Band music composition | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Band music composition

Band music composition. The presence of British military bands in garrison towns such as Quebec City and Newark (Niagara-on-the-Lake) provided the spark for the composition of the first Canadian band music.

Band music composition

Band music composition. The presence of British military bands in garrison towns such as Quebec City and Newark (Niagara-on-the-Lake) provided the spark for the composition of the first Canadian band music. The earliest secular music to be composed in Canada appears to have been written by a civilian notary in Quebec City in 1791 who commemorated the arrival of the newest regiment from England, and its commander the Duke of Kent, with the march entitled Royal Fusiliers Arrival at Quebec. On the other side of the cardboard on which the piece is mounted is another work in piano score by the same hand, the March [sic] de Normandie, which is used to this day as the regimental slow march of the English Royal Fusiliers. The musical style of these works is typical of European band music of the late-18th and early-19th centuries: simple, diatonic with arpeggiated melodic lines, and rhythmically clichéd. Both pieces are short: the Royal Fusiliers has four strains of eight measures each, while the March de Normandie is in two repeated strains of twelve and eight measures.

Jean-Chrysostome Brauneis I is known to have composed a Grand Overture of Québec (since lost) which was played by the band of the 60th regiment at the installation ceremony of the Duke of Richmond as the Governor in Quebec City 27 Feb 1819. While it may be assumed that a few such pieces were composed by other Canadians for similar occasions, no other titles from the early decades of the 19th century seem to have survived. None of the British bands' music is known to have been left behind in Canada when they were posted back to England since they all transported their own performing libraries with them.

The earliest Canadian bands were formed during the first half of the 19th century. The earliest all-civilian band in Canada was the community band organized at Hope (later Sharon, near Newmarket) in Upper Canada (Ontario) in 1820 (see Children of Peace). Very little survives of its music, as individual members evidently copied and kept their own part-books, all but one of which have disappeared. Six band scores and a few other musical items from Sharon are preserved at the University of Toronto's Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library but these band scores are all British imprints. A hand-copied fife part-book which belonged to band-member Ira Doan is extant. The manuscript is dated 1830 and contains a diverse collection of marches, hymn tunes, 'divertiments,' sentimental airs, patriotic songs, untitled pieces, and fragments. Two concordances between the part-book and the Thomas Fisher band scores help date the existence of this repertoire in Sharon as early as 1830 but no Canadian compositions have been discerned from the part-book.

In 1833 a student orchestra was organized at the Séminaire de Québec; the Société Ste-Cécile, as it was known, was the earliest school ensemble recorded in Canadian history. It was transformed into a band in 1836. We may assume that the standard literature of British bands of the early 1800s formed the basis of its repertoire in the pre-Confederation years since leadership of the ensemble rested in the hands of the regimental band directors posted to Quebec City. The existence of any Canadian music from the first decades of the band's existence remains uncertain because the pre-1880 archives of the Séminaire are still uncatalogued and inaccessible. Those archives dating from the 1880s onward reveal a number of band compositions and arrangements, most written by Joseph Vézina, who directed the student band 1884-1924. Most of the Vézina manuscripts in the archive are marches and 'light' concert material with titles such as Première Neige Polka (1889) and Aurora (1885), a suite of waltzes by Nazaire LeVasseur.

The Musique canadienne is known to have taken part in the first celebration of St-Jean-Baptiste Day in Quebec City 24 Jun 1842, and reportedly led the procession to the cathedral and later played patriotic songs at the evening banquet. It may be inferred from the use of the word 'procession' that hymns and sacred music formed a part of its repertoire, as it did for the Sharon band. From such accounts one can infer that original composition probably was not a major factor in the band repertoire of that era, although J.-C. Brauneis II did compose a Marche de la Saint-Jean-Baptiste (1848) and other occasional works, and it can be assumed that other musicians contributed new pieces for specific occasions. In the varied range of activity mentioned above can be seen the origins of the amateur civilian bands of the later 19th and early 20th-centuries.

