Music in London

Ontario city situated halfway between Toronto and Windsor on the Thames River. It was laid out in 1826, incorporated as a town in 1846 (population 3500), and as a city in 1855.

London, Ont

London, Ont. Ontario city situated halfway between Toronto and Windsor on the Thames River. It was laid out in 1826, incorporated as a town in 1846 (population 3500), and as a city in 1855. By 1990 (estimated population 290,000), it had become a prosperous centre for insurance, educational institutions (University of Western Ontario, Fanshawe College), and agro-industry.

The British regiment, garrisoned in London 1837-53, played an important role in social life. In 1840 the regiment established the Theatre Royal; the garrison band provided music between the acts. In the early 1840s the civilian Mechanics' Institute also fostered music; in 1844 a London Amateur Band took part in the Institute's third-anniversary celebrations. Another early band was the Phoenix Fire Co Band, formed in 1858.

Old St Paul's Anglican Church was the first London church to possess an organ, built by a local cabinetmaker in 1844. It was destroyed when the church burned on Ash Wednesday that year. In 1850 an organ was installed in the Wesleyan Methodist Church on Queen's Avenue. This church also supplemented its choir with instruments: 'Rule IX - that the bass-viol, now in use in the choir, shall be dispensed with as soon as they have a sufficient number of bass singers to do without it, unless the brethren now objecting withdraw their opposition... ' (minutes, January 1850).

With the arrival of rail lines in the early 1850s, London enjoyed visits of touring concert artists, including Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1863, 1864), Carlotta Patti (1863), Henryk Wieniawski (ca 1872 or 1874), and Teresa Carreño (1873). Other favorite travelling entertainments were minstrel and variety shows.

Halls included the Mechanics' Institute (1841), Brunton's Varieties (1855), and the 540-seat City Hall (1855). The Music Hall (1866), seating 580, opened with a 'Grand Concert of Vocal and Instrumental music' directed by Elizabeth Raymond and St John Hyttenrauch; the hall also presented touring minstrel shows and plays. In 1873, renovated, it became the Holman Opera House owned by the Holman English Opera Troupe. Victoria Hall, formerly a church, opened in 1878 and the Grand Opera House (London, Ont) in 1881.

In 1849, launching a long career, Elizabeth Raymond (1832-1902) advertised as a teacher of piano and accordion. An 1856 city directory listed 'W.T. Erith, Professor of classical music!,' Gerolamy's Music & Picture Store (pianos, melodeons, and sheet music), and the 'London Philharmonic Society [with] about 50 members and meetings for vocal and instrumental practice held weekly'. Five music teachers are listed in 1863, no fewer than 76 by the turn of the century.

Raymond and Hyttenrauch dominated the musical scene for several decades. Raymond was organist at Queen's Avenue Methodist Church from 1853 and at St Paul's Cathedral from 1863; she formed the St Paul's Choral Union (called the London Philharmonic Society after 1870). By 1867 'Mrs Raymond's Annual Concert' was a fixture of the London calendar: it consisted of vocal solos and duets by local artists, interspersed with instrumental or choral numbers.

Instrumental music received a major boost from the Danish-born pianist, clarinetist, and bandmaster, St John Hyttenrauch (1833-1924). In 1859, the year after his arrival, he formed the Artillery Band, the first local militia band since the departure of the British garrison in 1853; this band saw duty during the first Fenian Raid. About 1866 Hyttenrauch began to conduct the Seventh Battalion Band. On a visit to London, the Duke of Connaught is reputed to have called it 'the best militia band I have heard in Canada but in Britain as well'. The band also gave summer Promenade Concerts on the parade ground, Military Square (now Victoria Park). Beginning in 1866, Hyttenrauch was associated also with the public schools (eventually as supervisor of music), and later also with Hellmuth Boys' College and, from 1881, with Alma College in St Thomas, Ont.

In 1875 Hyttenrauch conducted 175 participants in the city's first performance of Part One of Messiah. Following this success, he formed the London Musical Union in September 1875, with 22 orchestra members and 88 choristers. The Union however existed for only three years. Hyttenrauch served 1887-8 as president of the Canadian Society of Musicians.

