music of its own, that will reflect Canadian experiences and concerns within a wider musical context, analogous to the process that such countries as Czechoslovakia underwent in the 19th century, Mexico in the 1920s, or Australia in the 1960s and 1970s.

It is still a relatively young culture, and its music was initially influenced by European, particularly German, developments rather than by the United States (itself under the same dominance). Although the history of opera performance dates back to 1798, the groundwork for indigenous composition was laid by Calixa Lavallée (1842-1891), who wrote the Canadian national anthem, and Guillaume Couture (1851-1915). But the father-figures of Canadian composition were from the following generation, Healey Willan (1880-1968), who emigrated from Britain to Canada, Sir Ernest Macmillan (1893-1973), both of whom wrote under the influence of the emerging English tradition, and both of whom were important teachers, and Claude Champagne (1891-1965), who in contrast followed the French tradition of Debussy and Ravel, and was an important influence on the next generation of French-Canadian composers; the light and frothy Danse Villageoise (1929) for violin and piano (revised for string orchestra) is the most often encountered of his works, but it is not especially representative.

The following generation of composers, who were often taught by Canadians rather than exclusively studying abroad, in the main clustered around two centres, Toronto and Montréal, reflecting two of Canada's cultures, the English and the French-Canadian. The variety of styles in this generation has been considerable. Among the English-Canadians, John Weinzweig (born 1913) was one of first in Canada to use atonal and 12-tone methods (1939), notably in a series of Divertimentos, though from the late 1960s he increasingly incorporated new contemporary ideas, descriptive rather than generic titles, and theatrical elements, as in Around the Stage in Twenty-Five Minutes during which a Variety of Instruments are Struck (1970). He has become important as a teacher, passing on his concepts of clarity and economy to many of his younger contemporaries. Jean Coulthard (born 1908) has retained neo-Romantic leanings, and her best-known work, Prayer for Elizabeth (1952) for strings, shows the influence of her teacher Vaughan Williams. The large output of Barbara Pentland (born 1912) has preferred traditional forms (the symphony, the string quartet) as a framework for first 12-tone, and then serial and aleatory techniques in an increasingly refined language. Violet Archer (born 1913) has been equally prolific, influenced by the concept of Gebrauchsmusik (music designed to be useful in social applications, including music for amateurs, a term initiated by Hindemith, with whom she studied), and she has included serial techniques and, from the 1970s, electronics in her palette. Harry Somers (born 1925), one of Weinzweig's pupils, has drawn on eclectic sources, frequently mixing atonal or 12-tone methods with tonal elements. Harry Freedman (born in Poland, 1922) started under the influence of jazz, but became attracted to 12-tone composition, until in the early 1950s he found the strict application inappropriate to his concerns. He then turned to landscape painting for musical inspiration, before returning to a freer usage of 12-tone composition in 1964. He is also well-known as a composer for film and television. John Beckwith (born 1927) has used eclectic, sometimes extra-musical, sources of inspiration, and has been interested in the dualities of the public and private and the expression of Canadian life and society in music. His output includes many collaborations with writers, notably the poet James Reaney, and his formal designs have often favoured collage structures, sometimes likened to quilting designs. The pianist and composer Bruce Mather (born 1939) came under the influence of Boulez, and the bulk of his output is for small ensembles, including much vocal music, initially based on English poetry (especially Robert Graves, in the cantata in four distinct sections, The White Goddess, 1960-1961) and then on French poetry, notably (from 1967) a series of Madrigals for one or two voices and instrumental ensembles.

Among the French-Canadians, François Morel (born 1926) moved from a quasi-Impressionism to serial technique, while Serge Garant (born 1929) was one of the first to come under the influence of Boulez and has become one of Canada's major conductors of new music, and André Prévost (born 1934) has written large-scale avant-garde works that concentrate on colour and sonority, and whose forms have been predicated by the content and context of each piece. Perhaps the finest of this generation of composers working in a mainstream idiom is Jacques Hétu (born 1938), who has synthesized 12-tone and modal elements into a largely lyrical idiom, often for larger orchestral forces handled with considerable powers of colour and effect. The large orchestral song-cycle Les abîmes du rêve (The Abyss of Dream, 1981-1982) is strongly recommended. Before his murder in Paris, Claude Vivier (1948-1983) produced in his short life works of considerable interest, first in an idiom recognizably influenced by Messiaen, and, after the mid-1970s, by Eastern and gamelan musics, with affinities to the American minimalists; Lonely Child (1980) for soprano and small orchestra is recommended. The most interesting of this group is Gilles Tremblay (born 1932), who has pursued a single-minded preoccupation with space, duration and sonority.

The most recent generation of composers is equally eclectic, and ranges from Michael Longtin (born 1946), who started as an electronic composer and whose experience in that field has spilled over into his conventional scores, such as the distinct, differentiated colours, percussion effects and dramatic incident of the fine Pohjatuuli (1983) for instrumental ensemble, to Michael Conway Baker (born 1941 in the U.S.A.), whose idiom is so often so conservative that he can be mistaken for a composer writing at the very beginning, not the end, of the 20th century. Alexina Louie (born 1949) has attracted attention for an idiom that combines modern effects with a touch of popular appeal. In addition, a lively electro-acoustic composition community has emerged, centred on the Canadian Electroacoustic Community (CEC) in Montréal, and tracing their ancestry back to an early pioneer of electronic music, Hugh Le Caine (1914-1977), who helped establish the first genuine electronic-music studio in North America, in Toronto in 1959. At present this electro-acoustic interest is primarily centred on technology rather than content, with cross-overs to popular musics; an interesting exception who has produced some startling electronic works is Christian Calon (born in Marseille in 1950).

