R. Murray Schafer (1933–2021)

R. Murray Schafer (1933–2021)

Schafer on his 80th birthday
Photo: Valerie Elliott

The quest narrative provides a useful framework for considering the life and career of R. Murray Schafer, who died on 14 August 2021 at the age of 88, following a years-long decline brought about by Alzheimer’s disease. Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949, p. 23) summarizes a typical quest story: “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” Any quest narrative worth relating is beset with obstacles for the hero to overcome; in Schafer’s case, he was dealt a serious one early on. At the age of eight he developed glaucoma in his right eye, and the eye had to be removed. Schafer begins his autobiography (My Life on Earth and Elsewhere, 2012) with the loss of his eye, the defining event of his childhood, and he describes the pain and suffering that resulted. Known from then on as the boy with one eye, he was the target of mean comments and bullying from uncouth classmates.

One-eyed characters do not get good press in mythical accounts—think of Polyphemus, the man-eating giant; Balor, the mythical Irish king who could kill enemies by merely glancing at them; or HAL, the sinister computer with one camera eye in 2001: A Space Odyssey. More pertinent to Schafer’s story, though, is Wotan the Wanderer from Wagner’s Ring cycle, who sacrificed an eye to drink from the well of knowledge. Schafer has often been compared to Wagner, and Schafer’s Patria cycle of music theatre works can be thought of as the Canadian Ring cycle, so the comparison with Wotan is apt. But unlike Wotan, who exerted great power as the king of the gods, Schafer after losing his eye found himself in a vulnerable position. Shy by nature, he was forced by his school bullying experiences to turn even more inward; his greatest solace during his adolescent years was found in the solitary exercise of the visual arts. His sketches and cartoons showed great promise, and eventually he decided that a life as an artist might be his calling.

In the second chapter of his autobiography, titled “Artist or Musician?”, Schafer relates that he took a portfolio of his youthful drawings to an audition for the Ontario College of Art; when the interviewer noticed Schafer’s glass eye, however, he said “With sight in one eye only I wouldn’t recommend a career in art.” It was then that the object of Schafer’s quest turned decisively from the visual arts to music. His training in the visual arts has certainly left its mark on his work as a composer, however. His manuscript musical scores are themselves works of art, and indeed have been displayed in art galleries.

Schafer’s first sustained exposure to music was as a choir boy at Toronto’s Grace Church on-the-Hill, an Anglican church in a well-to-do Toronto neighbourhood. The eight years that he spent in the choir, supplemented by piano and music theory lessons, provided him with an excellent basic grounding in music, and a keen ear for choral sounds—including the British sacred choral music tradition. He included a set of three hymns as part of a larger choral work titled The Fall into Light (2002–03). The first of those three hymns is an evocation, later in life, of those early choral experiences at Grace Church on-the-Hill.

After graduating from high school and the church choir, Schafer enrolled in the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto. He studied piano with Alberto Guerrero, who was also Glenn Gould’s teacher, and composition with John Weinzweig, a key figure in the introduction of post-war avant-garde styles of musical composition to Canada. Another mentor during his two years at the University of Toronto was Marshall McLuhan, whose classes he audited in the company of a friend. From McLuhan, whose reputation at the time was mainly local rather than global, Schafer learned about James Joyce and Ezra Pound, and heard incipient versions of McLuhan’s ideas about communications theory and pop culture.

Music education in Canada in the early 1950s, especially in the field of composition to which Schafer was gravitating, was underdeveloped in comparison to Europe and the United States, and so students with serious aspirations in music often travelled abroad to complete their studies. In Schafer’s case, the decision was forced upon him when he was expelled from the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music for insubordination. He later honed the story of his expulsion into an amusing narrative that reached its ultimate form during a convocation address that he gave when he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Toronto in 2006.

Schafer spent a year as a sailor on an oil tanker to raise money, and then left for Europe in 1956 to continue his quest for musical understanding and enlightenment. His goal was to spend time in Vienna, the centre of the classical music universe. Armed with a letter of introduction from Greta Kraus, a Viennese musician with whom he had studied in Toronto, the young musician arrived in this musical Mecca in April 1956, not long after the occupying Allied troops had departed. His goal was to study the music of Schoenberg and his school; under the influence of Weinzweig, Schafer had come to believe that Canadian music should follow a growing international trend that held the music of Schoenberg and his pupil Webern to be the one true path forward. To his keen disappointment, he quickly realized that this avant-garde idiom was no more popular in Vienna than it had been in Toronto. The ruling spirit in Vienna was not Schoenberg but rather Mozart, for 1956 was the bicentennial of that composer’s birth. Mozart is a composer with whom Schafer has little affinity, and the Mozart celebrations rather soured his time in Vienna. Mozart’s music was everywhere in Vienna that year, as though he were not just another composer, but rather the earthly incarnation of the spirit of music itself. The point was not lost on Schafer; he later commented satirically and with more than a trace of bitterness, “If God had intended Canada to have music, Mozart would have been born in Regina.”

Frustrated in his attempts to acquire suitable composition lessons in Vienna, Schafer stopped composing music for nearly two years. Instead, he studied the German language intensively, including medieval German. This interest resulted in his first major composition, Minnelieder, a set of 13 songs to epigrammatic medieval German love poems. The work has been performed often both in its original version, for mezzo-soprano and wind quintet, and a later arrangement for voice and orchestra; numerous recordings have been made of it as well.

Schafer’s interest in German was in part a discovery of his own roots. His ancestry is German on his father’s side, as one might guess from his surname, which is the German word for ‘shepherd’. Notwithstanding a serious interest in Mittelhochdeutsch, his main preoccupation, both then and subsequently, was with the music and literature of the German Romantic era. He published a fine book on the writings of the German writer and composer E.T.A. Hoffmann. Schafer also set to music texts by several German Romantic era writers, and was strongly influenced by the mainstream of German Romantic music, from Beethoven to Wagner to Richard Strauss. The British sacred choral tradition provided a jumping off point in his quest for a distinctively Canadian music, but it was the music of German Romanticism that would prove to be an ever-present guide on his journey.

Realizing that Vienna provided more frustration than inspiration in his quest, Schafer packed his bags and roamed widely across Europe. He supported himself by writing music journalism and taking on odd jobs; for a while he even taught English at the Berlitz school in Trieste—the same job once held by James Joyce. His travels took him not just to the major centres of Western culture—Paris, London, Athens, and so forth—but also to isolated communities behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe. He visited Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria. He attended the meeting of the International Folk Music Council in Bucharest, visited with Zoltán Kodály in Budapest, and was a guest of the Bulgarian Composers’ Union in Sofia. Schafer seems to have sensed that if Canada could not live up to the noble art music traditions that Vienna and Mozart represented, perhaps the officially sanctioned ideology of folk-music-inspired composition that he found in Communist Eastern Europe would provide the way forward to a distinctively Canadian musical idiom. He made many recordings of folk music on his travels and thought deeply about the relationship between folk and art music traditions.

But even before attempting to incorporate folk music idioms into his own compositions, Schafer came to the realization that for the purposes of creating a distinctive Canadian musical idiom, this movement was a dead end. Canadian composers of the generation before Schafer, such as Ernest MacMillan and Leo Smith, had made some attempts to fashion a national repertoire based on folk music arrangements in the 1920s and 1930s. But nothing like the renewal of the art music repertoire that came about after the folk music research of Kodály and Bartók in Eastern Europe ever happened in Canada. Instead of a hearty meal, Canadian composers made only a few appetizing hors d’oeuvres out of the folk music of Canada. In an article that he wrote in 1961 titled “The limits of nationalism in Canadian music,” Schafer dismissed the folk music phase of musical nationalism in Canada as follows:

Some people still think the reason Canada has no national school of music which would distinguish us in the world’s ears is because no Canadian composer has been bright enough to utilize Canada’s folk music properly. They might as well give up the idea at once. Canada may not have produced her Beethoven yet, but she will certainly never produce her Smetana. [Schafer, On Canadian Music, p. 9]

He outlined three cogent reasons why folk music could not serve as a basis for a distinctively Canadian music:

The first emigrants to Canada were Philistines; they were men of energy and vision, but culturally bankrupt. The vast majority came not to propagate European culture but to escape from it, and this hostility to the fine arts left us suspicious of the value of whatever culture we do possess and reluctant to do much about making it more distinctively our own. [Secondly], progressive urbanization has rendered large portions of the population less conscious of folk art of all kinds; such material is much less meaningful for Canadian audiences than is the case in Eastern Europe. Why employ Canadian folk music if it signifies nothing to Canadian audiences? And finally, owing to our common background, the vast majority of Canadian folk music has its origins on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean and—at least in the English-speaking part of the country—is practically indistinguishable from that of the United States.

In the midst of his folk music explorations and ruminations, Schafer realized that he still needed a mentor to guide him in the intricacies of contemporary composition. After his travels through Eastern Europe, he settled in London for two years and got down to the serious business of perfecting his craft as a composer. Reflecting on this experience later, he stated “Vienna was a washout and in Paris one heard only French music. But in London at the time all kinds of music were available as they were in no other European capital.” (Adams, R. Murray Schafer, p. 23) Schafer’s teacher during those years was Peter Racine Fricker, whose thorough but informal approach to teaching composition suited Schafer well—many of their lessons took place in a London pub. Fricker fell broadly within the post-Schoenberg camp of contemporary music; he taught Schafer a new appreciation for form and a mastery of the principles of organizing large stretches of abstract, non-texted music into convincing, logically unfolding structures. The major piece that Schafer wrote under Fricker’s guidance was a cantata titled Brébeuf, completed in 1961—the year of his article on the limits of nationalism in Canadian music, and also the year that he returned to Canada for good after his five-year-long European sojourn.

Brébeuf is a major step forward for Schafer, both in the ambition and scope of the work and in his quest for a Canadian music. Schafer compiled the English-language text himself, drawing upon the Jesuit Relations and other primary sources. The work relates the story of the Jesuit missionary Jean de Brébeuf and his encounters with the Huron/Wendat people in the period from 1625 until his death in 1649; this narrative is interspersed with a series of hallucinatory outbursts about the saint’s premonitions of his martyrdom, along with commentary by others about it. The twenty-minute-long work is scored for solo baritone and orchestra; the style recalls Berg’s Wozzeck or Schoenberg’s Erwartung. There is nothing particularly Canadian about the musical idiom, which as suggested is in the post-tonal idiom of the Second Viennese School.  But the decision to set the work in Canada and deal with one of the most important missionaries active there in the seventeenth century demonstrates that even as Schafer was concluding his European sojourn, his thoughts were turning decisively to Canada and Canadian themes.

