Canadian League of Composers | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Canadian League of Composers

The Canadian League of Composers (CLC) was formed in 1951 to promote the music and advance the professional interests of Canadian composers.
Canadian League of Composers
(courtesy Canadian League of Composers)

The Canadian League of Composers (CLC) was formed in 1951 to promote the music and advance the professional interests of Canadian composers. It advocates for an environment in which Canadian art music is highly valued and its members can flourish artistically as composers. It also offers professional development opportunities and resources to members (e.g., workshops, mentorship, web resources and awards), maintains a strong affiliation with the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM), and connects members with music and arts communities across Canada.


The CLC was the result of the appearance during the 1940s of a wave of young composers expressing themselves in contemporary idioms. They decided to take collective action because of resistance to their music, on the one hand by publishers, concert and orchestra managers who promoted a more conservative musical aesthetic, and on the other by conservative performers and audiences who prejudged it and were suspicious of homegrown art. The CLC’s founding composers had no desire to issue a credo of aesthetic convictions or to forge a distinct Canadian style of music; on the contrary, CLC members have followed a great variety of compositional styles and techniques. Their initial main objectives were to end composers' isolation from each other, challenge public apathy towards contemporary music, and establish composition as a recognized profession in Canada.


The idea of a league grew out of an informal discussion on 3 February 1951 between Samuel Dolin, Harry Somers and John Weinzweig at Weinzweig's Toronto home. After the recruitment of several other sympathetic Toronto composers (Murray Adaskin, Louis Applebaum, Harry Freedman, Phil Nimmons and Andrew Twa), the first organizational meeting was held on 1 April 1951. Weinzweig, the father of the CLC and compositional teacher to some of its founding members, was made president. A concert of his music — presented on 16 May 1951 by soloists and a string orchestra under Ettore Mazzoleni at the Royal Conservatory of Music, and broadcast on CBC Radio’s Wednesday Night — introduced the young organization to the public. By the end of 1951 it had close to 20 members. A charter was drafted in March 1952.

Early Years

The group's first move was to organize a series of concerts featuring its members’ compositions. The first symphonic program was presented on 26 March 1952 under Geoffrey Waddington at Massey Hall in Toronto. Other performances were organized in Toronto, Stratford, Ontario, and Vancouver. A concert committee in Montréal arranged a performance on 3 February 1954 under Waddington at Plateau Hall.

The administrative duties of organizing concerts proved too taxing for a small number of composers, so subsidiary organizations were established: the Canadian Music Associates in Toronto in 1954; and the Society of Canadian Music in Montréal in 1959. Two to four concerts and film showings were held each season in Toronto until 1958, including two short operas on 17 November 1956: Maurice Blackburn‘sSilent Measures; and Somers' The Fool.

The initial concentration of activities in Toronto and Montréal reflected the stronger presence of composers and institutions such as the CBC, CAPAC, BMI Canada and the principal music publishers in those cities. Other individual events took place in Hamilton in 1954 and Ottawa in 1956. CBC Radio carried some of the music on its networks.

By 1966, some 200 works had been presented in about 40 concerts. At this point the performance of Canadian music had grown to such a degree that special concerts seemed pointless and ineffective. Responsibility for the performance of contemporary Canadian music was assumed and shared, gradually, by other organizations: Arraymusic, Days Months and Years to Come, Music of Our Time, New Music Concerts, Nova Music, Société de musique contemporaine du Québec, Ten Centuries Concerts and, to a degree, the various avant-garde series of Udo Kasemets. This was still the case as of 2011 with various organizations/ensembles across the country, such as the Esprit Orchestra, Continuum Contemporary Music, the Music Gallery, Vancouver New Music Society, the Turning Point Ensemble, the ECM+, Motion Ensemble, Tonus Vivus and many others.

Meanwhile, the CLC itself sought other ways to promote knowledge of Canadian music. It selected for publication Fourteen Piano Pieces by Canadian Composers (1955) and prepared the Catalogue of Orchestral Music (1957), listing 233 works written between 1918 and 1957. It built up a small library of scores by its members, but soon recognized the need for an independent agency to circulate unpublished Canadian scores, performance materials and information. The result was the opening in 1959 of the Canadian Music Centre (CMC), a national organization dedicated to the collection, distribution and promotion of Canadian music. Eventually, the CLC also accumulated its own sizeable library.


Once the original battle for recognition of Canadian music had been achieved, the CLC turned more of its attention to the protection of composers' professional interests in the legal, economic and administrative spheres. Its concerns have included questions of copyright, mechanical licences, standards for commissioning and rental fees, publishing and recording contracts, Canadian broadcast content and university courses on Canadian music. In its advocacy for composers' interests, the CLC has routinely worked with various government departments, arts councils, musical organizations and other composer groups across the country, among them the Canadian Electroacoustic Community and the Association of Canadian Women Composers.

