Who Writes Our Music?
A survey of Canadian composers by a critic who laments : "Only once in a dog’s age do you find any Canadian composer’s latest piece on the piano”
IF ANY average member of the National Club in Toronto or St. James’ Club in Montreal were asked to name off-hand three Canadian composers, dead or alive, he would probably give it up, or fall back on Alexander Muir, the man who composed “K-K-Katy,” and whoever wrote the tune called “O Canada.” The general idea is that sheet music as an industry is not one of Canada’s native growths. Everybody knows we get our popular songs from Tin Pan Alley, our futurist pieces from Europe and our classics from dead men. You can find folk in any of our largest cities who have bought Canadian pictures and an occasional Canadian book, and who have homes designed by Canadian architects. Once in a dog’s age do you find any Canadian composer’s latest piece on the piano.
Yet there are more than fifty people in our chief cities whose combined musical works, published and unpublished—most of them performed somewhere—would be as numerous as the compositions of John Sebastian Bach; and Canada is positively the only young nation in the world that has a composer for a Governor-General. Most of t.hese do not write music that could be labelled Canadian as the Hopaks of Moussorgsky are Russian, or the music dramas of Wagner are German. But if a man’s vote can be Canadian after a year or two of paying income tax in Canada, surely the music he writes in Canada, even if it doesn’t describe a northern lake or give another flap to the old flag, may be called Canadian. The composer of “K-K-Katy” was born in Canada, but he wrote all his popular successes on Broadway. The man who wrote the melody of “The World is Waiting for the Sunrise” was born in Canada and lives here, but probably three million of those who have danced to it think it came from Tin Pan Alley. The royalties paid for these two “sure-fire hits” would buy all the serious, standardized music ever written in Canada.
Most of the composers mentioned in this article make neither fame nor fortune from the scores they write.
Nearly all of them teach music. They do their composing between the acts,
because they like to do it. Not one of them is a Schubert or a Chopin hawking lyric masterpieces to publishers. There will be no “Blossom Time” or “White Lilacs” written about any of these people. No Canadian music publisher ever asked a Canadian composer to write him a song. Why should he? Nobody comes into his shop to ask for a Canadian composition, unless it has already been sung over the radio or featured in a theatre. When a picture-house plays “Ramona” or a “Broadway Melody” or a “Singing Fool,” it is never a Canadian composer whose song is plastered on the theatre doors or showcarded in music windows. Music publishers do not as a rule print magazines in which they can use the score plates of songs and piano pieces for their subscribers and the same plates for sheet music on demand. One plate might cost more to engrave than the song is worth in sale. Musical Canada has started to publish each month the works of some Canadian composer. But the man who owns the paper is himself a publisher of music.
So the majority of the music written by Canadians has to depend on performance for publicity. Hundreds of Canadian pieces have been sung and played and broadcast that have never gone further in reproduction than a blueprint. Many of them have been performed from manuscript. And a great many have been published.
The Toronto Group
OUPPOSE we begin with a Canadian-born, Dr. Ernest ^ MacMillan, musical director of the Toronto Conservatory, who was born in Ontario of Scottish parents.
His father is Canada’s most eminent authority on hymnology. His works are not yet high in opus numbers but they include “England,” a cantata for chorus and orchestra which under another name was written in prison camp at Ruhleben; one concert overture, several arrangements of folk songs for string quartet and for chorus, one string quartet, some carol transcriptions and a few songs. All these have been publicly performed.
Dr. Healey Willan, vice-principal of the Toronto Conservatory, may be called a born composer. His Anglican service works are known in many of the best British and American churches. He is best known here for his many songs, his trio, his violin sonatas frankly in the old style, his Christmas cantata, and his men’s chorus works. He writes in the modern style but with true regard for form, melodic line and intelligible harmony. Organist and choirmaster of St. Mary Magdalene in Toronto, he is one of America’s greatest authorities on plain-song and ritual. And if you sit next him at lunch he is liable any moment to scribble you a theme on the back of a menu card or on the tablecloth, and tell a funny story while he does it. One of his humoresques was setting a club constitution to music.
Leo Smith, another Englishman on the staff of the Toronto Conservatory, has written a large number of songs; also works for the cello, which he plays, and for string quartet, occasionally for piano. His songs are characteristically modern in style, sometimes highly dramatic. As he plays the piano, he is able to write his own accompaniments.
Dr. Luigi Von Kunits, conductor of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, spends so much of his time arranging and memorizing other men’s works for his orchestra and his violin that he has little time to compose; but he has written string quartets, one or two sonatas for violin and cello and piano and minor works for orchestra. He was born in Vienna, where his father was a friend of Brahms. He also plays the piano; sometimes an organ, and it may also be added, knows philosophy in seven languages.