One of Schafer’s first aims upon returning to Canada was to revolutionize the country’s music education system. Drastic measures were needed to turn those “culturally bankrupt Philistines” who were “suspicious of the value of culture” into a nation of music lovers who might one day be prepared to offer moral support to the idea of a distinctively Canadian music. He went back to first principles. Music lessons in Canada, he observed, often meant “little more than memorizing Monkeys in the Tree for some year-end social function.” (Adams, p. 22) His position was that the fundamental goal of music education should be to produce good listeners rather than expert performers. Working for short but intensive periods with students in Toronto area classrooms, he evolved a novel and revolutionary system of music education that replaced performance with composition and rote learning with creative experimentation in sound. He issued a series of pamphlets that were later republished as a manifesto titled Creative Music Education (1976). “What we need,” he wrote “is a notational system, the rudiments of which can be taught in 15 minutes, so that the class can immediately embark on the making of live music.” Drawing upon his strengths in the visual arts, he evolved a graphic notation system, or rather many different graphic notation systems, a unique one for each work that he wrote for young performers, all of them simple to understand and interpret. Several works for youth orchestra and/or choir resulted, among which are some of his most popular and often-performed compositions.

The most celebrated of these works, and the one which established his international reputation, is Epitaph for Moonlight. The score was published in 1968 by Universal Edition of Vienna, and also appears in his music education pamphlet When Words Sing, which was republished in Creative Music Education. The impending US moon landing inspired Schafer to pen this elegy for moonlight. The piece grew out of an exercise that he gave to a grade seven class in Vancouver to invent their own words for moonlight. The text for the work is derived from the students’ inventive responses. The work is an ear-training exercise, notated graphically in relative rather than absolute pitch. The choir begins on a randomly chosen high note, and subsequent entries are indicated by interval signs. The opening provides a clear example; each section of the four-part choir is subdivided into four sections, with each sub-section entering a semi-tone lower than the previous one, giving a series of 16 descending semi-tone entries.

Even though he had no academic qualifications, in the expanding and innovative educational climate that prevailed in Canada in the 1960s Schafer became a university faculty member. After spending two years as an artist-in-residence at Memorial University in St. John’s, NL he moved to the opposite coast and joined Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, BC when it opened in 1965. He was recruited to the university’s Centre for the Study of Communications and the Arts, an interdisciplinary unit that was inspired by the work of Marshall McLuhan and aimed to break down traditional barriers between the arts and sciences. Schafer’s most lasting contribution to the Centre’s mandate was the World Soundscape Project, which he founded, and in particular his book The Tuning of the World (1977) that arose out of the project. Schafer has been credited with coining the word ‘soundscape’ and with creating the discipline of acoustic ecology, which is the study of all aspects of sound in the human environment. In The Tuning of the World, he describes and analyzes historical and contemporary soundscapes, and provides important guidelines for acoustic design (the ecologically prudent management of sound). The World Soundscape Project produced many other interesting projects, including an LP recording and pamphlet titled The Vancouver Soundscape (later reissued and updated on CD) and Five Village Soundscapes, a study of the sonic environment of five European villages. Schafer’s heightened sensitivity to the particular quality of individual soundscapes increasingly informed his work as a composer, notably in the series of twelve linked music theatre works that he titled Patria.

But it was to be in the intimate genre of the string quartet that the revelation of how to create a distinctively Canadian music first came to Schafer. The breakthrough came when he realized that he could combine his scientific work in acoustic ecology with his creative life as a composer in a fruitful and imaginative way. The first successful work to result from this discovery was his String Quartet No. 2, subtitled “Waves”. Schafer began to write the quartet in 1976, and he has explained how his soundscape research was translated into the music of his string quartet:

In the course of the World Soundscape Project, we recorded and analysed ocean waves on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of Canada. The recurrent pattern of waves is always asymmetrical but we have noted that the duration from crest to crest usually falls between 6 and 11 seconds. Few ocean waves are of longer or shorter duration than this. It is this wave motion that gives the quartet its rhythm and structure. The listener will hear the dynamic undulations of waves in this piece, and as it develops several types of wave motion are combined. I have sought to give the quartet a liquid quality in which everything is constantly dissolving and flowing into everything else. That is to say, the material of the work is not fixed, but is perpetually changing, and even though certain motivic figures are used repeatedly, they undergo continual dynamic, rhythmic and tempo variation.

A time log in the score marks off the duration in units that expand in one second increments from six seconds up to eleven seconds and then decrease back to six seconds again. Schafer’s idiom in “Waves” is related to the style and procedures of minimalism; the musical materials are severely limited, and the work creates its effect largely by the hypnotic repetition of simple melodic patterns that weave in and out of synchronization. The overall impression of the work reflects the simple beauty of ocean waves—ever unchanging but ceaselessly varied. The string quartet was to prove a fruitful medium for Schafer; he left a superb corpus of 13 works in that genre, including a final short movement poignantly titled Alzheimer’s Masterpiece (2015).

His increasing sensitivity to natural soundscapes led Schafer to quit his position at Simon Fraser University in 1975 and move to a farm in southern Ontario. The final transformative discovery in his quest for a Canadian music came about as the result of an unusual commission he received in 1978, to write a work for 12 trombones. Realizing that the robust sound of a trombone choir was well suited to outdoor performance, he decided to make the Canadian landscape an integral part of his composition, and he titled the resulting piece Music for Wilderness Lake. It is the first of what he referred to as his environmental compositions, in which the Canadian soundscape and landscape are integral to the work concept. In Music for Wilderness Lake, the 12 trombones are dispersed along the shoreline of a small lake and take their cues from colored flags that the conductor displays from a raft or boat in the middle of the lake. The work is in two parts, Dusk—to be performed at sunset, and Dawn—to be played at sunrise the next morning. Although intended for performance in a Canadian wilderness setting, the work is popular with trombonists and has been done in urban locations such as the Amstel River in Amsterdam and Central Park in New York City. On Schafer’s 80th birthday on 18 July 2013, the work was performed on the Avon River in Stratford, Ontario.

Schafer’s quest for a Canadian music achieved its ultimate realization with And Wolf Shall Inherit the Moon, the epilogue to the Patria cycle. Planning for the Wolf Project, as it is known for short, began in 1983. It is a week-long ritual enacted in August each year in the wilderness by up to 64 people who are simultaneously the creators/performers/audience. Schafer was the guiding spirit of the Wolf Project, but the music, text, and rituals of the work were collectively created over the years by the participants themselves. Several aspects of the Wolf Project set it apart as a unique theatrical work. It is entirely self-funded by the participants; no government assistance or arts council funding was sought, nor were any tickets sold. The only way to experience the Wolf Project was to be invited to become a participant in it. Technology was not permitted in the project; it was never filmed, and cameras were not allowed on site during the week-long retreat. The only concession made to the outside world is that musical excerpts from the work were published and recorded (in the exact wilderness location where the work was mounted each year) and may be performed outside of the context of the work itself. Schafer offers the following description of how the week unfolds:

We’re divided into clans. There are eight adult members in each clan, and we are at four different campsites. The campsites are three or four kilometers from one another—quite a distance in fact. It’s a total wilderness environment, and we created our own campsites, our own trails and everything else. The work lasts for eight days, and it is a ritual throughout the eight days, which doesn’t mean that there isn’t time for recreation. There is, but from the moment you arrive on the first day, you’ve started to participate in this work which is theatre, music, and ritual, and it goes on until the last day, when all the clans, all the people come together, for what we call the Great Wheel Day, which is the final celebration and drama which concludes the work. It’s the same every year, although we add more from time to time, and it gets more refined and more beautiful each year, actually.

The Wolf Project was founded upon the idea that music can create a powerful sense of community. Many of the participants were involved with the work for over 20 years; they took a week out of their lives each August to travel to a remote part of Ontario, where they were cut off from all contact with the outside world, in order to reenact the rituals and perform the music of this epilogue to the massive Patria cycle. Their dedication to Schafer’s ideals indicates that they subscribe to his belief that it is more important to create works of art that are deeply meaningful to a small number of people, rather than score widespread success by catering to popular taste.

Schafer was a many-sided creative artist—author and scholar, composer, educator, visual artist, and environmentalist. It is difficult to summarize a career that was so abundantly fruitful or a musical idiom that has changed so frequently over the years. His lifelong quest has taken him to many corners of the earth, but in the end, he found a Canadian musical idiom not during his sojourn in Europe or through sonic explorations in South America or the Middle East, but rather in the natural surroundings of his modest farm in southern Ontario. Like Siegfried in Wagner’s Ring cycle, he learned the truth from a bird’s song. For Schafer, the truth that the bird sang to him was to pay close attention to the sounds of the Canadian environment. It was a lesson that he took to heart; he was more attuned to the Canadian soundscape than anyone has ever been. In true romantic fashion, he followed his own line of reasoning to its logical conclusion and turned his back on many aspects of modern techno-culture. He never owned a computer, nor did he have an email account; he maintained no website and it was even difficult to reach him by phone. The one sure way to get in touch with him was to visit him on his farm; there he might have invited you to share a meal consisting of food that he had grown himself, and he certainly would have invited you to listen to the eternal symphony of Canada’s abundant, ever changing natural soundscape—the source of his own creativity and of his path to a distinctively Canadian music.

Postscript: if you would like to get to know some of Schafer’s music, I have created a YouTube playlist which you can read about here: http://uoftmusicicm.ca/a-schafer-playlist/

The John Beckwith Songbook

The John Beckwith Songbook

To mark the 94th birthday of the composer John Beckwith today, Confluence Concerts has created three 90-minute online recitals featuring the majority of his songs. The recitals were first webcast on YouTube on Sunday, March 7 at 2 pm, 5 pm, and 8 pm EST; they are available for viewing online until March 21st (click here for Concert 1, Concert 2, and Concert 3; the texts are available from the Confluence Concerts website). The event also included videotaped birthday greetings, and interviews by Larry Beckwith (John’s son) with the composer, with the pianist and poet William Aide, and with the singer Mary Morrison. A live chat during the event fostered a sense of community for the hundreds of appreciative audience members listening to the webcast. The congenial hosts for the event were Larry Beckwith and his daughter (and the composer’s granddaughter) Alison Beckwith. Rather than discuss the works in the order they were presented, I will talk about them here in chronological order.

The earliest work performed was Beckwith’s first song cycle, Five Lyrics of the Tang Dynasty, completed in 1947 when the composer was 20 years old. While the composer was self-deprecating about the cycle in his spoken comments, and Mary Morrison noted that she does not usually teach the songs any longer because they are so short and difficult to program, no less an artist than Jon Vickers recorded the cycle for Centrediscs towards the end of his career. On this occasion the cycle was beautifully performed by three young singers from the University of Toronto Faculty of Music, Abigail Sinclair (nos. 1, 2), Ana Isabella Castro (nos. 3, 5), and Alexandra Delle Donne (no. 4), accompanied respectively by Ria Kim, Suzy Smith, and Ivan Jovanovic.

In his memoirs, Beckwith describes the Four Songs to Poems by e. e. cummings (1950) as “student works,” but they were written for the eminent soprano Lois Marshall, who premiered the set at her solo debut recital in Eaton Auditorium on October 12, 1950. Appropriately enough the set was performed by Leslie Fagan, who is a faculty member at Wilfrid Laurier University; during her studies at the University of Toronto, Fagan was a pupil of Marshall. She was accompanied by fellow WLU faculty member Anna Ronai. Beckwith would write a second song cycle to the poetry of cummings thirty years later.

Also dating from 1950 is Two Songs to Poems by Colleen Thibaudeau, consisting of “Serenade” and “The formal garden of the heart”. The year after these songs were composed,  Thibaudeau married Beckwith’s friend and frequent collaborator, the writer James Reaney. Both songs received exemplary performances, the first from Russell Braun accompanied by his wife Carolyn Maule, and the second by WLU Associate Dean Kimberly Barber, with Anna Ronai.

In the interview with his son, Beckwith remarked that he is not fond of the term “art song,” finding it “a bit pretentious”. Indeed, few of the works in his catalogue comfortably fit the designation “art song with piano”. There are arrangements of traditional songs, monodramas, songs with other instrumental accompaniment, and so on … but few “art songs” in the traditional meaning of that term. (Mind you, this did not stop the Canadian Art Song Project from co-producing the event.) Beckwith also had interesting observations to make on the subject of setting Canadian English to music, remarks that are pertinent not just to his arrangements of traditional Canadian songs in English, but also to his many settings of lyrics by Canadian poets.

“Never work with children or animals,” W.C. Fields once famously observed, because they will steal the scene. And indeed the children of the Canadian Children’s Opera Company (CCOC) did just that in their performance of Ten English Rhymes (1963). As Larry Beckwith explained, the set was inspired by the beloved collection of nursery rhymes Lavender’s Blue (Oxford University Press 1954), a family favorite. The composer selected ten poems not linked with any traditional tune, and supplied lovely settings for treble voice with piano accompaniment. The seven solos and three duets in the collection were exquisitely sung by thirteen CCOC choristers ranging in age from 8 to 15, accompanied by the CCOC accompanist Christina Faye. Teri Dunn, Larry Beckwith’s wife and the Music Director of the CCOC, was justly proud of the terrific singing of her young charges on this occasion.

Beginning in the 1960s, Beckwith turned to making vocal arrangements of traditional Canadian music from diverse cultural groups at the urging of the CBC radio producer John Roberts. The first such set was Four Love Songs for Baritone and Piano (1969), written for Donald Bell. The set includes two songs in English, one in Gaelic and one in Tsimshian. Only the two English songs from the set were given, sung by the young baritone Giovanni Rabito, a Grade 12 student at Unionville High School, where Larry Beckwith is on the music staff. Not only does Rabito have an extraordinarily beautiful voice, he also delivered the stagy humour of “St. John’s Girl” with a deft comedic talent. This is a young singer to keep an eye on.

Five Songs from Canadian Traditional Collections (1971) includes texts in French, English, Lithuanian, and Ukrainian to tunes collected by Kenneth Peacock. The set was written for and recorded by Maureen Forrester, accompanied by John Newmark. I acquired the LP not long after it was issued; it was my introduction to the music of Beckwith and remains one of my favorite performances of any of his works. The five song settings are beautifully arranged for the voice with sparkling, imaginative piano accompaniments. Maria Soulis sang the first two songs in the set with superb flair, accompanied by Suzanne Yeo. The last three songs, including the challenging and hilarious cumulative song “L’habitant de Saint-Roch,” were ably taken by Kari Rutherford, a master’s student and pupil of Krisztina Szabó at the University of British Columbia, accompanied by Derek Stanyer.

In his interview, Aide remarked that Six Songs to Poems by e.e. cummings (1982) is “one of the best cycles produced by a Canadian composer”. Upon being told of this, Beckwith remarked modestly that Aide was exaggerating, but I am sure many would agree with Aide, including the numerous baritones who have this work in their repertoire. It is extraordinary how aptly Beckwith captures not only the deeper meaning of these six poems, but also their idiosyncratic syntax and form. The set has been beautifully recorded by the baritone Doug MacNaughton with Aide for Centrediscs; the cover of that CD, pictured here, captures a telling moment of the rehearsal process. The fine bass-baritone Giles Tomkins sang the second and fifth songs of the set, accompanied by his wife Kathryn Tremills. The other songs were nicely rendered by the upcoming young singers Cameron Martin (nos. 1, 3, 4) accompanied by Suzy Smith, and Clarence Frazer (no. 6) with veteran collaborative pianist Michael McMahon.

The monodrama Avowals (1985), to a text by bpNichol, is about the existential crisis of a pop singer. Aide observed that it is a difficult work for the keyboard player to practise, as it calls not just for piano, but also harpsichord and celeste; often two of the instruments must be played simultaneously. The CD pictured above features a superb recording of the work by the University of Victoria tenor Benjamin Butterfield, accompanied by Aide. Butterfield gamely agreed to reprise Avowals for the Confluence Concerts event, partnered by Robert Holliston, Head of Keyboard at the Victoria Conservatory of Music.

Whatever else Stacey (1997) might be, it certainly is not an “art song”. In his memoirs, Beckwith refers to it as a “sung monologue or one-character mini-opera”. It is a much-loved classic of the Canadian music repertoire, and has been recorded by Monica Whicher (twice), Caroline Schiller, and Teri Dunn. The text, consisting of six selections from Margaret Laurence’s novel The Fire-Dwellers, tells of another existential crisis: Stacey MacAindra vents her feelings about life as a 1960s suburban Vancouver housewife in a series of wryly humorous and poignant monologues directed at God. The six sections of the 15-minute monodrama were divided up among three gifted University of Toronto graduate students, the sopranos Elizabeth Legierski (nos. 1, 2), Morgan Reid (3, 4), and Heidi Duncan (5, 6), all from the studio of Darryl Edwards; they were accompanied respectively by Kathryn Tremills, Christopher Mokrzewski, and Andrea Grant.

The set of five arrangements of Canadian traditional songs titled Young Man from Canada (1998) features texts in Gaelic, Hungarian, English and French. This was the opening selection of the first of the three concerts, and was jointly performed by the tenors Colin Ainsworth (nos. 1, 2, 4 accompanied by the versatile University of Manitoba pianist Laura Loewen) and Jacob Abrahamse (nos. 3, 5 accompanied by Kathryn Tremills). Ainsworth and Loewen are old hands at virtual performing, having worked together on a series of online collaborations called “Iso-recitals.” Bookending the event, the set of four arrangements for soprano and piano titled I Love to Dance (1999) ended the third recital. The set features lyrics in English, Russian, German, and French. Patricia Wrigglesworth, a first-year student at Western University, took the first song, accompanied by Marianna Chibotar. Natalya Gennadi sang the heartbreaking second song in Russian, accompanied by Kathryn Tremills; this performance also featured a very beautiful and artistic video. The celebrated Canadian soprano, conductor, and new music specialist Barbara Hannigan sang the third song with impeccable German diction, and also accompanied herself at the piano. The set concluded with the fine young University of Toronto soprano Gabrielle Turgeon singing “La danse” accompanied by her mother, Anne-Louise Turgeon.

The Three Songs to Poems by Miriam Waddington originated in 2000 as a setting of “A Man and His Flute” and was completed with the addition of two further poems, “Old Chair Song” and “The Snow Tramp” in 2003, a year before Waddington’s death. The songs were performed by three young Canadian sopranos all on the cusp of promising careers: Sara Schabas of Toronto, currently based in Geneva (accompanied by Valerie Dueck), Nova Scotia native Allison Angelo (with Andrea Grant, piano), and Alberta-born Caitlin Wood (with Kathryn Tremills).

Two works from 2008 were heard in performances with the singer simultaneously providing the instrumental accompaniment. In the three Beckett Songs for baritone and guitar, the Irish writer’s sparse lyrics are beautifully captured in music by Beckwith. Doug MacNaughton, who commissioned the work, gave an absolutely spellbinding performance of the short cycle. Play and Sing is a suite of eight short pieces, five for cello solo, two for voice and cello, and one for voice alone. The charming set was written for the composer’s granddaughter Juliet Beckwith as a gift for her ninth birthday. The work is a wonderful tribute to the confidence that the composer had in his young granddaughter’s mature musicianship. The three texted pieces feature lyrics by the composer which comment amusingly on the music (“This is double counterpoint, in case you didn’t know”). The superb performance was beautifully filmed in Christ Church Cathedral, Victoria, where Juliet is now a chorister, following in the footsteps of her great-grandmother and her grandfather, both of whom sang in the same church choir many decades ago.

Singing Synge (2011) offers monologues from three different plays of the early 20th century by the Irish playwright John Millington Synge in dramatic settings (“character studies” the composer calls them in his memoir) for baritone and piano. This set was also written for MacNaughton, who gave the first performance with William Aide at the Arts and Letters Club in Toronto on February 13, 2012. On this occasion the set was performed by the New Zealand baritone Bradley Christensen, a DMA student at the University of Toronto, with Trevor Chartrand at the piano. Christensen is working on a doctoral thesis that will offer a pedagogical guide to the song repertoire of Beckwith (excluding the arrangements); a short video about his research is available on the Confluence Concerts YouTube channel here.

The most recent music heard was the brief cycle Four Short Songs (2014), a setting for medium voice and piano of surreal texts from the 1912 book of poems titled Klänge [“Sounds“] by the artist Wassily Kandinsky, translated from the original German into English by Elizabeth Napier. The set is dedicated to Daniel Weinzweig, who helped to fund this event, as did Vern and Elfrieda Heinrichs and the Koerner Foundation. It was performed by the excellent Hungarian-Canadian mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó, who became an assistant professor at the UBC School of Music at the start of this academic year. She was accompanied by Derek Stanyer.

This ambitious undertaking was a first-class production on every level. All of the musicians, from the youngest CCOC chorister to the most seasoned professionals, sang and played with insight, understanding, and dedication. The audio and video mixes by Ryan Harper were superb; he took what was no doubt a very disparate set of recordings and created a unified, high quality webcast that was a pleasure to view and hear from start to finish. The production of the text files and the overall coordination of the project was an immense undertaking. Hats off to the remarkable Larry Beckwith for envisioning this event in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and bringing it to such a successful conclusion. And finally, kudos, bravo and much love to John Beckwith, whose creative genius was the cause for this wonderful celebration. Happy 94th birthday, John … you are an inspiration to us all.

John P.L. Roberts turns 90

John P.L. Roberts turns 90

John Roberts and composer Alan Bell (2009) Source: Flickr

The administrator, broadcasting executive, and cultural policy adviser John Peter Lee Roberts was born on October 21st, 1930 in Sydney, Australia. After studying music in Australia and London, he immigrated to Canada in 1955, becoming a music producer at CBC Winnipeg. Two years later he moved to CBC Toronto, rising over the years to a series of successively more senior and influential positions and inaugurating a wide variety of programs and policies that defined serious music at the CBC for over two decades. He invited major composers to CBC Toronto, including Igor Stravinsky, Michael Tippett, and Pierre Boulez. Roberts was also a firm proponent of Canadian music; during the period between 1965 and 1975, he was responsible for overseeing about 150 CBC commissions from Canadian composers. In his autobiography My Life on Earth and Elsewhere (2012), R. Murray Schafer noted “I was grateful to John for his faith in my work. He was certainly the most daring and dedicated music director the CBC ever had. John put much more money into commissioning composers than any director before or since him and he was open to experiments” (97–99).