Besides the activities in Sharon and at the Séminaire, both of which involved the production of band arrangements and, at least at the Séminaire, some original compositions, little is known yet about band music emanating from elsewhere in the country before published examples, usually piano arrangements, began to circulate in the mid-19th century. Many marches, dance tunes, and medleys of traditional songs were written or arranged between about 1850 and 1900. This was a period which witnessed a steady growth in the number of militia and civilian bands in Canada and their Canadian repertoire grew with such new titles as Henry Schallehn'sScotch Fuslilier's Guards Polka (1848), Henry Prince'sThe Queen's Canadian Quadrille on National Airs (ca 1859), J. Holt's Royal Tiger's Sleigh Meet Galop (1867), and Vézina's Canadian Rifles Waltzes (1870) and Mosaïque sur des airs canadiens (1880, which unveiled Calixa Lavallée's new national hymn, 'O Canada', for the first time). Lavallée himself wrote several band works, including The Bridal Rose Overture, King Of Diamonds Overture, and The Golden Fleece Overture, all published by Cundy-Bettoney in 1888. Before joining Patrick Gilmore's 22nd Regiment band in 1891 or 1892, the cornetist Herbert L. Clarke was active as a soloist and bandmaster in Toronto and composed a number of band pieces, including the Imperial March (Whaley, Royce 1890).

Between 1900 and the end of World War II, there emerged a handful of prolific composers and arrangers of band music in Canada. These included A.W. Hughes, whose works (eg, The Royal Canadians March, Canada Land of Liberty March, Specialty Overture) were published by several Canadian and US houses, Gordon V. Thompson (eg, 'When Your Boy Comes Back to You,' 'You are Welcome Back at Home Sweet Home'), and the bandmasters L.-P. Laurendeau (eg, Land of the Maple, Laurentian Echoes), Charles O'Neill (eg, The Land of the Maple and the Beaver, The Queen of Hearts Overture), C.F. Thiele (eg, Characteristic Overture, Majestic Stride March), and J.-J. Gagnier (eg, Hands Across the Border, Toronto Bay Valse Scherzo). While the overwhelming majority of Canadian composers was male until after World War II, two early band compositions by Canadian women are the Old Niagara Waltzes (1905) by Maud Schooley, dedicated to the 44th Lincoln and Wellington Regiment, and the Ride of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police (1906) by Annie Glen Broder. An early example of Canadian aboriginal music is the Imperial Native March (Whaley, Royce 1907) by Job Nelson, an Indian who organized and led Nelson's Cornet Band and the Metlakatla Brass Band on the north coast of British Columbia about the turn of the century.

The period after World War I witnessed a proliferation of amateur town bands in Canada. One prime catalyst in this continuing development was the initiation of band competitions, the two largest being established in 1921 at the CNE and in 1932 at Waterloo, Ont. The prestige of the Sousa and Gilmore bands in the USA and the increasing importance of band concerts to community life all across the continent in the era before community orchestras, radio, and television prompted interest from established composers, who have contributed over the years to the band repertoire. A sampling of such works include Antoine Dessane'sPas redoublé sur les airs Vive la Canadienne et God Save the Queen (1865), Alexis Contant's march Les Voilà (early 1900s), Rodolphe Mathieu'sLève-toi, Canadien (1934) for chorus and band, Alexander Brott'sLaurentian Idyll (1940), and Leslie Bell'sCommando March (1942). Some of these works are known to have been performed by prestigious ensembles; for example, Contant's march Vive Laurier was premièred in 1897 at Sohmer Park by the Bande de la Cité, The British Guards March (1899) by Charles A.E. Harriss and Oscar Telgmann'sBritish Whig March (1900) were both premièred by the British Grenadier Guards band, and Claude Champagne'sBallade des Lutins (1914) was premièred by the Canadian Grenadier Guards Band. An arrangement by Vézina of Benoît Poirier'sRhapsodie d'airs canadiens (piano arrangement published by Archambault, 1922) was performed by Sousa's band in Montreal, Toronto, and Philadelphia in 1922.