Thomas J. Crawford, Scottish organist of St. Paul’s Anglican, has written over 200 pieces, a large number of songs—fairly modern but very singable—works for violin, of which his wife Gertrude Ramsden is an exponent, for string quartet and trio, and for organ, besides anthems and other choral works.
' I 'HERE are two classes of Canadian composers—the French-Canadian and all others. The oldest all-Canadian important thing ever written, except folk songs that were made in Quebec, is “0 Canada” by Calixa Lavallée, who lived most of his life in Quebec City. FrenchCanadian composers live mostly in Montreal, Quebec and Ottawa. Most of them do their postgraduate work in Paris, instead of Berlin, London, or Vienna. They are as different in their style from Anglo-Canadian writers as “Maria Chapdelaine” differs from “The Man of Glengarry.”
Henri Miro, of Montreal, is one of the academics, writer of choral and orchestral works, including a cantata, “Vox Populi,” built on Canadian folk songs and performed in Montreal this winter. “Lots of clever writing for both voices and orchestra,” says a critic who heard it. Rodolphe Mathieu is his opposite; he lived long enough in post-Trilby Paris to imbibe the atmosphere of the “Six.” He has composed a string quartet, piano pieces and several songs, all steeped in the colors and violent impressionisms of modern French. Claude Champagne has recently returned from Paris, where before Christmas he had a very successful performance of his extensive folk song cantata for chorus and orchestra. He has also written songs, piano pieces and violin things, some of which were done at a recent programme of Canadian composers in Montreal. Champagne’s compatriots have a high opinion of his ability.
Emiliano Renaud is a veteran, born in 1865; one of the first Montrealers to prefer Vienna to Paris for study, he taught in the United States and came back to Montreal. He is a pianist and has done some good' piano music, besides a comic opera, very bright and melodious, to which he wrote his own words—in English—and some more recent populars. Achille Fortier has composed a Mass and several motets for church service and has harmonized many folk songs. He was born at St. Ciet, P.Q., in 1864 and he, too, studied his singing and harmony in Paris. Amedée Tremblay, now in New York, was born in Montreal, and is the writer of organ works, motets, one Mass and several folk song arrangements.
Alfred J. Whitehead, of Christ Church Cathedral, an Englishman and a Mus. Doc. of McGill, won a prize for a folk song choral opus at the Quebec festival in 1928, and some time ago wrote an orchestral tone-poem, Hereward the Wake, which was played at a Conservatorium concert. George M. Brewer, one of the moderns, has written songs and short piano works. Harold Eustace Key, director of C.P.R. festivals, has written choral pieces. Oscar O’Brien, folk song arranger, is one of the few IrishMontrealers to burst into the lyric art. Charles, brother of Gitz Rice also shows that composition runs in a family.
Alfred Laliberte, one of the most brilliant of all French-Canadian composers, is also a virtuoso pianist. The piano took him to Berlin and later into the studio of Scriabine, the Russian. He is the only French-Canadian composer who studied under both Russian and German masters. He has written one opera and about 200 settings to French folk songs. He is now in New York.
A Quebec Genius
QUEBEC CITY has a composer.ancestry dating back to Calixa Lavallée. Leo Roy is one of the most
brilliant and versatile of all Canadian composers. He was born in Quebec, spent his early life in New York, afterwards went to Europe, and is now living in Quebec. He has composed symphonies, band works, organ fugues, choral works, piano works, songs, and over 400 harmonizations of folk songs, chiefly Canadian, many of which he dug up among the habitants. He is a critic and a musical historian. His scholarship and talents for composing brought him in contact with many French celebrities, including SaintSaëns, d’Indy, Gigout, Dupré and Fourdrain, all of whom have written testimonials to the value of his work. One of his most recent compositions was a delicate little tone picture on the grief of a little girl over a lost cat. He won the Prix d’ Europe in 1922.
Another winner of the Prix d’Europe (1913) is Omer Letourneau, who studied organ in Paris and harmony with Fourdrain, and has composed piano pieces and motets.
Among the younger composers Horace Lapp, organist of Uptown Theatre in Toronto, is one of the most facile. He is in an almost chronic state of composition. He rang me up a year ago to say that a melody had come to him as he lay in bed that morning and he wanted some words to fit it. He has written scores of songs. Any time he gets to a keyboard he is likely to dash off a new one. From his improvisation themes for pictures he has material enough for a number of operas, one or two of which he has already sketched.
Dr. Albert Ham, organist and choirmaster of St. James’ Cathedral, Toronto, has written church cantatas such as his “Solitudes of the Passion” for Lent, songs, marches for orchestra, organ and band, organ works, and what is called descant and faux bourdon for choral use in hymns and carols. His work is always dignified and scholarly.
