Rathburn, Eldon

Eldon (Davis) Rathburn. Composer, pianist, organist, teacher, b Queenstown, NB, 21 Apr 1916, d Ottawa 30 Aug 2008; L MUS (McGill) 1937. After early piano studies with Eric Rollinson in Saint John, NB, where he also played with Don Messer and His Islanders, Eldon Rathburn won a Canadian Performing Rights Society scholarship for his compositions Silhouette (1936) and To a Wandering Cloud (1938). At the Toronto Conservatory of Music 1938-9 he studied composition with Healey Willan, organ with Charles Peaker, and piano with Reginald Godden. For his Symphonette (1943), he received first prize in the Los Angeles Young Artists' Competition (1944). He travelled to Los Angeles in 1945, where the work was played by the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Alfred Wallenstein. During this visit, Rathburn met Arnold Schoenberg, one of the competition judges. Rathburn was a danceband pianist, church organist, and radio arranger 1939-47 in Saint John before joining the National Film Board (NFB), Ottawa, where he was a staff composer 1947-76. He also taught film-music composition 1972-6 at the University of Ottawa. In common with other NFB composers, Rathburn developed a light-textured and economical style readily adaptable to the mood of a film.

By 1976, in addition to many concert works, Rathburn had composed 185 film scores (mostly shorts for the NFB), including To the Ladies (1947); Family Circle (1949); Children's Concert (1951); The Romance of Transportation (1952); Who Will Teach Your Child? (1952); City of Gold (1957; the basis for a symphonic suite of the same name); Universe (1960); Drylanders (1963; his first feature-length score); Pillar of Wisdom (1968); Labyrinth (1967; a multi-screen extravaganza for which a special theatre was built at Expo 67; recorded on Dominion LAB-650S); The World of Paul Kane (1973); The Road to Green Gables (1975; for CBC TV); and Who Has Seen the Wind (1977; feature film). In semi-retirement in Ottawa, Rathburn remained active, composing and doing research on music with a railroad theme. His scores included music for the IMAX films Skyward (1984); Transitions (1986); The First Emperor of China (a China-Canada co-production 1989); for the NFB tribute to Norman McLaren, The Creative Process (1990); and for Momentum (1992), for Expo 92 in Seville, Spain.

Performances 1990s - 2008

Eldon Rathburn enjoyed a late-career resurgence, which began in 1995 when Julian Armour, then director of the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival (OICMF), programmed several of Rathburn's works, including his humorous take on the ill-fated Montreal-Toronto high-speed train (Turbo, 1978). Audience reception was so favourable that Rathburn's music became a staple of the festival. More recent works played at the festival include the humorous and affectionate Ottawa Suite (1996, rev. 2001); Subway Thoughts (1993); Schoenberg vs. Gershwin: A Tennis Match (1991); and Diabolus in Musica (2007). On 31 Jul 2006, the OICMF held a concert dedicated to Rathburn's music in honour of his 90th birthday. The CD Eldon Rathburn: Works (ATMA ACD2 2371) was launched the same evening.

Eldon Rathburn was the subject of a 1995 NFB documentary, They Shoot... He Scores and was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada in 1999. His scores were deposited at Library and Archives Canada. Rathburn was a member of the Canadian League of Composers and an associate of the Canadian Music Centre.

See also Film scores.

Selected Compositions

Silhouette (arr). 1940. Orch. Ms

Symphonette. 1943 (rev 1946). Orch. Ms

Cartoon No. 1. 1944. Med orch. Ms

Cartoon No. 2. 1946. Med orch. Ms. RCI 41 (Toronto Symphony Orchestra)

Suite (Family Circle). 1949. Orch. Ms

Images of Childhood. 1950. Orch. Berandol (rental). RCI 19 (TSO)/CBC SM-119 (CBC Winnipeg orch)

Suite (Children's Concert). 1951. Orch. Ms

Overture to a Hoss Opera. 1952. Sm orch. Ms

Nocturne. 1953. Sm orch. Ms

Overture Burlesca. 1953. Orch. Ms

Variations and Fugue on Alouette. 1953. Sm orch. Ms

Milk Maid Polka. 1956. Med orch. Ms

Gray City. 1960. Med orch. Ms

City of Gold. 1967. Orch. Ms

Aspects of Railroads. 1969. Orch. Ms

Steelhenge. 1974. Steel band and orch. Ms

Three Ironies. 1975. Brass quintet and orch. Ms

The Train to Mariposa. 1986. Ms

Light and Shadow. String orch. 1995


'My most successful work: Labyrinth' Canadian Composer, 30, Jun 1968


Miniature. 1949. Ww quartet, brass quartet. Ms

Parade. 1949. Picc, woodwind quartet, brass trio, percussion. Ms

Pastorella. 1949. Ob, string trio, double-bass. Ms

Waltz for Winds. 1949 (rev 1956). Ww quartet. Ms

Second Waltz for Winds. 1949. Ww quartet. Ms

Conversation. 1956. 2 clarinet. Jay 1971. Dominion S-69004 (Galper clarinet)

Bout. 1971. Guit, double-bass. Ms

The Metamorphic Ten. 1971. Accor, mand, banjo, guitar, double-bass, harp, piano, celesta, 3 percussion. Berandol (rental). 1974. Crystal Records S-504 (instr ensemble, Rathburn conductor)

Two Interplays. 1972. Saxophone quartet. Ms

The Canadian Brass Rag. 1974. Brass quintet. Canadian Brass 1979. Boot BMC-3004 (Canadian Brass)

The Nomadic Five. 1974. Brass quintet. GVT 1986

Turbo. 1978. Brass quintet. Ms

The Rise and Fall of the Steam Railroad. 1982. Chamb ensemble. Ms

Junction and Prelude and Fugue. 1983. Jew's harps. Ms

Trio: Dorian Crossing. 1987. Cl, violoncello, piano. Ms

2 Railoramas. 1990. Ww octet. Ms

Subway Thoughts. String quartet. 1993. Ms

Soliloquy. Solo viola. 1999. Ms

Concertino for Banjo and String Quartet. 1999. ms

Diabolus in Musica. Flute, clarinet, string quartet, double bass, and piano. 2007

Black and White (Waterloo Music 1970)

Six Railroad Preludes (1988, also orch version)

Schoenberg vs Gershwin: A Tennis Match. Piano. 1991. Ms (orchestration 1997)

The Iron Horses of Delson. Piano. 1992. Ms

Ghost Train. Piano. 1992. Ms

Also five works for voice; and two multi-media works: Of Many People (1970) and It All Depends (1974)