English Music in Canada | The Canadian Encyclopedia


English Music in Canada

As the dominant component of the United Kingdom, ruler for more than 100 years of the lands that became Canada and, with France, their foremost colonizer.

As the dominant component of the United Kingdom, ruler for more than 100 years of the lands that became Canada and, with France, their foremost colonizer. In the heterogeneous population of Canada in 1990 the largest group was of British extraction, and within that group it remained the assumption that the English predominated: in 1961 they accounted for 23 per cent of the population. (Later figures were unavailable as the 1971 census did not provide specific information. See also Ireland; Scotland; Wales.)

The English presence in Canada dates from John Cabot's voyage of 1497, undertaken in the service of Henry VII. Soon thereafter, the area of what became St John's, Nfld, was used as a stop over by English fishermen. Other early settlements were Saint John, NB (1631), and Halifax, NS (1749). The settlement at Quebec was under British control 1629-32. By the treaty of Paris (1763) the settlements became part of the British Empire, first as colonies and after Confederation as a self-governing part of the Empire, sharing the British monarch and acting as an ally in peace and war.

Prior to the arrival in Canada of large numbers of immigrants of varied backgrounds during the 19th century, the music of the colonies was that of the British and French peoples: their church music, folksongs, and dances, their tastes and prejudices, their ideas and methods of music education, and their writings on music. Even the prevalence of German bandmasters in early 19th-century Canada reflected the state of music in England, since such men abounded in England and in many cases had moved to Canada from there. The large-scale immigration of English musicians began in the early 19th century and continued ceaselessly though it varied in intensity.

To delineate Canada's complex musical relations with England is impossible in this context; thus, only main influences and traditions will be considered here. (See also Coronations; Sovereigns, statesmen, and other public figures.)

1 Church musicians and educators

2 Orchestra conductors, instrumentalists

3 Publishing, criticism, adjudication

4 Ballad opera, operetta

5 Folksong

6 Composition

7 Bands

8 Pop music

9 English visitors

10 Canadians in England

Church Musicians And Educators

Among the earliest English musicians to arrive in Canada were the Mr Evans who - judging by his name - may have been Welsh but who installed the organ at St Paul's Anglican Church, Halifax, NS, in 1765 and Viere Warner who became the organist at that church in 1768. (See Anglican church music.)

The first relatively important English musician known to have chosen to live in Canada was John Bentley who arrived in 1786, stayed briefly in Montreal, and then settled in Quebec City where he worked as a church musician, composer, and actor. Others, assumed to be English-born, who lived in Montreal were A. Stevenson, author of The Vocal Preceptor (Montreal 1811), and S. Brewer, temporary organist at Notre-Dame Church in 1814. In 1816 Stephen Codman was appointed organist at the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Quebec.

During the 19th century, and well into the 20th, church positions were the mainstay of the music profession. In English-speaking Canada the Church of England, the Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist churches, and the Salvation Army maintained musical (especially choral) traditions established in the homeland and tended to hire British musicians trained in those traditions. (See also Organ playing and teaching; Protestant church music.)

Such musicians often were pioneers in the stoutest, most versatile sense. Not only did they tend their duties at the church, training the choirs and playing the services (or in the case of Salvation Army musicians, training bandsmen and taking the bands into the community), but they also in most cases performed some or several other useful functions: composing music; founding large choral-orchestral societies and leading them in oratorios and cantatas; teaching voice, the keyboard instruments, and theoretical subjects privately, in conservatories, or in schools and universities; establishing choir schools; giving recitals; adjudicating and examining; writing reviews or essays for newspapers and periodicals; and all usually at a high level of proficiency.

Many of these English musicians had been educated soundly and broadly at one of the Royal Schools, or the Guildhall, or a leading university, and the British methods they represented were those adopted by Canada's developing institutions. The RCMT and the WBM have followed the English system of examinations with its emphasis on grading and diplomas. England's Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music and Trinity College, London, for many years sent examiners annually to Canada and issued licentiate diplomas to Canadian residents. The pervasive Tonic Sol-fa sightsinging system, developed in England by Curwen, was introduced into Canada in the 1880s by Alexander Cringan (a Scot trained in London) and became as common in the schools as the English sparrow in the landscape.

