Canada’s 150th programme notes

We kick off our 2017-2018 Extras with a celebration of music with connections north of the 49th parallel, and stunning piano quintet, featuring Graeme Roset.

Please click here to download and print these programme notes (pdf version).

 

Extra A – Canada’s 150th

Sir Ernest MacMillan was one of the most influential figures in Canadian music during the twentieth century. Born into a musical family in Mimico, ON, he showed great abilities early on, becoming the organist and choir director of Knox Presbyterian Church at the tender age of fifteen. His career was interrupted by internment in Germany during the First World War, but it progressed rapidly thereafter. He began teaching at the Toronto Conservatory of Music (then the Canadian Academy of Music) in 1920, becoming its Principal in 1926, then Dean of the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto in 1927. 1931 saw him nominated to succeed the ailing Alfred Kunits as conductor of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, a position he held for twenty-five years with great distinction. During the 1940s he was the driving force behind the creation of the influential Canadian Music Council and its first president. He was also key in the founding of the Canadian Music Centre, which today is one of the most important organisations for the promotion of Canadian music. Unfortunately MacMillan’s career as a composer often took second place to his other activities. Yet he still managed to produce a credible body of works in various genres, from songs to orchestral music.

A Saint Malo, from his Two Sketches on French Canadian Airs reveals another facet of MacMillan’s career, his interest in Canadian folk music. The tune is a popular French Canadian folk song, originally from Brittany in France. MacMillan found it in the anthology Folk Songs of French Canada and used it as the musical material for the second of the sketches he produced in 1927 for the Quebec Folk Festival sponsored by the Canadian Pacific Railway. In the song, three women of St Malo (a seaport on the Breton coast and the hometown of Jacques Cartier) haggle with a ship’s captain over the price of his cargo of grain. Rather than simply playing though the tune, Macmillan uses it as the material for a lively kaleidoscope of swirling musical ideas. – Dr Brian Black

Shaun Bellamy is a concert and film composer currently enrolled in the MMus composition program at the University of Toronto. Graduating from the University of Lethbridge in 2014 with his BMus, he is an avid writer of instrumental music and often combines acoustic instruments with electronic sounds. Regardless of the ensemble his creative output features primarily programmatic music, works based on a new or preexisting narrative. In addition, Shaun created “The Space for Musical Composition” (funded by the Ron and Joyce Sakomoto Award for Digital Audio Arts), a room that creates unique musical work based on the actions of a participant inside, as well as an augmented Alto Saxophone which is able to manipulate the acoustic sound of the instrument through an attachable control interface. Through these endeavours, he hopes to combine the infinite sonic possibilities of electronic music and the visceral energy of live acoustic instruments.

String Quartet No 1 takes an ensemble through different levels of homophony, counterpoint, and heterophony. It uses textural changes to define each sections, ranging from intense rhythmic counterpoint to static homophony. At its core, it explores the varying degrees of unity within the quartet and how their relationship changes within each musical context. – Shaun Bellamy

Srul Irving Glick was not only one of Canada’s leading composers during the latter half of the twentieth century, but also a radio producer (with such programs as Music Alive, CBC Tuesday Night and Themes and Variations, to his credit), a conductor and teacher at the University of Toronto and York University. In composition, Glick found great inspiration in his Jewish roots. His father emigrated to Toronto from Russia in 1924 and served as a cantor in a number of the city’s synagogues. Consequently Glick’s finest works include particularly beautiful settings of service music for the Synagogue, while cantorial chant and Jewish folk song feature prominently in several of his non-liturgical compositions as well.

Suite Hebraique No 1 is a good example of this influence. It was written in 1961 in Paris while Glick was pursuing further studies in composition. According to the composer: “After being away from Toronto for two years, I started to get nostalgic feelings for home and the family, so I decided to write a work for my parents. My family background was always involved in music. My father was a cantor and when I was a child I sang in his choirs, and it was a common occurrence to sing en famille during the Sabbath or for holiday occasions. This taste for Jewish music was the actual source of not only this work, but many of this kind which were to follow.”

The Suite, the first of five, was originally conceived for orchestra, but has since been arranged for various ensembles. It consists of six movements. The first, Cantorial Chant, captures the solemnity and characteristic vocal inflections of a long and treasured musical tradition. The second, Chassidic Dance, has a reserved dignity to it, reflective of one aspect of this ultra-orthodox sect of Judaism. According to Glick it reflects “the joy of prayer.” Folk influences infuse the following Hora, a circle dance which originated in Eastern Europe but became an important feature of Jewish music, especially on the Kibbutzim of Israel. The following Lullaby is based on a tune that Glick’s parents would sing to him as a child. In glick’s words, the fifth movement, Dialogue “evokes a pastoral scene in which one motif dominates discussion and then the other motif, fed up with being dominated, explodes in anger.” Another hora is featured in the final movement, Circle Dance. Here the music’s liveliness and joy are reminiscent of the horas danced at Jewish weddings where the bride and groom are carried on chairs. – Dr Brian Black

Canada’s 150th! journeys through a number of Canadian tunes to celebrate our sesquicentennial. Most of these have wonderful melodies quite familiar to our audience. Opening with an energetic version of O Canada the music settles quietly into Land of the Silver Birch, which uses a poem by Pauline Johnson. She’s Like the Swallow is from Newfoundland, a beautiful song about unhappy love, before transitioning into a Canadian ceilidh with three fiddle tunes: Cariboo Reel (Metis), Brenda Stubbert’s Reel (Cape Breton) and St Anne’s Reel (French Canadian). The jaunty I’s the B’y, also from Newfoundland, leads into Red River Valley, which was known in five provinces before 1896, and like Farewell to Nova Scotia, is of unknown origin. V’la l’ Bon Vent, performed by plucking the strings, is a traditional song of the voyageurs. In Maple Sugar, written in 1956 by Canadian fiddler Ward Allen, the open E of the violin is played as a drone. Next, the Tulalip song will have been sung by the Salish people on the west coast of Canada.

Many thanks to Sherryl Sewepagaham (Edmonton) for sharing Song for the Swimmers, which honours the fish and water through dance so they will continue to provide nourishment for all people; and Olivia Tailfeathers (now living in Lethbridge) for sharing Mother Earth, which speaks of how we must appreciate the spirit of the land through our senses (both used with permission from NAC Arts Alive). Un Canadian Errant is a song written in 1841 by Antoine Gerin-Lajouie after the Lower Canada Rebellion of 1837-38; some rebels were condemned to death, others forced into exile to the United States. We conclude with O Canada, along with Happy Birthday played slowly by the viola. Feel free to sing along! – Mark Rodgers

At various points in his career, Robert Schumann would throw his energies into one particular form of music. In 1842 it was chamber music that claimed his attention. Early that spring he began studying the string quartets of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. By the summer he had produced three quartets of his own in quick succession, followed in the autumn by a series of works for piano and strings, the greatest of which is undoubtedly the magnificent Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Opus 44.

The Quintet is quite an ambitious work, filled with energy and passion. These qualities are apparent in the striding main theme of the opening Allegro brillante, while the more restrained and lyrical side of the work is first revealed in the movement’s tender subordinate theme. The slow movement is a foreboding march relieved by two episodes, the second of which is interrupted by a ghostly reminiscence of the march. This dark music is followed by a burst of bright energy in the exhilarating Scherzo. For the last movement, Schumann created a brilliant rondo finale, which brings back in its coda the main theme of the opening movement combined in counterpoint with the finale’s gypsy-like rondo theme. – Dr Brian Black