Following World War II, a second growth phase for Canadian bands was experienced, this time among school bands. Rapid advances in the inclusion of instrumental music study in formal school curricula brought about fundamental changes to the philosophy of the band movement and the type of repertoire available. Beginning in the 1950s, a steady stream of music intended for school bands poured forth from the pens of Canadian composers. Such works as Harry Freedman'sLaurentian Moods (1957), Robert McMullin'sPrairie Sketches (1958), William McCauley'sCentennial Suite (1965) and Metropolis (1967), Robert Fleming'sFour Fantasias on Canadian Folk Themes (1966) and Three Scenarios (1974), Morley Calvert'sRomantic Variations (1975), Maurice Dela'sSuite 437 (1977), Clifford Crawley'sTyendinaga (1978), Louis Applebaum'sHigh Spirits (1986), Michael C. Baker's Chanson joyeuse (1989), Freedman's Little Acorns (1990), and numerous marches and other light pieces by Howard Cable, James Gayfer, Alfred Kunz, and others, all in an essentially traditional or popular idiom, are intended for performance by student groups of differing levels of ability. Fuller listings of Canadian school band music have been compiled by the John Adaskin Project and published by the Canadian Music Centre.

Possibly the first abstract or 'serious' music composed for wind instruments by a Canadian and intended for professional performers was the Concerto for Piano and Wind Octette written in 1929 by Colin McPhee. This work stood alone until 1948 when four more substantial compositions for wind groups were written in Canada; these included two atonal works by Serge Garant, his Musique pour saxophone alto et fanfare and Adagio et Allegro pour piano et harmonie, Barbara Pentland's serial Octet for Winds and Maurice Blackburn's neoclassical Concertino en do majeur pour piano, bois et cuivres. The next year saw Healey Willan's traditional Royce Hall Suite for band, Eldon Rathburn's character pieces, Miniature and Parade, for eight and seven winds respectively, and Pierre Mercure's neoclassical Pantomime for orchestral wind section; this latter work counted among those chosen for Leopold Stokowski's 1953 all-Canadian program at Carnegie Hall. From this time onward, increasing numbers of Canadian composers wrote works destined for concert performance by wind ensembles ranging from chamber size through orchestra wind-section formations, featuring the chamber-music principle of one player per part, to the denser concert and symphonic band instrumentations, scored with multiple doublings and couplings of instrumental lines.

In the 1950s notable works included Lorne Betts' chromatic Suite da Chiesa (1952) for 14 winds and percussion, R. Murray Schafer's neoclassical Concerto for Harpsichord and Eight Wind Instruments (1955), and five works by François Morel: his neoclassical wind septet, Cassation (1954), and for larger wind groups, his dissonant Spirale and Symphonie pour cuivres (both 1956), Litanies (1956, revised 1970), and the large-scale Rituel de l'espace (1959), scored for orchestral winds and percussion with low strings.

The 1960s saw a quantum leap in the amount of new Canadian composition for bands and wind ensembles. New 'serious' works in this decade included some tenor for concert band, all from English Canada and all but one in traditional idioms. The single exception was John Beckwith'sElastic Band Studies, an experimental work designed to acquaint younger wind players with a variable approach to the spatial and temporal elements of music. Other noteworthy works for concert band from this period were Gerhard Wuensch's neo-romantic Symphony Opus.14, and Cable's Stratford Suite and Applebaum's Miniature Suite of Dances, both published in 1964 and based on earlier settings for the Stratford Festival. Among the new works scored for large wind ensembles other than concert band, three large-scale serial works scored for a double orchestral wind section, Harry Somers'Symphony for Winds, Brass and Percussion, John Weinzweig'sDivertimento No.5 for Trumpet, Trombone and Symphonic Winds, and Morel's Le Mythe de la roche percée, were commissioned by the American Wind Symphony and premiered in a special program entitled 'The Creative Spirit of Canada' presented 11 Jun 1961 in Pittsburgh, Pa. Morel continued to build his reputation as the major avant-garde composer for wind ensembles in Canada by adding three more Varèsian works for symphonic winds in this decade, a Requiem for Winds and Sinfonia for Jazz-band (both 1963), Neumes d'Espace et Reliefs and Prismes-Anomorphoses (both 1967). Oskar Morawetz composed two significant wind works in this decade, the Sinfonietta for Winds and Percussion (1965) and Memorial to Martin Luther King for solo cello and wind orchestra (1968), a work commissioned by Mstislav Rostropovich which has had many performances and broadcasts by major orchestras worldwide. Among the works for chamber-sized formations of winds composed in the 1960s, Alexander Brott's witty, neoclassical Centennial Colloquy (1965) deserves mention, as do three works from Quebec, Jacques Hétu's eclectic Cycle pour piano solo et instruments à vent (1969), and two employing aleatoric principles, Garant's Jeu à Quatre and Gilles Tremblay'sSouffles - Champs II (both 1968).