Within this pattern there have been attempts to forge music that would reflect the individuality of the country. A few have reflected Canadian history, notably Harry Somers's grand opera Louis Riel, which dressed 19th-century epic opera in modern garb. Many have been arrangements of folk-songs, particularly Newfoundland folk-songs, but most of these have reflected a British or Irish rather than an indigenous tradition. Others, especially during the 1950s, attempted to evoke the Canadian landscape. A few have attempted to draw on the heritage of Canada's indigenous peoples, sometimes with text (Garant's Anerca (1966) for soprano and chamber ensemble, to cite but one example, uses Inuit [Eskimo] texts), sometimes using melody and text, and some influenced by native Indian rhythms. MacMillan's Three Indian Songs from the West Coast remains one of the best examples, while the Songs of the Central Eskimos (1971) and the Indian Legends (1971), both for solo voice and piano are an interesting response by Alexander Brott (born 1915), otherwise a conservative composer whose output is a kind of Canadian equivalent to that of Kabalevsky. Yet by and large these attempts at the assimilation of a traditional heritage have not been successful, and it must be said that, with the exception of Murray Schafer (born 1933), Canada has, in comparison with other Western countries, failed as yet to produce either a modern idiom that has strong Canadian individuality (in contrast to, for example, Australia) or composers with distinctive and arresting musical personalities. The other notable exception is Bengt Hambraeus, who has lived in Canada since 1972, but so little known is this interesting composer in his adopted country that he will be found under his native Sweden, where he is regarded with respect and admiration.

The possible reasons for this lack of character reflect the still youthful nature of the culture, the increasingly pervasive influence of American commercial interests and values, a lack of appreciation of the importance of the arts in education, and a general Canadian trait that denigrates its own artists (and not just in the field of music). In addition, the professional music-making is still often parochial, with over-inflation of the quality of indigenous orchestras and opera companies in the major centres, and very little opportunity to broaden horizons and critical acumen through visits by international orchestras and instrumentalists. The major classical radio station, CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company) is dominated by a handful of broadcasters subscribing to a similar parochial view. The influence of indigenous musics, so potent in the development of Australian compositional voices, has been limited by their extreme differences from received Western traditions (especially Inuit music), although their integration into more modern idioms has potential that is just starting to be explored, notably utilised in the opera Tornrak (1989) by Welsh-Canadian composer John Metcalf (born 1949), that included Inuit throat-singing. The official policy of multi-culturalism and the strong influence of `political-correctness' - especially in the area of `appropriation of voice' - has also hindered potential cross-fertilization.

These may be the teething pains of a musical culture struggling to gain self-identity, and the large number of composers working in Canada, as well as the success already achieved in other artistic fields, notably Canadian literature, may auger well for the future. Meanwhile, a large number of recordings of Canadian music have been produced, especially by the Canadian Broadcasting Company and the Canadian Music Centre, but the failure to distribute them with any success inside the country let alone outside has been so comprehensive, that the difficulties of hearing Canadian music outside Canada, as well as the reasons outlined above, have limited the number of entries in this Guide. In addition to those given main entries, visitors to the country will not be disappointed by any of the composers mentioned in the Introduction.

Canada has produced some noteworthy performers in the 20th century, especially the idiosyncratic pianist Glenn Gould (1932-1982), and the singers Maureen Forrester (born 1930) and Jon Vickers (born 1926), as well as a champion of modern flute works, Robert Aitken (born 1939), himself a composer. In addition, the Banff Centre for the Fine Arts has emerged as a distinctive landmark in Canadian culture, attracting some of the best composers and young performers from all over the world as well as from Canada, with a vigorous policy of developing new works; unfortunately, by 1994, the short-sighted policies of the provincial Albertan and Federal governments seemed likely to reduce the Centre to a largely commercial enterprise run on the lines of big business.

Canadian Music Centre:

Chalmers House,

20 St. Joseph Street,


Ontario M4Y 1J9

tel: 416 961-6601

fax: 416 961-7198


HAMBRAEUS, Bengt - see under Sweden








MACMILLAN (Sir) Ernest MacMillan

born 18th August 1893 at Mimico (Toronto)

died 6th May 1973 at Toronto


Sir Ernest MacMillan's activities as composer, teacher, educator and administrator qualify him as the father-figure of modern Canadian music, and he was one of the first Canadian composers of note to be actually born in Canada. His compositional output was small, and reflected his English training, essentially late-Romantic with an English fluidity and sensibility of colour. However, a number of his works utilize or arrange Canadian folk-songs, especially after his meeting with the folk-musicologist Marius Barbeau in 1927.

The best-known of these works is the Two Sketches on Canadian Folksongs (1927), written for string quartet but later orchestrated for string orchestra. The first sketch is based on a song of the legend of Christ disguising himself as a beggar, the second on a folk-song popular in Quebec describing the Breton port of Saint-Malo, from where many Canadian immigrants sailed. But the pieces are essentially abstract: the string orchestra version has something of the English pastoral, reminiscent of the sonorities of Vaughan Williams, while the effect of the string quartet version is more rugged and more individual. They were followed by a sequel, with actual word settings, the Six Bergerettes du Bas Canada (1928) for three soloists and four instruments. Among other works likely to be encountered is the String Quartet (1915-1919), conventional in its construction (with sonata form outer movements, and a ternary slow movement), broadly lyrical, light-textured with moments that suggest MacMillan knew the Ravel string quartet, and most attractive. It deserves to be better known in Canada as one of the foundations of the Canadian string quartet. Much of MacMillan's vocal and choral output remains unheard, but among the most interesting of his works, and one of the most successful of all Canadian song cycles, is the short Three Indian Songs of the West Coast (1928) for high voice and piano. The Native melodies and the words, translated by Duncan Campbell Scott, were collected on a trip with Marius Barbeau to British Columbia; the three powerful texts are intimate but dramatic, and MacMillan's arrangements succeed in retaining their vitality, their nobility, and in the second song, their tenderness, while merging the rhythmic energy with the form of the art-song, elevating both traditions. This little cycle is so much more vital and moving than the countless Canadian settings of Canadian folk-songs that originated in Europe that it is surprising that it is not better known.

MacMillan's life was extraordinarily energetic. He was captured at the outbreak of World War One as he had been attending the Bayreuth Festival, and managed as a prisoner to produce enough work to gain a further degree from Oxford on his release in 1918. He was principal of the Toronto Conservatory (1926-1942), dean of the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto (1927-1952), was conductor of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (1931-1956), toured widely, edited the first book of essays on Canadian music among his other writings, and worked in many musical administrative fields. He was knighted in 1935.


works include:

- Christmas Carols, overture Cinderella, Fantasy on Scottish Melodies and other works for orch.; Two Sketches for Strings

- string quartet; 2 Fugues for string quartet; Two Sketches on Canadian Folksongs for string quartet (also string orch.)