After leaving the CBC, Roberts enjoyed a second career as a university administrator, becoming Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Calgary in 1987 and serving in that capacity until 1995. During the 1995–96 academic year, he was the first Seagram Visiting Fellow in the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada at McGill University. As an indefatigable organizer and animateur, Roberts was an active member of dozens of music, arts, and cultural policy boards, organizations, and committees. He served as President of the Canadian Music Council, the International Music Council, the Canadian Music Centre, Les Jeunesses musicales du Canada, and the Canadian Association of Fine Arts Deans, and as the Founding President of The Glenn Gould Foundation, where he established the Glenn Gould Prize (R. Murray Schafer was the first recipient of the prize; the most recent winner, announced earlier this month, is the Abenaki filmmaker and musician Alanis Obomsawin).

Source: Amazon.ca

Among the many honours which Roberts has received are honorary doctoral degrees from the University of Victoria (1992) and the University of Manitoba (1997), and investiture as a Member of the Order of Canada in 1982 (promoted to Officer in 1996). Roberts donated his personal papers to the University of Calgary in 2014, where they form the John P.L. Roberts fonds. In celebration of this donation, a two-day symposium titled ‘John Roberts, the CBC and Music in Canada’ was held at the University of Calgary 1–2 October 2015. The symposium in turn led to the book John P.L. Roberts, the CBC/Radio Canada, and Art Music edited by Friedemann Sallis and Regina Landwehr, which is due to be published soon by Cambridge Scholars Publishing. The book includes chapters by the two editors, as well as by Robert Bailey, Josée Beaudet, Norma Beecroft, Brian Cherney, Ariane Couture, James Deaville with Keely Mimnagh, Robin Elliott, Kimberly Francis, Allan Morris, Paul Sanden, Jeremy Strachan, and Richard Sutherland, and also an interview with Roberts by Brian Garbet. It is a fitting tribute to Roberts on the occasion of his 90th birthday.

Ezra Schabas (1924–2020)

Ezra Schabas (1924–2020)

Professor Emeritus Ezra Schabas of the University of Toronto Faculty of Music died in Toronto on October 12, 2020 at the age of 96. Schabas was born in New York City on April 24, 1924. Specializing in clarinet performance and music education, he completed an Artist’s Diploma (1943) and a BSc degree (1948) from the Juilliard School, and an MA (1949) at Columbia University. He served with the US Armed Forces during World War II and was stationed in Germany and in France, where he studied at the Conservatoire in Nancy and, after the war, at the Fontainebleau School for the Arts. After academic appointments in Massachusetts and Cleveland (1948–52) he became the Director of Concerts and Publicity at the Royal Conservatory of Music (then a constituent part of the University of Toronto) in 1952. He subsequently became a Special Lecturer at the Faculty of Music in 1960, an Associate Professor in 1961 and a Professor in 1968. He served for ten years as the chair of the Faculty of Music’s opera and performance departments (1968–78) and then was principal of the Royal Conservatory of Music (still part of the University of Toronto at the time) from 1978 to 1983. After two more years at the Faculty of Music he retired as Professor Emeritus in 1985.

Concurrent with his activities at the University of Toronto, Schabas enjoyed a busy career as a freelance clarinettist and a consultant and administrator. He played with the CBC Symphony Orchestra and was a founding member of the Toronto Woodwind Quintet (1956–60). Among his clarinet pupils were the jazz musician Brian Barley, Paul Grice and Howard Knopf (both members of the York Winds), Peter Smith (a founding member of the National Arts Centre Orchestra), the music librarian S. Timothy Maloney, and Patricia Wait-Weisenblum (a clarinet instructor at York University). Schabas was the music manager for the Stratford Festival (1958–61) and in 1960 he helped to found the National Youth Orchestra of Canada, for which he served variously as an instructor, auditioner, and administrator during its first five seasons. Two other projects which he founded were the Orchestral Training Program at the Royal Conservatory of Music and the Musical Performance and Communication program at the University of Toronto, both funded by the federal government. He served as the first president of the Association of Canadian Orchestras (1972–74) and the Association of Colleges and Conservatories of Music (1980–84). He was an active member of the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto, serving as its President from 1996 to 1998.

Schabas’s most enduring legacy may be his work as a music researcher and writer. His first book was Theodore Thomas: America’s Conductor and Builder of Orchestras, 1835-1905 (University of Illinois Press, 1989), a detailed biography of the indefatigable German-born US orchestra builder. Five years later came Sir Ernest MacMillan: The Importance of Being Canadian (University of Toronto Press, 1994), the definitive study of the leading Canadian musician of the mid-twentieth century; Schabas won the City of Toronto Book Award in 1995 for this biography. For his next project, Schabas collaborated with the musicologist Carl Morey to write Opera Viva (Dundurn Press, 2000), the official history of the Canadian Opera Company, which is both a handsome coffee table book and a scholarly study of the leading opera company in Canada. Next came There’s Music in These Walls: A History of the Royal Conservatory of Music (Dundurn Press, 2005), for which Schabas conducted extensive archival research and interviews. While the book remains the definitive history of the Con, it is not the ‘official’ history of the institution, as Schabas was characteristically unwilling to surrender editorial independence for the project. For his last book, Schabas returned to biography for a study of the Czech-born opera singer and actor Jan Rubes (Dundurn Press, 2007) who was also, like Schabas, an enthusiastic tennis player.

Among his many honours, Schabas was appointed to the Order of Ontario in 1996 and was invested as a Member of the Order of Canada in 2001. He is survived by his wife Ann, a former Dean of the Faculty of Library and Information Science at the University of Toronto and the daughter of Barker Fairley, whose paintings of local musicians adorn room 130 in the Faculty of Music’s Edward Johnson Building (the Barker Fairley Room). He is also survived by five children, twelve grandchildren (including the soprano Sara Schabas, University of Toronto BMus, 2012; and Marguerite Schabas, Executive Assistant to the General Director of the Canadian Opera Company) and eleven great-grandchildren. His personal and professional papers are held by the University of Toronto Archives.

Victor Feldbrill (1924–2020)

Victor Feldbrill (1924–2020)

The eminent Canadian musician Victor Feldbrill died in Toronto on June 17, 2020 at the age of 96. He is remembered by generations of Canadian music lovers for his outstanding services to music in Canada, which stretched over a period of some 75 years. A dedicated orchestra builder, he devoted much of his professional energy to educating young musicians in Canada and Japan, and led professional orchestras around the world as a guest conductor.

Victor Feldbrill conducts the Toronto Symphony in Nathan Phillips Square, 1976. Photo by Reg Innell from the Toronto Star Archives, Baldwin Collection, Toronto Reference Library.

Feldbrill was born in Toronto on April 4, 1924 to Nathan Feldbrill and Helen Lederman, Jewish immigrants who had arrived in Toronto in 1920 from their native Poland. The family later grew to include two daughters, Ruth and Eileen.

Feldbrill’s initiation to music making came at the age of nine with the family’s purchase of a violin for him, which led to lessons with Sigmund Steinberg, a member of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra with whom he studied from 1936 to 1943.

When Feldbrill began secondary school studies at Toronto’s Harbord Collegiate in 1937, he had already amassed valuable orchestral experience; he had formed a string ensemble at King Edward primary school and had played with the Toronto Secondary Schools Symphony Orchestra. Harbord was renowned for its music program and for the achievements of its students, many of them Jewish like Feldbrill; recent alumni of the school included the composers Louis Applebaum and John Weinzweig. Feldbrill immediately integrated into this milieu, becoming the concertmaster of the school orchestra in Grade 9 at the age of 13. He was also given the chance to conduct the orchestra on occasion. His interest in conducting was furthered by encouragement from Ernest MacMillan and lessons with Ettore Mazzoleni.

Aviva, Zelda, and Debbi Feldbrill, 1964. U of Manitoba Digital Collections

While still at Harbord, Feldbrill made his local conducting debut on February 25, 1943 with the University of Toronto Symphony Orchestra, which had been founded in 1934 by his friend and mentor John Weinzweig. A month later he appeared as a conductor with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in a performance of the waltz Artist’s Life by Johann Strauss II. It was while he was a student at Harbord that Feldbrill met Zelda Mann (1925–1995), whom he would marry on December 30, 1945. The couple had two daughters, Deborah and Aviva, and remained committed partners in life until Zelda’s death in 1995.

After graduating from Harbord, Feldbrill joined the Royal Canadian Navy as a violinist for the Meet the Navy show in 1943. This was a musical revue that played for enlisted servicemen and civilians across Canada and then travelled to the United Kingdom in 1944 and to Europe in June 1945. The quality of the show was outstanding, and it gave command performances for Prime Minister Mackenzie King in Canada and the British royal family in the UK. Feldbrill took advantage of his time in the UK to sit in on rehearsals of several professional orchestras. He also met many leading British musicians and had lessons with Herbert Howells (harmony) and Ernest Read (conducting).

Poster for the 1946 British film of Meet the Navy. Source: IMDB

Returning to Canada after Meet the Navy disbanded, Feldbrill began studies on a Department of Veteran Affairs grant in the Artist Diploma program at the Toronto Conservatory (renamed the Royal Conservatory in 1947), studying violin with Kathleen Parlow, an eminent Canadian violin soloist and former pupil of Leopold Auer in St. Petersburg. His fellow students at the time included John Beckwith, Harry Freedman, and Harry Somers. Graduating in 1949, Feldbrill joined the first violin section of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra; he also conducted pops and children’s concerts with the orchestra. He took every opportunity to further his conducting studies, travelling to Tanglewood (for lessons with Robert Shaw, 1947); Maine (Pierre Monteux, 1949 and 1950); Hilversum, Netherlands (Willem van Otterloo, 1956); and Salzburg (Meinhard von Zallinger, 1956).

In addition to his work with the TSO, Feldbrill enjoyed conducting opportunities with CBC orchestras, including the flagship CBC Symphony Orchestra in Toronto, on both radio and television. From 1957 until the 1980s he made regular guest appearances in the UK with various BBC orchestras, often introducing Canadian works in his programs there.

In 1956 Feldbrill resigned his position as a violinist with the Toronto Symphony to devote himself to a full-time conducting career. It was a brave move, especially considering that he did not have a permanent position with an orchestra at the time. After a year as an assistant conductor with the Toronto Symphony (1956–57), he took over the reins of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra in 1958 as the ensemble’s second music director, succeeding Walter Kaufmann, who had led the group for ten years. Under Feldbrill the orchestra expanded in size and became a full-time professional organization; at the end of his tenure it moved into the newly built Centennial Concert Hall, which remains its main concert venue.