By the 1970s many college and university bands and wind ensembles in Canada were gravitating away from the traditional band literature of marches, occasional pieces, and orchestral transcriptions, towards a repertoire of original concert music for winds. Such groups as the McGill University Wind Ensemble and the University of Toronto Concert Band (later Wind Symphony) began to commission new works. In that decade Canadian compositions for large wind groups included some 22 scored for concert band. These included the following in traditional idioms: Partita Accademica by Godfrey Ridout and Notes on Hungary by Tibor Polgar (both 1970), Polgar's Pentatonia and the Romantic Variations by Calvert (both 1975), and three works in a vigorous, Persichetti-inspired style by Donald Coakley, Prologue and Dramatic Music (1970), Cantos (1973) and Declarative Statements (1979). In contemporary idioms, approaches in the band medium ranged from Malcolm Forsyth's chromatic Colour Wheel (1978) and Larysa Kuzmenko's programmatic Ritual (1979), through serial works such as Crawley's May-Day (1978) and James Code's Portraits (1975), to Third Stream compositions like Michael Horwood's Andromeda (1976), the eclectic Cortege: Dirge-Canons for Band (1975) by Sydney Hodkinson and the chart-scored, improvisatory Désastre (1977) by Nicole Rodrigue. For the medium of orchestral winds or college/university wind ensemble, Lothar Klein's neoclassical Janizary Music (1970) and static, dissonant Symphonic Etudes - Symphony No.3 (1972) merit mention, as do Hodkinson's atonal Bach Variations: 9 Etudes for Winds and Percussion (1977), Ka Nin Chan's avant-garde Foung (1978), Steven Gellman's colouristic Deux Tapisseries (1978), and Thomas Schudel's serial Triptych (1978). Works for soloist and wind ensemble composed in this decade include Gary Kulesha's eclectic Tuba Concerto (1979) and John Fodi's virtuosic, dissonant Concerto for Viola and Two Wind Ensembles (1972).

During the 1980s the composition of music in contemporary idioms for advanced-level wind groups continued apace in Canada. The college/university wind ensemble repertoire grew with such additions as Michael Colgrass' programmatic The Winds of Nagual (1985); three works by Morel, Aux marges du silence (1982), L'oiseau-Demain scored for the full family of flutes, low clarinets, and percussion, and Aux couleurs du ciel (1988) for voices, brass, harp, piano and percussion; Derek Healey'sSymphony No.2 'Mountain Music' (1985); Allan Bell'sIn the Eye of the Four Winds (1986); and Serge Arcuri'sBrume (1988). For concert band, works composed in this decade included Schudel's Elegy and Exhaltation (1982), Allan Bell's From Chaos to the Birth of a Dancing Star (1983), Stewart Grant'sRakshasa (1985), Denis Gougeon'sRécit (1987), and Ruth Watson Henderson's Theme, Variations and Fugue for Winds, Brass and Percussion (1988). In chamber combinations, noteworthy additions included the Sonata (1983) for double wind quintet by Fodi and A le baron perché (1985) for 9 winds by Denys Bouliane, which won the 1987 Jules Léger Prize for New Chamber Music. In the category of solo with wind ensemble, significant works from the 1980s were Déjà Vu (1987) by Colgrass for percussion quartet and wind ensemble (the original version for orchestra won the 1978 Pulitzer Prize in music) and two of Kulesha's Chamber Concerti, his second (1982) for trumpet, piano, winds, and percussion, and third (1983), for solo bass clarinet and wind octet, commissioned and premiered by the Toronto Chamber Winds.

The wind band in Canada has had a rich and diverse history, serving various needs and constituencies at different times. The concert programs of school and college ensembles in Canada have traditionally featured an overwhelming percentage of non-Canadian music but the new trend toward the rapid expansion of an indigenous repertoire marks perhaps the most significant turn yet in the history of wind band music in Canada, since it involves young people with aspects of their own art and culture.