Dr. Edward Broome, formerly conductor of the Toronto Oratorio Society, has written a large number of songs and choral works, some of which have been sung by the Oratorio Society and by other choruses. He is a Welshman by ancestry, English by birth, and has been most of his life in Canada.
"pTHEL TAMBLYN won an American publisher’s prize for a best anthem competition two years ago. She has written several anthems, rather a rarity in an age when the newer the anthem, as a rule, the more it is anathema to the choir. Miss Tamblyn’s anthems are not in the leist impressionistic. Her songs are not numerous, but of their kind excellent; mainly about children, written to words by Edith Lelean Groves who is a member of the Toronto Board of Education.
Vera Rumball makes a close study of song writing. I had several of her songs in manuscript, all skilfully written to express moods in verses written by herself. Her verses are simpler than her music.
“For heaven’s sake write me some lyrics,” said Dr. W. H. Gutzeit to the writer when he was into about his 200th opus. “Good song words are scarce.” In spite of which, Gutzeit has written many songs, some of which he has published, besides church pieces, piano descriptions, and pieces for string instruments. Give him any theme on a piece of score paper and he will improvise something less than a sonata while you wait.
Cornelia Heintzman has published a number of very fine songs. Three years ago two Toronto singers had a joint recital of her compositions with great success. Not usually easy but always good. W. O. Forsyth, who teaches piano, has published more than fifty short works,
mainly for piano, with a large number of songs. His piano pieces are mainly descriptive things, all of them played in public and combining the latest technique of the piano with good melody. Twelve firms have published his works in Canada, England, Germany and the United States. Caesar George Finn recently presented in Toronto a programme of his own compositions and transcriptions in string quartet, violin sonata and madrigals.
Two composers have written music to “In Flanders Fields.’’ Lieutenant Harrison, bandmaster of the 7th Regiment in London, Ontario, did the setting that was sung by the Exhibition Chorus last year at the Canadian National Exhibition—a highly dramatic chorus. The other Flanders piece was executed by Colonel T. B. Richardson, who is a medical doctor, a veteran in regimental camps and a born composer, besides being a good amateur cellist. This one has not been published or produced, but it deserves to be. He has written a number of good songs, most of them to poems by Canadian writers. One of his chief hobbies is arranging string instrument transcriptions of piano classics, to which he is stimulated by the fact that he has had them all performed in his own home by his own family orchestra—violin, viola, flute, clarinet, cello and piano. Richardson’s choral and orchestral arrangement of “O Canada” was the first ever given by the Mendelssohn Choir with his own free translation from Judge Routhier’s French.
As the founder of the Mendelssohn Choir composed a few things, two or three of which have become well known, so the present conductor, Dr. H. A. Fricker, finds time now and then to arrange old classics and folk songs for choral use, besides a number of organ transcriptions. Robert Manson, a Scot in Toronto, writes very good things for orchestra, notably folk song arrangements, two of which have been performed by the Toronto Symphony. Donald Heins, concert master of the same orchestra and for years conductor of a symphony orchestra in Ottawa, has written eleven mainly descriptive solo pieces for violin; for violin with orchestra three, of which the “Variations Fantastiques” were played by the Hampstead Conservatory orchestra, and the Concertino by the Chicago Symphony and the Toronto Symphony with the composer as soloist; for orchestra three—Lake Pictures, a Marche Royale and a Concert Waltz.
Stewart Macklem is another occasional writer for orchestra whose works have been done in Toronto. He inclines to the modern style. Hubert Shorse, who conducts the newly formed Toronto Choral Union, writes motets. Albert Jordan is another choirmaster and organist who writes things for choirs; anthems, motets, and folk song and carol arrangements.
A Musical Best-Seller
rT'HE World is Waiting for the Sunrise” was written by Ernest Seitz, pianist, years before it was set to the verses by Lockhart, another Canadian. Everybody sang it, hummed it, played it, danced to it. Every theatre in America had it. At a certain party in Toronto not so very long ago, a young American who had not been introduced to Seitz—also one of the guests—began to ask if anybody in this neck of the Canadian wild woods could play this melody. Whereupon Seitz modestly said that if the gentleman would hum it over he would try to put in the bass part—and presently the visitor had one of the magnetic moments of his life when the composer swung into a brilliant arrangement of the thing, and the cat was out of the bag.
Ernest Bowles, choirmaster and conductor of the Toronto Men’s Chorus, has
published fourteen anthems, all of which have had a large sale in the United States. Among younger piano composers may be counted Reginald Stewart, who arranges other men’s works, and Scott Malcolm, who has also written a number of pieces for stringed instruments. Milton Blackstone, viola player in the Hart House Quartet, has written an opera.
