Six Canadian Composers You Should Know

By Eatock, Colin | Queen's Quarterly, Summer 2011 | Go to article overview

Six Canadian Composers You Should Know


Eatock, Colin, Queen's Quarterly


Over the years, Canadian "classical" music has acquired an unfortunate reputation. It's boring. It's ugly. It's incomprehensible. Alas, there's some truth in this--and I'm certainly not writing in defence of all Canadian music. Rather, what I want to do here is undertake a little haystack sifting, to extract a few precious needles: Canadian composers who have succeeded in creating beautiful, fascinating, and moving works. These are composers who deserve to be known, heard, and admired by audiences.

**********

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

I'VE chosen six composers. They are men and women, anglophone and francophone, and they represent a wide range of styles and aesthetic positions. However, they all have one thing in common: they are deceased. While dead composers often fall into obscurity (and that is often as it should be), I'm hoping that my selected six will flourish in their musical afterlives. Canadians should know that this country is slowly but surely developing a rich and valuable classical music heritage. And because they've all been recorded on CDs, their music can be heard anywhere, anytime, not just in rare live performances.

The composers (in alphabetical order) are Jean Coulthard, Jacques Hetu, Colin McPhee, Ann Southam, Claude Vivier, and Healey Willan. Some readers may notice the conspicuous absence of several important Canadian composers who enjoyed prominent and productive careers. But an "important" composer isn't always a good one, and my list is entirely subjective. I'm indulging my own personal tastes but I'm also trying to be helpful. If it's better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness, let's light half a dozen candles.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

JEAN COULTHARD was born in Vancouver in 1908, and passed away there in 2000. For two years she studied at London's Royal College of Music, where her instructors included Ralph Vaughan Williams. The experience left an English stamp on her music: a sense of propriety and poise, and a penchant for a kind of loose tonality that's often called "modal." In terms of her musical influences, Bartok (with whom she studied briefly) was about as modern as she got--and for this reason she didn't really fit in with some of her modernist colleagues at the University of British Columbia.

Yet if she was regarded as hopelessly conservative, she wasn't about to deviate from her core values. "I've never made a direct effort to change my style," she told a journalist in 1989. "I've always tried to write what I call 'naturally,' in the natural way I feel. I think one's best works come out that way."

To be sure, her music lacks the aggressiveness of modernism, but there's an underlying strength in her works, which comes from a thorough knowledge of classical form and a firm sense of organic inevitability. Melodies are well shaped and balanced, crescendos are carefully prepared and built up: there's nothing about her music that seems out of place. This is craft raised to a level where it becomes enfolded in unconscious expression.

There are a few CDs currently available that are entirely devoted to the works of Coulthard. One can be found in Ovation Vol. 1, a fivedisc box of music by Canadian composers issued by CBC Records (PSCD 2026-5), back in the days when the CBC had a record label. There are several orchestral compositions, including the Introduction and Three Folksongs and Quebec May (with choir): both lush and lyrical works, with pastoral Appalachian Spring-like touches. (Aaron Copland was yet another of her teachers.) A special treat is Spring Rhapsody, a song-cycle composed for the late Maureen Forrester, with piano. And the disc also includes a lovely solo harp piece, Of Fields and Forests.

As well, there's a two-disc set of Coulthard that's been issued by the Canadian Music Centre, on the Centrediscs Label (Canadian Composers Portraits:Jean Coulthard, CMCCD 8202). It gives a slightly different impression of this composer. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Six Canadian Composers You Should Know
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.