- Cortège académique for piano

- Six Bergerettes du bas Canada for three soloists and 4 instruments; Three French Canadian Sea Songs for voice and string quartet; songs cycles with piano Three Indian Songs of the West Coast, and Three Songs for High Baritone; Ballads of British Columbia, Northland Songs (2 vols.), and other songs including many folk-song arrangements for solo voice and for chorus

- opera Snow White; ballad opera Prince Charming


recommended works:

String Quartet (1915-1919)

Three Indian Songs of the West Coast (1928) for high voice and piano

Two Sketches on Canadian Folksongs (1927) for string quartet



SCHAFER (Raymond) Murray

born 18th July 1918 at Sarnia (Ontario)


Murray Schafer is probably the best-known Canadian composer, respected for his many writings and publications on Canadian and other music, on the environment, and on music education, as well as for his compositions. A number of his works have become, or have been designed as, individual items in a huge ongoing cycle of works, Patria, which represent the core of his aesthetics and concerns.

His early works were conventional - the powerful In Memoriam: Alberto Guerro (1959) for strings, for example, is tonal, while concentrating on varying sonority. They announced a distinctive musical personality, albeit at the time influenced by Sibelius and Mahler, the latter conspicuously and overtly in the 12 Minnelieder (1956) for mezzo-soprano and woodwind quintet, settings of medieval German love songs, where the use of the woodwind quintet creates an individual sense of timbre within the Mahlerian cast. During the 1960s, Schafer started exploring the techniques and the sounds of the contemporary avant-garde, and at the same time turned to extra-musical subjects, often with political and social content, and to the uses of verbal language. Protest and Incarceration (1960) for mezzo-soprano and orchestra is a setting of Rumanian poets; the sombre and pointillistic Canzoni for Prisoners (1962) for orchestra, in five linked sections, concerns prisoners of conscience. Communication is the main theme of what started as the trilogy Patria, eventually developed into an extended cycle. In Patria I (`The Characteristics of Man', 1974) for mezzo-soprano, mime, actors, chorus and chamber ensemble, an immigrant can communicate with the audience, but not with the other characters; in Requiems for the Party Girl (1966) for mezzo-soprano and chamber ensemble (subsequently incorporated into Patria II as Requiems for a Party Girl, 1972, with actors and tape) the schizophrenic girl who is the central character is unable to communicate with her medical helpers; she collapses and commits suicide, representing the alienation of contemporary society. The score, closely allying vocal line and instrumental response, as if the vocal line is trapped in the instrumental writing, graphically reflects her fears and neurosis.

Schafer's music also revealed an interest in Eastern philosophy and influence in this period, as in From the Tibetan Book of the Dead (1968) for soprano, chorus, alto flute, clarinet and tape (later included in altered form in Patria II). Music for the Morning of the World (1969) for soprano and tape, is the second of a trilogy inspired by the 13th-century Sufi mystic Jalâl al-Dîn Rûmi, and the texts chosen relate the inner self to the outer heavens, with an ecstatic, Oriental decorative solo line against the wide sonorities and expressive commentary of the electronic tape. The complete trilogy (part one is titled Divan i Shams i Tabriz, 1969, revised 1970, for six soloists, orchestra and tape, and part three Beyond the Great Gate of Light, 1972, for six soloists, orchestra and tape) is entitled Lustro. Arcana (1972) for soprano and instrumental ensemble or chamber orchestra is a set of fourteen songs (from which the singer may chose) using a secret ancient Egyptian text, where each phoneme of the text has two associated notes, again structurally integrating vocal and instrumental line, since when the singer sings one note often the paired note is heard in the instrumentation. East (1972) for chamber orchestra is a meditation on texts from the Ishna-Upanishad, in which each letter is given a specific pitch; a gong is sounded every ten seconds, and the instrumentalists hum and sing the letters. It is a powerful, sonorous score of shifting colours.

A growing interest in the theatrical power of text, and in unconventional dramatic treatment, emerged in his first stage work, the `audio-visual poem' Loving (1963-1965) for actor, actress, singers and chamber orchestra, with a bi-lingual text by the composer, which might be described as post-serial. Its subject, the stages of a relationship, is non-linear (there is no plot as such) and is designed to reflect states and projections of the psyche rather than actual characters, an early indication of a preoccupation with the Jungian aspects of interaction and myth. The musical means are mainly concerned with short scraps of instrumental colour and texture to support the free-flowing vocal lines. That the intrinsic interest of the work is not realized is in part due to the text - Schafer is a fine composer and writer, but not a good poet - but it pointed to his special and original contribution: a series of works employing multi-media and specifically removed from traditional venues.

The sense of space that these works employ, and sometimes the inspiration of the Canadian landscape and myth, give them a hue that makes them unique to their country of origin, the genesis of a Canadian music that unfortunately has been little encouraged in Canada by repeat performances. The primary motivation is myth, the primary structure ritual. The musical ethos, especially the form, of these pieces is determined by the spatial context, using a combination of influences from traditional ethnic musics and avant-garde techniques.

