Music in Ottawa | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Music in Ottawa

Canada's capital city, situated in Ontario on the Ottawa River. Settled in the early 1800s, it was called Bellows' Landing (1810), Richmond Landing (1811), and Bytown (1826) after Col John By, who, 1826-32, supervised the building of the Rideau Canal.

Ottawa, Ont

Ottawa, Ont. Canada's capital city, situated in Ontario on the Ottawa River. Settled in the early 1800s, it was called Bellows' Landing (1810), Richmond Landing (1811), and Bytown (1826) after Col John By, who, 1826-32, supervised the building of the Rideau Canal. By 1846, with a population of approximately 7000 (two-thirds Irish, one-third French), Bytown had become a centre of the lumber trade. Incorporated as the city of Ottawa in 1855, it was chosen by Queen Victoria in 1857 as 'the Capital of the Province of Canada' and officially defined by the British North America Act in 1867 as the capital of the Dominion, with a population of 18,000. By 1990 the population of the Ottawa-Carleton Region was 658,789. This article discusses music in the National Capital Region, including the cities of Nepean, Ont, Gloucester, Ont, and Hull, Que.

A small pipe organ, built in England by Hutter and Kittridge ca 1812 and brought to Bytown in 1823, is preserved at the Bytown Museum. Another organ at the museum was built ca 1830 from local cedar by Blythe and Kennedy and is, if not the oldest, then one of the earliest extant Canadian-built keyboard organs. Newspapers of the late 1830s reveal that Bytown had private music teachers, that a number of girls' schools offered music lessons, and that St Andrew's Church had a singing school. A military band was stationed there, and a Bytown Amateur Band was active by 1842, a Temperance Society Band by 1847, and an Amateur Glee Club before 1855.

John F. Lehmann (b Germany ca 1795, d Ottawa 1850) was choirmaster at Christ Church after 1839 and may have played its Samuel Warren organ as well, besides teaching piano, violin, guitar, and voice. Lehmann also was the composer of the first known type-set piece of sheet music in Canada, 'The Merry Bells of England' (Lovell, 1840). In 1850 a 1063-pipe Joseph Casavant organ was installed in Notre-Dame Basilica. The first important visits by artists from abroad included those in 1853 by the duo Anna Bishop, an English soprano, and Nicholas Bochsa, a French harp virtuoso.

Active in Ottawa by the early 1860s were William Bohrer, who taught piano, voice, and theory and opened a music store, and Herbert R. Fripp, who was organist ca 1861-71 at Christ Church and 1871-ca 1877 at St Alban's. In 1862 the two men were co-directors of the Ottawa Musical Union, a choral-orchestral organization of nearly 100 members. The union probably was superseded in 1865 by the Ottawa Choral Society (formed by Fripp), which presented a Sacred Music Festival that year. After Bohrer moved to Montreal, James Lawrence Orme in 1861 opened a music store on Sparks Street and became the first paid organist of St Andrew's Presbyterian Church. In addition to the fare offered by visiting minstrel troupes, bell ringers, or black Jubilee Singers, light operas by Balfe and Offenbach were presented by the Holman English Opera Company.

With Confederation (1867) Ottawa gained both new status and an increased population as the capital of an enlarged country, the site of Parliament and the civil service, and the home of the Governor General. Musical activity expanded accordingly. In 1866 and 1867 Fripp directed several Grand Promenade Concerts and in 1869 he presented oratorio and operatic selections in the first concert of the Ottawa Philharmonic Society. In the same period Stanislas Drapeau became choirmaster and Gustave Smith organist at Notre-Dame Basilica. Both men engaged in journalism (musical and other kinds), and Smith taught voice and piano. About 1872 Frederick W. Mills succeeded Fripp at Christ Church, and in 1874 he became conductor of the Choral Union. The following year Mills composed the operetta The Maire of St Brieux for presentation at the private theatricals of Lady Dufferin at Government House - Rideau Hall. The governor-general, Lord Dufferin, and his wife witnessed the first phonographic demonstration in Canada in 1878 (See Recorded sound production).

The next Governor General, the Marquess of Lorne, and his wife, Princess Louise, were greeted in 1879 at the Grand Opera House (Ottawa) (built 1874 on Sparks Street) by Canada's Welcome, a masque with music by Arthur A. Clappé. Clappé was the director of the Governor General's Foot Guards Band, an ensemble formed in 1872 under John C. Bonner and still active in 1991. Over the years Rideau Hall has been the site of state concerts and recitals by Canadian artists (eg, Ada T. Kent, Canadian Brass, Maureen Forrester, Anne Murray) and performances of many of the winning compositions of the Jules Léger Prize for New Chamber Music including, in 1978, a performance by the Orford String Quartet of the first winning work, R. Murray Schafer'sString Quartet No. 2. (See also Sovereigns, statesmen, and other public figures.)