A perhaps less happy outcome of English predominance in music education was the academic theory courses of 19th-century-English type, with their emphasis on harmony and counterpoint by textbook rule, and their relative indifference to performance, contemporary composition, and historical scholarship. Such courses persisted in some Canadian studios, schools, and universities until the middle of the 20th century (by which time they had been superseded long since in England).

The contribution to the practice and development of music in Canada by protean English musicians in the church, choral, and vocal traditions has been immense, as the ensuing list of 19th- and 20th-century names will attest: Robert S. Ambrose, W.H. Anderson, Dalton Baker, Hugh Bancroft, Vernon Barford, John Bearder, Edgar Birch, Edward Arthur Bishop, Edward Broome, C. Allanson Brown, Giles Bryant, the Carter brothers, Frederick Chubb, Douglas Clarke, John Cook (b Maldon, Essex, 1918, d 1984; trained at RCM, moved to London, Ont in 1954, and to Boston in 1962), Melville Cook, Richard Westall Cooke, Hubert Eisdell (the distinguished tenor, who settled in Canada in 1930 and taught at the TCM 1933-6 and at Lakefield College 1936-48), Maitland Farmer, Charles Findlater, H.A. Fricker, Frederick Geoghegan, Ronald Gibson, John Goss, Albert Ham, C.L.M. Harris, J.W.F. Harrison, Charles A.E. Harriss, Elliott Haslam, Derek Healey, Alfred Heather, Godfrey Hewitt, W.H. Hewlett, Derek Holman, Filmer Hubble, Percival Illsley, the Kent brothers, Harold Eustace Key, Brian Law, Frederic Lord, Leonard Mayoh, Bernard Naylor, Lucien Needham, Charles Peaker, Harold Ramsay, Horace Reyner, Eric Rollinson, Hugh Ross, Herbert Sanders, John Sidgwick, Frederick Silvester, F.H. Torrington, Robert Watkin-Mills, John Weatherseed, C.E. Wheeler, Alfred Whitehead, Healey Willan, Leonard Wilson, and Eric Woodward.

Names which belong on the list, but with a particular emphasis on teaching and/or education in a broader sense are J.E.P. Aldous, J. Humfrey Anger, John Churchill (see Carleton University), Arthur Collingwood, Edwin Collins, Gwendda Owen Davies, Harry Dean, Peter Fletcher, Leonard Heaton, F.J. Horwood, Andrew Hughes, Leonard Isaacs, George Lambert, Leonard Leacock, Frederick Newnham, H.C. Perrin, Philip and Joseph Shadwick, Leo Smith, Alan Walker, John Waterhouse, Albert Whitehead, Gladys Whitehead, Norman Wilks, and David Zafer.

Textbooks of music theory by J. Humfrey Anger and Albert Ham (both born and trained in England) and by the Englishmen Charles Herbert Kitson, Stewart Macpherson, and Ebenezer Prout were used by generations of Canadian teachers and students as, later, were those on harmony and counterpoint by R.O. Morris, and on orchestral technique by Gordon Jacob.

Orchestra Conductors, Instrumentalists

English career conductors and instrumentalists - as distinct from the versatile organist-choirmasters who turned their hands to those disciplines out of opportunity, necessity, or, in any case, accommodation to circumstance - have been fewer in Canada and later arriving, owing no doubt to the later development of orchestras and of an instrumental culture related to the vocal. Nevertheless, their contribution has been varied and significant, especially in the 35 years after World War II. Donald Heins introduced symphonies of Mozart and Beethoven to Ottawa in the years 1903-27, and Douglas Clarke made his mark with the Montreal Orchestra after World War I, but it was the post-1945 period that saw Geoffrey Waddington's appointment as director of music for the CBC and Boyd Neel's arrival to serve as dean of the RCMT and establish his Hart House Orchestra. In later years Meredith Davies arrived to conduct the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Brian Priestman and then Lawrence Leonard to conduct the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, Maurice Handford to conduct the Calgary Philharmonic, Leonard Atherton to conduct the St Catharines Symphony Orchestra, Andrew Davis to take over the directorship of the TS, Bramwell Tovey to become artistic director of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, and Trevor Pinnock to become music director of the NACO.