An early example of this environmental concern was North/White (1973) for harp, piano, snowmobile and strings, that introduced a snowmobile to illustrate the destruction of the myth of the Canadian north. Music for a Wilderness Lake (1979) placed the members of a trombone ensemble around an Ontario lake, making use of the large distances separating them, the sonic effects of water and echo, and the interaction with natural sounds, such as the bird-song. This was developed in the most celebrated of these outdoor performances, The Princess of the Stars (1981), which now also acts as the prologue to the Patria cycle. Its basis is a myth story of the Princess of the Stars who is taken into the lake by a Three-Horned Enemy, leaving dew in her wake in her struggles. A Wolf looks for her, and the rising sun joins in the action; although invented by Schafer, this story is inspired by native Indian myths. The action is set around a large lake before dawn, and the performers are ranged around the lake and in canoes on the lake, with masks and effigies representing the main protagonists; a Presenter, or story-teller, links the action for the audience placed on one shore. Again, there is intentional interaction with the natural state and sounds of the setting, the Princess' voice at the opening coming from a great distance across the water, the rising sun coinciding with its actual rising, the sounds of dawn birds matching the enlistment of the Dawn Birds (represented in canoes) by the Wolf. For obvious reasons, it is a work that needs to be experienced rather than heard in recording, but it would cause a sensation if anyone had the courage to do it on, say, a lake in Britain's Lake District, or in the Alps. Ra (1983) for singers, dancers, actors and instrumentalists, is based on the Egyptian myth of the journey of the sun god through the netherworld between dusk and dawn; here individual sections do work successfully as recordings. The piece is a ritual of that myth, starting at dusk and ending at dawn, with an audience limited to 75 (corresponding to the 75 names of the sun god) who are expected to take part in the ritual, with the intention of giving them the experience of a rite-of-passage. The inspiration for the 'Procession' section clearly comes from Canadian native Indian music, and successfully transfers to its present setting; elsewhere the musical sources are eclectic, with spare textures emphasizing the ritual of the vocal lines, the stress on sonorities.

At the same time as exploring the concept of an indigenous myth (which Schafer sees as exemplified by the figure of the Wolf) he has written a number of works inspired by the Greek myth of Theseus, Ariadne, and the Labyrinth, as the opposite end of the same mythical continuum, Schafer's version of the complimentary opposites of Apollo and Dionysus. These include La testa d'Ariane (1980) for soprano, narrator and accordion, Theseus (1988) for harp and string quartet, and the effective The Crown of Ariadne (1979) for harp. In this the harpist plays percussion instruments in addition to the harp, thus reverting to two elemental and ancient musical elements. It is divided into six short dance movements with descriptive titles following Ariadne's story; the largely gentle suite is often delicate, individual sounds and ideas separated to give a sense of space, high percussion adding a ritualistic feeling, with occasional touches of exotic colouring or modal shades, and with the harp writing including modern effects.

Similar preoccupations with ritual and the environment occur in Schafer's concert music: Epitaph for Moonlight (1969) for chorus and high tuned percussion, Schafer's exploration of the kind of block chordal writing developed by Ligeti, is an epitaph as (following the lunar landings) the moon is no longer a distant untouched symbol. The beautiful Sun (1982) for unaccompanied choir sets the names of the sun in different languages, linguistically moving across the globe, with high held textures against verbally-driven rhythmic figures. Water has been a consistent environmental inspiration for Schafer: the electronic Okeanos (1971) utilizes the sounds of the sea and various sea poets; Miniwanka or the Moments of Water (1971) for chorus is a successful emulation of various states of water, from rain to ocean swells, using the words for water of several North American Indian languages. The gentle String Quartet No.2 (1976), with its wave and trough-like motion, was in part inspired by Schafer's `soundscape' studies, utilizing the timings that ocean waves exhibit between trough and crest. The String Quartet No.3 (1981) contains elements of ritual in its arch-form, with the drone-like opening played by the cello, joined by the off-stage viola, and then by the two violins, all eventually arriving onstage by the end of the first movement, while in the turbulent and sometimes motoric central movement the players add new layers and effects by constant vocalisations. Le cri de Merlin (1987) for guitar uses a tape of birds songs with the solo instrument.

If such concerns have been central to Schafer's aesthetic, he has also written works with a more conventional concert context. Son of Heldenleben (1968) is an forceful transformation of elements of Strauss's poem into a modern orchestral idiom, using a series drawn from the main theme of the tone poem, in a tribute to the German composer. The String Quartet No.4 (1988-1989) for string quartet, violin (which may be pre-taped) and soprano, dedicated to the memory of the poet b.p.Nicol, seems to be a similar reworking of Bartók and especially Shostakovich, (although the composer has not publicly stated so), since there are recognizable transmutations of the latter's second string quartet, seventh string quartet, and the development of the Rossini rhythmic figure from the fifteenth symphony. It also uses themes from the Patria cycle, and ends with an offstage soprano and a third violin. The compelling String Quartet No.5 `Rosalind' (1989) is stylistically similar, and, whether these similarities are intended or uncanny coincidence, they are powerful and expressive quartets in their own right which will be enjoyed by anyone who appreciates the chamber music of those two earlier composers. His more recent music also includes the attractive Flute Concerto (1985) and a Harp Concerto (1988), as well as a music theatre work in two parts, Apocalypsis, the first part being John's vision (1981) for sound-poets, singers, mime, dancers, multiple choruses, instruments and pre-recorded tape, the second Credo (1986) for twelve mixed choirs with optional tape, synthesizers and/or string instruments.

Schafer has also written a number of works for children or younger players, such as The star princess & the waterlilies (1984) for narrator, adult singer, children's chorus and percussion, designed to introduce them to new sounds and to an element of involvement in aleatory techniques and graphic as well as traditional notation.

Murray Schafer was artist-in-residence at Newfoundland's Memorial University (1963-1965), and professor of Communication Studies at Simon Frazer University (1966-1975), where he started the World Soundscape Project to investigate the relationship between humans and their sonic landscape.

Schafer should not be confused with the French pioneer of musique-concrète, Pierre Schaeffer (born 1910) or with the Polish avant-garde composer Bogusłav Schäffer (born 1929), who has also written extensively on modern music.


works include:

- Canzoni for Prisoners, Cortège, Dream rainbow dream thunder, East, Ko wo kiku, No Longer than Ten Minutes, Statement in Blue and Train for orch.; In Memoriam: Alberto Guerra and Partita for String Orchestra for string orch.

