John Beckwith

His paternal forebears settled in Nova Scotia in 1760. Both parents were musical and encouraged the development of his talent. In Victoria he sang in the Anglican Cathedral choir directed by Stanley Bulley and studied piano at the age of six with Ogreta McNeill, then with Gwendoline Harper.
His paternal forebears settled in Nova Scotia in 1760. Both parents were musical and encouraged the development of his talent. In Victoria he sang in the Anglican Cathedral choir directed by Stanley Bulley and studied piano at the age of six with Ogreta McNeill, then with Gwendoline Harper.
John Beckwith, musician
Beckwith has created a wealth of music rooted in his experience of the Canadian environment (photo by Walter Curtin/courtesy Library and Archives Canada).

John Beckwith

 John Beckwith. Composer, writer, educator, pianist, broadcaster, b Victoria, BC, 9 Mar 1927; B MUS (Toronto) 1947, M MUS (Toronto) 1961, honorary D MUS (Mount Allison) 1974, honorary D MUS (McGill) 1978, honorary D MUS (Guelph) 1995, honorary LLD (Queen's) 1998, honorary D MUS (Victoria) 1999.


His paternal forebears settled in Nova Scotia in 1760. Both parents were musical and encouraged the development of his talent. In Victoria he sang in the Anglican Cathedral choir directed by Stanley Bulley and studied piano at the age of six with Ogreta McNeill, then with Gwendoline Harper. In 1945 he went to Toronto to study on a TCM scholarship with Alberto Guerrero, who was his most influential teacher. In Toronto he became a member of a circle of musicians and writers that included the poet-playwright James Reaney, with whom he began a collaboration that lasted over 40 years (he collaborated occasionally with other poets: Jay Macpherson, Margaret Atwood, Dennis Lee, bp Nichol). At university he was the arts editor 1947-8 of The Varsity. Upon graduation he undertook a broad range of professional activities: composing, acting, coaching, and public relations for the conservatory (by then RCMT) among others. In 1950 he won the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association award, which enabled him to study composition 1950-1 with Nadia Boulanger in Paris and travel and compose in Europe.

Beckwith gave a lecture-recital on the Goldberg Variations 21 Mar 1950. He wrote occasional concert reviews 1948-9 and 1952-3 for the Globe and Mail and was a regular critic 1959-62 and 1963-5 for the Toronto Daily Star. He also wrote program notes 1966-71 for the TSO. He was a staff continuity writer 1953-5 at the CBC, and remained associated with the corporation as a regular freelancer until 1963. During these years he planned and wrote the radio series "Music in Our Time" (1953-6) and "The World of Music" (1956-63). Later, with the producer Diana Brown, he planned "The Music of Chopin," serving as writer-narrator for that series. He also prepared radio documentaries on Hindemith (1964), Boulez (1965), Bartók (1966), and Berlioz (1969). He was an associate editor (1957-62, record reviews) of the Canadian Music Journal. In 1965 he received a Canada Council fellowship to study electronic music and write an opera.

Beckwith began lecturing part-time at the University of Toronto in 1952, taught full-time 1955-90, and was dean of the Faculty of Music 1970-7. His deanship ushered in a new emphasis on Canadian studies and correlation of disciplines. He served with "characteristic patience, fairness and wisdom" (University of Toronto Faculty of Music News, Spring-Summer 1977), and during his term the faculty "enhanced its reputation and remained stable" (ibid). It well may be Beckwith's class teaching, however - with its combined insight into the linked yet separate worlds of composition, performance, and scholarship - that ultimately will be regarded as his main contribution to the university. William Aide, Robert Aitken, Gustav Ciamaga, Beverley Diamond, Edward Laufer, and Bruce Mather are among those who attended his classes, and Clifford Ford, prior to joining them, was a private student. In 1984 Beckwith was named to the newly established Jean A. Chalmers Chair and became the founding director of the Institute for Canadian Music at the faculty. In this capacity he organized conferences and edited the series CanMus Documents. He retired from the university in 1990 as professor emeritus; to mark the occasion, a concert of his works was held in Walter Hall 17 Mar 1990. Beckwith continued to teach occasionally in Toronto, and was visiting professor at the University of Alberta in 1997. He was sought after as a lecturer on Canadian music, and received support from the Department of Foreign Affairs for a lecture tour of Australia in 1992. In 1996, he was a guest composer at Hong Kong's New Music Festival.