Opera was presented occasionally by visiting companies. Martha, Fra Diavolo, Lucrezia Borgia and La Fille de Madame Angot were among those heard in the early 1870s; Holman's company presented La Sonnambula, L'Elisir d'amore, and others in 1875 and 1876. HMS Pinafore was shown in 1878 and promptly coverted into HMS Parliament, a satirical adaptation with political overtones that was a hit in over 30 Canadian towns in 1880.

The Choral Society took a new lease on life under Edward Fisher who was also music director of the Ottawa Ladies' College. Fisher was succeeded at the college 1879-86 by J.W.F. Harrison, who in 1880 reorganized the Philharmonic Society and subsequently presented several oratorios. Harrison also was organist at Christ Church. In the 1880s the Ottawa String Quartette Club flourished, and its two violinists, François Boucher and Charles Reichling, were teachers to the household of the Governor General, Lord Lansdowne. The other players were R. Sarginson and Robert Brewer. Annie Lampman Jenkins, sister of the poet Archibald Lampman, gave concerts after moving to Ottawa in 1885 and joined the quartet as pianist. In 1889 Emma Albani made the first of several appearances at the Grand Opera House.

The 1890s and early 1900s saw an increase in music teaching activity. Ernest Whyte and Annie Jenkins taught in the 1890s at the Martin Krause School of Pianoforte Playing and Singing, named after their teacher in Leipzig. Another school flourishing at this time was the Canadian College of Music, which in the 1880s had become affiliated with the London College of Music, London, England. Prominent not only as a teacher but also as an organist and composer, Amédée Tremblay, who in 1894 replaced Gustave Smith at Notre-Dame Basilica, remained active in Ottawa until 1920. Like Tremblay, Smith, and other Ottawa musicians of the period, Achille Fortier, another composer and teacher, made his living principally as a civil servant.

In 1894 Annie Jenkins' husband, Frank M.S. Jenkins, founded the Schubert Club (a choir) and the 60-player Amateur Orchestral Society, which gave concerts together. J. Edgar Birch, organist 1895-1934 at All Saints Anglican Church, took over the Schubert Club in 1895, re-organized it the following year as the Ottawa Choral Society, and conducted it until 1914. Under its new name, and with F.M.S. Jenkins as conductor, this group of 175 amateurs gave its first performance - Messiah - 29 Dec 1896 in the Grand Opera House. In response to the growing musical and theatrical life of the city, the Russell Theatre opened in 1897. It was there that Emma Albani sang her farewell concert in 1906. Pauline Donalda gave a recital at the Russell in 1915.

The Leipzig-trained musician Harry Puddicombe established the Canadian Conservatory of Music (Ottawa) (1902-37) on Bay St. Puddicombe's brother-in-law, Donald Heins, a violist, church organist, and teacher at the school, founded the conservatory's string orchestra in 1903 and introduced string training into the public schools.

One of the earliest known Ottawa orchestras was the Ottawa Amateur Orchestral Society, conducted by Frank Jenkins 1894-1900, and C.E.B. Price 1900-2. In November 1904 the president of the Amateur Orchestral Society, Charles A.E. Harriss (who had been organist at St Alban the Martyr in 1882, moved to Montreal in 1883, but resided in Ottawa again from 1897 until his death) conducted the society in two of his compositions at a state concert for the departure from Canada of the eighth Governor General, Lord Minto. The latter's successor, Earl Grey, set up a competition in 1907 which was won three times by Donald Heins' Canadian Cons Orchestra, formed in 1903. An Ottawa Symphony Orchestra, made up of amateurs and professionals, was formed in 1908 by Albert Tassé. In the orchestra's second season, when the musicians' union would not allow the professional players to continue performing with the amateurs, the orchestra lost its wind section but survived as the Ottawa String Orchestra. Tassé authorized Heins to use the name Ottawa SO for the conservatory ensemble in 1910, prior to forming the Ottawa String Quartet in 1914. Heins' Ottawa SO ceased in 1927, when he moved to Toronto. The long-established Orpheus Glee Club, formed in 1906, changed its name to the Orpheus Glee and Operatic Society when it began to present operettas in 1917 and became the Orpheus Operatic Society when it added Broadway musicals in 1955. Charles Marchand organized the Bytown Troubadours in Ottawa in 1927. The Palestrina Choir, an unaccompanied ensemble, was founded in 1921 by Annie Jenkins. Jenkins was president 1920-8 of the Morning Music Club, a concert organization founded in 1892 by Louise Carling. The club began to give only evening concerts in 1946, became the Pro Musica Society of Ottawa in 1962, and continued 1969-74 as the Concert Society of Ottawa. During its long life the club brought many of the world's most prominent musicians to Ottawa.