- flute concerto; harp concerto; Concerto for Harpsichord and Eight Wind Instruments; North/White for harp, piano, snowmobile and strings

- Le cri de Merlin for guitar and taped bird-song; The Crown of Ariadne for harpsichord and percussion; Buskers for flute, violin and viola; Sonatina for Flute and Harpsichord; 5 string quartets (No.5 Rosalind); Theseus for harp and string quartet; Music for Brass Quintet; Minimusic for any combination of instruments;

- song cycles Acarna for voice and orch. or chamber orch., The Enchantress for voice, exotic flute and 8 cellos, Five Studies on Texts by Prudentius for soprano and 4 flutes, The garden of the heart for voice and orch., Kinderlieder for soprano and piano; letters from Mignon for mezzo-soprano and orch., Minnelieder for mezzo-soprano and woodwind quintet, Protest and Incarceration for mezzo-soprano and orch., La Testa for voice and accordion and other songs; Hymn to night for soprano and orch. or chamber orch.; La testa d'Ariane for soprano, narrator and accordion (also version for voice and accordion)

- Apocalypsis for 12 choirs brass, percussion and home-made instruments, and (Part II) 12 choirs and tape; cantata Brébeuf for baritone and orch.; Four Songs on Texts of Tagore for 3 women soloists and women's choir; From the Tibetan Book of the Dead for soprano, chorus, alto flute, clarinet and tape; Gita for chorus, brass and tape; In Search of Zoroaster for male voice, chorus, percussion and organ; Lustro (Part 1 Divan i Shams i Tabriz for six soloists, orchestra and tape; Part 2 Music for the Morning of the World for soprano and tape; Part 3 Beyond the Great Gate of Light for 6 soloists, orchestra and tape), The star princess & the waterlilies for narrator, adult singer, children's chorus and percussion and many other vocal and choral works

- electronic Kaleidoscope and Okeanos

- stage works Patria I-III (No.1 `The Characteristics of Man', No.2 Requiems for a Party Girl); opera Loving; music theatre Apocalypse (Part I John's vision, Part II Credo); ritual Ra; outdoor events Music for Wilderness Lake and Princess of the Stars


recommended works:

The Crown of Ariadne (1979) for harp

East (1972) for chamber orchestra

In Memoriam: Alberto Guerro (1959) for strings

Music for the Morning of the World (1969) for soprano and tape

The Princess of the Stars (1981) [see text]

ritual Ra (1983)

String Quartet No.3 (1981)

String Quartet No.4 (1988-1989)

String Quartet No.5 Rosalind (1989)

Sun (1982) for unaccompanied choir



R. Murray Schafer The New Soundscape, 1969

 The Book of Noise, 1970

 The Tuning of the World, 1977

 On Canadian Music, 1984


SOMERS Harry Stuart

born 11th September 1925 at Toronto

died 9th March 1999 at Toronto


A prolific composer who has worked in most genres, Harry Somers is, with Murray Schafer, the only Canadian composer who has received more than a passing exposure outside Canada.

In his earlier work he mixed elements of a free atonality with those of a tonal base: the beautiful and carefully paced North Country (1948) for string orchestra, one of the most effective of Canadian landscape evocations, contrasts neo-classical contrapuntal passages with sparse suggestions of the northern wilderness that inspired it, the melodic phrasing angular, the support essentially tonal. Passages of the exploratory and eclectic Suite for Harp and Chamber Orchestra (1949), which draws on a variety of styles, point to a recurring feature of Somers's music: a slow melodic line either unsupported or very sparsely supported. This, a feature of his operas, reached its most extended form in the long (21 minute) Music for Solo Violin (1973), in which the Muezzin call which inspired the opening gradually evolves in a quasi-improvisatory fashion.

Following those early works, Somers's output has been marked by its eclecticism, different pieces often being in highly contrasted styles and driven more by context of commission and performance than by compositional pattern, though there has been a gradual integration of techniques originally inspired by the avant-garde, and spatial and theatrical effects were increasingly used in the 1960s. Some features, though, have remained consistent, especially a sense of generating and maintaining tension in the listener, by rhythmic interjections, declamatory effects, contrasting styles, occasionally superimposed, and abrupt changes in dynamics, which Somers has called `dynamic unrest'. His harmonic vocabulary is also wide-ranging, depending on the context of the piece, and has drawn on 12-tone and atonal techniques, but often uses moments of tonal suggestions in non-tonal surroundings.

The best known of his orchestral works is perhaps the rather bombastic Fantasia for Orchestra (1958); more interesting is the grittier and less compromising language of the Symphony for Woodwinds, Brass and Percussion (1961), whose first two movements use juxtapositions and sometimes superimposition of rhythms in clear textures, and declamatory and spatial effects within the orchestra, although the last two movements are closer to Somers' avowed intent to write a piece `suitable for a wide audience'. The Picasso Suite (1964) for small orchestra is particularly attractive: based on music originally written for a television documentary, the suite is in nine short sections, seven of which depict different periods in the painter's style. The small orchestra is used sparingly (the sixth section uses flute alone), and the suite includes gentle pastiche, from rag-time to neo-classical Stravinsky. Of his chamber music, the rather dark String Quartet No.2 (1950) in five movements, played continuously, is lean and introvert, regularly threatening to break out into more emphatic writing, but pulling away from it, maintaining tension in the process. The String Quartet No.3 (1959) contains interesting ideas and construction, but is rather colourless; based on themes from his earlier opera The Fool, it uses 12-tone techniques in a single movement, ending with a fugue. Potential listeners to the two early violin sonatas (No.1, 1953, No.2 1955) should beware Somers's rather disarming statement that they belong more to the 19th century than the 20th; with the String Quartet No.2 they are akin to the later Shostakovich chamber works in harmonic language, formal construction, and general feel, though they lack the Russian's ability to suddenly change gear or produce a passage of searing memorability.

