Bruce Mather | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Bruce Mather

Mather, (James) Bruce. Composer, pianist, teacher, b Toronto 9 May 1939; B MUS (Toronto) 1959, MA (Stanford) 1964, D MUS (Toronto) 1967.

Mather, Bruce

Mather, (James) Bruce. Composer, pianist, teacher, b Toronto 9 May 1939; B MUS (Toronto) 1959, MA (Stanford) 1964, D MUS (Toronto) 1967. He studied 1952-7 at the RCMT and 1957-9 at the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto, where his teachers were Alberto Guerrero, Earle Moss, and Alexander Uninsky (piano) and Godfrey Ridout, Oskar Morawetz, and John Weinzweig (theory and composition). Mather began composing while very young. In 1949 (aged 10) he was awarded a CAPAC prize. On scholarships from the Women's Musical Club of Toronto and the Beta Sigma Phi International Sorority he spent the summers of 1957 and 1958 at the Aspen Festival, Col. There he was introduced by Uninsky to Darius Milhaud, who was to have a marked influence on his subsequent development. At Aspen in 1958 Mather's Venice for soprano and instrumental ensemble was performed, and he played the solo part in the first performance of his Concerto for piano and chamber orchestra.

With the help of a grant from the Canada Council, Mather studied 1959-61 at the Paris Conservatoire. His teachers were Milhaud (composition), Simone Plé-Caussade (counterpoint and fugue), Olivier Messiaen (analysis), and Lazare Lévy (piano). He spent the summer of 1960 in Darmstadt, where he came into contact with Pierre Boulez. A grant from the Norma Copley Foundation of Chicago and another from the French government allowed him to stay an extra year in Paris. His Cycle Rilke (1960) was performed on French radio and he then embarked on the writing of a cantata, The White Goddess, to a text by Robert Graves. Mather studied composition 1962-4 at Stanford University, Cal, with Leland Smith and Roy Harris, winning a Kurt Weill Foundation prize in 1963. His Étude for solo clarinet (1962) and Orphée (1963) were performed there. Returning to Canada in 1964, he taught 1964-6 at the Brodie School of Music and Modern Dance and at the University of Toronto. He joined the teaching staff at McGill University in 1966. His Symphonic Ode was presented in 1965 at the International Rostrum of Composers, followed by his Madrigal II in 1969 and his Sonata for two pianos in 1971. He studied conducting in the summer of 1969 with Boulez in Basel and was in charge 1970-3 of the contemporary music workshop at the University of Montreal. On study leave 1975-6 he returned to France for a year, and again 1978-79 when he was a visiting profesor at the Paris Conservatoire. Mather returned to McGill University where, from 1986-96, he conducted a chamber orchestra specializing in contemporary music repertoire. In 1990, at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Montreal, the SMCQ celebrated Mather's 50th birthday by highlighting his two passions: music and great wines. Mather retired from McGill in 2001.

In addition to being a composer and teacher, Mather was a remarkable pianist and gave many premieres of contemporary works, both as a soloist and as a duo-pianist with his wife, Pierrette LePage. Together they recorded a number of works for two pianos. He was a member 1964-6 of the executive of Ten Centuries Concerts, Toronto, and member-director 1966-81 of the SMCQ, which he also served as treasurer.

Mather's works were commissioned by the CBC, the Esprit Orchestra, Ten Centuries Concerts, the SMCQ, NMC, the French Ministry of Cultural Affairs, the Lyric Arts Trio, the MSO, the University of Manitoba, the NAC orchestra, Radio France, the University of Toronto, the Stratford Festival, and other organizations. His works have been performed frequently in Canada and the USA and also in Europe by such ensembles as the National Orchestra of Spain, the Rouen Chamber Orchestra, and the Collectif musical international de Champigny (2e2m).