Three other music pioneers, Irish immigrants of Italian descent, the Sippi brothers Charles A. and George B. and their father Charles Sippi Sr (d 1877) appeared regularly in concerts, and the brothers contributed significantly as teachers, organist-choirmasters into the early 20th century. William Saunders (1836-1914), the famous agriculturist and his family were prominent in musical life in the 1880s, and in later years his son Henry (1864-1951) was a cellist with the TSO, while a younger son, Sir Charles (1867-1937), the discoverer of Marquis wheat, was a school-music instructor 1894-1903. Most of the Saunders children studied violin with Roselle Pococke (1857-1925), one of London's first 'home-grown' professionals. Pococke had studied violin with Hyttenrauch and later he conducted regimental bands, organized amateur performing groups, and was an organist and choirmaster. His daughter, Merlyn Pococke, pursued a career as singer and teacher. The Corteses were another leading musical family. Anthony Cortese, a professionally-trained musician, came to London in 1878. His three sons, Angelo, Jack, and Joseph, together with the Briglia family, organized the London Harpers (harps, 2 violins, flute) and toured throughout Western Ontario. W. James Birks advanced choral singing as a church music director at and founder (1885) of the male-voice London Arion Club.

In the late 19th century instrumental groups were often short-lived while choral ones flourished and the churches resounded with choral song. At a cautious estimate, over 2000 Londoners sang regularly in church choirs at a time when the city's population was less than 40,000. Many church choirs presented standard oratorios and large sacred works in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, occasionally featuring a. work by a local organist-composer.

City churches and their organists remained influential between the two world wars. The London Echo on 22 Mar 1934 published biographies and portraits of T.C. Chattoe, (Metropolitan United Church); Frederic T. Egener, (Cronyn Memorial Church); and Charles E. Wheeler (St Andrew's Presbyterian Church) who, like Egener, had made frequent live broadcasts. Another prominent London organist was Ernest White, who returned to his home town from New York for a short period 1948-51 as director of Music Teachers' College and supervised the installation of a baroque organ at Aeolian Hall.

Touring opera troupes visited the Grand Opera House regularly, starting in the late 19th century: in 1889 the Stetson Opera Co of Boston performed The Yeomen of the Guard, and the New American Opera Co staged Wallace's Maritana; in 1890 Conreid's Comic Opera Co brought The Gypsy Baron, the Emma Juch Grand English Opera Co Lohengrin (with piano), and the William J. Gilmore Comic Opera Co The Sea King by Richard Stahl. Later, standard operas, often in concert versions, appeared with some frequency: the San Carlo Opera Company, Columbia Opera Co, Rosselino Opera Group, and Royal Cons Opera (University of Toronto Opera Division) all visited during the 1940s. In 1953 the Arena was the site of a production of Samson and Delilah with Jon Vickers.

Local churches too presented operas: St Andrew's Church staged H.M.S. Pinafore in 1932 and, 30 years later, as First St Andrew's, The Happy Prince by Malcolm Williamson (1971) and The Selfish Giant (1974) by the church's organist, Barrie Cabena. Other local ventures included productions of the University of Western Ontario opera workshop and performances at Aeolian Hall conducted by Gordon Jeffery (Cosi fan tutte, 1965; The Marriage of Figaro, 1967). In 1955 Jeffery commissioned Godfrey Ridout's opera The Saint, on a local theme; its librettist was a resident historian, Orlo Miller.

London welcomed touring orchestras starting in the first decade of the 20th century. In 1904, the Pittsburgh Orchestra, conducted by Victor Herbert, appeared with a London Combined Chorus. The Theodore Thomas Orchestra, the Chicago SO, the New York SO, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Cleveland Symphony all visited between 1905 and 1933.

The London Musical Protective Association was formed 1 Feb 1902. A year later, the union affiliated with the AF of M as Local 279. Hyttenrauch was its first president. By 1940 more than 1100 members had joined; membership in 1991 was ca 600.

Music was a curriculum staple at Hellmuth Ladies' College, which operated 1869-99. Teaching at the college at one time or another were the Sippis, and William Caven Barron (1864-1936). Lucy Clinton, a pupil of Clara Schumann and 'holding certificates from Sir Sterndale Bennett and Cipriani Potter, etc.,' was 'Lady Principal and Musical Directress' in 1881. Later directors were Waugh Lauder and Thomas W. Martin (1861-1943).