A perceptive, outspoken critic, Beckwith has commented on Canadian music and other musical topics in numerous publications, and it was his article on Canadian coverage in international music encyclopedias, "About Canadian music: the PR failure," which suggested to Floyd Chalmers the need for a Canadian reference work on the subject, thus contributing to the genesis of EMC (for which Beckwith wrote numerous articles).

Beckwith's knowledge, objectivity, and experience made him a respected and sought-after committee member, and he served on the board of directors of Ten Centuries Concerts 1962-7, the COC 1970-7, the Canadian Music Centre 1970-7, NMC 1971-84, and PRO Canada 1976-91. He also served on the board of directors of EMC 1972-96 (honorary director from 1998), the Music Promotion Foundation in 1983, and the Sir Ernest MacMillan Memorial Foundation 1984-96, and many other organizations. He was secretary 1952-5 and 1961-3 of the CLComp. In 1972 he received the Canadian Music Council Medal. In 1978, in London, Ont, he gave the keynote address - 'Music: The Search for Universals' - at the 13th Congress of ISME.

Beckwith was a co-founder of the CMHS in 1981, serving on its board until 2000; he edited a volume of hymn tunes for it (CMH, vol 5) in 1986, and one of oratorio and cantata excerpts (CMH, vol 18) in 1995. He also became a program consultant, arranger, and performer for Music at Sharon in 1981. His ca 200 scores for the summer festival include his restoration of the early Canadian opera Lucas et Cécile by Joseph Quesnel from the surviving vocal parts. Music at Sharon honoured Beckwith's contributions to the festival in a special tribute concert 6 Jul 1991. In 1984 Beckwith put together a program of music to mark the 150th anniversary of the City of Toronto. Highlights of the 20 Jun 1984 concert with the Elmer Iseler Singers, Rosemarie Landry, Mark DuBois, James Campbell, Nelson Lohnes, Lawrence Cherney, and Beckwith as conductor were recorded on the Marquis label (MAR-104). Beckwith's transcriptions, arrangements, and reconstructions of Canadian historical material are labours of love, supported by sound scholarship, unerring taste and feel for the substance at hand, and animated by respect and a sense of responsibility towards the music and its creators.

As a composer Beckwith has received commissions from ARRAYMUSIC, the CBC, Canadian Brass, Classical Cabaret, Elora Festival, The Esprit Orchestra, the Festival Singers, Forest Hill Community Centre (Toronto), the Guelph Spring Festival, the Hamilton Philharmonic, the Leslie Bell Competition Committee, Lois Marshall, Ewen McCuaig, Musick Fyne, the National Ballet of Canada, the Orford String Quartet, St George's United Church, Toronto, the Toronto Consort, the TS, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, the University of Toronto Faculty of Music Alumni Association, the Vancouver International Festival, the Vancouver Junior Symphony, the Victoria Symphony Orchestra, and the Waterloo Lutheran University Choir, and the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.


The persistent theme in Beckwith's oeuvre (a search for a Canadian voice through music) and the preferred mode of construction (a quilt-like design) were present even in 1949 in The Great Lakes Suite, which suggests, as if through the perception of an imaginative child, familiar sights, people, attitudes, actions, and the resulting feelings and thoughts. Witty, spiky, or gently weaving melodies and brisk, clipped, or flowing and simple rhythms invoke a 1920 music hall, a Victorian ballroom, a rowing excursion, a patter song heard long ago, or a half-forgotten joke, all sewn together with a light hand into a harmonious whole. The last movement, turning introspective, observes, "My voice is soft while theirs is loud ... I am one, they are a crowd." (This theme, the pull between public and private worlds, still engaged Beckwith 20 years later in Place of Meeting.)

Returning from Paris in 1952, secure in technique and conscious of the objective, Beckwith evolved with Reaney the theme of the opera Night Blooming Cereus. The two men had collaborated on three further operas by 1995, The Shivaree, Crazy to Kill, and Taptoo!. These operas touch on musical and dramatic themes central to Beckwith's creative life, and draw on myths and archetypes to give southern Ontario settings and characters a universal perspective. John Mayo (see Bibliography) has pointed out that although the three works share superficial similarities, they represent quite different approaches to opera: Night Blooming Cereus is closest to baroque opera seria or even the pre-operatic masque, The Shivaree is a comic opera, and Crazy to Kill is a sung play in the manner, though not the style, of Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande. The three works are among the most significant in Beckwith's oeuvre.