WSO Live CD of Victor Feldbrill conducting Glenn Gould and the Winnipeg SO in the Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor by Brahms on October 8, 1959

Among the many eminent guest soloists that Feldbrill worked with in Winnipeg was Glenn Gould, who played his first Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor there in October 1959. The performance was released on the WSO Live label in 2012 to mark the orchestra’s 65th anniversary (it had earlier been released on the West Hill Radio Archives label in 2011). Feldbrill gave the first performances of many Canadian compositions in Winnipeg, reflecting his life-long dedication to the work of Canadian composers. In 1967 he was awarded the Canadian Music Citation from the Canadian League of Composers in recognition of his efforts in promoting Canadian music. Feldbrill returned to conduct the Winnipeg SO in March 2004 to mark his 80th birthday, and again in 2017, at the age of 93, for the opening concert of the orchestra’s 70th anniversary season. He was also a special guest conductor with the Toronto Symphony in January 2017, in a concert marking the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation.

During the Winnipeg years, Feldbrill maintained a busy schedule of guest appearances across Canada and abroad. He conducted the first performances of the Harry Somers / Mavor Moore opera Louis Riel for the Canadian Opera Company in 1967, as well as revivals in 1968, 1969 (for CBC TV), and 1975 (in Washington, DC). (He also led the premieres of the Somers operas The Fool in 1956 and Serinette in 1990). He conducted orchestras in the Soviet Union in 1963 and in December 1966 and January 1967, introducing Canadian works such as Pierre Mercure’s Kaleidoscope and Weinzweig’s Symphonic Ode to audiences behind the Iron Curtain.

Upon finishing his contract in Winnipeg, Feldbrill returned to his hometown to become the conductor of the University of Toronto Symphony Orchestra in 1968. He would remain on staff at the University of Toronto until 1982, returning numerous times thereafter as a guest conductor; his last appearance was in April 2013, just after his 89th birthday, during his term as the Wilma and Clifford Smith Visitor in Music at the university. In addition to leading the UTSO in the great works of the standard orchestral repertoire, Feldbrill introduced much Canadian music to his young charges. To mark the end of his 14-year stint with the university, Feldbrill led the UTSO in a performance of Mahler’s Second Symphony in 1982. [The last 16 minutes of that performance can be heard online here.] The program on that occasion noted that 166 musicians who had played under Feldbrill in the UTSO went on to professional careers as orchestral players, and it listed 122 different works by 59 composers that he had programmed, including four world premieres and four Canadian premieres.

Victor Feldbrill leading a UTSO rehearsal, early 1970s.

Feldbrill’s work with young musicians included appearances on many occasions with the National Youth Orchestra of Canada between 1960 and 1975, and serving as the founding music director of the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra from 1974 to 1978. He worked with young orchestral musicians at the Banff Centre, the Vancouver Academy of Music, and during summer workshops in the Czech Republic. During the 1980s he devoted much energy to training young orchestral musicians and aspiring conductors in Japan at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, where he was on faculty from 1981 to 1987 and led the university’s Geidai Philharmonia Orchestra. That appointment led to many further guest conducting appearances in Japan, China, and elsewhere in the Far East.

A recurring role that Feldbrill played throughout his career was rescuer of orchestras in need. An early example was when at short notice he was named the resident conductor of the Toronto Symphony upon the unexpected death of its music director, Karl Ančerl, in 1973. In 1979 he stepped in to lead Ontario’s London Symphony Orchestra, which was experiencing one of its periodic financial and artistic crises at the time. He served for two years as acting music director, reviving the orchestra’s morale and finances. A decade later he stepped in under very similar circumstances to help out the Hamilton Philharmonic, first as interim music adviser and then as music director. For the National Arts Centre Orchestra, he led a 1992 Canadian tour of 32 cities to mark the 125th anniversary of Confederation.

After the death of his wife Zelda in 1995, Feldbrill found consolation in a relationship with Mae Bernstein, a widow and amateur violinist who would be his devoted companion for the last 24 years of his life. They divided their time between residences in Toronto, New York, and Florida. Feldbrill continued to conduct on a reduced and more leisurely scale with amateur groups in Florida and Canada, mixed in with occasional guest appearances with professional orchestras.

Over the years Feldbrill received a long list of honours and awards, including Captain of the Manitoba Order of the Buffalo Hunt (1968), Honorary Fellow of the Royal Hamilton College of Music (1978), the inaugural Roy Thomson Hall Award (1985), investiture as an Officer of the Order of Canada (1986), an honorary LLD from Brock University (1991), appointment to the Order of Ontario (1999), Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal (2002), Ambassador of the Canadian Music Centre (2009), Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012), Honorary Fellow of the Royal Conservatory of Music (2014), winner of the Sir Ernest MacMillan Memorial Award (2014) and a Lifetime Achievement Award from Toronto Musicians Association (2014). A biography by Walter Pitman, Victor Feldbrill: Canadian Conductor Extraordinaire, appeared in 2010 from Dundurn Press.

During his 75-year career, Feldbrill achieved prominence as a violinist, a conductor and orchestra builder, a promoter of Canadian music, and a superlative educator of young musicians. He retained an infectious enthusiasm for and commitment to music until his final days. His many contributions to Canadian music are unparalleled and will always be remembered. He is survived by his companion Mae Bernstein, his sister Eileen Cohen and her husband Mel, his two daughters Debbi Ross and Aviva Koffman and their husbands, and by six grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.

Victor Feldbrill as assistant conductor of the Toronto Symphony in 1957. City of Toronto Archives, Series 1569, File 37, Item 3
Initiatives in Support of BIPOC Artists and Scholars

Initiatives in Support of BIPOC Artists and Scholars

In response to demonstrations against ongoing police brutality, racism, and other forms of systemic oppression of BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour] communities in North America, the University of Toronto has launched several initiatives:

In a recent statement, Don McLean, the current Dean of the Faculty of Music, noted some of the anti-racism initiatives that the Faculty of Music has undertaken, but admitted that “we must do much better going forward”. The Dean’s statement was in response to an impassioned and eloquent Call to Action letter that was signed by 372 alumni of the Faculty of Music. This is an issue that will elicit both bottom up and top down responses. Every one of us in the University of Toronto Faculty of Music community is responsible for reflecting upon how we can do our part to address past injustices and help to make the Faculty of Music an equitable, diverse, and welcoming community now and into the future. As the Director of the Institute for Music in Canada, I will continue to think about ways to contribute to this ongoing process of redress and reconciliation. The following initiatives are a starting point:

The mission statement of the IMC to date has been “Promoting, supporting, and producing scholarship in all areas of Canadian music studies.” The mission statement has now been changed to: “Promoting, supporting, and producing research and creativity in all areas of Canadian music studies by an inclusive and diverse representation of Canadian scholars and musicians, including historically underrepresented voices.”

The IMC will fund two annual $2,500 awards for research or creative projects involving music and the BIPOC community in Canada. The award can either be for a research or creative project that has as its subject any aspect of the contributions of the BIPOC community to music in Canada, OR for a BIPOC researcher or creative artist who is working on any project related to music in Canada. There is no deadline for applying for this award; for further details, write to me at robin.elliott@utoronto.ca. In addition to the monetary award, the IMC will assist in the research and/or creative process and in the communication of results arising from the funded project. Winners of the award will have the opportunity to present a lecture, concert, or other public event at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music in connection with their research or creative project.

As the Director of the IMC I undertake to make equity and diversity central to all IMC activities, and will work with others to share ideas about best practices regarding these issues at the Faculty of Music. I will invite BIPOC speakers to share their experiences, expertise, and viewpoints with the Faculty of Music community.

I invite feedback on any aspect of these initiatives via email to robin.elliott@utoronto.ca.


Parsifal and Canada

Parsifal and Canada

Update on June 22, 2020: The COC announced today the cancellation of its Fall 2020 season due to the pandemic, and the postponement of its performances of Parsifal for two years:


In the autumn of 2020 the Canadian Opera Company plans to perform Parsifal, which has not been staged in Toronto for 115 years. Inspired by this singular occasion, I decided to research the history of Parsifal performances and reception in Canada. Parsifal has not been seen very often in Canada—once in Toronto and three times in Montreal, for a total of 14 performances—but it has had a big impact on musical life here in other ways, especially early in the 20th century. This research project mushroomed into a document of over 14,000 words and an accompanying compilation of documentary sources that runs to 38 pages. These are available as PDF files by clicking here (the article) and here (the documentary sources). This website post provides a brief summary of this research.

Syndicated report about the premiere of Parsifal that appeared in the Toronto Globe on 27 July 1882, p. 3 (the day after the premiere).

The premiere of Parsifal in Bayreuth on 26 July 1882 was the subject of extensive coverage in Canadian newspapers, attesting to the fame that Wagner had attained in North America during his lifetime. Wagner wanted Parsifal to be given only at the Bayreuth Festival Theatre, and after his death in 1883 his wish was strengthened by the force of law with the adoption of the Berne Convention copyright agreement in 1886. However, only staged performances were covered by copyright protection; excerpts from the work quickly entered the repertoire of orchestras, soloists, and choral groups in Canada, as elsewhere, and all manner of adaptations of both the music and the drama flourished as well.

Parsifal excerpts and adaptations

Ad from Montréal La Patrie, 23 June 1884, p. 2 for concerts conducted by Theodore Thomas featuring three singers from the Bayreuth premiere of Parsifal.

Toronto first heard the Prelude from Parsifal just four months after the Bayreuth premiere of the work, when it was played by the (Leopold) Damrosch Symphony Society from New York in a concert given in the pavilion of the Horticultural Gardens (now the Allan Gardens) on 1 December 1882. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, excerpts from Parsifal were presented in Canada by visiting US orchestras led by Walter Damrosch (Leopold’s son), Emil Paur, Anton Seidl (who had assisted Wagner in preparing the premiere of the Ring cycle at Bayreuth), and Theodore Thomas, among others. Thomas presented a series of five concerts in Montreal in June 1884 that included many Wagner excerpts; although nothing from Parsifal was programmed, the concerts featured three singers who had premiered leading roles in Parsifal at Bayreuth just two years earlier: Hermann Winkelmann (Parsifal), Amalie Materna (Kundry), and Emil Scaria (Gurnemanz). The Montreal composer Guillaume Couture reviewed the concerts with great enthusiasm and wrote a series of three articles about Wagner to acquaint local audiences with the composer. Twenty years later, Walter Damrosch brought a touring program of extensive selections from Parsifal in concert form to Toronto, given in Massey Hall on 5 April 1904. In addition to conducting the excerpts, Damrosch gave explanatory comments to link the scenes together and illustrated the principal leitmotifs on the piano. The cast included the Quebec baritone Francis Archambault as Amfortas.

Ad in Toronto Globe, 5 April 1904, p. 2 for touring concert of extensive Parsifal excerpts under the conductor Walter Damrosch.
Sousa brings music from Parsifal to Ottawa in 1899 in a mixed program featuring a recent popular song and Sousa marches as well.

While these orchestral visits were mostly confined to Toronto and Montreal, visiting concert bands under leaders such as Giuseppe Creatore, John Duss, Frederick Neil Innes, and John Philip Sousa toured to smaller centres as well, and brought Parsifal excerpts to audiences across Canada, from Ottawa to Vancouver, in the period between the late 19th century and World War I. Arrangements of music from Parsifal were soon being performed by choirs in concerts and in Sunday church services, by organists and pianists in recitals, and by amateurs at home. Canadian and visiting musicians lectured about Wagner and Parsifal, often for women’s musical clubs, illustrating their talks on the piano, or sometimes with the help of the Aeolian Orchestrelle, a self-playing reed organ.

