CBC recordings | The Canadian Encyclopedia


CBC recordings

CBC recordings. In 1945, in Montréal, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation produced its first music recordings intended for broadcast abroad and in Canada.

CBC recordings

CBC recordings. In 1945, in Montréal, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation produced its first music recordings intended for broadcast abroad and in Canada. The venture gave rise in 1947 to the Music Transcription Service of the CBC International Service (renamed Radio Canada International in 1972, at which time its record album numbers began to be prefixed by the initials RCI). In 1966, the English Services Division embarked on a program which was similar but was intended primarily to serve CBC stations and affiliates. The resulting "serious" music recordings were numbered and marked with the initials CBC-SM ("serious music"); the light music recordings were identified with the initials CBC-LM ("light music").

RCI Label
Before 1945 very little music by Canadian composers existed on disc, and the number of Canadian performers represented on disc, while much more considerable, was not representative. For this reason CBC-IS, shortly after its creation in 1945 as "the voice of Canada abroad" with a mandate, among other charges, to be "the continuing reflection abroad of Canadian culture," resolved to correct this deficiency while meeting its own needs.

In March 1945, under the impetus of its program director, Gérard Arthur, and the conductor Jean-Marie Beaudet, the CBC produced a Canadian Album No. 1 made up of five 78-rpm discs comprising Willan's Concerto for piano and orchestra and Champagne'sSuite canadienne. The orchestra, a CBC Montréal ensemble, was conducted by Beaudet. La Cantoria and the pianist Agnes Butcher also participated in the recording. This first album aroused warm interest among foreign radio organizations and Canadian diplomatic missions. A Canadian Album No. 2 (works of Coulthard, MacMillan, and Weinzweig by the TSO under Sir Ernest MacMillan, and a work of Tanguay by the Montréal orchestra under Beaudet) appeared in 1946, and a Canadian Album No. 3 (works of Brott and Tanguay, again by the Montréal musicians) some years later.

The success of the first two albums led, in 1947, to the creation of a Music Transcription Service. Patricia Fitzgerald, the first director of the service, was succeeded in 1952 by Roy Royal, and Royal in 1959 by Gérard Poupart. In the mid-1960s the service gradually became integrated with the CBC-IS Recorded Programs. The successive heads of music production were Hugh Davidson, Gilles Potvin, Edward Farrant, and Gilbert Lemieux, with Monique Grenier and Mark Goldman as producers.

By 1955 about 100 transcription discs (in the 40-cm size) had been produced, featuring prominent Canadian soloists and ensembles and presenting a substantial selection of concert works by Canadians. In 1956, the 30-cm LP was introduced, but was later replaced by stereo, then digital and eventually compact disc recordings. In 1990, the RCI catalogue listed more than 650 recordings bearing programs which represented almost 200 years of musical creativity in Canada, from Joseph Quesnel's comic opera Colas et Colinette (1790) to the most recent works by a virtual "who's who" of the country's leading composers, a total of several thousand titles. The performers' list was similarly comprehensive, including all the large orchestras (eg, Orchestre métropolitain), a wide variety of smaller ensembles (eg, York Winds), and such soloists as Pierrette Alarie, Louise Bessette, Jean Carignan, Corey Cerovsek, Lise Daoust, Angèle Dubeau, Maureen Forrester, Glenn Gould, Angela Hewitt, Frances James, Chantal Juillet, Jacques Labrecque, André Laplante, Louis Lortie, Philippe Magnan, Gisèle MacKenzie, Lois Marshall, Jamie Parker, Oscar Peterson, Léopold Simoneau, and Pauline Vaillancourt.

RCI's policy had been to distribute its recordings free of charge on request to radio organizations around the world, CBC stations, Canadian diplomatic missions, conservatories, schools of music at the college level, and libraries. To meet public demand for recordings, RCI in 1967 initiated a series of co-productions with the commercial labels RCA (BMG Music Canada Inc), Capitol, London, Select, Deutsche Grammophon, Madrigal, and Harmonia Mundi. In this way several ambitious collections and individual discs were released, including Music and Musicians of Canada (1967, 17 LPs), Canadian Folk Songs (1967, 9 LPs), JMC 20 (1969, 10 LPs), and the Complete Harpsichord Works of François Couperin performed by Kenneth Gilbert (1970-1, 16 LPs). To present the wealth of material accumulated over 35 years, RCI in 1978 launched the Anthology of Canadian Music, a mammoth undertaking which gathered together in boxed sets the works of individual composerss.

In addition to transcriptions, which are permanent and have unlimited broadcast use, RCI began recording relays in 1960; these are identical in appearance to transcription discs, but their broadcast use is tied to an expiry date. Such relays afforded an international dimension to music programs presented on the CBC national networks as well as to important events that occurred in Canada, such as the International Conference of Composers (held in Stratford, Ont, in 1960 and broadcast in 52 countries), the Montréal International Music Competition, the most important concerts presented during Expo 67, and special events that occurred at festivals in Vancouver, Stratford, Montréal and Ottawa. In 1991, RCI withdrew from the music recording field following budget cuts.