Beckwith also collaborated with Reaney in four "collages" for radio laden with referential content and experimenting with loose juxtaposition (and superposition) of elements of strong and contrasting individualities. The largest of these collages is Canada Dash - Canada Dot, a panoramic triptych conveying an image of a country and its people through the intricate weave of a disparate assemblage: stylized morse code, a country fiddler, enumerations of names (Whitmanesque in incantational effect), a transmuted Lavallée galop (very Variétés lyriques in character), railway lore, hawking, the song of a footloose pop singer, and hymns. At one point the journey turns north and into the past, to Sharon, Ont, home of the Children of Peace, a place of symbolic significance for Beckwith. The movement from place to place and from period to period is not linear; subtle modes of perception and recall ensure a more complex and evocative progression. The Trumpets of Summer, commissioned for the Shakespeare quatercentennial, "illuminates the ways in which Shakespeare has become part of the Canadian experience" (program notes). In Margaret Atwood's text, life and theatre are merged into a perception of the "world around us" with one's own chair conceived as "the centre holding the earth and skies." A life unfolds: memories of childhood torments (a serial, bi-metric, contrapuntal web based on a seven-note, six-pitch diatonic row); a sendup of "culture consumption" in high school (an expertly gauche semi-operatic scene using two 12-tone rows each divisible into two diatonic hexachords); a spoof of pseudo-scholarly debate (in which serial polyphony, pompous declamation, and patter song coalesce into satire); and an introspective Epilogue. As in other works, Beckwith uses instrumentation frugally echoing the practice of the Elizabethan "broken consort" in the Globe Theatre productions in Shakespeare's time, and perhaps also to imply the resourcefulness of Canada's early settlers, who had to do so much with so little.

Jonah, a lesson in "forgiveness and tolerance," blends in a syncretistic whole a Hebrew tale, a serial melos patterned after biblical cantillation, early Protestant hymn style, and echoes of Purcell and serial Stravinsky. Jonah is the first of Beckwith's works to reveal the force of his ethical, societal, and ontological concerns. The same evangelizing urge informs later works of otherwise different characters. Sharon Fragments are eight short movements exquisitely wrought from serializations of two hymn tunes on texts by David Willson, the leader of the Sharon sect. The work evolves through flexible declamation and subtle textural transformations, achieving a perfect balance among the parts and a rare, fresh euphony.

Place of Meeting depicts life in a large city (Niniveh - Toronto perhaps) burdened and hardened by trivia and aggression. Three male solo voices represent a countervailing spirit, and their search, poignantly castigating, is for a "Civitas Dei." The original (later discarded) title was, in fact, Civitas. The Sun Dance descends into the distant past, probing for spiritual roots, using words from Plains Cree, first-century-BC Chinese, and other sources. A mood of ritual is invoked by a pentatonic melos, percussion, singing and declaiming chorus, spatial play, and flexible time relationships. In Circle, with Tangents and in the Quartet Beckwith refined further his collage techniques. Both are major works which in their own ways use, in a carefully controlled manner, complex and subtle time organizations that highlight the simultaneous deployment of different periodicities and the interplay of various densities of texture. Taking a Stand (the title has two senses) and Musical Chairs add a new dimension to his quest for musical allegory and show the same sense of fun as his (and Reaney's) children's tale All the Bees and All the Keys.

By the end of the 1970s Beckwith had shown himself as a composer of magic eclecticism, in whose works influences and borrowings give up a part of their identity and take on new roles. By that time he had also asserted himself as, perhaps, the most characteristically English-Canadian voice in composition.

In the 1980s his oeuvre built upon and enlarged this apperception. A heightened degree of protean tendency came to the fore in one way or another: in the recurring use of multiple keyboards in single works (Avowals, Keyboard Practice), for instance, or in the alternative, optional, instrumentations of Case Study. Another blurred boundary is shown to exist in the repertory of 'love (mating) calls' of insects, animals, and young humans, entranced by one popular idiom or another, in Mating Time, composed in collaboration with bp Nichol. This work and others (Keyboard Practice, Case Study, and Peregrine) also activate the performance space by unusual positionings, composed entrances, exits, and other ambulatory patterns, in ways that suggest relationships between a musical performance and some unspecified other purpose of which one can only dimly sense the existence. In some instances, areas beyond the confines of the performance locus proper may also be implied, blurring the usual clear dividing line between "inside" and "outside."