A polished and highly cultured musician, Mather has displayed a marked preference for works requiring small ensembles. His attraction to poetry, particularly French poetry, may account for the importance of the voice in his output, as well as for the intimate character of much of his work. Especially remarkable in this regard are the five Madrigals for one or two voices and instrumental ensemble; in four of them Mather employed poems and fragments of poems by Saint-Denys Garneau. According to Bengt Hambraeus, 'the music is increasingly transformed into a spiritual seance, evoking an irrational spirit in infinite space, where sonorities materialize and float, at times ecstatically ... Mather's vocal music is extraordinarily well articulated, the product of a musician-poet who is aware of the innermost values of the poets he has chosen' (CMCentre, Compositeurs au Québec: Bruce Mather 1974). Starting in 1974, his friendship with the Russian microtonal composer Ivan Wyschnegradsky led him to compose works based on this type of writing, including Sassicaia, Poème du délire, Señorio de Sarria, and Tempranillo.

Mather's five-act opera, La princesse blanche, based on a play by Rilke with libretto by Renald Tremblay, was staged in Montreal in 1994. He continued his practice of naming many of his new works (such as Saumur) after wines, in honour of which France's winemakers named him a "Chevalier de Tastevin." Yquem, for four pianos tuned a quarter-tone apart, plus electronic instruments, won Mather his second Jules Léger Prize, in 1993; in 2000, the Émile Nelligan Foundation awarded him its Serge Garant Prize.

Mather's pupils included John Burke, Paul Crawford, Jacques Desjardins, Anthony Genge, Richard Hunt, Denis Lorrain, John Oliver, François Rose, Donald Steven, and Alexander Tilley. He wrote for numerous publications, including the Dictionary of Contemporary Music, for which he prepared articles on Serge Garant, François Morel, and Gilles Tremblay. In 1979 he was awarded the Jules Léger Prize for his Musique pour Champigny and in 1987 he won one of the Micheline Coulombe Saint-Marcoux prizes awarded by CAPAC for Barbaresco. Volume 9 of RCI's Anthology of Canadian Music (4-ACM 9), issued in 1981, was devoted to Mather's compositions. He was a member of the CLComp and an associate of the Canadian Music Centre. The University of Calgary holds his papers.

Selected Compositions


Symphonic Ode (Catromjep). 1964. Orch. Ms

Orchestra Piece 1967. 1966 (rev 1969). Ms

Music for Vancouver. 1969. Sm orch. Ms. CBC SM-143/4-ACM 9 (CBC Vancouver Orchestra)

Musique pour Rouen. 1971. Str orch. Québec-Musique 1980. CBC SM-331/4-ACM 9 (CBC Vancouver Orchestra)

Musigny. 1980. Orch. Radio France (rental). 1987. SNE 523 (CD) (New Phil Orch of Radio France)

Scherzo. 1987. (Arr for 18 instr 1988). Ms

Advanced Harmony. 1995

Soloist(s) and Orchestra

Two Songs for Bass-Baritone and Orchestra (Hardy). 1956. Ms

Concerto. 1958. Pf, wind quintet, string quartet. Ms

Elegy for Saxophone and Strings. 1959. Wat 1965. Golden Crest RE-7037 (Brodie)

The White Goddess, cantata (R. Graves). 1960-2. 1st part piano; 2nd part bar, percussion, harp, piano, strings; 3rd part soprano, orch; 4th part SATB, orch. Ms

Madrigal V. 1973 (rev 1980). Sop, alto, chamber orch. Ms

Au Château de Pompairain. 1975. Mezzo, orch. Ms

Dialogue. 1988. Va, violoncello, double-bass, orch. Ms

Travaux de nuit. 1989. Bar, chamber orch. Ms


Étude. 1962. Cl. Ms. CBC SM-184/4-ACM 9 (J. Campbell)

Eine kleine Bläsermusik. 1975. Wind quintet. Ms. SNE 501/RCI 479 (Quebec Ww Quin)

Barolo. 1977. Vc, tape. Ms

Clos de Vougeot. 1977. 4 percussion. Ms. Nexus NE-05 (Nexus)

Ausone. 1979. Version A - fl; version B - fl, 2 harp; version C - fl, 6 stgs, 2 harp, 2 guitar. Mss.

