Robert Fleming | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Robert Fleming

Though his music is recognizably of the 20th century, among his contemporaries Fleming was a moderate. His compositions are basically tonal and use traditional techniques, forms, and media in a personal way.
Fleming, Robert
Robert Fleming was one of the most prolific Canadian composers of his generation.

Robert James Berkeley Fleming, composer, pianist, organist, choirmaster, teacher (born 12 November 1921 in Prince Albert, SK; died 28 November 1976 in Ottawa, ON); LRSM 1941. His family settled in Saskatoon in 1928 and he studied first with his mother, then in England 1937-9 at the RCM with Arthur Benjamin (piano) and Herbert Howells (composition). Returning to Saskatoon he taught piano, made his formal debut in 1940 at Darke Hall, Regina, and toured Saskatchewan as a recitalist. While continuing piano study 1941-2 with Lyell Gustin he was assistant organist at the Church of St Alban the Martyr, Saskatoon. He attended the TCM in 1941 and 1945 on CPRS (later CAPAC) scholarships. His teachers at the TCM included Healey Willan (composition), Norman Wilks (piano), Ettore Mazzoleni (conducting), and Frederick Silvester and John Weatherseed (organ). After teaching piano 1945-6 at Upper Canada College he joined the NFB, working in Ottawa and later Montreal as staff composer 1946-58 and music director 1958-70. He was music director in 1953 for the Ottawa Ballet Festival and organist-choirmaster 1954-6 at Glebe United Church and 1959-70 at St George's Anglican Church at Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, Que. In 1970 he returned to Ottawa to teach and lecture at Carleton University on 20th-century music and Canadian composers. In 1972 he became organist-choirmaster at St Matthias' Church, Ottawa.

Though his music is recognizably of the 20th century, among his contemporaries Fleming was a moderate. His compositions are basically tonal and use traditional techniques, forms, and media in a personal way. George Proctor wrote of the song cycle The Confession Stone, one of Fleming's most popular works, that 'The style is close to that of early Vaughan Williams, with its many parallel fifths, sevenths, and ninths, frequent ostinati, and simple, folk-like melodies' (Canadian Music of the Twentieth Century). His ballets, film scores (over 250), works for orchestra and band (over 50), chamber works (over 25), piano and organ pieces (over 40), choral pieces (over 30), hymns (50), carols (30), and songs (over 50) concern themselves more with usefulness and direct expression than with daring. He has written eight or more settings of the Anglican eucharist, including a Mass of St Thomas (Waterloo 1974), and his last composition (November 1976) was a setting for the St Matthias congregation of the new Canadian rite. His music has been performed in North and South America, Europe (including the former USSR), Australia, and New Zealand. Individual works like the neo-classical Sonatina for piano (1941), the ballet Shadow on the Prairie (1952, commissioned by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet), and The Confession Stone (1966, commissioned for Maureen Forrester) have enjoyed great currency. A list of his NFB scores (1946-64) may be found in 'Filmographie des compositeurs canadiens,' the index he compiled for Musique et Cinéma.

Ross Pratt, Maureen Forrester, and John Newmark, the Central Alumni Choir of Ottawa, and various members of the NACO gave a memorial concert of Fleming's music (planned prior to his death as a 'Fleming Retrospective') at the NAC 11 Dec 1976. A co-operative venture by the Ottawa Centre of the RCCO and 11 other organizations including the CBC, the concert was taped for national broadcast. As a memorial to Fleming, an endowment fund was raised in support of the Robert Fleming Award for Young Composers, administered by the Canadian Music Council until 1989 and then by the Canada Council, and given annually to the outstanding graduating student in composition in any Canadian university music faculty, department, school, or recognized conservatory. André Lamarche in 1979 was the first recipient. Other winners have included Denys Bouliane (1980), Anthony Genge (1981), Denis Dion (1983), Guy Perron (1986), and Jacques Tremblay (1991). In addition, the music department at Carleton University has established the (Robert) Fleming (Memorial) Room to house special collections of scores and books. A second Robert Fleming Award has been established in his memory by the Ottawa Music Festival Association. Fleming was a member of the CLComp and RCCO and his status as associate composer is maintained at the Canadian Music Centre. His papers have been deposited at the National Library of Canada.

