Dennis Farrell

Dennis (Michael) Farrell. Composer, teacher, b Green Bay, Wisc, 18 Sep 1940, naturalized Canadian 1981; BA (St. Norbert College, Wisc) 1963, M MUS (Wisconsin) 1966, PH D (Wisconsin) 1968. Farrell's university program was in piano, composition, and theory, with a strong component of studies in Latin.

Farrell, Dennis

Dennis (Michael) Farrell. Composer, teacher, b Green Bay, Wisc, 18 Sep 1940, naturalized Canadian 1981; BA (St. Norbert College, Wisc) 1963, M MUS (Wisconsin) 1966, PH D (Wisconsin) 1968. Farrell's university program was in piano, composition, and theory, with a strong component of studies in Latin. At the University of Wisconsin at Madison he studied composition with Robert Crane, and was an assistant in theory and aural perception to Bruce Benward. In 1968 he joined Dalhousie University, where he has taught theory and composition. During a sabbatical leave 1975-6 he studied composition in Vienna with Friedrich Cerha. His keen interest in the improvement of pre-university theory, aural skills, and theory pedagogy has resulted in his prominent service role in workshops and clinics for provincial organizations such as the NSRMTA and the Nova Scotia Summer String Camp. Hehas also has had direct involvement with the community secondary school classroom. He has written on theory for the CAUSM J and the BC Music Educator. In 1983 he was consultant to the Synthescope production of Electronic Messiah, broadcast and recorded by the Canadian Electronic Ensemble and the Elmer Iseler Singers. He is a charter member and executive officer of NOVA MUSIC and the Atlantic Canadian Composers' Association.

In his lyric, tonal idiom, Farrell composes sensitively and sensibly for the solo voice, as evidenced in the setting of his own libretto, based on the Oscar Wilde story, for a chamber opera The Birthday of the Infanta, produced in 1979 by the Dalhousie dept of music, and also in his Three Encores for Tenor and Piano (1980). Particularly impressive in his choral writing is the ability to place in juxtaposition or simultaneity layers of original and/or borrowed material, a controlled 'quodlibet' approach effectively used in Seasonal Interludium: A Northern Winter Solstice (1986), and in the Civic Mass (1980), which involvesi a 'populo' part as well as the full chorus. Convivium (1983, commissioned by the OAC for the Canadian Electronic Ensemble), Suite Catholique (1973, commissioned for the Karr-Lewis Duo and recorded by them in 1974 on CBC SM-369), and especially the Six Original Keyboard Sonatas after the Names of Domenico Scarlatti (1973) demonstrate his skill at creative pastiche, which together with the lyric/harmonic palette and the use of borrowed material comprise a personal response to one of his favourite composers, Respighi. Spatial textures, acoustical and psychological, colour his setting of Bliss Carman's Vestigia (1988), for treble choir and piano. Settings of Nova Scotia folksongs from the Creighton collection, notably the clever set of choral variations on When I Was in My Prime (1970), demonstrate his apt writing for amateur choir. His Sonata for violin and piano (1972, rev 1987) has been recorded by Paul Campbell, violin and Tietje Zonneveld, piano (1987, 2-Atlantic Canadian Composers' Association ACCA-1987).


Further Reading

  • Brunner, Astrid. 'Dennis Farrell: new music born of old, ' PfAC, vol 24, Mar 1988

    - 'Steady-state on changing grids: on the musical integrations of Dennis Farrell,' Arts Atlantic, vol 9, Winter 1990

    Kemp, Walter H. 'Three masses of maritime composers,' Musical Canada: