Cycle of Musical Festivals of the Dominion of Canada

Cycle of Musical Festivals of the Dominion of Canada. Series of concerts of mainly British choral and orchestral music conducted by Sir Alexander Mackenzie, principal of the RAM, between 31 Mar and 9 May 1903 in 15 Canadian centres, some of which had never heard concerts of this kind and scope.

Cycle of Musical Festivals of the Dominion of Canada

Cycle of Musical Festivals of the Dominion of Canada. Series of concerts of mainly British choral and orchestral music conducted by Sir Alexander Mackenzie, principal of the RAM, between 31 Mar and 9 May 1903 in 15 Canadian centres, some of which had never heard concerts of this kind and scope. Charles A.E. Harriss was the initiator and organizer.

As 'the first general combined effort for ''musical advancement'' from ocean to ocean' (according to Harriss' program notes), the cycle required two years of preparation involving the formation and training of festival choruses under local associate conductors in most of the centres. Those choruses in Moncton (under George H. Brown) and Saint John, NB (James S. Ford), as well as the existing Halifax Orpheus Club under Charles H. Porter, were accompanied in performance by the Goulet MSO. Those in Hamilton (under Charles L.M. Harris), Brantford (Henry K. Jordan), Woodstock (J.H. Chadfield), and London (Roselle Pococke), as well as the National Chorus of Toronto (Albert Ham) and the Festival Chorus in Montreal (Harriss and Guillaume Couture), were accompanied by the Chicago SO. That orchestra also performed with the existing Toronto Festival Chorus (under F.H. Torrington), the Ottawa Choral Society (J. Edgar Birch), and the Montreal Oratorio Society (Horace Reyner). The Minneapolis SO accompanied the specially formed Winnipeg and Brandon choruses under Rhys Thomas and Frank B. Fenwick respectively, while the Portland and Seattle Orchestra supported choruses in Vancouver (under Fred Dyke and H. Smith), New Westminster (A.E. White), and Victoria (George Taylor and Howard Russell). In all, over 3600 voices and nearly 500 instrumentalists were involved. Soloists included the soprano Ethel Wood, the tenor Wilfrid Virgo, the baritone Reginald Davidson, and the bass R. Watkin-Mills, all from London, and the soprano Millicent Brennan of Paris and the contralto Grace Lillian Carter of Boston.

The music performed, mostly British at the insistence of Mackenzie, included works by Sterndale Bennett, Coleridge-Taylor, Elgar, Harriss, Mackenzie, Mendelssohn, Parry, Stanford, and Sullivan. 'Canadians responded with great enthusiasm to this display of imperial goodwill... For five weeks Sir Alexander worked with superhuman energy, often conducting three times a day and leading rehearsals on Sundays as well' (Kallmann History of Music, p 216). Though planned as the first of an annual cycle of festivals and in fact a financial success despite the complex problems of organization, the 1903 festival was the only one realized. However, several of the new choirs, including the National Festival Chorus, continued after 1903.


Further Reading

  • Mackenzie, Sir Alexander C. 'To the editor of the Musical Times,' series of letters, MT, 1 May, 1 Jun, 1 Jul 1903

    - A Musician's Narrative (London 1927)

    NL of C. C.A.E. Harriss papers