In 1928 the Ottawa Junior Music Club was established at the instigation of Dorothy Jenkins McCurry to give young students performing experience in a non-competitive setting. As the city grew, additional clubs were formed and by the time the Ottawa Junior Music Club was discontinued in the early 1960s, three other clubs had been founded. These clubs held monthly concerts, usually on a Saturday afternoon, at which the performers, often preparing for examination or participation in festivals, could perform one or two pieces. In some cases the performers were auditioned but in others application was the only requirement. In 1991 the Ottawa West Junior Music Club and the Hillcrest Music Club were still active.

The Ottawa Music Club, established in 1930 as the Twilight Music Club, has presented four concerts a year featuring invited performers, often young musicians. A gala concert 4 Nov 1980 held to mark its 50th anniversary featured two outstanding young Ottawa musicians, the pianist Angela Hewitt and the mezzo-soprano Diane Loeb. Hazel Clark, the president of the club in 1936, was program director for 30 years and remained on the executive committee until her death in 1986.

The Tremblay Concerts, founded in 1929 by Antonio Tremblay, enriched Ottawa's musical life until 1971. Because the Grand Opera House had been destroyed by fire in 1913 and the Russell Theatre had been demolished in 1928, the Tremblay Concerts went on for 12 years (1929-41) at Glebe Collegiate. They continued 1942-69 at the Capitol Theatre (Ottawa) and 1970-1 at the NAC.

In 1927 a 53-bell carillon was installed in the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill as part of the celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of Confederation. Percival Price was the first Dominion Carillonneur. Robert Donnell succeeded Price in 1939, Émilien Allard followed Donnell in 1975, and Gordon Slater succeeded Allard in 1977. (See also Carillon.)

Despite the Depression, several amateur orchestras and the Ottawa Women's Choir, directed by Wilfred Coulson, survived the 1930s. In 1939 the Ottawa Choral Union (later Ottawa Choral Society) was formed to present choral-orchestral works. Jules Martel, director 1939-65 of the school of music, University of Ottawa, formed a choir for a religious congress in 1946. Renamed the Palestrina Choir in 1948, it gave concerts under Martel until 1958. Allard de Ridder founded the Ottawa Philharmonic Orchestra in 1944. He was followed 1950-7 by Eugene Kash, who set up a much-praised series of children's concerts, and Kash was succeeded 1957-60 by Thomas Mayer. The orchestra disbanded in 1960. The Ottawa Youth Orchestra was founded that year.

H. Bramwell Bailey founded and ran the Ottawa Grand Opera Co 1949-64. Bailey's accomplishments went back to 1923, when he and Cyril J. Rickwood founded the Temple Choir, a masonic ensemble directed 1923-34 by Rickwood, 1934-9 by Bailey, and until the late 1950s by various others. Bailey's semi-professional Grand Opera Co used local singers and players to form a competent ensemble. Productions of The Bartered Bride, La Bohème, Carmen, Faust, La Gioconda, Samson et Dalila, La Traviata, and Il Trovatore were presented at the Ottawa Technical High School Auditorium.

In 1965 Brian Law was appointed organist-choirmaster at St Matthew's Anglican Church, where he developed the men's and boys' choir, which also gave concerts. The same year he began conducting the Cantata Singers, formed in 1964 by Gerald Wheeler and later the resident choir of the NAC. In 1967 Law was named conductor of the Ottawa Choral Society, which, along with the Cantata Singers, began to collaborate with the Ottawa Civic Symphony Orchestra in 1971. This orchestra had been formed in 1965 with Col Clifford Hunt as conductor. Subsequent conductors were Nicholas Goldschmidt 1966-7; Goldschmidt, Dirk Keetbaas, and Ronald Milne 1968-9; and James Coles 1969-75. Brian Law was appointed conductor in 1975, and the orchestra was renamed the Ottawa SO in 1976 (see Orchestras). In 1974 James Wegg became the conductor of the Nepean Symphony Orchestra, a community orchestra established in the Ottawa area that year.

The late 1960s and early 1970s were years of expansion in all of the arts in Ottawa owing to the federal government's decision to develop the capital as a showcase for Canadian achievement. The 250-voice Centennial Choir, organized by Goldschmidt for the Confederation centenary (1967) continued as the 65-voice Canadian Centennial Choir, conducted by Fred Graham, Gerald Wheeler, John Laing, Robert Hall, Richard Dacey, and David Christiani. In 1967 also, the CBC inaugurated a Summer Festival (held annually thereafter until 1978 at Camp Fortune in the Gatineau Hills, north of Ottawa), and Carleton University opened its music department. The University of Ottawa reorganized its School of Music into a Dept of Music in 1969, a year significant also for the opening of the NAC and the debut of the NACO under Mario Bernardi. The annual summer operatic productions which began at the NAC in 1971 were the beginning of the government-supported Festival Ottawa (Festival Canada until 1977). The festival was cancelled in 1983; opera production resumed in 1988 but was cancelled again in 1991. Opera Lyra, founded by soprano Diane Gilchrist, began producing operas, in staged and concert format, in 1984.

