Norma Beecroft

Norma (Marian) Beecroft. Composer, producer, broadcaster, administrator, b Oshawa, Ont, 11 Apr 1934; honorary D LITT (York) 1996. Her father, Julian Balfour Beecroft, was a musician, an inventor, and a pioneer in the development of electronic tape.

Beecroft, Norma

Norma (Marian) Beecroft. Composer, producer, broadcaster, administrator, b Oshawa, Ont, 11 Apr 1934; honorary D LITT (York) 1996. Her father, Julian Balfour Beecroft, was a musician, an inventor, and a pioneer in the development of electronic tape. Her mother, Eleanor (Chambers) Beecroft (b Norton), was trained in music and dance and was an actress.

Norma Beecroft took piano lessons, first 1950-2 privately with Aladar Ecsedy, then 1952-8 at the RCMT with Gordon Hallett and Weldon Kilburn, and at the same time studied composition with John Weinzweig. She also took flute lessons 1957-8 with Keith Girard and continued composition studies (summer 1958) on scholarship at the Berkshire Music Center, Tanglewood, with Aaron Copland and Lukas Foss, and 1959-61 at the Accademia Santa Cecilia, Rome, with Goffredo Petrassi. She took private flute lessons 1959-62 in Rome with Severino Gazzelloni. She attended lectures given by Bruno Maderna in 1960 and 1961 at Darmstadt, Germany, and the Dartington School, England, and the electronic music classes of Myron Schaeffer 1962-3 at the University of Toronto, and worked with Mario Davidovsky in 1964 at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, New York.

Beecroft's first musical employment was with the CBC as a script assistant 1954-7 for TV music programs and as a music consultant 1957-9. After her European studies she returned to the CBC, working as a script assistant 1962-3, then successively as talent relations officer 1963-4, national program organizer for radio 1964-6, and producer 1966-9 of such series as 'Music of Today,' 'Organists in Recital,' and 'RSVP,' and such programs as 'From the Age of Elegance,' which showcased the music of the baroque period. When she resigned as a producer in 1969 she remained as host and commentator for 'Music of Today.' In 1976 her documentary 'The Computer in Music,' a freelance production, received a Major Armstrong Award for excellence in FM broadcasting. Another freelance project was the preparation in 1975 of 13 broadcast records, 'Music Canada,' from tapes in the libraries of RCI and CAPAC. As a freelance producer, Beecroft created documentaries on numerous Canadian composers for CBC radio, including Weinzweig, Barbara Pentland, Harry Somers, Jean Coulthard, Bruce Mather, Harry Freedman, and Gilles Tremblay, and later for CJRT-FM on Murray Adaskin and Violet Archer.

She produced electronic music scores for the Stratford Festival productions of Macbeth (1982) and Midsummer Night's Dream (1983). Assiduous in the service of Canadian music, Beecroft was president 1956-7 of Canadian Music Associates (the Toronto concert committee of the CLComp); president 1965-8 of Ten Centuries Concerts; and co-founder (in 1971 with Robert Aitken), president, and manager of NMC until 1989. She taught electronic music and composition at York University 1984-87.

Most of Beecroft's compositions have been commissioned by organizations and individuals including the Atlantic Symphony Orchestra (Pièce Concertante No. 1), Ten Centuries Concerts (Elegy and Two Went to Sleep), the puppeteers Dora and Leo Velleman (Undersea Fantasy), Waterloo Lutheran University (Wilfrid Laurier University) choir (The Living Flame of Love), the SMCQ (Rasas I), the NACO (Improvvisazioni Concertanti No. 2), the CBC (Rasas II, 11 and 7 for 5+, Piece for Bob, Accordion Play, Evocations), the Toronto Symphony Junior Women's Committee (Improvvisazioni Concertanti No. 3), the Ontario Youth Choir (Three Impressions), NMC (Rasas III, Collage '76, Jeu II, Jeu IV), the Canadian Electronic Ensemble (Consequences for Five), Music Inter Alia (Collage '78), James MacDonald (Quaprice), Days, Months and Years to Come (Cantorum Vitae), Rivka Golani (Troissonts, Jeu III), the National Ballet of Canada (Hedda), the Bach 300 (Jeu de Bach), the York Winds (Images), CKLN Radio, Toronto (The Dissipation of Purely Sound), and the Music Gallery (Hemispherics, String Quartet No. 2).