International Outreach

The CLC has concerned itself with Canadian representation in international competitions and festivals. It submitted scores for the 1952 Olympiad in Helsinki and was the Canadian chapter of the International Society for Contemporary Music (ICSM) from 1953 to 1956, and from 1981 to present. International relations were fostered through the league's joint sponsorship with the Stratford Festival of the International Conference of Composers in Stratford in 1960.

As of 2011, the CLC continued to actively administer the Canadian Section of the ISCM. Each year they select six Canadian works for submission to the ISCM World New Music Days and financially assist Canadian composers to travel to this event to promote their music. They also publish a promotional CD of the selected works, and participate in the ISCM General Assembly.

Awards and Competitions

The CLC has hosted several awards and competitions throughout its history, including the Canada Music Citation, the Friends of Canadian Music Award and various composition competitions.

In recognition of contributions made by performers to the interpretation of Canadian music, the league created the Canada Music Citation. It has been awarded to Victor Feldbrill (1967), Mary Morrison and Robert Aitken (1969), and John Avison (1970); special tributes have also been paid to John P.L. Roberts (1972) and two of the CMC's long-serving staff, Norma Dickson and Henry Mutsaers (1979). In 1968, when financial assistance for young composers was scarce, the CLC established a scholarship worth $250. The first recipient of this award was John Fodi, who won it again in 1970. Other winners have been Denis Lorrain (1970), Robert Bauer and Paul Crawford (1971), Michel Vinet (1973), Dennis Patrick (1974), Michel Longtin (1975) and Denis Gougeon (1977). This award was discontinued as scholarships and bursaries became increasingly available from other sources.

In 1993, the Friends of Canadian Music Award was established to honour individuals committed to Canadian composers and their music. The first recipient was David Olds in 1995. In 2011, the year of the CLC’s 60th anniversary, there were two awards: one to Julian Armour; and the other to Patricia Shand for Special Lifetime Achievement in Canadian Music.


The 20th-anniversary celebration of the CLC was held at the University of Victoria in February 1971, and consisted of concerts and panel discussions. The 30th-anniversary conference, held in Windsor and Detroit on 12–14 June 1981, was the largest gathering of composers ever assembled in Canada. It offered three days of concerts (including one entirely of works by founding members of the league) and discussions dealing with current issues. The 35th anniversary was celebrated in Ottawa, and the 40th (titled Canadian Music into the 21st Century) was held in Winnipeg. The 50th anniversary, held in Kitchener-Waterloo, entailed five days of concerts, open discussion forums, the Past Presidents' dinner and workshops. Guest performers at the event included the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, the Penderecki String Quartet, New Music Concerts and others.

The 60th Anniversary was held in 2011 in Toronto and included a CLC members' composition competition, a student composer competition (co-sponsored by the Canadian University Music Society), an additional Friends of Canadian Music Award, the launch of the CLC’s new website, a keynote lecture featuring Glenn Buhr and a panel of composer-performers entitled Our Native Song, as well as a concert co-presentation with the Esprit Orchestra.


The CLC is governed by a national council consisting of 12 members elected biennially by the membership. From these, the council elects an executive. In 1981, the council was reorganized to ensure representation from the entire country, based on the distribution of composer members. In 2011 there were four representatives from Ontario, three from Québec, two from BC, two from the Prairie provinces, and one from the Atlantic provinces. The league is funded through annual membership dues and funding from the Canada Council, the Ontario Arts Council and SOCAN.

The first president of the CLC was John Weinzweig (1951–57, 1959–63). He was later made president-emeritus. Other presidents have included Victor Davies (1979–82), Paul McIntyre (1982–83), Alex Pauk (1983–89), Patrick Cardy (1989–92), Rodney Sharman (1993–98), John Burge (1998–2006), Paul Steenhuisen (2006–07) and James Rolfe (2007–11). In 2011 Jennifer Butler became president.


Membership in the CLC has evolved from its historical roots. Initially, it was by invitation, requiring nomination by a member. Eventually, the practice changed so that applications could be made directly as well, with the process that applicants had to have a certain number of works and performances to their credit, and had to submit scores to a selection committee. By 2011, membership reached over 350 and had evolved to four designations: student, professional, emeritus (for members over 65) and affiliate. Healey Willan and Claude Champagne were made honorary members in 1955.

Renewal and Legacy

The CLC underwent an important renewal process in 2006–09 with a strategic plan, revamped governance, re-branding, and improvements to administration and member services. Throughout its history, the league has done much to realize its principal aim of giving contemporary Canadian composition a vital position in musical life, and one of its greatest achievements has been moral support and encouragement to the individual composer, member and non-member alike. The CLC’s archives are held at Library and Archives Canada.

A version of this entry originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada.

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