In 1892 Barron became the director of the London Conservatory of Music and School of Elocution, which continued under that name until 1939. F. Linforth Willgoose replaced Barron as director in 1910. An affiliation with the University of Western Ontario was made jointly in 1910 by Willgoose and the principal of the Brantford Cons, but in 1915 the London Cons withdrew from the arrangement.

Another school, active 1902-11, was the Harding Hall College and Central Conservatory. It offered instruction in voice, theory, piano, violin, and guitar as well as the usual elocution; 'moral and mental science'; and oil, watercolour, and china painting. Its impressive faculty included E.W.G. Quantz (1876-1942), A.D. Jordan, Pococke, Wheeler, Hyttenrauch, and Martin.

Jordan, a dominant figure after the turn of the 20th century, assumed the directorship of the London Oratorio Society ca 1905. In 1916 he founded the Musical Art Society, sponsoring concerts by imported artists. Associated with the society was a 400-voice choir, and an orchestra of students and amateurs. In 1919 Jordan organized the Institute of Musical Arts, engaging noted teachers from the TCM (RCMT) for weekly visits as well as the best teachers in London and attracting an enrolment of 960. By 1922 the rivals, the Institute and the London Cons had amalgamated. In turn the Institute was absorbed in 1934 by the newly-formed WOCM.

Jordan also had helped organize in 1930 the mixed London Orpheus Choir. Mrs Jordan continued her husband's enterprises: by 1933 she was conducting an A.D. Jordan Memorial Choir and Little Symphony. In 1938, the Memorial Choir was reorganized as the London Philharmonic Choir under Harvey Robb.

The Belgian-born César Borré (1880-1950) filled the gap left when Jordan died. Organist at St Peter's Cathedral, in 1930 he formed the Ladies' Choral Society and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, immediate forerunner of the London Civic Symphony Orchestra (Orchestra London). In 1931 the choir and orchestra performed an excerpt from his opera L'Amour d'Apache. He returned to Belgium briefly during 1935 to conduct at the World's Fair and in 1937 moved to Toronto. After Borré's departure, the Ladies' Choir was conducted by George Lethbridge, later by Robb, and from 1949 by Earle Terry.

By the end of World War I, music had become an important element of public education. E.W. Goethe Quantz, music director for the schools from 1906, organized the Public School Festival Choirs (650 voices) and developed elementary- and secondary-school orchestras. During his career he held positions in music and music-education societies in both Canada and the USA.

Don Wright was director of music for the London Board of Education 1940-6. In 1947 he formed a 14-voice choir, the Don Wright Chorus (originally the CFPL Chorus), active until 1956 and widely known from many local and network broadcasts. Earle Terry, Wright's successor as director of school music 1947-77, also had a nationally-famous choir, the all-female Earle Terry Singers (1948-63). Another prominent musical leader of the postwar era was Martin Boundy, conductor of the London SO 1949-69. An educator with the public school board and later director of instrumental music for the separate (Roman Catholic) school board he became in 1969 director of music at the newly-formed community college, Fanshawe College.

In 1934 the WOCM was established; Frederick L. Newnham was named director. In 1935 Newnham assumed added duties as director of music at the University of Western Ontario. The conservatory affiliated with the university in 1939, and became reorganized under Harvey Robb's direction. In 1945 Bruce Sharpe, violinist and past conductor of the London Civic SO, began a University-Conservatory Orchestra of strings, supplemented on occasion by winds and brasses. In the same year Max Pirani, head of the piano department at the conservatory, was appointed first director of Music Teachers' College. In 1946 Alfred Rosé conducted the university's first opera workshop.

In addition to churches and educational bodies, other organizations fostered music. The Women's Morning Music Club, one of the city's staunchest cultural organizations, was founded in 1894 by Louise Carling. By 1909-10, membership stood at 144; there were 12 afternoon recitals, 2 social evenings, and 2 artist concerts. In 1922-3 the club changed direction, giving only artist and student-artist concerts - and membership doubled. Guest artists that year included Flora Goulden, Helen Pengelly, Paul de Marky, and Harry Adaskin. Among noted participants in succeeding seasons were Claude Biggs, Sophie Braslau, the Hart House String Quartet, and the TSO. By 1945 the club had 1,500 members.

