Sir Ernest MacMillan: The Importance of Being Canadian/John Weinzweig and His Music: The Radical Romantic of Canada

By Lazarevich, Gordana | Canadian University Music Review, January 1, 1996 | Go to article overview

Sir Ernest MacMillan: The Importance of Being Canadian/John Weinzweig and His Music: The Radical Romantic of Canada


Lazarevich, Gordana, Canadian University Music Review


Ezra Schabas. Sir Ernest MacMillan: The Importance of Being Canadian. Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto Press, 1994. 374 pp. ISBN 0-8020-2849-7 (hardcover).

Elaine Keillor. John Weinzweig and His Music: The Radical Romantic of Canada. Composers of North America, no. 15. Metuchen, N.J., and London: The Scarecrow Press, 1994. 317 pp. ISBN 0-8108-2849-9 (hardcover).

As Canada embarks upon the last years that lead toward the end of this century-and indeed the end of the millennium-we are witnessing an awakening interest in our country's cultural and intellectual history. Although ours cannot be measured against that of other cultures that have been developing throughout the millennium, Canada's young cultural story nevertheless is unique and different, due to the geographic, political, and social forces that have shaped this country.

A number of books published over the last decade begin to illuminate the creative energy and the personalities of specific individuals who have provided artistic and intellectual leadership throughout the current century. Information presented through biographies, monographs, and memoirs illuminates our cultural heritage and offers a context for cultural historians of today and of the future to assess the collective creative and intellectual achievements of the 20th century.

A few titles will illustrate the increasing concern with our cultural heritage: Mavor Moore's Reinventing Myself (Stoddard, 1994); David MacKenzie's Arthur Irwin, A Biography (University of Toronto Press, 1993); David Bercuson's True Patriot: The Life of Brooke Claxton, 1898-1960 (University of Toronto Press, 1993); Maria Tippett's Making Culture: English-Canadian Institutions andtheArts before theMassey Commission (University of Toronto Press, 1990); Gordana Lazarevich's The Musical World of Frances James and Murray Adaskin (University of Toronto Press, 1988); and now the books on Sir Ernest MacMillan and John Weinzweig.

Both MacMillan and Weinzweig are towering figures in the evolution of 20th-century musical culture in Canada. Conductor, administrator, adjudicator, educator, composer, organist, and pianist, Sir Ernest was a leading force in this country's musical development over a span of six decades. The cultural institutions that he created and/or developed were, for the most part Torontocentred. However, the thousands of performers, composers, administrators, and educators who have benefited from these institutions have been, and some still are, practising throughout the entire country. Similarly, few Canadian musicians today in their fifties and sixties were not exposed to the teachings and personality of John Weinzweig. Like a vast network, generations of his students are currently teaching in music schools and departments at Canadian universities and abroad. Sir Ernest died in 1973; John Weinzweig is still going strong at age 83. We have not heard the last word from him yet.

These two books collectively provide a solid contribution not only to our understanding of the lives and creative ideals of these two seminal figures, but to the body of knowledge of the 20th-century musical scene in Canada. Ezra Schabas' biography presents a man passionately interested in fostering and producing music, and in cultivating audiences of the future through contact with Canada's youth in music festivals across the country.

As a budding young pianist who had a chance to perform under his baton in the first CBC Music Festival in 1959, the author of this review recognizes in the biography in part a history of her own times. The biography of Sir Ernest MacMillan is indeed a history of the times of many generations of Canadian artists, writers, composers, educators, and perfprmers whose lives and careers were touched in some way by his indefatigable service and sense of responsibility to his country and his people.

Schabas' book constitutes the first biography of this great national musician. …

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