[L] An ad from the Toronto Globe, 26 Jan. 1904, p. 2 for Parsifal excerpts for the pianola (a player piano); and [R] just three days later, across the country an ad from the Victoria Daily Times, 29 Jan. 1904, p. 5 offers Parsifal excerpts arranged for piano. Parsifal was everywhere in Canada early in the 20th century.
Vancouver Daily Province, 12 July 1913, p. 18; Mario Caserini’s silent film of Parsifal was 50 minutes long but “Bigger and better than the Stage Production”.

Numerous spoken play versions of Parsifal criss-crossed North America. A certain Bruce Gordon Kingsley even offered a one-man show version of the work, in which he related the story, played excerpts on the piano, and unveiled nearly 100 paintings of the drama. The Victoria Daily Times (7 June 1913, p. 5) improbably claimed in 1913 that Kingsley’s performance “is conceded by both public and critics to equal the grand opera rendition itself”. The 50-person Martin & Emery company toured its four-hour stage play version of Parsifal in 1906 and 1908, with many stops in Canada. Parsifal was also made into a silent film twice, by the US director Edwin S. Porter in 1904, and then by the Italian Mario Caserini in 1913.

New Westminster, BC Daily News, 14 Oct. 1906, p. 2; not Wagner’s Parsifal in English at the Westminster Opera House, but a play adapted by Wm. Lynch Roberts.

The Prelude and Good Friday music from Parsifal in time became standard repertoire items for orchestras across Canada, and other excerpts were also heard on occasion. Frank Welsman’s Toronto Symphony Orchestra gave Act 1, scene 2 of Parsifal in Massey Hall on 19 January 1910 with the National Chorus (trained by Albert Ham). In Winnipeg, local performers mounted excerpts from Parsifal in 1925 (the Grail Scene, conducted by Arthur Egerton), 1931 (Good Friday Music), and 1934 (a choral excerpt). Luigi von Kunits led the Toronto Symphony and two vocal soloists in three excerpts from Lohengrin and six excerpts from Parsifal in a performance in 1930 that was heard from coast to coast in Canada on the CNR radio network. The Vancouver Symphony Society performed the Prelude from Parsifal for the first time on 3 February 1935 under Allard de Ridder, and repeated it later that same year. Extensive excerpts from Parsifal under the Montreal-born conductor Wilfrid Pelletier were heard in the closing event of the Montreal Music Festival on 3 June 1938; the concert included the start and finish of Act 1 and all of Act 3. Concert versions of Act 2 from Parsifal have been given by the Kitchener-Waterloo SO in 1988 with Jon Vickers (in his last public performance ever) as Parsifal, Gail Gilmore as Kundry, and Claude Corbeil as Klingsor; and also by the Montreal SO in 1991 with Siegfried Jerusalem as Parsifal, Jessye Norman as Kundry, and Oskar Hillebrandt as Klingsor.

Ad from Montreal Gazette, 2 Feb. 1991, p. 48; Norman had not sung Kundry before, but made her stage debut in the role at the Metropolitan Opera the next month, on 14 March 1991.

Parsifal on stage

The prohibition on stage performances of Parsifal applied to those countries that were signatories to the Berne Convention. The USA did not join the Berne Convention until 1988, and so was not bound by the Parsifal ban. Excitement about Parsifal rose to a fever pitch in North America with the publicity surrounding the first Metropolitan Opera production of the opera, which opened on Christmas Eve, 1904 at 3:00 pm. A legal case had been brought by Cosima and Siegfried Wagner to halt the Met production, but it was unsuccessful. Newspapers across Canada reported on the legal proceedings at length, and on the Met production. In the wake of the huge interest in Parsifal that the Met production generated, a US impresario named Henry W. Savage took a touring production of Parsifal on the road to 45 cities during the 1904–05 season, including stops in Toronto and Montreal in April 1905. The 200-member Savage company production was closely modelled on the original Bayreuth staging, except that the work was sung in English. An idea of the look of the production can be gleaned from various widely circulated illustrations of it (see below). The Toronto reviews of the Savage company production singled out the “Canadian” tenor Francis Maclennan, who sang Parsifal, for praise; he was born in Michigan, but had moved to Collingwood with his parents, and  reviews in Canadian newspapers of his performances throughout his career consistently claimed him as a Canadian. His wife was the eminent soprano Florence Easton, who was born in England but raised in Toronto, and was later to become a famous Kundry.

Klingsor’s Castle (Act 2) from the Savage company touring production of Parsifal, 1904–05, as depicted on a contemporary postcard (author’s collection).
The Grail Temple (Act 3) from the Savage company touring production of Parsifal, 1904–05; illustration from the Montreal illustrated weekly magazine Album universel, 13 mai 1905, p. 6
Ad from Montreal Gazette, 3 March 1954, p. 12

Toronto has not seen another staging, or indeed a complete live performance, of Parsifal since the Savage company left town in April 1905. Montreal, however, had the opportunity to see it again in 1954, sung in German this time, performed by a local orchestra and chorus, with the Canadian baritone Napoléon Bisson as Klingsor, and the other major roles taken by soloists brought in with the cooperation of the Metropolitan Opera: Ramon Vinay (Parsifal), Rose Bampton (a last-minute replacement for Doris Doree as Kundry), Martial Singher (Amfortas), and Dezső Ernster (Gurnemanz). The five performances were conducted by Charles Houdret, a Belgian musician who had recently moved to Montreal. The production was modelled on the New Bayreuth aesthetic, with a mostly bare stage and scenic effects created by lighting. The staging enjoyed the twin benefits of being both au courant and inexpensive to mount.

A complete concert performance of Parsifal was given on 6 August 2017, as the closing event of the 40th Lanaudière Festival just north of Montreal, led by the Canadian conductor Yannick Nézet-Seguin. It was a trial run for him, before conducting in 2018 the Metropolitan Opera production by the Canadian creative team of François Girard (director) and Michael Levine (set designer), the same staging which the COC plans to mount in the fall of 2020.

Some Canadian singers and their Parsifal roles

Edward Johnson as Parsifal in Act 3, signed photo (author’s collection). The signature reads “Edoardo Di Giovanni,” the Italian translation of Johnson’s name, and his stage name during his career in Italy.

A number of Canadian opera singers have excelled in international performances of some of the leading roles in Parsifal. Notable Canadian Parsifals have included Edward Johnson (the first to sing the role at La Scala), Paul Frey, Ben Heppner, and most famously Jon Vickers, who sang the role at Bayreuth, Chicago, Covent Garden, Geneva, the Met, Paris, and Vienna. Two who have sung Kundry are Florence Easton (at the Met in the 1920s, in both English and German) and Odette de Foras (at Covent Garden in 1931, during her brief career). The baritone Morley Meredith from Winnipeg sang Klingsor at the Met 22 times during his long career there, and the bass Robert Pomakov from Toronto is set to make his debut in that role in the COC production. Three Canadians have sung Amfortas: Brett Polegato made his role debut in the 2017 Lanaudière concert performance; Gerald Finley has sung it at Covent Garden, Vienna, and in concert with the Berlin Philharmonic; and George London, one of the greatest interpreters of the role, sang it at the first Bayreuth production after World War II in 1951, and on many other occasions both there and at the Met.

Canadian scholarship on Parsifal

Father M. Owen Lee (1930–2019); read Iain Scott’s lovely tribute to Father Lee here.

Canadian scholars have written about Parsifal with eloquence and insight. One of the best short introductions to the work is by Father M. Owen Lee, who often gave intermission talks during Metropolitan Opera broadcasts. One such talk on Parsifal was later published in his book First Intermissions (1995) and then in expanded form in The Olive-Tree Bed and Other Quests (1997). The eminent literary scholar Northrop Frye gave an insightful talk on Parsifal for the Toronto Wagner Society in 1982, published as Chapter 27 in his Complete Works, vol. 17. William Blissett, Linda and Michael Hutcheon, and Jean-Jacques Nattiez have all written imaginative articles or book chapters about Parsifal. The Canadian-American musicologist William Kinderman is the author of the most in-depth study in English, the book Parsifal (Oxford UP, 2013), and with his wife Katherine R. Syer he also co-edited A Companion to Wagner’s Parsifal (Camden House, 2005), a book of nine essays about the work.

The Vancouver conceptual artist and musician Rodney Graham (b. 1949) created a series of art works inspired by Parsifal that are in the Tate collection and are well worth a look online here. And finally, to end on a note of levity to offset the serious nature of Parsifal, here is a poem by Healey Willan, from the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto Monthly Letter (Feb. 1962): p. 4.

Though Liszt and Wagner ne’er excelled
In writing oratorios,
They both achieved real eminence,
When young, as gay Lotharios.

But later on, to make amends
For doings somewhat shabby,
Wagner wrote his Parsifal
And Liszt became an Abbé.

European Refugee Musicians in Canada, 1937 to 1950

European Refugee Musicians in Canada, 1937 to 1950

Irving Abella and Harold Troper, None Is Too Many (UTP 1982/2012)

The 75th anniversary of the end of the European campaign of World War II is a good time to reflect on the contributions to music in Canada of musicians who arrived between 1937 and 1950 as refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe. The total number of those who were admitted from Europe during that time was small—not many musicians managed to navigate Canada’s restrictive immigration policies to find safe haven here. Abella and Troper have shown in detail in their book None Is Too Many the obstacles to Jewish immigration that were in place at the time, as well as the anti-Semitism that was rife in the country, up to and including the highest political and civil service offices. Despite such formidable hurdles, dozens of Jewish musicians (as well as some non-Jewish musicians who left for moral and/or political reasons) did manage to escape Europe and arrive in Canada, and went on to enjoy important professional careers in music over many decades, from the time of their arrival until well into the twenty-first century.

Background and Context

Eric Koch, Deemed Suspect (1980)

Between 1937 and 1950, ca. 65 refugee musicians from Europe immigrated to Canada. The vast majority came only after 1948, when Prime Minister Mackenzie King in his final year in office slowly began to ease the restrictive immigration laws that had been in place up to that time. The routes that these musicians travelled to arrive in Canada were as varied as their musical interests. A small number arrived directly from Europe; others followed a more indirect path—typically via Britain or the USA, but also from Shanghai (whose sector for stateless refugees provided safe haven for thousands of Jews during the war), Palestine, and other places to which Jews had fled during the Nazi era. Quite a few arrived as interned enemy aliens; they were arrested in Britain, shipped to Canada in 1940 to be placed in prison camps, but then chose to stay on in Canada after their release, as described by the late Eric Koch (1919–2018) in his book Deemed Suspect: A Wartime Blunder. Some of the musicians had received advanced training in elite European music schools; others received much of their training only after arriving in Canada. These refugee musicians are of interest today not only because of the harrowing nature of their personal history and tortuous journeys to Canada, but also because collectively they made such a significant contribution to music in Canada during their careers in a wide variety of fields of activity, ranging from concert management to music scholarship. Collectively, they did quite remarkable work in fostering the spread of European classical music culture in Canada, but they were also involved in the growth of other fields such as Canadian music studies and ethnomusicology.