Somers's vocal music illustrates his eclectic practice of changing idioms. The short but very beautiful cycle Three Songs on Words by Walt Whitman (1946) for baritone and piano have the clarity, very lean textures, and something of the luminous quality of Britten's Donne or Hardy settings. The Five Songs for Dark Voice (1956) for contralto and orchestra, to specially written texts by Michael Fram, are avowedly Mahlerian in their style and cast, the five songs acting as the movements of a symphonic structure; the liquid textures of the fifth song in particular are atmospherically beguiling. Twelve Miniatures (1963) for soprano, flute, spinet and cello are settings of Japanese haiku, grouped into four sets of three to follow the seasons and the months respectively. Those seasonal contrasts are not overt in the music, which is deliberately rarefied in texture and rhythm to match the haiku style. Evocations (1966) for mezzo-soprano and piano is based on words by the composer evoking the Canadian landscape; the text is often fragmented into constituent syllables, and special effects figure in the piano writing - the singer singing into the piano (in a haunting echo of the bird-call of the Canadian loon), the use of rubber hammers. Voiceplay (1971) for solo vocalist takes the reduction to the constituents of words considerably further, using thirteen different pitches for thirteen vowel sounds, the vocalist taking the roles of lecturer, actor, and demonstrator; the experimentation echoes earlier avant-garde vocal explorations without being particularly effective. In complete contrast, the Five Songs of the Newfoundland Outports (1968) for chorus and piano, Somers's best-known work, are based on songs from a collection of traditional songs published four years earlier. The arrangements are very free, with the choir using Newfoundland techniques of emulating instruments vocally; the familiarity of these songs in Canada over Somers's other work is due to Canadian cultural conditions, and they should not be considered representative of Somers's styles or concerns.

Somers's first opera was The Fool (1953), a chamber opera for four characters representing various levels: the personal, the psychologically symbolic, and the political. Both the libretto (by Michael Fram) and music are highly stylized, with a chamber ensemble (ten players), whose colours recall the neo-classical Stravinsky. The main moods veer between the grotesque (the opening of both the two scenes and some of the fool's music is in the spirit of Walton's Façade) and the lyrical, and the work successfully integrates suggestions of music from earlier styles, from the 17th century through quasi folk-song to a suggestion of Milhaud's The Creation of the World in the instrumental section that leads to the close of the work. The often spartan or silent accompaniment to the vocal lines, which in style extend from sung speech and recitation to traditional full sung line, anticipates Somers's later operas.

One of the landmarks of Canadian music was Somers' second opera, Louis Riel (1966-1967), commissioned for the centenary of Canadian Confederation. The libretto, by Mavor Moore, concerns a pivotal and still contentious event in Canadian history, the second uprising (1884-1885) of the Métis (`half-breeds') under their charismatic leader Louis Riel, and his subsequent capture and hanging, thus placing the work in the genre of historical nationalistic grand-scale opera. However important as a symbol, the opera has not become a staple in the Canadian repertoire, receiving only one production (1967, revived in 1975 and shown at a Canadian festival in Washington). The reasons for this neglect belong both to the libretto and the music. Opera is not a good medium for the accurate depiction of historical events on a large scale: it needs either a distorting focus on some particular facet, or a genius (and considerable length) to interweave the combination of the historical and the personal, as is found in Prokofiev's treatment of Tolstoy. Louis Riel is neither, complicatedly switching between different settings in 17 scenes with a large cast, and the libretto, while theatrically colourful and imposing, fails to home in on a convincing musico-dramatic thread. Musically, the idiom is modernistic, with cluster effects, small bursts of orchestral comment, often high orchestral writing; the vocal lines employ wide and uneasy ranges, sometimes unaccompanied or sparsely accompanied, and regularly semi-spoken, with chorus writing sounding like Britten with added dissonance. However, all too often the music has little or no memorable character, and a major failing is that at many of the heightened moments for which opera is so suited, the possibilities are not realized or are passed over. It is recommended below more for historical than musical reasons.

The sense that the theatre supersedes the music in Louis Riel is sustained in Somers' fourth opera, the three-act Mario the Magician (1988-1992), also to a libretto by Mavor Moore based on the Thomas Mann novel of the same title (and just predated by an opera on the same subject by the English composer Stephen Oliver, 1950-1992). It received almost as much attention and promotion as Louis Riel, and a million dollar budget. Again, the plot - of a family caught in Fascist Italy in 1929 - is theatrically imposing, requiring, like Louis Riel, a large cast, its themes the outsider in a xenophobic society and the manipulation of individuals by an individual (the magician of the title). The style is not as eclectic as Louis Riel, the action more continuous; theatrical effects include the use of the cast in the audience. For much of the opera the tension that is a component of Somers' style here extends into an almost continuous hysteria, which creates constant theatrical tension, but not musical interest or characterisation. However, in the third act, the humiliation of Mario the waiter by the magician, and the waiter's revenge, the emotional range suddenly widens, and the characterisation becomes cogent, in a powerful ending to an otherwise weakened work without an individual musical style; the hopes that Somers might prove a powerhouse for indigenous Canadian opera have not yet been realised.


works include:

- Symphony (`Symphony No.1'); Symphony for Woodwinds, Brass and Percussion

- guitar concerto; 2 piano concertos; Concertante for violin, string orch. and percussion; Suite for harp and chamber orch.

- Elegy, transformation, jubilation for orch.; Fantasia for Orchestra, Five Concepts, Lyric for Orchestra, Movement for Orchestra, North Country, Passacaglia and Fugue, Picasso Suite, Prelude and Fugue, Sketches for Orchestra, Stereophony, Those Silent Awe-Filled Spaces, Variations and other works for orch.; Little Suite for String Orchestra on Canadian Folksongs, Scherzo for Strings

- Sonata for Guitar; Music for Solo Violin; Duo for 2 violins; 2 violin sonatas; flute trio; 3 string quartets; Suite for Percussion for 4 drums and piano; Movement for Woodwind Quintet

- 5 piano sonatas; Strangeness of Heart, Three Sonnets, 12 x 12 : Fugues for Piano and other works for piano; Variations on opening a music library for 2 pianos

- song cycle with orch. Five Songs for Dark Voice; twelve Miniatures for soprano, recorder, viola da gamba and spinet ; Improvisation for narrator, singers and chamber ensemble; Kuyas for soprano, flute and percussion; Zen, Yeats and Emily Dickinson for 2 actors, soprano, flute, piano and tape; song cycles Evocations, Three Simple Songs, Three Songs, and other songs; Three Songs for the Coming of Spring for choir; Chura-churum for chorus, flute, harp, piano, 4 percussionists and 8 loudspeakers; Crucifixion for chorus, English horn, 2 trumpets, harp and percussion; Five Songs of the Newfoundland Outports for chorus and piano; Gloria for chorus, 2 trumpets and organ; A midwinter night's dream for soloists, three young soloists, children's chorus and piano or 2 pianos; The owl and the pussy-cat for three soloists and piano; Three Limericks for mezzo-soprano, chorus and instrumental ensemble; Voiceplay for voice