The outstanding concert organist Quentin Maclean settled in Canada in 1939. The cellist Maurice Miles (b Erith, Kent, 1883, d 1958) studied at the RAM, and then moved to Winnipeg in 1905 and to Vancouver 1923. In the years spanning the two world wars Leo Smith was one of Toronto's leading cellists and Rex Battle was active as pianist and conductor. Clifford Poole, another pianist-conductor, continued his career in 1990. David Gray, who had been first horn in the London Symphony Orchestra, moved to Canada ca 1970, studied conducting, and led the International Symphony Orchestra of Sarnia and Port Huron and then the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra.

In the instrumental field, Reginald Godden has made a singular mark as pianist, contemporary-music champion, and Bach scholar, George Brough as a leading coach-accompanist, George Zukerman as a foremost bassoonist and impresario, Liona Boyd as a concert guitarist, Christopher Weait as associate principal bassoon of the TS, Simon Streatfeild as violist and conductor, and Cardo Smalley as concertmaster of the CBC Vancouver Chamber Orchestra. Another Englishman, John Eliot Gardiner, was conductor of the last-named orchestra 1980-3.

Publishing, Criticism, Adjudication

The English have maintained a wide general presence in Canadian musical life through music publications (branch offices of Oxford, Chappell(Warner/Chappell), Boosey & Hawkes, and many agencies; see also Anglo-Canadian Music Co; Ashdown; and AB of the RSM), authoritative reference books (Grove's Dictionary and the standard-setting works of Colles, Scholes, Tovey, etc), and periodicals (eg, The Gramophone, Music and Letters, The Musical Times). In 1967 the British government presented the National Library of Canada with a large gift which contained many English music publications.

English-born music critics and essayists have flourished in Canada, among them Alexander A.A., Thomas Archer, H. Poynter Bell, Augustus Bridle, Lawrence Cluderay, Graham George, Ronald Gibson, John Norris, Edwin Parkhurst, Robert Sunter, and Max Wyman.

In broadcasting, the BBC served as a model for the CBC, in both programming and formats. It also supplied transcriptions of many of its programs and continued to do so in 1990.

English musicians at one time enjoyed a near monopoly as adjudicators at Canadian competition festivals. Among those respectfully remembered are Sir Thomas Armstrong, Edgar Bainton, Sir Edward Bairstow, Sir Granville Bantock, Ronald Biggs, Thomas Dunhill, Sir William Glock, Harry Plunkett Greene, Percy Hull, Leonard Isaacs, Maurice Jacobson, Alec Redshaw, Harold Samuel, Gordon Slater, Frederic Staton, and Jan van der Gucht.

After World War II the gradual lessening of dependence on British performance models created some conflict between those who remained loyal and those who preferred US or continental European concepts. But as the English archetypes showed a phoenixian tendency to re-create themselves and as Canadian musical life matured and settled, many avenues were reopened for contact between the older and younger cultures.

Ballad Opera, Operetta

The operatic performances given in Halifax, Quebec City, and Montreal during the late 18th and early 19th centuries were largely of English ballad operas by Dibdin, Linley, Shield, and their contemporaries.

A century later Gilbert & Sullivan operettas could be heard all over Canada. H.M.S. Pinafore was so swift a hit that its ink was scarcely dry before a popular political parody, H.M.S. Parliament, using Sullivan's music and words by William H. Fuller, was entertaining Canadian audiences. Gilbert & Sullivan have remained almost a cult, their operettas produced repeatedly by both amateur and professional groups.

During the early part of the 20th century the operettas of Edward German and Sidney Jones were performed by the Eaton Operatic Society, the Savoyards, and others. The 20th-century ballad operas of Canada's expatriate Englishman Healey Willan were performed at CPR Festivals at Quebec City and Banff.