The character and variety of Beecroft's work derive from her strong responses to specific stimuli, whether the musical influences of her childhood, the successive effects of her several main teachers, the talents of friends in the performing world, or the challenge of commissions.

Basic and persistent among the influences, however, is the music of Debussy, which she experienced as a child and which, with its sensuality and subtle colours, continued to affect her aesthetic predispositions despite the intrusion of four strong subsequent influences: the resilient counterpoint of Weinzweig; the new academism of Petrassi (founded on analyses of the scores of Stravinsky, Hindemith, and Bartók); the modified 12-tone precepts of Maderna; and the allure of the new electronic hardware. Each of these enlarged her horizons, altered her vocabulary, or increased her skills, but her choice and blending of timbres remained neo-Debussyan even in her 12-tone and electronic pieces. She has used electronically produced or altered sounds as an extension of vocal and instrumental sounds rather than as an alien alternative (From Dreams of Brass is the first obvious example). Much of Beecroft's interest in exploring mixed media stemmed from hearing Stockhausen's Kontakte for four channel tape and live percussion in Darmstadt in 1961. 'That was a coup de foudre. When I returned to Canada in 1962, this was the direction I thought most interesting to pursue, to mix electronic sounds with live instruments so that one could have the visual interest on stage, and yet, at times, wonder what was live and what was on tape.' In the mid-1980s her work took on the additional complexity of digital process, either with instruments or on its own. She has stated that 'The most important concern to me is the quality of the end sound result, no matter how it is made or from what it is made, and that I suppose is the Debussyian influence of colour and texture.'

A sister, Jane Beecroft (poet, painter, b Toronto 1932), collaborated with Norma, as writer or translator, on several works (From Dreams of Brass, Rasas II, and The Living Flame of Love).

Norma Beecroft twice won the Canada Council's Lynch-Staunton Award for composition. She was a member of the jury for the SOCAN Awards (1996) and the Prix Jules-Léger (1997), and guest-lectured on new music at the University of Montreal and York University. As of 2003, Beecroft continued to compose.

Volume 13 of RCI's Anthology of Canadian Music (4-ACM 13), issued in 1982, is devoted to Beecroft's compositions. Her Troissants and Jeu II can be heard on the 1990 disc New Music 90 (NMC-001). She is a member of the CLComp and an associate of the Canadian Music Centre, and an honorary member of the Canadian Electroacoustic Community. She donated her papers and recordings to the University of Calgary in 1988.

Selected Compositions

Stage
Undersea Fantasy, puppet show. 1967 (Montreal 1967). Tape

Hedda, ballet. 1982. (Toronto 1983). Orch, tape. Ms

Writing

'Two musical adventures in Italy: a Canadian composer reports back,' CanComp, 76, Jan 1973

'Tributes on Weinzweig's 60th birthday,' Canada Music Book, spring 1973

'Canadian music in Bonn,' Musicanada II, Apr 1978

'Anniversary for New Music Concerts,' CanComp, Sept 1980

'Serge Garant and New Music Concerts,' Cahiers de la Société québécoise de recherche en musique, Dec 1997

Orchestra

Fantasy for Strings. 1958 (Toronto 1958). Ms

Two Movements. 1958. (Toronto 1971). Ms

Improvvisazioni Concertanti No. 1. 1961 (Rome 1961). Fl, medium orch. Leeds 1973. Audat 477-4001 (Fiore fl)

From Dreams of Brass (J. Beecroft). 1963-4 (Toronto 1965). Sop, narrator, SATB, orch, tape. Ms. RCI 214/RCA CCS-1008/4-ACM 13 (CBC Symphony Orchestra)

Pièce Concertante No. 1. 1966 (Charlottetown 1966). Ms

Improvvisazioni Concertanti No. 2. 1971 (Ott 1971). Leeds 1974. RCI 382/RCA KRL1-007/4-ACM 13 (NACO)