James H. Murray wrote a choral work “Canada,” which was sung by the Exhibition Chorus of Toronto a few years ago and another—with words by Grant Balfour—called “America’’ Lorene Ashman Heaton and Wal Bromby have each published songs. Laura G. Lemon has composed some short patriotic works.
Ottawa joins the ranks of composer cities, now as never before, in the person of His Excellency Lord Willingdon, who under a nom de plume composed several very good songs. I have not heard these songs, but as a keen appreciator of good music, Lord Willingdon is equalled in his office only by the late Earl Grey, who made music competitions almost a phase of government. Composership in the House of Lords itself is shared with Lord Berners, the musical wit.
Among fellow-composers of His Excellency in Ottawa are Edgar Birch, who has published folk songs and dances, Dr. J. Herbert Sanders, who writes anthems, songs and organ pieces, and Myrtle Rothwell, who confines herself to pieces for the piano.
Several of Canada’s best composers no longer live in Canada. Among the most eminent of these is Clarence Lucas, born near Hamilton, who years ago joined the staff of the Musical Courier in New York, went to London as its representative, and has since composed piano pieces, a number of very fine songs, concert overtures that have been played by the Queen’s Hall orchestra under Sir Henry Wood, one cantata that has been sung by the Apollo Club in Chicago and several miscellaneous pieces for orchestra. He is now composing in Paris and finishing a book “Great Pianists I Have Met.”
^”ANY Canadians know the songs and -l-’'-*string-music works of Gena Branscombe who years ago left her native town of Picton, Ontario, to study music in Toronto, and after her marriage went to New York—or near it—where for years she has been numbered among the small army of “American” composers. There is a certain bigness about her work, especially her songs, which makes them acceptable to musicians as well as to plain people.
Does anybody who reads this not know who wrote “K-K-Katy?” Let him write to Geoffrey O’Hara in New York, who prefers to be better known by that solemn and somewhat blatant thing “There is No Death,” and his very popular settings to “Johnny Courteau, Leetle Bateese,” and the “Wreck of the Julie Plante” which has been sung several times in choral arrangement by the Mendelssohn Choir. His Armistice Day music was performed last year at Roxy’s. O’Hara has transcribed a large number of French-Canadian folk songs in the somewhat sentimental style. He is a sworn enemy of common jazz, a popular lecturer with a piano, has a very good tenor voice, and was born in Chatham, Ontario, son of an Irish lawyer.
Gitz Rice is a Canadian who years ago went to New York and to the war, and since became famous—not least by the song which everybody used to know, “Old Pal O’ Mine,” never so well sung as by himself. He has travelled a good bit with vaudeville and has been frequent guest conductor at theatres in two countries.
One of the most apocalyptic of younger Canadian composers is Colin McPhee, who was born in Toronto and did his latest studying there with Arthur Friedheim. He wrote a concerto for piano and orchestra which he played here with the Toronto Symphony, and he executed so many parabolic curves in key, transition and harmony that before it was half done most of the audience wondered how the miracle would ever come to an end without an earthquake. In Paris McPhee made a critical study of all the modern Parisians in music, and a year or two ago he came back to New York, where he is now accompanist for the Schola Cantorum conducted by Hugo Ross, formerly of Winnipeg. Louis Saar, formerly of Quebec, has written many picturesque dramatic songs and a number of folk song transcriptions for orchestra and for small chorus with orchestra. One of his orchestral suites was played by the Toronto Symphony, and a group of his folk song arrangements has been a feature of several programmes in Canadian cities. Quite recently, Redferne Hollinshead, best known in Canada as a lyric tenor, has published two songs.
Musical America last December awarded a $3,000 cash prize for the best American Rhapsody for orchestra. Ernest Bloch won it, partly by his ingenious use of American folk songs. In 1928, President E. W. Beatty of the Canadian Pacific
Railway donated $3,000 in prizes for the best compositions in several mediums based upon the folk songs of French Canada. Five of these were won by Canadians—one from British Columbia, one from Winnipeg—previously unknown to the rest of Canada.
There are perhaps as many composers in the United States as there are multimillionaires; but Uncle Sam is still looking for his great composer. Canada has as many composers as she has poets. She is still searching for a composer to do something as big in tone, rhythm and harmony as some of her best poets have done in verse. Will the great national opus come from any of those mentioned in this article? Nobody will ever know until something more is done to stimulate composers. The publishers are willing to wait until some genius comes along with a masterpiece. That will never come until the manuscripts already stacked up in studios are better known to the public.
On April 17, 1929, a Toronto daily newspaper switched its popular-music fans almost without a warning into two hours of the Bach B minor Mass sung by the Mendelssohn Choir. A big “hook-up” of radio stations and theatres across Canada, featuring Canadian composers, for Dominion Day Week 1930 could surely do as much to put the Canadian composers that now are on the nation’s map as one radio station did to popularize Bach.