One prior source attempted to tell the story of these musicians in detail: Paul Helmer’s Growing with Canada. Helmer is a musicologist and professional pianist who taught at McGill University from 1972 to 2002. His specialization as a musicologist was medieval music; this book resulted from a late-career project to document the experiences of European émigré musicians in Canada, many of them his teachers, colleagues, and friends. His book examines the contributions to the musical life of Canada by 123 people exiled from Nazi and Communist regimes in central Europe between 1933 and 1948, who arrived in Canada between 1937 and 1965. These men and women made important and lasting contributions to the growth and development of Canada’s musical life through diverse musical activities, including performance, education, composition, administration, scholarship, and patronage.

Paul Helmer, Growing with Canada (MQUP, 2009)

The life and work of some of these émigrés has been the subject of previous research, commentary and analysis in monographs and other writings, but most of the figures discussed by Helmer are little known and many had not been written about before at all. The United States attracted famous émigré musicians such as Arnold Schoenberg, Paul Hindemith, and Béla Bartók, whose contributions to the musical life of their adopted country is the subject of an extensive and steadily growing scholarly literature. Canada was much more restrictive than the United States in its immigration policies during most of the period under consideration here (the reasons for this are described in painful detail in None Is Too Many). As a result, far fewer exiled musicians found a home in Canada than in the United States, and none of those who did so are internationally renowned. Nevertheless, these refugee musicians did have a profound and lasting impact on the musical life of their adopted country in many areas.

Helmer did archival research and conducted interviews with many of the people that he discusses in his book. It was timely that he took up the project when he did, as all the musicians whom he interviewed have died in the interim. Helmer deposited recordings and transcripts of the interviews, and other primary and secondary research material for his book, in the Marvin Duchow Music Library at McGill University, where it is accessible to researchers. A description and finding aid are available online here.

The story of each refugee musician is singular and unique to that individual, but at the same time is only comprehensible within the framework of the bigger historical picture that unfolded during this time. Variable factors include the conditions of the subject’s pre-migration life (their age at the time of leaving their homeland, prior education and training, socio-economic status, severity of persecution and trauma), the circumstances of their transit (length/uncertainty of the travel, direct or indirect route, duration of time spent in intervening locales), and features related to the resettlement process (degree of economic success, relations with the host society, adaptation to new cultural surroundings). In considering European refugee musicians in Canada, all of these factors must be taken into consideration, on both individual and collective levels.

Many of the musicians who migrated from Nazi-occupied Europe to Canada between 1933 and 1950 enjoyed significant careers in music and exercised a profound impact on the cultural life of this country. As a brief sample, here are a dozen snapshots of refugee musicians and their contributions to four areas of musical activity in Canada: composition, education, performance, and scholarship.


The composers Istvan Anhalt, Otto Joachim, and Oskar Morawetz received their early musical training in central Europe and arrived in Canada in the 1940s. Morawetz migrated to Toronto in 1940 to join his parents, whereas Anhalt and Joachim came on their own to Montreal in 1949.

Oskar Morawetz (1917-2007)

Oskar Morawetz was born in Czechoslovakia and studied music in Prague, Vienna, and Paris. With abundant musical talent but no academic credentials, he enrolled in music studies at the University of Toronto and completed a BMus in 1944 and a doctorate in music in 1953. He had a lengthy career as a professor at the University of Toronto and as a frequently commissioned and performed composer. His most popular works, including Memorial to Martin Luther King (1968) for cello and orchestra and From the Diary of Anne Frank (1970) for voice and orchestra, received numerous performances across Canada and internationally. Morawetz explored novel instrumental colours and new harmonic effects in his music, but nevertheless was regarded as a conservative composer by his contemporaries at a time when this was not a prized characteristic in the academic music circles in which he operated. Despite this fact, he enjoyed a lengthy and successful career from the mid-1940s until his creative activity was curtailed by depression and mental health problems in the mid-1990s; he passed away in 2007.

Istvan Anhalt (1919-2012)

In contrast to Morawetz, Anhalt and Joachim were two of the leading figures in avant-garde composition during the second half of the 20th century in Canada. Born into a Jewish family in Budapest in 1919, Istvan Anhalt was conscripted into a Hungarian forced labour battalion, but managed to escape and live in hiding until the end of the war. He emigrated to Canada in 1949, making his home at first in Montreal, where he taught at McGill University until 1971, and then in Kingston, where he was a faculty member at Queen’s University until his retirement in 1984. He made use of modernist compositional techniques and media including dodecaphony, electronic music, and extended vocal techniques. Many of his most significant compositions are for orchestra, but he wrote in all of the major genres, from solo instrumental works to opera. From the mid-1970s onwards, he began to use more traditional compositional techniques, from which he fashioned an original, distinctive, and evocative idiom that was capable of expressing both musical logic and extra-musical ideas. Anhalt’s stature as a composer, together with a steadily growing body of scholarly work on his music, suggest that he will retain his place as an important voice in Canadian music of his era. In addition to his work as a composer, Anhalt had a lengthy and important career as a university professor and administrator, and he was known for his publications as an insightful and imaginative music theorist, especially for his writings on music for the human voice. He died in Kingston in 2012 at the age of 92, after being hospitalized for a year with cancer.

Otto Joachim (1910-2010)

Otto Joachim was a pioneer in electronic music in Canada, as well as a composer in more traditional media. He was also a fine professional violist, and later in life took up painting and sculpture. Born into a Jewish family in Düsseldorf, he studied music there and also in Cologne. In 1934, he fled Nazi Germany and spent the war years in Singapore and Shanghai. With the Communist takeover of China in 1949, Joachim and his brother Walter, a professional cellist, emigrated to Montreal. Walter and Otto enjoyed prominent careers as performers in the Montreal Symphony, McGill Chamber Orchestra, and Montreal String Quartet. As a composer, Otto Joachim was at the cutting edge of modernism in Canada. He was among the first to employ aleatoric and serial methods in his compositions, and in the mid-1950s he set up an electronic music studio in his home, the third such facility in Canada and the first private one. His long and varied career as a composer, performer, and teacher continued until shortly before his death at the age of 99 in 2010.


 Helmut Blume (1914-1998)

Two of the most prominent figures in Canadian post-secondary music education in the second half of the twentieth century are Helmut Blume and Arnold Walter. Both men were educated in central Europe, including studies in Berlin during the interwar years. They left Berlin in the 1930s, mainly for political reasons, although Blume did have a Jewish grandmother and so, as he remarked sardonically to Paul Helmer, “according to the racial policies of the time, I was besudelt (polluted)” (Growing with Canada, p. 325 n. 48). Both men made their way to England and arrived in Canada within a few years of each other, Walter in 1937 to take up a teaching job in Toronto, and Blume in 1940 as an interned enemy alien.

Arnold Walter (1902-1973)

The two exerted a decisive influence on music education in Canada in the post-war years, Blume at McGill University and Walter at the University of Toronto. Each man helped to lead university music education in Canada away from an outmoded British system that was geared to training church organist/choirmasters, towards a modern synthesis of European and American systems. With their elite European upbringing and education, Blume and Walter decisively transformed their respective educational institutions, creating new professional standards that exerted an enormous influence on the musical life of Canada, an influence that continues to be felt today.

Emmy Heim (1916) by Oskar Kokoschka

In the field of vocal training, three refugee women musicians had an extraordinary influence on the musical education of young Canadian singers in the postwar era. Emmy Heim and Ruzena Herlinger both enjoyed leading professional careers as singers in Vienna in the 1920s and 1930s. Heim associated with many of the leading composers, poets, and artists of the day (Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Hoffmannsthal, and Rilke were among her acquaintances; Kokoschka made a portrait of her in 1916 –see left) and she had many contemporary works in her repertoire. Herlinger commissioned and premiered Der Wein, a concert aria for soprano and orchestra by Alban Berg. Irene Jessner enjoyed a flourishing opera career in central Europe during the 1930s. All three women had fled Europe by 1938, and eventually ended up in Canada. Heim and Jessner became highly sought after vocal teachers in Toronto; Herlinger taught in Montreal. Heim’s pupils included Lois Marshall and Mary Morrison; Herlinger’s pupils included Joseph Rouleau and Huguette Tourangeau; Jessner’s pupils included Teresa Stratas and Mark DuBois. Collectively, these three women helped to establish Canada as a vocal powerhouse in the postwar musical world.


Eminent performers among this group of refugee musicians included the harpsichordist Greta Kraus and the pianist John Newmark. Kraus (whose portrait hangs in my office) studied at the Vienna Academy of Music with Heinrich Schenker (analysis) and Hans Weisse (piano). She arrived in Toronto in 1939 and her performances and broadcasts as a harpsichord soloist and continuo player, as well as a director of early music ensembles, made a decisive contribution to the appreciation of Baroque music in Canada. Newmark studied music in his native Bremen and also in Leipzig, and later settled in Berlin. While living in London in 1939 he was interned as an enemy alien and sent to Canada. After his release, he settled in Montreal and became a much in demand accompanist. He performed thousands of recitals in Canada and during lengthy tours abroad, working with hundreds of Canadian and international artists. He also made many recordings and was frequently heard on radio and television broadcasts.


Stolperstein for Helmut Kallmann’s father, Geisbergstraße 41, Berlin

Canadian music studies and ethnomusicology both benefitted from the contributions of refugee musicians. Helmut Kallmann was born into a Jewish family in Berlin and as a teenager he was sent to England in 1939 as part of the Kinder­transport program. Like Newmark and Blume, he was interned as an enemy alien and sent to prison camp in Canada. Upon his release in 1943, he enrolled in music studies at the University of Toronto, graduating with a BMus degree in 1949. During his long career in music librarianship, first with the CBC and later as the founding Head of the Music Division at Library and Archives Canada, he was a tireless champion of Canadian music studies. Ida Halpern completed a PhD in musicology at Univer­sity of Vienna in 1938 on Franz Schubert, and emigrated to Vancouver in 1939. In addition to teaching at University of British Columbia (including the first courses in ethnomusicology there) and fostering classical music performances, she recorded and documented some 500 songs of First Nations peoples. As Kenneth Chen notes, Halpern’s achievement in assembling one of the most extensive collections of First Nations music of the west coast is remarkable, especially considering “the technical, techno­logical, physical, sociocultural, historical, institutional, legal, attitudinal, and many other challenges she had to overcome in her fieldwork” (1995, p. 47).

Given the widespread contributions to music in Canada that these refugee musicians made, which the above description has only begun to document, research on this topic is sorely needed. The forthcoming European Refugee Musicians in Canada research project at the Institute for Music in Canada will engage with the wider debate on the flight of artists from Nazi-occupied Europe, and position that debate within Canadian intellectual history.