Improvvisazioni Concertanti No. 3. 1973. (Toronto 1973). Fl, orch. UE 1976

Jeu de Bach. 1985. (Toronto 1985). Ob, piccolo, trumpet, strings, tape. Ms

Esprit Eternel. 1994. Percussion, piano, harp, strings, 2-channel DAT tape

Chamber

Tre Pezzi Brevi. 1960-1. Fl, harp (guitar or piano). UE 1962. Dom S-69006/4-ACM 13 (Aitken fl)

Contrasts for Six Performers. 1962. Ob, viola, xylorimba, vibraphone, percussion, harp. Ms

Elegy and Two Went to Sleep (Cohen). 1967. Sop, percussion (piano), tape. Ms. RCI 404/4-ACM 13 (Lyric Arts Trio)

Rasas I. 1968. Fl, harp, string trio, percussion, piano. Ms. RCI 301/4-ACM 13 (SMCQ)

Rasas II and III (J. Beecroft and others). 1973 (rev 1975), 1974. V, chamber ensemble, tape. Ms

11 and 7 for 5+. 1975. Brass quintet, tape. Ms. CBC SM-320/4-ACM 13 (Canadian Brass)

Piece for Bob. 1975. Fl, elec tape. Ms. 4-ACM 13 (Aitken)

Collage '76. 1976. Fl, solo, oboe, horn, violoncello, double-bass, 3 percussion, harp, piano, prepared tape. Ms. 4-ACM 13 (Aitken)

Consequences for Five. 1977. Pf, synthesizer, live electronics. 4-ACM 13 (Canadian Electronic Ensemble)

Collage '78. 1978. Bn, piano, 2 percussion, tape. Ms

Quaprice. 1980. Hn, percussion, tape. 1980?. 4-ACM 13 (James MacDonald horn, R. Hartenberger percussion)

Cantorum Vitae. 1981. Fl, violoncello, 2 piano, percussion, tape. 4-ACM 13 (Days, Months and Years To Come)

Troissonts. 1981. Va, 2 percussion. Ms. NMC 001 (CD) (NMC Ens)

Jeu II. 1985. Fl, viola, tape. Ms. NMC 001 (CD) (NMC Ens)

Images. 1986. Wind quintet. Ms

Jeu III. 1987. Va, tape. Ms

Accordion Play. 1989. Acc, 2 percussion. Ms

Hemispherics. 1990. Tpt, trombone, piano (synthesizer), guitar, 2 percussion, viola, violoncello, cb. Ms

Jeu IV (Mozart). 1991. Fortepiano, fl, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, horn, string quintet, tape. Ms

Amplified String Quartet. 1992. String quartet, tape

Face à Face. 1994. 2 amplified bass flutes, percussion

Choir

The Living Flame of Love (St John of the Cross, Eng version J. Beecroft). 1968. SATB. Wat 1969. Poly 2917 007 (Festival Singers)

Also The Hollow Men and Three Impressions (1956, 1973). Both manuscript

Also a radiophoic opera for tape, The Dissipation of Purely Sound (1988); and one electroacoustic work, Evocations: Images of Canada (1991)


Further Reading

  • ' From Dreams of Brass,' CBC Times, 19-25 Feb 1966

    'Miss Norma Beecroft: well-travelled composer,' CanComp, 9, May 1966

    'The new world of electronic music,' CanComp, 22, Oct 1967

    'Norma Beecroft,' Mcan, 19, May 1969

    Winters, Kenneth. 'A composer who doesn't wear music like a straight jacket [sic],' CanComp, 64, Nov 1971

    Such, Peter. 'The suspended sounds of Norma Beecroft,' Soundprints (Toronto 1972)

    CAPAC. 'Norma Beecroft,' pamphlet and recording (1975)

    Kieser, Karen. 'Norma Beecroft's open mind,' Fugue, vol 1, Feb 1977

    'A conversation with Norma Beecroft,' CFMTA Newsletter, Aug 1982

    Littler, William. 'Composer Beecroft adds new tricks,' Toronto Star, Nov 29, 1994

    Contemporary Canadian Composers