- ballet Ballad; And for soloists, dancers and chamber ensemble; mime piece The Merman of Orford

- operas The Death of Enkidu, Louis Riel, The Fool and Mario the Magician


recommended works:

song cycle Five Songs for Dark Voice (1956)

opera Louis Riel (1966-1967) [see text]

North Country (1948) for orchestra

Picasso Suite (1964) for small orchestra

song cycle Three Songs on Words by Walt Whitman (1946)



B. Cherney Harry Somers, Toronto, 1975


TREMBLAY Gilles Léonce

born 6th September 1932 at Arvida, Québec


If Schafer is the major Canadian composer who has allied techniques of the avant-garde with specifically Canadian imagery and concerns, Gilles Tremblay is the Canadian composer who has most consistently embraced the international, abstract explorations generated by the European avant-garde. His relatively small output has showed a consistency of idiom and purpose, and a concern with spatial and temporal concepts that has affinities with Eastern thought and music, as do his favourite colours and timbral effects, recalling the clashing cymbals of China, the temple horns of Tibet, the delicate tracery of gamelan, the flutes of Japan.

He was one of the very few Canadian composers who launched straight into a contemporary idiom without an early period of a more traditional style, and his immediate influences were Varèse and Messiaen. The short piano pieces Phases (1956) and Réseaux (Networks, 1956) echo Messiaen in their construction, with sharp cluster-bursts contrasted with slow progressions of isolated notes, but their concentration on the spaces between the notes, particularly the resonances of the piano, heralds Tremblay's primary preoccupation with sonority and timbre, and especially the relationship between event and the after- or pre-echo, the sounds between event. This duality, between sound and its shadow, between event and its alter-ego, resonates throughout Tremblay's work; on first encounter it may make his work seem (incorrectly) somewhat bitty, as events are inclined to flare up and die away, like astronomical incidents, but since the space between those events is of such importance, it requires (like many other similar avant-garde explorations of sonorities) a change of perception on the part of the listener, a concentration on the space and resonances between events, and not just on the events themselves.

Cantique de durées (1960) for orchestra applied spatial concepts in the orchestra within a serial framework, with seven groups of players, five on stage, three (wind and ondes Martenot) ranged around the audience. Kékoba (`Evening Star' in Hebrew, 1965, revised 1967) for three soloists, ondes Martenot and percussion contrasts precise events (especially percussive) with more fluid sonorities (especially created by the ondes Martenot) in a flow of action and reaction, in part created by the use of limited choice: one player choosing a particular percussion instrument for a passage, for example, determines the instrument of the next percussionist. The final section is a setting of `Ave maris stella' in which the actual word `star' is treated in several languages. A cycle of works entitled Champs (in the sense of a electromagnetic or similar `fields') explored the `fields' of pitch, duration and timbre, and their interactions, both determined and unexpected; the forms include the use of mobiles, here precise collections of events whose order of appearance is not predetermined. The rather restrained Champs I (1965, revised 1969), for piano and two percussionists, with its pitter-patter of events like the rhythmic effects of a collection of wind chimes, uses `reflexes' in which one player reacts to another, extending in Champ III, Vers (Towards, 1969) for instrumental ensemble, to a chain of reactions, growing out from earthy sonorities and bright chimes in a kind of avant-garde spring rite. Champs II, Souffles (Breaths, 1968) includes blowing effects in wind instruments without creating concrete notes.

The interaction of these elements of play and sonorities reached a further stage in Solstices (1971, subtitled Les jours et les saisons tournent) for flute, clarinet, horn, bass and two percussionists. Each instrument represents a season; the actual starting point of the work is determined by the date and time of performance, and a relay system is used, passing activity from one season to another, creating interplays between the `seasons'. This may be extended to other instrumental groups, either in the same location or distant locations, connected electronically. The effect is of a spontaneity of event within a generality of framework, although it is necessary to know the seasonal associations. Jeux de solstices (1974) is for full orchestra; here the four seasons are represented by four moods, each with a different technique, and mobile construction is used, the form and development of the performance controlled by the conductor. Oralléluiants (1974-1975) for soprano, tenor and ensemble with microphones, juxtaposes slow moving textures (emulating breathing) with rapturous or excited interjections, combined with suggestions of ritual with gongs and the flute prominent.

While continuing the general patterns of his idiom - dualities, contrasts, resonances, and mobile forms - the correspondences between Tremblay's techniques and the interactions of the natural world were explored further in Compostelle I (1978) for clarinet and ensemble, written for Messiaen's seventieth birthday, and in perhaps the most effective score from this period, Fleuves (Great Rivers, 1976) for orchestra, which ranges from grand statement to the delicacy of wind chimes at its close. Equally effective, but exploring gossamer tracery rather than the grander scale, is "...le sifflement des vents porteurs de l'amour..." ("...the whistling of the winds, bearers of love...", 1971) for flute and percussion with microphones, which takes its title from St.John of the Cross. Here frost (delicate sounds) is contrasted with warmth (more linear melodic lines), using extended flute techniques (such as breath harmonics) and a wide range of lighter percussive colours. These two works perhaps provide the best introduction to Tremblay's methods and sounds. The imposing Vêpres de la Vierge (1986) for soprano, chorus, flute, organ and orchestra was written for the 850th anniversary of the foundation of the Abbey of Our Lady at Sylvanès, France; contemporary effects intertwine with the influence of Gregorian chant, the sonorities reflect the acoustics of the Abbey, and the interaction of blocks of sound, both choral and instrumental, and of silence is much in evidence. It opens with a long and inspired flute solo using extended techniques and influenced by Eastern musics; this in itself (counter-balanced later in the work by the soprano soloist) is worthy of attention by flute-players, and the whole work is a powerful addition to the modern choral repertoire for large buildings.