A large part of Canada's folksong literature is of English origin (see Folk music, Anglo-Canadian), and actual English folksongs (as distinct from Anglo-Canadian mutants and variants) have been taught in the schools as part of the English heritage and as material for sight-singing systems such as those that are English-language adaptations of the Kodály principles.

Canada's own folk music research owes much to the movement that arose in England at the turn of the century. Marius Barbeau studied ethnology at Oxford University, and the work of the English collectors Ralph Vaughan Williams and Cecil Sharp gave stimulus to Helen Creighton, Edith Fowke, and others.

The Englishwoman Maud Karpeles, who visited the USA as Cecil Sharp's assistant on a collecting trip, returned alone to North America after his death to fulfil his intention of collecting folksongs in Newfoundland. The result of this 1929 trip was two volumes of Newfoundland songs, published in London in 1934, and a further volume, with annotations and accompaniments, published in London in 1971. Karpeles' work was much respected, and she received honorary degrees from Laval University and Memorial U.


In the late 18th century works by such London residents as C.F. Abel, Thomas Arne, Charles Avison, J.C. Bach, and Handel were sold as sheet music or heard in concerts in Halifax and Quebec City. Throughout the 19th century English composers were best known in Canada by their choral and church music and only with the appearance of Edward Elgar did English music gain a significant place on orchestral programs. Carl Morey ('Orchestras in Toronto before 1914,' Musical Canada) has noted performances of Elgar's Cockaigne Overture, Sea Pictures , Enigma Variations and Symphony No. 1 in Toronto, all in the first decade of the 20th century. The influence of English composers remained strongest among church musicians and organists, but grew with the appearance of Delius, Holst, Vaughan Williams, and Walton and among some Canadians or Canadians-by-adoption - notably Anderson, Bales, Douglas Clarke, Fleming, Quentin Maclean, MacMillan, Naylor, Ridout, Smith, Whitehead, and Willan. But as more Canadian, US, continental-European, and, increasingly, Oriental music came to be broadcast and recorded, and as key positions in conservatories, universities, and symphony orchestras were occupied more often by musicians of non-English background, English music was heard less frequently (except in the church, where at least Parry and Stanford survived) and its effect on Canadian music declined accordingly.

Morawetz in word and Bissell in deed showed that they were affected specifically by Britten. But Charpentier, Freedman, Garant, Mather, Morel, Papineau-Couture, Pentland, Prévost, Schafer, Somers, Tremblay, and Weinzweig - to name only 12 - showed not the slightest influence of their English counterparts (though Schafer wrote a book about them); and when Anhalt, in his EMC article on Beckwith, calls him 'the most characteristically English-Canadian voice in composition,' it is English Canada, not England, that he is invoking. Beckwith, like the majority of his colleagues, has had his 'creative receivers' tuned to an international wavelength in which England has played a relatively small part.

This virtual indifference was not one-sided, however. It would not be incorrect to say that English composers have tended to regard Canada as an export market, if anything, and have shown little interest in that market's own creative product. By 1980 such reciprocity as there was existed more in courtesy than in mutual fascination, and response to a major presentation of concerts of works by 32 Canadian composers, given in London in 1977 under the name Musicanada, was rather formal. On the positive side, however, the efforts of Canada House in London have achieved exposure for Canadian music through concerts.

The CBC from the 1940s to the 1970s broadcast a good deal of Britten (eg, the North American radio premiere of Peter Grimes) and documentaries and program series on Britten, Holst, Tippett, and Vaughan Williams; but even on the CBC there was little attempt to stay abreast of the broad spectrum of post-war developments in England. A handful of pre-war works did survive in the repertoire - eg, Holst's The Planets and St Paul's Suite and Vaughan Williams' On Wenlock Edge - supplemented occasionally by performances of the Elgar and Walton concertos; and by the 1970s Britten and Tippett were not only English but international figures and as such were impossible to ignore. In 1980 in Toronto the CBC produced a five-concert festival devoted to Tippett and his contemporaries, and the TS gave the North American premiere of Tippett's Triple Concerto.


