Colloquy/débat: Violet Archer, Jean Coulthard, and Barbara Pentland Remembered

Canadian University Music Review, January 1, 2000 | Go to article overview

Colloquy/débat: Violet Archer, Jean Coulthard, and Barbara Pentland Remembered


EDITOR'S NOTE

James Deaville

In a bizarre coincidence, three important Canadian women composers from the same generation recently died within five weeks of each other: Barbara Pentland on 6 February 2000, Violet Archer on 22 February 2000, and Jean Coulthard on 9 March 2000. These composers were born within five years of each other (Coulthard on 10 February 1908, Pentland on 2 January 1912, and Archer on 24 April 1913), and certainly had collégial and friendly relations with each other and esteemed each other's work, even though they did not comprise a coherent school of composers. It is a striking feature of Canadian musical history that composition in the middle of the twentieth century would have such a prominent role occupied by women composers, to the extent that Archer, Coulthard, and Pentland would help shape the musical landscape of the country.

Although it has not been the practice of the Canadian University Music Review to publish reports or items about current musical life, which are better suited for publication in the Society's newsletter, the newly instituted "Colloquy" feature does allow the opportunity for us to take special note of these significant losses to Canadian music. As a tribute to these our departed mentors, colleagues, and friends, we offer here a collection of memoirs of Violet Archer, Jean Coulthard, and Barbara Pentland by individuals from their spheres of acquaintance. The result is a rich collection of the most varied remembrances about the lives of the composers, by people who worked with and studied under them. These primary documents yield many new insights into the lives of our composers, ranging from personal habits to the way they taught composition. The editor hopes that the remembrances offered here as a tribute will make these remarkable individuals come to life for us again. Unfortunately, space limitations prohibited the publication of every item submitted for inclusion, but I most sincerely thank all authors who contributed items based on their experiences with the composers.

I specially thank Glenn Colton of Lakehead University for assembling and editing the memoirs of Jean Coulthard, and Elaine Keillor of Carleton University for editing the memoir of Barbara Pentland.

VIOLET ARCHER

Claude Kenneson

It was in Denton in 1952 that I first met Violet Archer, then composer-in-residence at North Texas State College. The following season she asked me to join my student colleagues, violinist Mary Catherine Miles and violist Carolyn Kaps, to perform her recently composed String Trio No. 1 in a recital of her chamber music works. Even after forty-seven years I remember vividly the petite dynamo of a composer coaching us vigorously on the style and spirit of her new work.

Although the paths of our lives soon diverged, we remained friends. In 1961, when I commissioned her String Trio no. 2 for the Corydon String Trio, an ensemble I had founded in Winnipeg, I thought perhaps our relationship had come full circle, but that was certainly not the case. When next I met her at a dinner party given by Zubin Mehta in Montreal, we instantly renewed our friendship. Four years later I joined her as a colleague in the theory division of the Department of Music at the University of Alberta and we had the great pleasure of a further thirty-five years as colleagues.

The Alberta years were productive for us. I continued to commission new works. The Sonata for Viola, Cello, and Piano (1976) was first played in Edmonton, then later in Toronto at the Ninth International Viola Congress by the Kenneson Trio. Capriccio for cello and piano (1981) was given its world premiere when pianist Brian Harris and I performed it at London's Wigmore Hall. My final performance as cellist of the University of Alberta String Quartet was the recording session of Violet Archer's new String Quartet no. 3 (1981), composed for the celebration of the University of Alberta's seventy-fifth anniversary. …

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