Music for voice(s) remained a favourite medium, appearing in, among others, the exquisite Three Motets on Swans's "China" (another homage to the Temple at Sharon) and in the generous sweep of Harp of David. In other works one observes a featured, even exclusive, reliance on "alternative" (pseudo) texts: phoneme sequences, chosen for sonic character mainly, nonsense syllables, animal cries, anagrams, etc, all deployed for expression (often whimsy, or, as in A Little Organ Concert, pomposity deflated), or allusion, to good effect. Much inventiveness is in evidence in his propensity for collage-like organization of time through the simultaneous use of multiple time-planes with differing attributes: tempi giusti, tempo giusto with rubato, several rubatos superimposed, etc. Constructions such as these convey with considerable allusive power the notion of possibility for coexistence, in a supra-ordered scheme, of what one may have regarded hitherto as mutually incompatible strands. Occasionally Beckwith steps out of his favoured chronotope, 19th- to 20th-century southern Ontario. A Concert of Myths explores some of the mythical world of ancient Greece in the guise of an inspired concerto for solo flute. The far Canadian north is visited in Arctic Dances, and The Hector describes a difficult Atlantic crossing on the ship of that name which brought settlers from Scotland to Nova Scotia in 1773. And one may hear a search for an imaginary Caribbean locale (a Shangri La or an Island of the Blessed, perhaps?) in the Hispanic echos of Synthetic Trios. In Avowals, Crazy to Kill, and elsewhere, diverse idioms of popular musics crop up here and there: rag-time, the blues, jazz, crooning, a Kurt Weillian central-European ballad style, bringing along their unmistakeable referential baggage.

Beckwith's eclectic compositional language is sustained by a broad palette of idioms, colours, and by the availability of a rich variety of forming procedures. He searched widely for ideas with the confidence of a mature artist who knew that the correct means for its expression would be found once again. In his career composition, scholarship and teaching were inseparable, all powered by a searching, sensitive, and creative mind of wide grasp and exemplary reach.


Beckwith was chosen composer of the year for 1984 by the CMCouncil. In 1986 a five-record set of his music, including a conversation between Beckwith and Keith MacMillan, was released in RCI's Anthology of Canadian Music (5-ACM 26). The CMC released a CD of four of his instrumental works (Centrediscs CMC CD 5897) in 1997. Beckwith was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada in 1987. His papers were acquired by the University of Toronto music library in 1990.

He was the recipient of the Toronto Arts Award for Music in 1995, and was awarded the Diplôme d'Honneur of the Canadian Conference of the Arts in 1996. He was an associate of the CMCentre, and a contributor to EMCand The New GroveDictionary of Music.


The Killdeer, incidental (Reaney). 1960, rescored 1961. Prepared piano (5 instr). Ms

Taptoo!, documentary ballad opera (Reaney). 1993-5

See also Crazy to Kill, Night Blooming Cereus, The Shivaree


"Recordings," Music in Canada, ed E. MacMillan (Toronto, 1955)

"Composers in Toronto and Montreal," University of Toronto Quarterly, vol 26, Oct 1956

"Music," The Culture of Contemporary Canada, ed J. Park (Cornell 1957)

- and Kallmann, Helmut. "Musical instrument building,"Encyclopedia Canadiana 1958

"Music," The Arts in Canada, ed M. Ross (Toronto 1958)

"Music Education," ibid

"Young composers' performances in Toronto," Canadian Music Journal, vol 2, Summer 1958

"Jean Papineau-Couture," Canadian Music Journal, vol 3, Winter 1959

"Recent orchestral works by Champagne, Morel and Anhalt," Canadian Music Journal, vol 4, Summer 1960

- and Kasemets, Udo, eds. The Modern Composer and His World (Toronto 1961)

"Notes on a recording career, (the work of Glenn Gould)," Canadian Forum, vol 40, Jan 1961

Review of A History of Music in Canada 1534-1914 by Helmut Kallmann, University of Toronto Quarterly, vol 30, Jul 1961

"Schoenberg tenor years after," Canadian Forum, vol 41, Nov 1961

"Stravinsky triptych," Canadian Music Journal, vol 6, Summer 1962

"The Bernstein experiment," Canadian Forum, vol 43, Apr 1964

"Notes on Jonah," Alphabet, 8 Jun 1964

Review of British Composers in Interview, ed R. Murray Schafer, University of Toronto Quarterly, vol 33, Jul 1964

"A 'Complete' Schoenberg," Canadian Forum, vol 46, Jan 1967

"About Canadian music: The P.R. failure," Musicanada, 21, Jul-Aug 1969; reprinted with postscript, AGO/RCCO Music, vol 5, Mar 1971

