CANADIANS AT THE KEYBOARD PRIOR TO 1940
This recording of all of the works specified for piano that are included in the Historical Anthology of Canadian Music covers the period of 1791 to 1939. Because some works specified a range of possible keyboards, a few other pieces that were played on piano, or various types of organs have been included as well. Even during the days of New France, some of the residents were known to have been skilled performers on keyboard instruments such as organs, spinets, and harpsichords. Louis Jolliet (1645-1700), the famed explorer, is reputed to have studied harpsichord in Paris for a year and certainly played the organ for services in Quebec City on occasion. The Livre d'orgue de Montréal, a manuscript of 540 pages of organ music, presumably brought to Montreal by the young Sulpician cleric, Jean Girard, in 1724 gives us some idea of the range of material used on available organs. Although no composer is indicated for any of its 398 pieces, some have been identified to have been by Nicolas Lebègue (1630-1702), the King's organist, and others are in the style of organ music written in France during the period 1675-1710. Probably none of the pieces were actually written in Canada.
After 1759, major changes took place in North America as the British took command. Many if not most spinets and harpsichords went back to France as members of the upper ruling classes left what had been New France. When F. H. Glackemeyer (1759-1836) arrived in Canada at age 17 as a mercenary, he soon discovered that available keyboard instruments were not of a high quality. By 1784 he was importing musical instruments, sheet music, tuning pianofortes, and teaching viol, bass-viol, violin, and pianoforte. Perhaps it was on a pianoforte, imported by Glackemeyer, that Charles Voyer de Poligny d'Argenson, a Quebec City notary, conceived the Royal Fusiliers' Arrival at Quebec. This was inspired by the arrival of the band of Prince Edward Augustus (1767-1820) at Quebec in 1791. As was often customary with works intended to be played by bands, the initial score was written as for piano and then the bandmaster could transcribe the piece for the particular complement of instruments available.
From 1820 on, Canadians produced pieces specifically to be played on the piano. The earliest available published composition written by a Canadian woman is The Canada Union Waltz "By a Canadian Lady." Women often had to use pseudonyms to get their works published in the mid-nineteenth century, but it has been suggested that the lady in question might be Josephte Desbarats Sheppard. The work was published both in London, England, and in the New York periodical The Albion, volume 20. Jean-Chrysostome Brauneis (1814-1871) returned to Montreal from three years of study in Europe and was known for his teaching of works by Clementi, Cramer, and Czerny. He wrote the Marche de la St-Jean-Baptiste for the patriotic society founded in 1834. Marches and various dance idioms were the most common type of piano composition to achieve publication in the nineteenth century. A.H. Lockett, presumably a musician in the Halifax area for whom no biographical information has yet been obtained, probably composed Centenary or Fancy Fair Polka and Galop to recognize the centennial of the founding of Halifax in 1749.
George W. Strathy (1818-1890) claimed to have been a student of Mendelssohn. By 1847 he was teaching in Toronto piano, organ, and theory, conducting various ensembles, and playing chamber works such as Beethoven's Archduke Trio. In 1858 he was awarded a doctorate of music by the University of Trinity College (Toronto), and had been named "Professor of Music," the first North American to hold this academic title. His Magic Bell Polka was among the early publications of the A. & S. Nordheimer company which specialized in music publication. Antoine Dessane (1826-1873), a graduate of the Paris Conservatory, arrived to become organist at Notre-Dame Basilica in Quebec City in 1849. Soon after his arrival, he was delighted while boating on the St-Charles River to hear people singing old French tunes, sometimes with Canadian texts, while going about their daily chores. Five of the songs that he heard, La Claire Fontaine, Dans les prisons de Nantes, C'est la belle Françoise, Vive la Canadienne, Roule la boule, are used in the five sections of his Quadrille Canadien. This dance form was the basis of the later square dance. Ernest Gagnon (1834-1915) became organist at the Quebec Basilica in 1864, and in 1865 began the publication of his famous collection of over 100 Chansons populaires du Canada. Not only interested in French folk material, he also wrote about the musical traditions of the Indigenous peoples of Canada. Using the name of an Iroquois village located at the present site of Quebec City, Stadaconé: Danse sauvage pour piano, Gagnon wrote that he "incorporated certain stylistic aspects of native music. These include melodic and rhythmic repetition, open fifths, and marked accentuation patterns."