See also Film scores.

Selected Compositions

Stage and Film
Chapter 13, ballet. 1948. Ms

Shadow on the Prairie, ballet. 1951. Ms. (Suite) RCI 129 (TSO)

Romance (arr), ballet. 1954. 2 piano. Ms

Music for 3 puppet plays (Wat 1970) and for over 250 films for NFB and others


Robert Fleming, 'Biographical notes of a Canadian composer featured on ''Canadian Music in Wartime'' programme,' CRMA, vol 3, Jun-Jul 1944

'Music for films;' JMC Musical Chronicle, Jan 1963

'Music and the cinema,' and the index of films in Musique et Cinéma


Six Variations on a Liturgical Theme. 1946. Str orch. Ms

Red River Country and Seaboard Sketches (1953). Med orch. Ms

Ballet Introduction. 1960. Full orch. Ms. Col MS-6763 (Susskind)

Concerto 64. 1964. Pf, orch. Ms

'You Name It' Suite. 1964. Str orch. GVT 1965

Concerto for Tuba. 1966. Ms

Prairie Sailor, folk cantata (Kines). 1970. V, orch. Ms

Hexad. 1972. Med orch. Ms

Our Mind Was the Singer, song cycle (Finch). 1972. Bar, orch. Ms

Of a Timeless Land (M. Fleming). 1974. Alto, orch. Ms

Also 5 Suites for orchestra (1942-63) and some 10 works for band (1964-74). All manuscript


The Wealden Trio 'Song of the Women' (Hardy). 1940. SSA, string quartet. Ms

A Musician in the Family. 1952. Trb, piano. Ms

A Two Piece Suite. 1958. 2 clarinet, bass clarinet. Leeds 1970. Dom S-69004 (Galper)

Colours of the Rainbow and Maritime Suite. 1962. Ww quartet, string quartet, harp. Ms

' Go for Baroque'. 1963. Fl, oboe, harpsichord. Ms

Three Dialogues for Flute or Oboe Solo. 1964. Fl (oboe), piano (harpsichord). Leeds 1981. CBC SM-268 (Berman).

Three Miniatures for Brass Quintet. 1962. Ber 1962

Brass Quintet. 1965. Ber 1965)

String Quartet. 1969. Ms

Almost Waltz. 1970. Fl, piano. Jay 1971. Dom S-69006 (Aitken).

Divertimento. 1970. Org, 2 oboe, 2 violin, viola, violoncello, double-bass. Ms. CBC SM-292 (G. Wheeler)

Explorations. 1970. Acc. Wat 1970

Threo. 1972. Sop saxophone, piano. Ms


Over 40 works including Sonatina (1941), OUP 1943, GVT 1974; Five Modernistics (1946), FH 1955; Study No. 4 (1960), FH 1966; and 4 educational works, published by GVT(1967), FH(1970), and Wat(1968), 4 of which were recorded in 1970 on Dom S-69002 (Mould)

Also works for organ in manuscript

Voice (Songs Recorded)

Coulter Songs. (1946-54). Ms. RCI 248 (Boyden)

The Confession Stone. (1966). Leeds 1968. RCI 246/Expo 4 (Forrester)

Folk Songs from Prince Edward Island. (1973). Ms. CBC SM-259 (D.Bell)

Folk Lullabies (traditional). Med voice, piano. Leeds 1975. CBC SM -144 (Forrester)

Songs on texts by Paul Hiebert (1952-3) and Robert Finch (1972). All Ms

Choral works published by OUP, Wat, Leeds, Leslie, Western, GVT

Other compositions and film scores are listed in Contemporary Canadian Composers; Musique et Cinéma.

Further Reading