Various musical festivals have been held in the city. A multicultural 'Homelands' festival, organized by the Ottawa Folk Arts Council and held in Lansdowne Park in June 1979, featured the music and dances of 30 of the 60 ethnic groups residents in Ottawa. Other festivals have included the Festival Franco-Ontarien, and the Ottawa Jazz Festival, which began 1981, and became the Ottawa International Jazz Festival in 1988.

Ottawa became the location of the Canada Council offices, the CBC's head office, the offices of the Canadian Music Council, the CMHS, and (in 1979) the administration of the CCA. The NFB head office was established and has remained in Ottawa, and its operational headquarters were located there also 1940-60. Several of its regular composers (eg, Fleming, Blackburn, and Rathburn) made Ottawa their home. Ottawa music businesses have included J.L. Orme & Son, an instrument and music dealer, sometime publisher, and, as Martin-Orme 1902-ca 1924, a piano manufacturer; the McKechnie Music Co, a music dealer and publisher; and many retail establishments. The RCMP Band and the Central Band of the Canadian Forces are stationed in Ottawa. Ottawa has become a centre for music research through the facilities or collections of the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the National Library of Canada, the National Archives of Canada, and the National Research Council, and among its resident scholars have been Willy Amtmann, Marius Barbeau, Carmelle Bégin, Yves Chartier, Bryan Gillingham, Alan Gillmor, Helmut Kallmann, Elaine Keillor, Hugh Le Caine, Edward Moogk, Kenneth Peacock, and John Shepherd. Beginning in 1978 the Ottawa Citizen has documented area musical organizations, concert series, teachers, and businesses in its annual supplement, the Lively Arts.

Ottawa has been the home also of composers Patrick Cardy, Steven Gellman, and Gary Hayes, sopranos Donna Brown and Rhoda Pendleton-Baxter, baritone Gerald Finley, pianist Paul Halley, conductor Françoys Bernier, violinist Walter Prystawski, pianists Evelyn Greenberg, Andrew Tunis and Irene Woodburn-Wright, organists Gerald Bales, Lilian Forsyth, Godfrey Hewitt, David Piper, and Matthew Larkin, pop artists the Five Man Electrical Band, Eight Seconds, and Alanis, and country artists Cammie Howard and his Western Five, the Family Brown, Terry Carisse, and Wayne Rostad. It is the birthplace of Paul Anka, Hubert Bédard, Winifred Bambrick, Maurice Boivin, Jean Bonhomme, Bessie Bonsall, Michael Bussière, Dan A. Cameron, Bruce Cockburn, Morris 'Rusty' Davis, Paul Dolden, François Dompierre, Anne Eggleston, Brian Ellard, the pianist Gladys Ewart, Ann Golden, Peter Hodgson (Sneezy Waters), several of the Huggett Family, Juliette Gaultier de la Verendrye, Eva Gauthier, Angela Hewitt, Guy Huot, Frederick and Ed Karam, Hélène Landry, Jeanne Landry, Djane Lavoie-Herz, Frances Macdonnell, the Mathé family, Oscar O'Brien, Joan Patenaude, Christina Petrowska, Bill Richards, Bramwell Smith Jr, Art Snider, George Tremblay, and Valdy.

Compositions inspired by Ottawa include the folksong 'C'est dans la ville de Bytown,' which appeared in Ernest Gagnon'sChansons populaires (Quebec 1865); topical songs by Emmanuel Blain de St Aubin such as 'Le Chemin des amoreux/The Lovers' Walk' (1882); and the instrumental pieces New Edinburgh March (pre-1860) by Mathias Jung, The Ottawa Rag (1913) by George E. Lynn, and Ottawa Symphony (1942) by Robert Farnon.

In 1988 the city of Nepean (part of the Ottawa-Carleton Region) opened a new multi-faceted complex called Civic Square. The building houses the city hall, a library, and also includes the 986-seat Centrepointe Theatre, home to such groups as the Savoy Society, the Nepean SO, the Amadeus Concert Society, and the Nepean Concert Band. In addition, the council chamber can be used as a performance venue with a seating capacity of 250.

Facing Ottawa on the north shore of the Ottawa River, in the province of Quebec, is the city of Hull, founded ca 1800 as Wrightstown and renamed Hull in 1875. With a population in 1991 of 220,000 the Hull region supports choirs, bands, and orchestras including the Orchestre de chambre de Hull, and is home to the Conservatoire de musique de Hull and the Théatre lyrique de Hull. Among those born in Hull are Yvon Barette, Léon Bernier, Hector Gratton, Clara Lanctot, and Dave Snider.

Further Reading