"What every U.S. musician should know about contemporary Canadian music," Musicanada, 29, final issue 1970

"Music in Canada," The Musical Times, vol 111, Dec 1970

"Trying to define music," Royal Conservatory Bulletin, Christmas 1970

"Aims and methods for a music-theory program," Canadian Association of University Schools of Music Journal, vol 1, Spring 1971

"Healey Willan," Canadian Forum, vol 52, Dec 1972

"Teaching new music: What? How? Why?" The Recorder, vol 15, Sep 1972; reprinted Music Scene, 270, Mar-Apr 1973

"Canadian music," "Harry Somers," Dictionary of Contemporary Music (New York 1974)

- and MacMillan, K., eds. Contemporary Canadian Composers (Toronto 1975)

"István Anhalt," Music Scene, 281, Jan-Feb 1975

"A big song-and-dance," Canadian Music Educator, vol 18, Spring 1977

"Reflections on Ives," An Ives Celebration, ed H. Wiley Hitchcock and Vivian Perlis (Urbana, Ill 1977)

"A festival of Canadian music," Musicanada: A Presentation of Canadian Contemporary Music (Ottawa 1977)

Music In Canada (Ottawa 1979)

- and Pincoe, Ruth, eds. Canadian Music in the 1960s and 1970s: A Chronicle (Toronto 1979)

"Kolinski: an appreciation and list of works," Cross-cultural Perspectives on Music, ed R. Falck and T. Rice (Toronto 1982)

- ed. John Weinzweig at Seventy (Toronto 1983)

"Shattering a few myths," Glenn Gould Variations, ed J. McGreevy (New York 1983)

"Choral confessions," Anacrusis, vol 6, Fall 1986

"On compiling an anthology of Canadian hymn tunes," Sing Out the Glad News, ed J. Beckwith, CanMus Documents 1 (Toronto 1987)

- and Hall, Frederick A., eds. Musical Canada (Toronto 1988)

"Canadian tunebooks and hymnals, 1801-1939," American Music, vol 6, Summer 1988

"A 'failure' revisited: new Canadian music in recent studies and reference works," Hello Out There! eds J. Beckwith and D. Cooper, CanMus Documents 2 (Toronto 1988)

- et al. "From composer to audience: the production of serious music in Canada," Canadian University Music Review, vol 9, no. 2, 1989

Review of The New Grove Dictionary of American Music, America's Music, and Music in the United States: A Historical Introduction, Canadian University Music Review, vol 9, no. 2, 1989

"Canadiana realizations for 'Music at Sharon,' 1981-90," News from Canadian Musical Heritage Society, vol 1, Spring 1991

"Letter from Canada," Sonneck Society Bulletin, vol 17, no. 2, 1991

"Restoring Joseph Quesnel's other operetta, Lucas et Cécile," Notations, Oct 1991

"Choral music in Montreal circa 1900: Three composers," University of Toronto Quarterly, vol 63 no 4, 1994

"Musical quotations in Taptoo!," Sonneck Society Bulletin, fall 1995

"Glenn Gould, the early years: Addenda and corrigenda," GlennGould, fall 1996

Music at Toronto: A Personal Account (Toronto 1995)

"New music and the public: Serge Garant and Quebec's "Ruptures" debate," Musicworks, 68, Summer 1997

Music Papers: Articles and Talks by a Canadian Composer 1961-1994 (Ottawa 1997)

"CUMS remembered," Canadian University Music Review, vol 20 no 1, 1999

"Barbara Pentland," Canadian University Music Review, vol 20 no 2, 2000

"Orchestral works," in Istvan Anhalt: Pathways and Memory, eds Robin Elliott and Gordon E. Smith (Montreal, Kingston 2001)

"Alberto Guerrero (1886-1959)," Piano, vol 9 no 4, Jul-Aug 2001

"Toronto's divine son," Piano, vol 9 no 5, Sep-Oct 2001

Psalmody in British North America: Humbert, Daulé, Jenkins, Burnham (Toronto 2002)

"Mark Burnham and Upper Canada's earliest tunebook, Colonial Harmonist," University of Toronto Quarterly, vol 71 no 2, Spring 2002

"Thomas-Étienne Hamel and his Annales musicales du Petit-Cap : a manuscript song collection of nineteenth-century Quebec," Canadian journal for traditional music, vol 29, 2002

- and Kathleen McMorrow. "Canada," New Harvard dictionary of music (Cambridge, Mass. 2003)