From the late 18th century to the late 19th, British regimental bands were stationed in garrisons across Canada. Besides performing on military occasions they provided players for local orchestras and also set performance and instrumentation standards which were followed by the increasing number of Canadian bands.

Many English bandmasters settled in Canada in the 19th and 20th centuries, eg, William Atkins, Martin Boundy, Richard Coates (who also was one of Canada's first organ builders), Leonard Camplin, Arthur Delamont, Kenneth Elloway, Richard Hayward, Arthur, Henry, and John Slatter, Derek Stannard, and Alfred Zealley.

A few Canadians were trained at the RMSM (Kneller Hall) in England, among them Armand Ferland and James Gayfer. Several English bandmasters have been active in the Canadian Salvation Army. (See also Bands.)

Pop Music

In popular music the English music hall tradition was perpetuated in Canada in the early 20th century by such entertainers as Jules Brazil, James ('Jimmie') Fax, and Will J. White. English rock music, in its many styles from the Beatles in the mid-1960s onwards, has rivalled its US counterpart in its popularity with Canadian youth and its influence on Canadian performers. (See Rock.)

English Visitors

Among the earliest English musical visitors to Canada were the tenor John Braham in 1841, the baritone Henry Phillips 1844-5, and the soprano Anna Bishop in 1848 and 1851. Among later, more famous visitors were Sir Alexander Mackenzie, who conducted the famous Cycle of Musical Festivals in 1903, and Edward Elgar, who conducted the Sheffield Choir in his The Dream of Gerontius in 1911 (see Charles A.E. Harriss).

A long list of notable visiting composers, conductors, instrumentalists, and singers has included Janet Baker, John Barbirolli, Thomas Beecham, Richard Rodney Bennett, Adrian Boult, Benjamin Britten, Clara Butt, Henry Coward, Clifford Curzon, Peter Maxwell Davies, Alfred Deller, Jacqueline Du Pré, Kathleen Ferrier, Myra Hess, Gustav Holst, Gerald Moore (who received much of his musical education in Canada), John Ogdon, Peter Pears, Alan Rawsthorne, Malcolm Sargent, Humphrey Searle, Solomon (Solomon Cutner), Arthur Sullivan, Michael Tippett, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and William Walton.

The English-born musical satirist Anna Russell, in a category by herself, started her career in Canada and became more than a visitor: she was a Canadian citizen 1943-52, moved to the USA, became naturalized there, and then returned to live in Canada.

Innumerable English performing ensembles have appeared in Canada. To name only a few: the Thomas Quinlan Opera, 1913-14, with the tenor Charles Hedmont who received his early training in Montreal; the Dan Godfrey British Band which gave some 80 concerts in Canada ca 1898; the D'Oyly Carte Company on several occasions; the Sheffield Choir which gave 16 concerts on its first visit to Canada in 1908; the London SO under Nikisch in 1912; the London String Quartet in 1921 and several times later; the Griller String Quartet in 1940 and often again.

In more recent times Canadians have heard the Amadeus String Quartet (often); the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (1963); the Bath Festival Orchestra under Menuhin, the English Opera Group, and the Northern Sinfonietta under Boris Brott (all at the 1967 World Festival, Expo 67); the English Chamber Orchestra under Vladimir Ashkenazy; the St Paul's Cathedral Choir (early 1960s and again in 1980); and many other musical organizations.

Canadians In England

The number of Canadians who studied in England in the 19th century was relatively small. In the early days there were Romain-Octave Pelletier (1871-2) and William Reed (1878). In the 20th century there was a considerable increase. To name only a few: Hugh Davidson, Victor Feldbrill (during World War II), John Keane, Ingemar Korjus, Janet Stubbs, Catherine Robbin, and many AB of the RSM scholarship winners including Donald Bell, Carlina Carr, Smyth Humphreys, Hugh McLean, Ross Pratt, Thomas Rolston, Winifred Scott, and Robin Wood.