CBC-SM and CBC-LM Labels

In 1966, the considerable use of foreign commercial discs on CBC stations, in part because there was no substantial alternative catalogue of recordings by Canadian soloists and ensembles, led the English Services Division of the CBC under John P.L. Roberts to establish a program of phonograph recordings, also known as broadcast recordings. These were confined exclusively to Canadian performers, though with no particular emphasis on Canadian music. The further intent was to increase the Canadian content of radio programs of international concert music to satisfy CRTC requirements. Two numbered series were initiated: CBC-SM (record label) and CBC-LM (record label).

The first 40 discs of the SM series were produced in co-operation with the CBC-IS. The project was co-ordinated by Dirk Keetbaas, and when it was discontinued in 1980 the CBC-SM catalogue comprised more than 350 discs, mostly works from the current repertoire, performed by Canadian orchestras including the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, the Hamilton Philharmonic, the NACO, and others; by ensembles such as the Orford, Purcell, and Vághy string quartets, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, and the Festival Singers; and by instrumentalists and singers of the calibre of Robert Aitken, Bouchard and Morisset, Marek Jablonski, and Jon Vickers - again a veritable register of leading Canadian artists.

In 1980, the CBC's English Services Division produced four LPs in a new series, SM 5000, featuring Canadian orchestras. The goal of this series was mainly to highlight performers and ensembles. In 1982 CBC released a catalogue devoted to its LP production, featuring the first digital recordings of works from the repertoire.

The CBC-LM series assembled selected, well-known names in light music, jazz, and pop music in Canada. As in the SM series the first 40 discs were produced in collaboration with CBC-IS. Beginning in 1968, certain recordings were co-productions and appeared on such commercial labels as RCA, Capitol, London, Kanata, Apex, Nimbus 9, Columbia (Sony), Dominion, Select, Kilmarnock, and Warner Bros. In 1970, the standard LP format was abandoned in favour of 45 rpm, but there was a return to the 30 cm LP in 1974. Among the soloists and ensembles listed in the CBC-LM catalogue are Tommy Ambrose, Peter Appleyard, Guido Basso, Salome Bey, the Boss Brass, Neil Chotem, Sonny Greenwich, Juliette, Moe Koffman, Ann Mortifee, Pacific Salt, and the Travellers. The orchestras of Johnny Burt, Trump Davidson, Johnny Holmes, Milan Kymlicka, Vic Vogel, and others are represented as well. In 1980, the LM catalogue comprised more than 450 discs, but the series was eventually discontinued.

CBC Enterprises

Founded in 1982 to commercialize CBC-produced discs, this initiative was fairly successful on the Canadian market and international markets. Wagering on the vogue of digital recording, cassette and compact disc, CBC Enterprises became recognized through such remarkable series as those devoted to the works of Bach and Handel in celebration of the tricentenary of their birth. The 500 series was taken over by CBC Enterprises and the Musica Viva series was added. In a relatively short time, one of the most varied collections noted for its repertoire and recording quality was marketed. At the same time, Jazzimage introduced the talents of such artists as Lorraine Desmarais. Although the quality of the repertoire and performances justified further development, severe CBC budget cuts in 1991 made this impossible.

CBC recordings, from the RCI collection and the CBC-SM, LM, and SM 5000 collections, enriched the record libraries of broadcasting organizations in Canada and around the world as well as those of many individual music lovers, carrying the achievements of Canada's leading performers and ensembles to a wide public. In 1991, following the withdrawal of the Enterprises and of RCI from the recording field, compact discs of the SM 500 and Musica Viva series continued to appear on CBC discs, as CBC Records.

Online Presence

In 2005, CBC Records partnered with US- and UK-based Alexander Street Press to make all of the tracks from its approximately 400-title catalogue available as streaming audio through Alexander Street's online Classical Music Library. It similarly partnered in 2007 with the US- and UK-based Independent Online Distribution Alliance (IODA) to make its recordings available for distribution outside of Canada.

By 2009, the music section of the CBC Shop website offered more than 100 recordings (individual CDs, boxed sets, and DVDs, most first released in the 1990s or 2000s) across a variety of categories including chamber music & instrumental soloists, historical, jazz, orchestras & ensembles, pop, radio programs, traditional, spoken word, vocal & choral, and world. Canadian classical performers include sopranos Isabel Bayrakdarian, Measha Brueggergosman, and Karina Gauvin; tenors Ben Heppner and Michael Schade; violinist James Ehnes (who won a 2008 Grammy for his CBC Records release of concertos by Barber, Korngold, and Walton); cellist Shauna Rolston; pianists Glenn Gould and Anton Kuerti; the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir, Studio de Musique Ancienne, the Toronto Children's Chorus, and the Elmer Iseler Singers. Several recordings also feature Israeli violinist, violist, and conductor Pinchas Zukerman (from the period when he served as music director of the National Arts Centre Orchestra, 1998- ), and other recordings feature music by such Canadian composers and songwriters as François Dompierre, John Estacio, André Gagnon, Christos Hatzis, Marjan Mozetich, Colin McPhee, Michel Rivard, Gilles Vigneault, and Ruth Watson Henderson.

Traditional, folk, and jazz performers available at the CBC Shop include the ensemble Le Vent du Nord, fiddler Don Messer, and jazz musicians Laila Biali, Guido Basso, Mike Murley, and the Don Thompson Quartet. Other recordings feature "alternative pop" radio and television host Claude Rajotte, music from movies and TV shows, children's music, non-traditional Christmas music, the African Guitar Summit (Canadian guitarists of African origin), world music, and Brazilian-born Celso Machado.

Further Reading