Reaney, James, ed. Scripts: librettos for operas and other musical works (Toronto 2004)

"The Oxford History of Western Music: a Canadian reflection," CAML Review, vol 33, no 3, Nov 2005

In Search of Alberto Guerrero (Waterloo 2006)

"Ten Centuries in five seasons: the music comes first," Women's Musical Club of Toronto News and Notes, 33, Jan 2006

"The present state on unpopular music," CAML Review, vol 35, no 2, Aug 2007

"Derailed: a choral documentary," Literary Review of Canada, vol 17, no 9, Nov 2009

"Father of romance, Vagabond of glory: two Canadian composers as stage heroes," Music Traditions, Cultures and Contexts eds Robin Elliott and Gordon E. Smith (Waterloo 2010)

-and Cherney, Brian, eds. Weinzweig: Essays on His Life and Music (Waterloo 2011)

Unheard Of: Memoirs of a Canadian Composer (Waterloo 2012)

Articles on Anhalt, Gould, Kasemets, Kolinski, MacMillan, Marshall, and L. Smith in The New Grove Dictionary; on Hymns, Ernest MacMillan, Music composition, and Singing schools in The Canadian Encyclopedia; on Chamber music composition, Concertos and concertante music, Criticism, Education, professional, since 1950, Hymnbooks, Ernest MacMillan, Muzak, Leo Smith, Solo instrumental music and Toronto Symphony in the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada

See also Publications and Bibliography for the Institute for Canadian Music

Orchestra and Band

Music for Dancing (orch from piano, 4 hands). 1948 (piano), orch 1959 (Ott 1959). BMIC 1961. CBC SM-47/5-ACM 26 (CBC Vancouver Orchestra)

Montage. 1953, rescored 1955 (Toronto 1953). Med orch. Ms

Fall Scene and Fair Dance. 1956 (Toronto 1956). Vn, clarinet, string. BMIC 1957. 1977. Lethbridge Symphony Association LSA-101 (Lethbridge SO)

Concerto Fantasy. 1959 (Montreal 1962). Pf, orch. Ber (rental)

Flower Variations and Wheels. 1962 (Victoria 1963). Med orch. Ber (rental)

Concertino. 1963 (Toronto 1964). Hn, orch. Ber (rental)

Jonah, cantata (various). 1963 (Toronto 1963). BMIC 1969

Place of Meeting (Dennis Lee). 1967 (Toronto 1967). Spkr, tenor, blues singer, SATB, orch. Ms

Elastic Band Studies. 1969, rev 1975 (Toronto 1976). Concert band. Ms

A Concert of Myths. 1983 (Calgary 1984). Fl, orch. Ms

Peregrine. 1989 (Toronto 1990). Va, percussion, small orch. Ms

Round and Round. 1991-92


The Great Lakes Suite (Reaney). 1949. Sop, bar, clarinet, violoncello, piano. Ms

Five Pieces for Brass Trio. 1951. Ms. 1981. Music Gallery Edns MGE-34 (Composers Brass Group)

Five Pieces for Flute Duet. 1951. BMIC 1962

Four Pieces for Bassoon Duet. 1951. Ms

Quartet for Woodwind Instruments. 1951. Ms

Three Studies for String Trio. 1956. Ms

Circle, with Tangents. 1967. Hpd, 13 string. BMIC 1968

Taking a Stand. 1972. 8 brass, 14 music stands, 5 players. Ber 1975

Musical Chairs. 1973. Str quintet. Ber 1980

Quartet. 1977. Str quartet. Ms. Mel SMLP-4038/5-ACM 26 (Orford String Quartet)

Case Study: a multi-purpose quintet. 1980. 5 bowed string or woodwind or brass instr. Ms

Eight Miniatures: arr from the Alan Ash Ms. 1981. Vn, piano. Ms

Sonatina. 1981. Tpt, piano. Ms

Tunes of the Sharon Band (arr). 1982. Brass quintet. Sonante 1984

Arctic Dances. 1984. Ob, piano. Ms. McGill University Records 85026 (L. Cherney)

For Starters. 1984. 11 brass instr. Ms

College Airs. 1990. Str quartet. Ms

The Hector, documentary cantata (various). 1990 (Toronto 1990). Sop, early-instr ensemble. Ms