After the creation of Canada as a nation in 1867, composers wrote many characteristic pieces for the piano. By far the most well-known of these was Le Papillon (The Butterfly) by Calixa-Lavallée (1842-1891). The composer of the Canadian national anthem studied in Paris during the years 1873-75. Not only did he have an orchestral work, Patrie, performed in 1874, but it was probably in that year when the first publication by the Parisian firm, L. Eveillard, happened of this piano etude. It has subsequently been published by at least 30 publishers and remained on the study list of the Paris Conservatory for years.
Joseph Vézina (1849-1924), an outstanding band conductor and founder of the Quebec Symphony Orchestra in 1903, was largely self-taught, having had only a brief period of study with Lavallée. He wrote extensively for band, but most of the works published were in piano versions such as this Souffle parfumé: Valse. It begins with the Spanish-flavoured Tempo di Bolero, followed by a brief Andantino, then four waltzes in sharply contrasting rhythms, concluding with a Finale that recalls some of the themes.
The beginning of the twentieth century is considered a watershed in the history of Western music as more adventurous composers explored the possibilities of scales other than the major and minor diatonic forms and chords built on intervals other than thirds. Some of the resultant works, particularly those of Scriabin and Debussy, were being heard in Canada before 1910. That fact can possibly help to account for the chords built with seconds, otherwise often referred to as tone clusters which occur in Tintamarre: (The Clangor of Bells) by J. Humfrey Anger (1862-1913), head of the theory department at the Toronto Conservatory of Music. The work's publication in 1911 is two years before a publication by the American composer, Henry Cowell, who is often hailed as the first proponent of clusters. Gena Branscombe (1881-1977), born in Picton, Ontario, won gold medals for piano and composition at the Chicago Musical College in 1900. That year she wrote this delightful Cavalcade: Etude for piano which she frequently used in her recitals. It was among works for which she received rave reviews in Germany in 1909.
A Canadian pianist, who organized the first North American festival of music by Debussy, was Léo-Pol Morin. To him, Georges-Émile Tanguay (1893-1964) dedicated his Pavane (1921 ), a work that is nco-classical in concept. Instead of looking back to an earlier period, Colin McPhee (1901-1964) wanted to find new sounds, as he wrote a concerto for various children's instruments and percussion at the age of twelve. Silhouette is from The Four Piano Sketches (1916), the earliest extant work of McPhee. In the 1930s, he became an expert of Balinese music and adapted its idiom into what is now known as minimalist composition.
James Callihou was the pseudonym of Léo-Pol Morin (1892-1941) whom he described as born in Edmonton of an Indian father and a French-Canadian mother, studied in Vienna, then lived in New York and Paris, and wrote music inspired by Indian and Inuit tunes, incorporating elements from Ravel, Bartók, and Stravinsky. Morin first performed Suite canadienne published as by Callihou on 19 March 1929. This was at the height of interest in French-Canadian folksong as the basic material for composition. In the Chanson, the tune of "Les fers aux pieds," appears. The Gigue incorporates elements of the Canadian fiddling traditions and the tune "Turkey in the Straw," a variant of Old Zip Coon (1834).
Wesley Octavius Forsyth (1839-1937) went to Leipzig for advanced musical studies where he heard his orchestral work Romanza performed. He returned to Toronto where he became a noted piano teacher and administrator. Most of his piano pieces and songs are in a conservative late nineteenth-century idiom. In his forward-looking Prelude (1929), there are shifting rhythmic metres used and the ending features a pentatonic scale.
John J. Weinzweig (b. 1913) was the first Canadian who insisted that composing music should be considered as a discipline in its own right, not a sideline activity. During his graduate musical studies at the Eastman School of Music, he became fascinated with the works of Alban Berg. Through self-study, he tried to work out the principles of the serial technique developed by Berg's teacher, Arnold Schoenberg. In 1938 he wrote a short serial piece that was dismissed by his Eastman teachers. A year later in Toronto he wrote Dirgeling, which incorporates harmonic overtones created by the depression of silent diminished seventh chords. These are followed by the first presentation of its twelve-tone set in the lower line.