Coulée de Serrant. 1980. Hp, piano. Ms

Sassicaia. 1981. Cl, piano. Ms

Gattinara. 1982. Va, mar. Ms.

Elegy. 1983. Fl, violoncello, piano, percussion. Ms

Barbaresco. 1984. Str trio. Ms

Clos d'Audignac. 1984. Mar, 3 percussion. Ms

Señorio de Sarria. 1984. 2 guitar. Ms

Vouvray. 1986. Ob, harp. Ms

Viola Duet. 1987. 2 viola. Ms

Vega Sicilia. 1989. Guit. Ms

Aux victimes de la guerre de Vendée. 1990. Hn, 2pf, tape. Ms

Tempranillo. 1997. Guitar in sixths of tones

Trio for violin, cello and piano. 2003

Choir or Voice

Orphée (Valéry). 1963. Sop, piano, percussion. Ms. RCI 217/RCA CCS-1011/4-ACM 9 (M. Morrison soprano, Mather piano)

La lune mince ... 1965. SATB. Ms. RCI 299/4-ACM 9 (Tudor Singers of Montreal)/Poly 2917-009 (Festival Singers)

Madrigal II (Saint-Denys Garneau). 1968. Sop, alto, fl, harp, string trio. Job 1970. RCI 369/4-ACM 9 (SMCQ)

Madrigal III (Saint-Denys Garneau). 1971. Alto, harp, mar, piano. Ms. RCI 369/4-ACM 9 (Rideout alto, Mather piano)

Madrigal IV (Saint-Denys Garneau). 1972. Sop, fl, piano, tape. Ms. RCI 369/4-ACM 9 (Lyric Arts Trio)

Musique pour Champigny. 1976. Sop, mezzo, alto, clarinet, horn, harp, piano, mar. Ms. McGill University Records 83019 (P. Vaillancourt soprano, Mather conductor)

Les Grandes fontaines (A. Hébert). 1981. Sop, piano. Ms

Un cri qui durerait la mer (M.-F. Rose). 1985. Mezzo, piano. Ms

Two Stanford Songs. 1988. SATB. Ms


Fantasy 1964. 1964 (rev 1967). Pf. Ms. CBC SM-48 (Troup)/1978. RCI 464/(1981) 4-ACM 9 (Mather)

Sonata. 1970. 2 piano. Ms. RCI 354 (Beckett)/McGill University Records 77002/4-ACM 9 (LePage piano, Mather piano)

In Memoriam Alexandre Uninsky. 1974. Pf. Ms. 1978. RCI 464/4-ACM 9 (Mather)

Régime onze, Type A. 1978. 2 Pf. Ms

Poème du délire. 1982. 3 piano. Ms. McGill University Records 83017 (Helmer piano, Mather conductor)

Six Études. 1982. Org. Ms

Saumur. 1990. Hpd. Ms

D'après un cri. 1996. Piano

Hommage à Carrillo. 1996. Piano in 16ths of tones

Ardennes. 2003. Organ

Also film music, including Smaragdin (1960) for piano


'La Société de musique contemporaine du Québec,' Mcan, 25, Dec 1969

'Notes sur ''Requiems for the Party Girl'' de Schafer,' CMB, 1, Spring-Summer 1970

'Le collage musical: ''Remembrances'' de John Hawkins,' ibid, 3, Autumn-Winter 1971

'Pierre Boulez: ''Structures pour deux pianos'' (2e livre),' Musiques du Kébèk, ed Raoul Duguay (Montreal 1971)

"Composer or arranger: Is there a difference?" Sound Notes, vol 6, spring 1994


As Pianist

Bolcom Graceful Ghost Rag, Last Rag. (1979). McGill University Records 78006.

See also Compositions, and Discographies for LePage; MacKinnon.

As Conductor

See Discographies for P. Helmer; P. Vaillancourt.

Further Reading