As entrepreneurs, the Cortese brothers brought Amelita Galli-Curci to the Grand Opera House in 1921, and later Frieda Hempel, Mischa Elman, and other outstanding artists. London's Community Concert Association was formed in 1931 to aid the Women's Music Club in inviting non-local performers. By 1935 its membership had reached 1400. Performers included many prominent star soloists of the period, but few Canadians. The association's activities ceased in 1970. The London Chamber Music Society, formed in 1939 with local professional and semi-professional musicians, presented monthly concerts. On occasion Canadian guest artists such as Harry Adaskin (1943), the Parlow Quartet (1944, 1945, 1947), and Greta Kraus (1948) were featured. Over 140 programs were given 1942-66.

The output of London composers before the turn of the 20th century consisted mainly of popular songs, piano pieces, and sacred works. The piano and music dealer Charles F. Colwell (1846-1924) published songs by local musicians in the late 1870s and 1880s. In 1894 Ethel Clive Holmes, under the pseudonym 'Ethelbert Clive,' published the Armorel Polka. The London Soap Co published some pieces in the late 1890s and early 1900s, engraved locally by the Ontario Litho Co and Knowles & Co, among them the famous 'Sweet Marie' (words by Cy Warman, music by Raymon [sic] Moore). Two song-writers associated with London went on to success in the USA - Alfred Bryan (1871-1958; 'I Didn't Raise My Boy to be a Soldier') and James O'Dea (1871-1914; 'The Sweetest Girl in Dixie').

'Booster' songs were an important genre between 1900 and World War II, cultivated by such local composers as C.L. Graves, Wilfred Charles Traher, Melville Platt, and Charles Wheeler. World War I inspired patriotic songs such as G.B. Sippi's 'Canadian Forever' (1915), Sarah Lawrence's 'Men Wanted' (1917), and Olive M. Skelton's 'Our Liberty Bell' and 'Our Yankee Lads' (both 1918). Wheeler published between 30 and 40 works for choir in addition to 10 songs and 2 cantatas; his manuscripts are in the London Room of the London Public Library.

Works for the stage by London composers include Frank Aldridge's opera Bells of Brittany (1929) and Eric Arthur Minnitt's light opera Suzanne, first performed in 1933 and revived in 1935. London-born Raymond Pannell has been notably productive of music-theatre works. Merwin Lewis wrote Masquerade of Dreams for the University of Western Ontario opera workshop in 1978. Composers associated with the University of Western Ontario have included Kristi Allik, Jack Behrens, Peter Clements, Arsenio Girón, Alan Heard, Peter Paul Koprowski, and Gerhard Wuensch. Among the city's other composers are Gerald Bales, Barrie Cabena and Merwin Lewis.

The first competitive music festival in London was established in 1922. The Kiwanis Music Festival, begun in 1961, was still in 1991 a major annual event for young performers and their teachers. In later years Canadian Music Competitions flourished alongside the Kiwanis events.

London has also hosted many non-competition festivals. The 1942 'Battle of Bands,' a benefit for musicians engaged in the war effort, attracted 1500. Gordon Jeffery mounted an annual Bach Festival 1949-54. The Home County Folk Festival, running continuously beginning in 1974, started as a venue for folk music and arts and by 1991 concentrated on ethnic musics. Local musicians such as the Dixie Flyers (formed in 1974) have played alongside musicians from the rest of North America and, more recently, Africa. Venues for folk music in the 1970s included the York Hotel, home of the Nihilist Spasm Band (formed in the mid-1960s and in the early 1990s still performing), the Cuckoo's Nest (established ca 1971) and Smales [sic] Pace. An important newer example is the summer Royal Canadian Big Band Festival.

Among London bands of the postwar years were the Moose Boys' Band (1937-46), the Police Boys' Band (1943-60, a 'feeder' for the London Civic SO), the London Tech Concert Band (1947-56), and the Royal Canadian Regiment Band (1947-70). Choral groups remained active, though fewer in number than in earlier generations. The London Pro Musica, formed in 1970, is a chamber choir whose conductors have been John Barron, Deral Johnson, Howard Dyck, Brian Jackson, and (beginning in 1988) Ken Fleet. For its tenth anniversary the choir commissioned Merwin Lewis' Ode, and in 1981 it premiered Gordon Atkinson's Hodie. Other choirs are the Fanshawe Chorus, conducted by Gerald Fagan; the Gerald Fagan Singers; the Amabile Youth Choir, an international-award-winning girls' choir; and the Amabile Boys' Choir.