Among Canadians who have settled or worked extensively in England are Emma Albani, Les Allen, Nancy Argenta, Ellen Ballon, Paul Berkowitz, pianist Margaret Bruce, songwriter John Mais Capel, Russell E. Chester, Arthur Davison, Bonnie Dobson, Louise Edvina, Art Ellefson, Robert Farnon, Harry Field, Don Garrard, Fred Grinke, Angela Hewitt, Ted Hockridge, Leslie Holmes, Doreen Hume, Laura Lemon, Patti Lewis, Beatrice Lillie, Jane Leslie MacKenzie, David Martin, Lois McDonall, Libby Morris, conductor Harry Newstone (b Winnipeg 21 Jun 1929; founder of the London Haydn Chamber Orchestra in 1949 and its conductor until ca 1959), Alfie Noakes, Jackie Rae, Tommy Reilly, pianist and violinist Daphne Sandercock, Joseph Shadwick, Annon Lee Silver, Russ Titus, Malcolm Troup, John Warren, Jean Watson, and Kenny Wheeler. (See also Jazz; Rock.)

English opera companies such as Sadlers Wells, Glyndebourne, the English Opera Group, and the Royal Opera (Covent Garden prior to 1947) have employed numerous Canadian artists, including Albani, Milla Andrew, David Astor, Lissant Beardmore, Émile Belcourt, Donald Bell, Mario Bernardi, Napoléon Bisson, Jean Bonhomme, Victor Braun, Jules Bruyère, Edmund Burke, Donna-Faye Carr, James W. Craig, Walter Dinoff, France Dion, Pauline Donalda, Roger Doucet, Carl Duggan, Jeanne Dusseau, Edvina, Sarah Fischer, Odette de Foras, Don Garrard, Victor Godfrey, Beatrice La Palme, Louise Lebrun, Audrey Mildmay (who not only sang at Glyndebourne, but was the wife of the founder, John Christie), James Milligan, Norman Mittelmann, Louis Quilico, Joseph Rouleau, Robert Savoie, Annon Lee Silver, Léopold Simoneau, Teresa Stratas, Paul Trépanier, André Turp, Richard Verreau, and Jon Vickers.

Canadian-born Robert Carsen was trained in theatre at York University 1972-4 and at the Bristol Old Vic School and, based in London, has become internationally renowned as an opera director. He has worked with the Glyndebourne Festival Opera, the Flemish Opera in Antwerp, the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, the Santa Fe Opera, and Pacific Opera West.

Among those who have performed at Wigmore Hall in London are the Ascher Duo, Mona Bates, Beckett and McDonald, Bedford and Eby, Donald Bell, Ray Dudley, Ada Twohy Kent and David Martin, Zara Nelsova, Émiliano Renaud, and Winifred Scott and Robin Wood. Festival of the Sound began to offer an ongoing fall concert series at Wigmore Hall in 1986.

Glenn Gould made his London debut in the five Beethoven concertos with the London SO under Joseph Krips. André Jobin sang in nearly 1000 performances of Showboat at the Adelphi Theatre. The TS played in London's Festival Hall under Seiji Ozawa in 1965, and has returned to perform in London and other English cities, as has the NACO and the Orford String Quartet.

Lois Marshall, Léopold Simoneau, and Jon Vickers all made major recordings with Sir Thomas Beecham and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and Steven Staryk was a concertmaster of that orchestra. Vickers became the most famous Peter Grimes of his day and recorded the Britten opera with the Royal Opera Orchestra under Colin Davis. Raoul Jobin sang frequently with orchestra on the BBC and recorded Alceste with Kirsten Flagstad for London.

These are but a sampling of the Canadian performers and performing organizations who have performed in England. Canada House, home of the Canadian Cultural Centre in London, has arranged many concerts and recitals by young Canadian artists over the years and its presentations have received welcome attention from the British press. In 1985 the Toronto Globe and Mail quoted the Daily Telegraph as saying that the Canadian Cultural Centre was 'the best of its kind in London'.. Canadian cultural officers have included Ian C. Clark 1970-2, C.E. Garrard 1973-5, Hugh Davidson 1978-80, David Peacock 1981-5, C.L. Barlow 1985-9, followed by R. Picard.