Canada in European and US music | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Canada in European and US music

Stage Works Rameau's Les Indes galantes (1735) and Grétry's Le Huron (1768) have only a fanciful and non-realistic relationship to the native peoples of North America.

Canada in European and US music

Stage Works
Rameau's Les Indes galantes (1735) and Grétry's Le Huron (1768) have only a fanciful and non-realistic relationship to the native peoples of North America. As Lionel de la Laurencie stated in 1921, the natives 'are not pictured as they are, by the aid of their individual music; but rather as they are supposed to be, by means of a vague and rhythmic documentation inspired by the tales of voyagers and missionaries'. In Rameau's opera-ballet only one section - 'Les Sauvages,' in which a peace festival is enacted - is of North American interest, and even that, with its setting 'close to the French and Spanish settlements,' suggests the southern USA rather than any part of Canada. De la Laurencie wrote that 'it must, in all likelihood, be conceded that the "Air of the Savages" sprang fully armed and quivering with barbaric energy from the head of Rameau'. The plot of the Grétry opera deals with the visit of an Indian to France. Rossini's first opera, La Cambiale di matrimonio (1810), was translated into German as Der Bräutigam von Kanada. Though it lacks a Canadian setting the work includes among its four characters a Canadian businessman, Slook. (The opera has been performed in Canada by a student group in Vancouver in 1959, by the Piccolo Teatro Musicale di Roma at PDA in 1968, by the McGill Opera Studio, and by the University of Toronto Opera Division in 1960 and 1988.) Mozart may have been the first of the great composers to set the word 'Canada' to music, in 'Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo' ('Turn your eyes towards him'), the supplementary aria (K584) for Cosi fan tutte, which includes the phrase 'che gli uguali non si trovano da Vienna al Canada' ('whose like you won't find from Vienna to Canada'). Donizetti's Rita (1840) also contains a reference to Canada. Rudolf Friml's Rose Marie (1924), on the other hand, has a genuine (though romanticized) Canadian setting of rocky mountains and a cast featuring mounted policemen. Ivan Caryll's musical The Pink Lady (1911) includes the song 'By the Saskatchewan'. The Evangeline story has inspired several operas, including two by non-Canadians - France's Xavier Leroux and the USA's Otto Luening. During one of his expeditions to the Canadian Arctic in the 1820s, Sir William Parry was the co-author of a small opera, The North West Passage or Voyage Finished, that was performed on board ship. The Canadian Arctic is also the setting for Welsh composer John Metcalf's two-act opera Tornrak, which was commissioned by the Welsh National Opera and premiered at the Banff CA in February 1990. The libretto, by Michael Wilcox, is based on a true story about an Inuit girl in the 19th century who saved the life of a shipwrecked sailor and was taken by him to England. The opera was presented in Cardiff in April 1990 and toured England in the summer of that year.

Canadian Battles

A manuscript, 'Not unto us, Lord' - subtitled a 'Thanksgiving Anthem, for the taking of Montreal and making us Masters of all Canada' and attributed to the Chapel Royal composer James Nares - is held in the British Library. Franz Koczwara, whose descriptive instrumental piece The Battle of Prague was widely popular, began another, Siege of Quebec (for harpsichord or piano and violin, cello and timpani ad lib), which after his death in 1791 was completed by W.B. de Krifft and in 1806 was performed in Quebec. The Battles of Lake Champlain and Plattsburg (where the US forces defeated the Canadian in 1812) was the title of a grand sonata by the Boston musician Francesco Masi. (See also Battle music.)

Visits To Canada

Probably the first composer to write music inspired by a visit to Canada was Ole Bull, the Norwegian violinist who wrote Niagara (for violin and piano) ca 1845. (See also Niagara Falls in music.) Oliver King, an Englishman who served in Ottawa as the pianist to Princess Louise (wife of the Governor General, the Marquess of Lorne) wrote an overture (Among the Pines, Novello 1883) which won a prize offered by the London Philharmonic Society in 1883. Louis Victor Saar, a Dutch-American, wrote From the Mountain Kingdom of the Great North-West (Aus der kanadischen Alpenwelt) for orchestra in 1922 and a Canadian song cycle, 'Four Seasons,' to words by John Murray Gibbon in 1926. Among other 20th-century orchestral works inspired by visits to Canada are Quinto Maganini's The Lake at Sunset, A Canadian Idyll (1938, inspired by Lake Timagami in northern Ontario), Benjamin Britten's Canadian Carnival (1939), Arthur Benjamin'sNorth American Square-Dance (1951, a suite based on fiddle tunes from Canada and the USA), and Alan Shulman's Laurentian Overture (1952).

British Imperial Patriotism

At the invitation of the Governor General, the Marquess of Lorne, Sir Arthur Sullivan wrote a Dominion hymn (1880) to Lorne's text 'God bless our wide Dominion'. C.H.H. Parry wrote a Newfoundland hymn in 1902, and Edward German composed a patriotic hymn, 'Canada,' in 1904. None of these composers had visited Canada save Sullivan, who was a guest of the governor-general in 1880. Gounod's 'Notre Dame du Canada' seems to be simply an adaptation of his 'Notre Dame de France, hymne de la patrie'.

Settings Of Canadian Folk Tunes

Arrangements of Canadian folk material for choir or voice and instrument(s) were written by Joseph Canteloube, Paul Creston, Louis Victor Saar, Lazare Saminsky, Arthur Somervell, and Ralph Vaughan Williams. Of instrumental pieces by non-Canadian composers, Paul Gilson's Fantaisie canadienne (written about 1891 and published by Breitkopf ca 1898 as Fantasie über kanadische Volksweisen) and Sir Alexander Mackenzie's Canadian Rhapsody (1905) for orchestra are perhaps the most ambitious. For smaller forces there are Eugène Gigout's Rhapsodie sur des chansons populaires du Canada (organ, late 19th century, published by Durand in 1898) and Maud Wyatt Pargeter's String Quartet on Canadian Themes (which received an honourable mention in the E.W. Beatty Competition at the 1928 Canadian Folksong and Handicraft Festival - see CPR Festivals). There are several other works of this type, including H. Maurice Jacquet's Suite canadienne (Birchard 1927). Tres preludios sôbre temas canadenses (1943) by the Brazilian composer Francesco Mignone have been recorded by André-Sébastien Savoie (RCI 418).


Romualdo Marenco's ballet Sport (1897) includes a Montreal episode 'Valzer dei pattinatori'. Scott Joplin's ragtime classic The Maple Leaf Rag (1899) is said to have had indirect Canadian inspiration (see Ragtime). Among songs, 'Canadian Capers' (1915) by the US writers Gus Chandler, Bert White, and Harry Cohen (music) and Earl Burtnett (lyrics) and 'Canadian Sunset' (1956) by the US bandleader Eddie Heywood have been especially popular, and in French-speaking countries 'Ma Cabane au Canada' (1947), by Louis (Loulou) Gasté to lyrics by Mireille Broccy, had a success, particularly as sung by the French chanteuse Line Renaud. The musical Foxy (1962), set in the Klondike, was conceived by a team of US writers, including the Canadian expatriate Robert Emmett Dolan.

Further Reading