After Images, after Webern. 1994. Guitar, cello. Musicworks 68

Blue Continuum. 1994. Trumpet, piano, string trio

Echoes of Quesnel. 1995. English horn, organ, violin, viola

Echoes of Thiele. 1995. 8 instruments

Eureka. 1996. 9 wind instruments

Lines Overlapping. 1996-97. Banjo, harpsichord

Blurred Lines (duo in quarter tones). 1997. Violin, harpsichord

Ringaround. 1998. Nonpedal harp, harpsichord

Workout. 2001. 4 percussion

A New Pibroch. 2002. Highland pipes, 7 strings, percussion


Four Conceits 1945-48. 1945-8. Ms. RCI 228/RCA CCS-1022 (Troup)

Music for Dancing. 1948. Pf: 4 hands. Ms. RCI 113 (P. Beaudet, G. Bourassa)

The Music Room. 1951. FH 1955. RCI 134 (Newmark)

Novelette. 1951. BMIC 1954. Centrediscs CMC-1684/5-ACM 26 (Foreman)

Six Mobiles. 1959. BMIC 1960. CCM-2 (Cavalho)

Interval Studies. 1962. BMIC 1962

Suite on Old Tunes (arr). 1966. BMIC 1967. CCM-2 (Cavalho)

Variation Piquant sur la "Toronto Opera House Waltz" 1967. 2 pianos. Ms

New Mobiles. 1971. Wat 1972

Keyboard Practice. 1979. 4 players, 10 keybd. (1986). 5-ACM 24 (Aide)

Etudes. 1983. Ms. 5-ACM 26 (Coop)

March, March! 2001

Also a work for organ and prepared tape, Upper Canadian Hymn Preludes (1977). Ms. Centrediscs CMC-1784/5-ACM 26 (Wedd)


The Trumpets of Summer (Atwood). 1964. Soloists, SATB, narrator, chamber ensemble. Ber (rental). CBC SM 81/RCI 340/ Cap ST-6323/5-ACM 26 (Festival Singers)

Sharon Fragments (Willson). 1966. SATB. Wat 1966. Cap ST-6258/Sera S-60085 (Festival Singers)

The Sun Dance (various). 1968. SATB, speaker, organ, percussion. Priv published 1968

Three Blessings (Fisher, Burns, Wesley). 1968. SATB, instr (optional in No. 2). BMIC 1968. CBC SM-81/RCI 340/Cap ST-6323 (Festival Singers)

Gas! (Beckwith). 1969. 20 spkrs. Ber 1978

1838 (Lee). 1970. SATB. Novello 1970

Papineau (2 Lower Canada folk songs). 1977. 2 equal voices. GVT 1978. Centrediscs CMC-2285 (Tor Children's Chor)

Three Motets on Swan's "China" (various). '1981. SATB. Wat 1983. Mel SMLP-4041/5-ACM 26 (Elmer Iseler Singers)

A Little Organ Concert (vocables). 1982. SATB, organ, brass quintet. Ms

A Canadian Christmas Carol (J. P. Clarke)(arr). 1984. SATB, harmonium (piano or organ). GVT 1989. CBC SM-5055 (Elmer Iseler Singers)

Mating Time (bp Nichol). 1982. SATB (20 solo voices), percussion, elec keybd. Ms

Harp of David (Book of Common Prayer). 1985. SATB. Ms. Centrediscs CMC-CD-3790 (Vancouver Chamb Choir)

The Banks of Newfoundland (arr).1985. Bar, SATB (oboe, string quartet) GVT 1987

Three Burns Songs (R. Burns)(arr).1986. SATB. GVT 1987

Farewell To Nova Scotia (arr).1985. Bar, SATB, piano, percussion 2 trumpet, viola,vc, double-bass. GVT 1987

The Gowans Are Gay (arr). 1986. SATB, percussion. GVT 1987

All At Once. 1995. Mixed chorus, unaccompanied

Basic Music. 1998. Children's and youth chorus, orch

Lady Wisdom. 2000


Five Lyrics of the T'ang Dynasty (various). 1947. High voice, piano. BMIC 1949. RCI 148/5-ACM 26 (Alarie)/Centrediscs CMC-2185 (Vickers)/(No. 3,4,5) 1988. Phillips 6514-157 (B. Fei soprano, N. Loo piano)

"Serenade" (Thibaudeau). 1949. Med voice, piano. Ms. RCI 36 (C. Jordan)

