Music Criticism

Serious music criticism in Canada has existed only since the late 19th century. It takes the form of concert and record reviews written for publications and, in a few instances, longer articles in books. Prior to 1867, few commentaries about concerts were judgemental.

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).

Music Criticism

Serious music criticism in Canada has existed only since the late 19th century. It takes the form of concert and record reviews written for publications and, in a few instances, longer articles in books. Prior to 1867, few commentaries about concerts were judgemental. Instead, articles simply reported on a social event, briefly commenting upon the performers, the staging and audience. Because concerts were so rare, any performance was appreciated and treasured. In the 1870s a limited critical awareness began to emerge as touring companies regularly made circuits through Canada and audiences could now compare the standards of local and visiting musicians.

When choral societies and symphony orchestras were formed in major cities, regular concert seasons set the stage for critical assessments. Unfortunately, criticism was generally delegated to a local music teacher or amateur musician who avoided writing anything critical about concerts in the community. Newspaper reporters assigned the task often had little musical knowledge.

Notable exceptions in French Canada were Guillaume COUTURE (La Minerve, Revue de Montréal, La Patrie, Montréal Star) and in the early 20th century Léo-Pol MORIN (La Patrie, La Presse, Le Canada), both of whom demanded higher performance standards and changes in repertoire.

Their English Canada counterparts, Hector CHARLESWORTH (Saturday Night) and Augustus Bridle (Toronto Daily Star), also wrote critical reviews and assessed, for the first time, Canada's composers. J.D. LOGAN in 1917 attempted the first examination of the foundations of criticism in Canada in an essay on the aims, methods and status of aesthetic criticism. Such philosophical considerations of music criticism have been rare and in more recent times have usually been part of symposia or annual conferences.

Musical reporting now appears regularly in newspapers and some magazines in most major cities and large towns. With the growth of interest in POPULAR MUSIC and JAZZ, the media have created entertainment sections that include regular reviews and feature articles about the music scene and recordings, although discussions of new compositions and newly published scores are rare.

 Writers active across Canada in the 20th century include Thomas Archer, Claude Gingras, Eric McLean and Gilles Potvin in Montréal; Léo Roy in Québec; Jacob Siskind in Montréal and Ottawa; Augustus Bridle, Hector Charlesworth, John BECKWITH, William Littler, John Kraglund and Kenneth Winters in Toronto; Lorne Betts in Hamilton; Loretta Thistle in Ottawa; A.A. Alldrick and S.R. Maley in Winnipeg; Stanley Bligh, Max Wyman and Ida Halpern in Vancouver. Writers on jazz and popular music include Ritchie York, Bob Smith, Peter Goddard, Mark Miller, John Norris and Gilles Archambault.