Among his other works was the electronic 'sound-environment' (Centre-élan, 1967) for the Québec Pavilion at Expo 67, which was in five sequences drawn from a widespread variety of Québec sounds, from the sea to industry, and ending with an evocation of the Northern Lights.


works include:

- Compostelle I for clarinet and ensemble; Envoi for piano and 15 instrumentalists

- Cantique de durées, Fleuves, Jeux de Solstices for orch.; Ver le soleil for orch. or for instrumental ensemble

- Souffles (Champs II), Vers (Champs III) and other works for instrumental ensemble

- "...le sifflement des vents porteurs de l'amour..." for flute, percussion, and microphones; Le signe du lion for French horn and tam-tam; Solstices for flute/piccolo, clarinet, horn, double-bass, and 2 percussionists

- Phases, Pièces pour piano, Réseaux and Traçantes for piano

- Dzèi for soprano, flute, bass clarinet, percussion and piano; Kékoba for mezzo-soprano, tenor, percussion and ondes Martenot; Oralléluiants for soprano, ensemble and microphones; Vêpres de la Vierge for soprano, chorus, organ and orch.

- electronic Centre-élan and Dimension Soleils


recommended works:

Fleuves (1976) for orchestra

Jeux de solstices (1974) for orchestra

Phases (1966) for piano

"...le sifflement des vents porteurs de l'amour..." (1971) for flute, percussion and microphones

Vêpres de la Vierge (1986) for soprano, chorus, flute, organ and orchestra



born 12th October 1880 at Balham (London, U.K.)

dies 16th February 1968 at Toronto


Willan's huge output (over 900 works) divides into two groups, the secular works, which follow the English late Victorian traditions of Stanford and Parry, and the considerable body of religious works, either choral or for organ, that are more eclectic in idiom.

Among the most often heard of the secular works is the Piano Concerto (1944, revised 1949), which is heavily influenced by Rachmaninov (especially in the melodic cast), and while attractive enough is a pale clone of the Russian composer, much in the fashion of Hamilton Harty's similar piano concerto. Of his two symphonies, the Symphony No.2 (1941 rev.1948) is more likely to be heard; in ethos and idiom, it belongs to a pre-First World War aesthetic, with a Brucknerian opening movement, a jauntiness in the scherzo combined with Elgarian turns of phrase, and, after a slow mysterious opening to the finale (the most interesting section of the symphony), a huge, blazingly triumphant finale. The two violin sonatas may occasionally be encountered, the rather dull Violin Sonata No.1 (1916) being in a late Romantic idiom, while Baroque elements pervade the Violin Sonata No.2 (1923).

There was also a Celtic streak in Willan's interests, combined with the influence of Wagner, which emerges in the rather beautiful Poem for string quartet (1904, revised 1930), arranged for string orchestra in 1959, and more overtly in his major work, the opera Deirdre. Based on the Irish legends of Deirdre of the Sorrows, it started as incidental music to a radio drama by John Coulter (1941), was then recast as a radio opera (1945), and finally revised into its form as a three-act stage opera (1962-1965). It uses leitmotifs, though sparingly, lush orchestration, and has been criticised for its dramatic weakness. He also wrote six ballad-operas (two have been lost), using folk-music as the source of the songs.

More highly regarded than these is Willan's organ music, especially the virtuoso Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue (1916), and the two Preludes and Fugues (1908 and 1909), which reflect a European late-Romantic chromaticism. The fine Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue is an imposing work, taking full advantage of the resources of the late-Victorian organ in a taut musical construction. The opening is dramatic, the hushed mystery of the initial chords suddenly blazing out. The eighteen variations on the passacaglia ground bass contrast the delicate and the imposing, the climax placed in the penultimate variation to allow a gentle link to the fugue, which eventually sheds its chromatic hues in a final blaze of triumph. Among his later organ works, the Choral Preludes of the 1950s are the most successful.

Willan's sacred vocal music is in the English tradition, but with the additional influence of Renaissance polyphony, sometimes overt in such unaccompanied choral works as the five-part motet Gloria Deo per immensa sæcula (1950). But the range of style is considerable, from the spartan textures of the Lutheran Missa Brevis in G (1954) to the more personal style he adopted in compositions for his own church, St.Mary Magdalene, Toronto, where the influence of early polyphony and plainsong is evident. They include fourteen settings of the Missa Brevis (1928-1963) and a set of eleven Liturgical Motets (1928-1937). His most celebrated choral work is perhaps An Apostrophe to the Heavenly Hosts (1921) for unaccompanied double choir, using texts and musical influences drawn from Eastern Orthodox rites. Its four parts are linked by ethereal amens, and the mystical tone only coalesces in the more concrete final section, based on the hymn `Ye watchers and ye Holy ones', before a return to the ethereal in final alleluias. Those who enjoy Holst's choral music might well consider investigating this work.

Willan was an organist and conductor, notably at St.Mary Magdalene (1921-1968), and taught at Toronto, where his pupils included many of the later generation of English-speaking Canadian composers, including John Beckwith, Godfrey Ridout and John Weinzweig.


works include:

- 2 symphonies

- piano concerto

- Overture to an Unwritten Comedy and other works for orch.

- 2 violin sonatas; piano trio; Poem for string quartet (also string orch.)

- Variations and Epilogue on an Original Theme for two pianos

- 2 Preludes and Fugues, Introduction Passacaglia and Fugue, 2 Passacaglia and Fugue and many other works for organ

- cantata The Mystery of Bethlehem for soloist, chorus, organ and optional instruments; The Story of Bethlehem for soloists, women's chorus and organ; very large body of liturgical choral works, including An Apostrophe to the Heavenly Hosts for unaccompanied double choir, and other works for chorus and orch.

- 6 ballad operas (2 lost) including The Beggar's Opera and The Order of Good Cheer; operas Deirdre and Transit Through Fire


recommended works:

An Apostrophe to the Heavenly Hosts (1921) for unaccompanied double choir

Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue for organ (1916)

Poem (1904, revised 1930) for string quartet or string orchestra (1959)





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