Twenty-seven years before this Canadian serial piece, Rodolphe Mathieu (1890-1962) created Canada's first atonal composition, Under the tutelage of Alfred La Liberté who was a great admirer of Scriabin and had many of his manuscripts in his possession, Mathieu creates in his Prelude: Sur un nom chords built of open fifths. The tritone interval is prominent and there is no clear tonal centre.
Canadians in homes ranging from small sod huts, log cabins, to large stone and brick mansions, often played hymns on whatever instrument was available, piano, melodeon, reed organ, or possibly even a pipe organ. The latter instrument has been chosen here to play Canadian hymns from different periods. The first group Singing School, Canada, Resurrection, and Port Hope come from three of the most important early tunebooks created in Canada: Stephen Humbert's Union Harmony (Saint John, NB) whose first edition was 1801; Mark Burnham's Colonial Harmonist, Port Hope, 1832; and Alexander Davidson's Sacred Harmony, Toronto, 1838. Rivard (1832- 1917) produced the most popular collection of hymn tunes with French words, Chants evangeliques that appeared in twelve editions between 1862 and 1914. His Confie au plus tendre des pères, Soldats du Christ, Just as I am by George Linton (fl. 1850-1868), and Will He Not Come Back by Torontonian John Whyte (1850-1927) clearly used homophonic, diatonic harmony, unlike the earlier group which were under the influence of the first New England School. That is a contrapuntal basis and sometimes quite clashing intervals with the open fifth being the most prominent and "perfect" combination. A refined hymn-tune style based on the variant of a small motive is used by the organist of British Columbia, George Jennings Burnett (1867-1941). More chromatic writing occurs in Crossing the Bar by the Toronto musician, Albert Ham (1858-1940) and included in The Book of Praise (1910). First published in 1933, Lambeth Road by the Toronto barrister, James Edmund Jones (1866-1939) seems to reflect on the miserable conditions of the unemployed in the 1930s.
Canadian composers did not only compose religious music for organ. The dance idiom was also popular in this medium. Burnett gave the premiere of The British African Gavotte in Victoria on 3 May 1898. Prière by Tanguay was published in 1921 and is reminiscent of the chromaticism and harmonies to be found in French organ works of that period. Although Glackerneyer's Marche was composed around 1807 for the Feast of St. Paul & Peter, its stylistic idiom and its lack of pedal notes probably indicate that this piece could be played on the piano.
Elaine Keillor has had her "adept well-schooled" piano playing described as "conveying a sense of magic, of enchantment in music that is rare." Beginning her public recitals at the age of two, Keillor became the youngest graduate ever in piano performance of the Royal Conservatory of Music (Toronto) with all of the theoretical exams completed at the age of ten. Her principal teachers in Canada were her mother and Reginald Bedford with further coaching from Carl Friedberg, Claudio Arrau, Harold Craxton, and Verna Jacobson. She has toured across Canada and given recitals and orchestral performances in North America and Europe as well as appearing regularly on the CBC, NBC, TVOntario, radio and television programs.
In 1976 Keillor obtained the Ph.D. in musicology from the University of Toronto and has taught at Toronto, York, Queen's, McMaster, and Carleton Universities. She is principal investigator of the Canadian Musical Heritage Society, an organization devoted to the research, editing, and publishing of Canadian music composed before 1950. Dr. Keillor has written articles on many aspects of Canadian music, and the monograph John Weinzweig: The Radical Romantic of Canada (1994). As a performer and chamber musician Keillor has given many premieres of new Canadian repertoire. Her recent recordings, praised for their "impeccable pianism," include Legend of the First Rabbit (Studea Musica 1999) and Views of the Piano Sonata (CSCD-1002). In 1999 Dr. Keillor was the inaugural recipient of the Canadian Women's Mentor Award, Arts and Culture category.
Click on the disk image at the top of any page to return to the Carleton Sound Home Page.