New Orford String Quartet Tenth Anniversary Recital

New Orford String Quartet Tenth Anniversary Recital

Toronto Summer Music Festival 2019: Beyond Borders
New Orford String Quartet Tenth Anniversary Concert
Walter Hall, University of Toronto
Friday, July 12th, 2019 at 7:30 pm


Joseph Haydn String Quartet in D Major, Op. 20, no. 4
Christos Hatzis String Quartet No. 5 “The Transforming” (premiere)
Ludwig van Beethoven String Quartet in C major, Op. 59, no. 3
     encore: François Dompierre Par quatre chemins, IV “Pavane solitaire”

The New Orford String Quartet:
Jonathan Crow and Andrew Wan, violins
Eric Nowlin, viola
Brian Manker, cello

An enthusiastic sold-out audience greeted the New Orford String Quartet with cheers and a rousing standing ovation at the conclusion of its tenth anniversary recital program. Jonathan Crow noted that the program was modelled on the quartet’s first public recital at the Orford Arts Centre in July 2009, which featured Haydn Op. 20, no. 2, Ernest MacMillan’s String Quartet, and Beethoven Op. 132 [i.e. Haydn Op. 20 – Canadian work – Beethoven].

Conventional wisdom has it that only full-time string quartet ensembles can reach the highest professional standards in this demanding medium. If that is the case, then the NOSQ is the exception that proves the rule. Despite the fact that the members all have full-time orchestral positions, the NOSQ upholds the very highest standards of string quartet performance. Wan and Crow alternate on first violin; in this case, Wan played first in the Haydn and Beethoven, while Crow took that role for the Hatzis. Each member of the quartet is a full and equal participant in creating the group’s beautiful collective sound, which ranges from the most delicate of whispers (a dynamic level often featured in the Hatzis work) to a full-on thunderous fortissimo (e.g. the glorious C-major excitement in the outer movements of Op. 59, no. 3).

Haydn’s six Op. 20 string quartets are the first collection of great works in the medium. (Hans Keller in his stimulating book The Great Haydn Quartets includes only Op. 9, no. 4 of the composer’s earlier quartets in his discussion of Haydn’s 45 masterpieces in this medium.) The Op. 20 works are very different in idiom from the later Haydn quartets, which only goes to show how far the composer travelled in this medium. The NOSQ perhaps chose Op. 20, no. 4 for this occasion to fit in with the Toronto Summer Music Festival theme “Beyond Borders,” given the references in the work to the Romani violin idiom, as explicitly stated by the tempo designation of the third movement, Menuetto: Allegretto alla zingarese (“in gypsy style”). The work gives each player opportunities to shine: the first violin dominates in the first movement, the theme and variations second movement features solos for each player, the trio of the third movement is a solo for cello, and all four players exchange rapid-fire motives in the Presto scherzando finale. It was a terrific work to show off the exceptional performance skills of each member of the NOSQ.

The longest work on the program, and the most demanding for both the performers and the audience, was the new quartet by Christos Hatzis. In his pre-concert lecture, Hatzis noted that a commission to write for the NOSQ was an invitation to include all manner of virtuosic string quartet writing, secure in the knowledge that the players would be up to the task. But he noted as well that he eschews “complexity for the sake of complexity,” and feels strongly that the music must always be expressive and convey content persuasively and meaningfully. In the case of this quartet, there is an extra-musical inspiration revolving around the story of Christ’s Passion and Resurrection, completing what the composer calls a “psychological hermeneutic” begun in his String Quartet No. 4 “The Suffering” (which was premiered by the Penderecki String Quartet in 2018). Hatzis has provided a program note about the work on his website here, and a 23-page essay about it here.

Hermeneutics aside, the quartet is an engaging and varied work in three substantial movements. The NOSQ gave an entirely committed and persuasive reading of the quartet, which showcased the ensemble’s extraordinary musicianship and interpretive skills. Each movement featured varied expressive ideas, many of them extremely quiet in dynamics (and on numerous occasions, alas, all but obscured by audience coughs; good luck to the sound engineer who will be tasked with removing as much bothersome audience noise as possible from the broadcast recording of the work). The quartet incorporates a kind of late-Romantic tonality (at times bringing to mind the quartets of Janáček to this listener) and also a 24-note quarter-tone scale which was effectively employed by the composer and persuasively realized by the NOSQ. Hatzis managed to hold the audience’s attention continuously over the course of the 45-minute duration of the quartet, and both he and the performers received a warm ovation at the end.

The NOSQ have shown themselves to be outstanding performers of the Beethoven quartets on numerous occasions, and they certainly rose to the task of Op. 59 no. 3 beautifully for this tenth anniversary recital. The mysterious and still modern-sounding opening of the work, with its extraordinary meandering dissonances and hushed dynamics, was spellbinding, and the contrast with the ebullient Allegro vivace that follows was nothing short of stunning. Andrew Wan, whose superb recent recording of Beethoven’s Op. 30 violin sonatas has deservedly been getting frequent radio airplay, shone in the opening movement, which contains some of the most thrilling music in all of the Beethoven quartets.

Not even the NOSQ, unfortunately, could convince me of the merit of the middle two movements of the quartet, which for me mark the (rare) low-water mark in the Beethoven quartet repertoire. The second movement is plodding and dull, sounding like second-rate Mendelssohn avant la lettre, while the third movement aims for innocence but merely achieves mundanity. This is not to criticize the performance of those two movements by the NOSQ; they did what they could with the material. Beethoven was obviously saving his powers for the finale, a scintillating fugue that drives the players to the very limits of their abilities. Eric Nowlin got the movement going at a breathtaking pace, and as the others joined in one by one, the music built steadily in excitement. By the end, I am sure that the heart of pretty much everyone hearing the performance was racing as fast as the eighth notes in the music, and the audience leapt up as one to greet the quartet with cheers and sustained applause. The NOSQ obliged with an encore that contrasted completely with the fugal finale of Op. 59, no. 3: a languorous slow movement from a quartet by the Quebec composer François Dompierre, which the quartet has recorded on the Atma Classique label. The Dompierre brought the audience back to earth and restored heartbeats to a normal rate.

This was a recital to remember. If the rest of the Toronto Summer Music Festival lives up to these standards, audiences are in for a truly memorable few weeks of music making. Hats off to the Artistic Director, Jonathan Crow, for his vision, his leadership, and his incredible musicianship. To quote Honest Ed Mirvish, a talent like this comes along once in a lifetime, sometimes never! How lucky we are to have him in our midst here in Toronto.

Carl Morey (1934–2018)

Carl Morey (1934–2018)

The musicologist Carl Morey died on December 3, 2018 in Toronto at the age of 84. He served as the Jean A. Chalmers Chair in Canadian Music and the Director of the Institute for Canadian Music from 1991 until his retirement in 2000. Obituaries are available online from the Faculty of Music website here, and from the U of T News website here.

On Thursday, 11 April 2019 in the lobby of the Edward Johnson Building from 4 to 6 pm, the Faculty of Music held a Tribute to Carl Morey to honour his memory, with speeches by friends and former colleagues, and musical performances. The program for the event is available here: PROG-Carl-Morey-tribute_Apr11.

Here are the opening remarks by Robin Elliott on that occasion:

My name is Robin Elliott and I have the honour of serving as the Jean A. Chalmers Chair of Canadian Music here at the University of Toronto. I inherited this chaired professorship from Carl Morey, who held it from 1991 until his retirement in 2000. There was talk at the time of Carl’s retirement about letting the Chalmers Chair lapse. Carl fought hard and prevented that from happening; Canadian music studies, and I personally, owe him a big debt of gratitude for that.

Carl supervised my PhD thesis The String Quartet in Canada, and I also took several courses with him during my graduate studies in musicology at the University of Toronto in the 1980s. These ranged widely, from medieval music notation, to Music in Paris at the turn of the 20th century – the latter course reflecting his deep and abiding love for the city of Paris, his home away from home. It may seem strange in retrospect that with three medievalists on staff at the Faculty of Music back then, it was Carl who taught the medieval music notation course. He was technically a Baroque specialist, having completed his PhD thesis at Indiana University in 1965 on the late operas of Alessandro Scarlatti – which reminds me, I also took a course on the Scarlatti operas with him. However, his musicological training was both broad and deep. He studied medieval music at Indiana University with Willi Apel, whose book The Notation of Polyphonic Music, 900–1600 was the bible of early music notation in those days. Carl’s studies with Apel readily equipped him to explain the mysteries of ligatures, neumes, and mensural notation to graduate students.

When Carl was himself a graduate student in musicology in the 1960s, the field pretty much ended with Beethoven, chronologically speaking; more recent music was left to performers, music theorists, and sundry other musical enthusiasts, but was not thought to be a topic worthy of serious investigation by true scholars of music. And so Carl chose a Baroque topic for his research, but that is not where his true musical interests lay. He did love Baroque music, but his real passion was for the canonic operatic repertoire from Mozart to Richard Strauss. Eventually musicology caught up with Carl’s interests, and late in his career he was very pleased to be able to offer the Faculty’s first ever course on the Operas of Puccini, when Puccini had finally become a respectable topic for serious musical study.

Carl’s main contribution as a scholar was in the field of Canadian music studies – a field that is thousands of miles and hundreds of years distant from his own doctoral studies, but one that nevertheless became his abiding research interest. Carl really came into his own as a publishing scholar late in his career. In the last four years of his tenure at U of T, he published numerous articles, several editions of music by Glenn Gould, and no less than four books on Canadian music, including Opera Viva, the handsomely produced history of the Canadian Opera Company that he co-wrote with Ezra Schabas, combining his love of opera and music in Canada. The article on Carl in the first edition of Encyclopedia of Music in Canada states that he was at work on a history of music in Toronto. On numerous occasions, I heard him disavow that assertion; indeed, I am sure that more than once he said there was not a grain of truth in it. I was somewhat surprised then, to say the least, when not long before his death Carl turned over to me an extensive article – more like a short book really – that is a draft of his history of the beginnings of concert life in muddy York and Toronto. It is carefully researched, beautifully written, and meticulously detailed. On that same visit, I spoke to Carl about a beautiful manuscript that I had just been examining – it is a professional copyist’s full score of Ernest MacMillan’s choral/orchestral work England: An Ode. Carl knew the score well, of course, having been responsible for the revival of England in 1993, on the centennial of MacMillan’s birth. However, his own personal favorite musical manuscript was the holograph of the final scene from Richard Strauss’s opera Der Rosenkavalier. He showed me his copy of the beautiful facsimile reproduction of that manuscript, published in 1964 on the centennial of Strauss’s birth, and he spoke at length and with intimate knowledge about Strauss’s beautiful penmanship and the clinical precision with which this transcendently beautiful music is laid out on the page. I was deeply touched when Carl’s daughter Rachel presented me with that very publication after Carl’s death, as a bequest from Carl. When I opened the covers of it, I discovered that tucked inside was another gem, a reproduction of Strauss’s autograph manuscript of the song “Morgen,” which Strauss had presented as a wedding gift to his bride, the soprano Pauline de Ahna, in 1894. This is why our first musical performance for this tribute to Carl was Strauss’s heart-stoppingly beautiful song “Morgen,” performed for us by Monica Whicher and Steve Philcox.