Reflecting a growing interest in period instruments, L'Harmonie Universelle Ancienne, founded in 1987 by Henry Meredith, is a collective of several groups performing older repertoire, often in period costume. Professional chamber ensembles of the late 1980s include the 12-member Brassworks formed by James White in 1988 and Trio London, formed in 1989 by the pianist Jane Hayes, the flutist Fiona Wilkinson, and the bassoonist James McKay.

In the 1950s jazz flourished at such venues as the Brass Rail, the Iroquois Hotel, and Campbells' Tavern. Later locations include the York Hotel, the Victoria Tavern, Wonderland Gardens, the Marienbad, the Forest City Gallery, and the Embassy Cultural House. The single-reed player Eric Stach has been active in London from the early 1970s on with groups such as the London Experimental Jazz Quartet, Big Band, and the Eric Stach Free Music Unit. The Oliver Whitehead Quintet, formed in 1982, has appeared at the FIJM (1983, 1988). The Forest City Jazz Band, active from 1983, plays Dixieland. Major survivors of the city's jazz scene are the Central Library's jazz concert series (beginning in 1972), and the monthy meetings of the London Jazz Society.

An important concert and chamber music venue opened 1969 is Aeolian Town Hall (see Gordon Jeffery). It houses a Gabriel Kney organ built for it and dedicated in December 1971. After Jeffery's death in 1986, a New Aeolian Chamber Orchestra, financed by the Gordon Jeffery Trust Fund, was formed in 1988.

The University of Western Ontario's Alumni Hall (1967) has been the locale of entertainments ranging from touring COC operas, ballet, chamber music, and orchestras from around the world (as well as the University of Western Ontario SO) to folk musicians and jazz and rock groups. The J.W. Little Stadium (1929), originally a university sports facility, has also seen outdoor rock concerts. Two more intimate halls operated by the Faculty of Music, Talbot Theatre (1966) and the Clifford von Kuster Recital Hall (1971), present recitals, chamber music, and choral concerts. Centennial Hall (1967) is the home of Orchestra London and other entertainments. The London Regional Art Gallery offers solo and chamber recitals as well as the Trillium Series of new music.

In the late 19th century, London was home to several small piano and organ manufacturers. Andrus Bros. (later Andrews Bros, ca 1859-74) were makers of cabinet organs and melodeons. By 1871 Charles H. and Dempsey Benson were listed as melodeon makers, and by 1872 as piano makers. The piano factory of John Nitschke, 1869-84, advertised a square piano. Evans Bros, manufactured pianos in London from 1871 or 1872, moving to Ingersoll, Ont, in 1887. Piano-making resumed in 1910 when the Sherlock-Manning Organ Co began to make pianos as well as organs; in 1930 this firm relocated in Clinton, Ont. An important 20th-century organ-building firm is Gabriel Kney & Co, opened 1951, builders of the organ in Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto. Other London music businesses in the 20th century have included GRT of Canada, Sparton Records, Starr Records, and the publishers Jaymar Music Ltd.

London and its environs have been the birthplace of Reginald Bedford, Suzanne Bingaman, Victor Braun, George MacKenzie Brewer, Garnet Brooks, Gustav Ciamaga, William Douglas, Garth Hudson of The Band, Tommy Hunter, Joanne Ivey Mazzoleni, Gordon Jeffery, the Lombardo family, Rob McConnell, Kevin McMillan, the Niosi brothers, Rowland Pack, Raymond Pannell, Harry Puddicombe, George Smale, Frank A. Veitch (publisher of the Musical Red Book of Montreal and manager of the Couture and Goulet MSOs), and Ernest White.


Further Reading

  • Mason, Lawrence. 'Ontario vistas: IV - London,' Toronto Globe, 18 Jul 1925

    'The whole country looks to London, Ontario,' CBC Times, 23-9 Mar 1952

    Crawford, Lenore. 'City bands, choirs famous,' London Centennial pamphlet (London 1955)

    Hines, Frances R. 'Concert life in London Ontario 1870-1880,' M MUS thesis, University of Western Ontario 1975

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