"The Formal Garden of the Heart" (Thibaudeau). 1950. Med voice, piano. Ms

Four Songs to Poems by e.e. cummings. 1950. Sop, piano. Wat 1975

Four Songs from Ben Jonson's "Volpone". 1961. Bar, guitar. BMIC 1967

A Chaucer Suite. 1962. Alto, tenor, bar. Ms

Ten English Rhymes (anonymous). 1964. Young voices, piano. BMIC 1964

Four Love Songs (Canadian folk songs). 1969. Bar, piano. Ber 1970. (No. 1, 3, 4) CBC SM-111 (Bell)/(1986). 5-ACM 26 (Pepper, Beckwith)

Five Songs (arr). 1970. Alto, piano. Wat 19701. CBC SM-77/Sel CC-15073/5-ACM 26 (Forrester)

Six Songs to Poems by e.e. cummings. 1980-2. Bar, piano. Ms

Earlier Voices (arr). 1984. Sop, bar, SATB, piano. Ms

Avowals (bp Nichol). 1985. Ten, 1 player on piano, celesta, harpsichord. Ms

Les Premiers hivernements (S. Champlain, M. Lescarbot). 1986. Sop, tenor, 2 recorder, lute, viol, percussion. Ms

Synthetic Trios (vocables). 1987. Sop, clarinet, piano. Ms

The Harp that Once thro' Tara's Halls (T. Moore) (arr). 1986. Mezzo, piano. GVT 1987

beep (bp Nichol). 1990. Sop, bar, SATB, percussion. Ms

Stacey (Margaret Laurence). 1997. Soprano, piano


A Message to Winnipeg (Reaney). 1960 (Toronto 1960). 4 spkrs, violin, clarinet, piano, percussion. Ms

Twelve Letters to a Small Town (Reaney). 1961 (Toronto 1961). 4 spkrs, fl, oboe, guitar, pf-harmonium. Ms

Wednesday's Child (Reaney). 1962 (Toronto 1962). 3 spkrs, soprano, tenor, fl, viola, piano, percussion. Ms

Canada Dash - Canada Dot (Reaney). 1965-67 (Toronto 1967). 5 voices, 4 spkrs, chamber ensemble. Ms

The Journals of Susanna Moodie, incidental (Atwood). 1972, rev 1990 (Toronto 1973). 2 kybd players, percussion. Ms

All the Bees and All the Keys (Reaney). 1973 (Toronto 1973). Narr, orch. (Orch) Ber (rental), (piano score) Press Porcépic 1976

Further Reading

  • Reaney, James. "An evening with Babble and Doodle," Canadian Literature, vol 12, Spring 1962

    Wilson, M. "John Beckwith's new cantata 'Jonah'," Alphabet, 7, Dec 1963

    "John Beckwith: a portrait," Musicanada, 6, Nov 1967

    Winters, K. "How Beckwith influence will be felt in new task," Toronto Telegram, 8 Jan 1970

    Read, Gardner. "Circle, with Tangents," Notes, vol 26, Jun 1970

    Littler, William. "Beckwith works unique in their sensitivity," Music Scene, 261, Sep-Oct 1971

    Such, Peter. Soundprints (Toronto 1972)

    Carson, Susan. "I compose in spite of the fact that it costs me money," Weekend, 11 Mar 1972

    Fast, Tanis Leigh. "A study of selected solo vocal works of John Beckwith," M.MUS thesis, University of Western Ontario 1982

    BMI Canada Ltd/PRO Canada Ltd. "John Beckwith," pamphlets, 1970, 1976, 1978, 1983, 1988

    MacMillan, Rick. "John Beckwith at Sharon," Music Scene, 344, Jul/Aug 1985

    Jones, Gaynor. "A protagonist for Canadian music," University of Toronto Columns, Spring 1986

    Young, Stephen. "Aesthetics of victim/victimization in three works of Anglo-Canadian music," American Review of Canadian Studies, vol 19, Winter 1989

    Mayo, John. "Expectations and compacts in the Beckwith-Reaney operas: a case study," University of Toronto Quarterly, vol 60, Winter 1990-1

    McGee, Timothy J. "John Beckwith and Canadian music," Taking a Stand: Essays in Honour of John Beckwith, ed Timothy J. McGee (Toronto 1995)

    Colgrass, Ulla. "Canada's musical polymath sounds off," Globe and Mail, 10 Jan 1998

    Olds, David. "Musician in our midst: John Beckwith," WholeNote, 1 Oct 1999

    Crew, Robert. "Opera tackles local history," Toronto Star, 6 Mar 2003

    Contemporary Canadian Composers/Compositeurs canadiens contemporains

    Dictionary of Contemporary Music

    The New Grove Dictionary