Public Figures in Canadian Music | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Public Figures in Canadian Music

Certain dignitaries, explorers, and political and religious leaders have contributed to Canada's musical history through their own musical talents, as patrons of the arts or passively as dedicatees of Canadian compositions.

Certain dignitaries, explorers, and political and religious leaders have contributed to Canada's musical history through their own musical talents, as patrons of the arts or passively as dedicatees of Canadian compositions. Information on compositions that treat Canadian dignitaries in retrospect can be found under History of Canada in Music.

17th Century

In his 17th-century work Histoire du Montréal (translated by R. Flenley as A History of Montréal 1640–72 [Toronto, 1928]), François Dollier de Casson described Paul de Chomedy de Maisonneuve, the founder (1642) and first governor of Montréal, as a practitioner of music: “[the divine hand] maintained in him such a lively fear of the Day of Judgement, that in order not to be driven to seek the company of the wicked for recreation, he had learnt to play the lute, to be able to pass his time alone when he had no other companions” (Flenley, p. 70–71). According to Eric McLean, this lute has been preserved by the Sulpicians.

18th Century

Claude-Thomas Dupuy, the intendant of New France from 1726 to 1728, is known to have had a strong interest in music. In his biography Claude-Thomas Dupuy (Montréal, 1969), Jean-Claude Dubé states that the intendant imported instruments into Canada, that he was a performer and that his tastes in music were cultivated. Dupuy made a list of his music library, which included many Lully operas, Campra motets and Clérambault cantatas.

Another music-loving (and equally corrupt) politician was Dupuy's successor, François Bigot, the last intendant (1748–60) of New France. Bigot is known to have organized balls, masquerades and other entertainments that were the talk of Québec. This was much to the regret of at least one local cure, who is said to have commented, “Observe all these lascivious manners, which can only lead to sin” (“La Correspondance de Madame Bégon, 1748–53,” Rapport de l'Archiviste de la Province de Québec pour 1934–35). The Journal du Marquis de Montcalm durant ses campagnes en Canada de 1765 à 1769 (ed. H.-R. Casgrain [Québec City, 1895]) states that, “The Intendant [Bigot] assembled many guests to hear a concert given by his officers and their wives,” but that this laudable effort was followed by a gambling party (entry of 18 December 1757).

The future Duke of Kent and father of Queen Victoria, Prince Edward (1767–1820), spent the 1790s in Québec City and Halifax as commander of the Royal Fusilier's regiment, and probably was the first royal visitor to Canada to exhibit a strong interest in music. His regimental band, which cost him £800 a year, was said to have been excellent. It participated in subscription concerts, played at dances and gave outdoor performances. In Halifax, Prince Edward erected a bandstand (still intact in 1990); and while stationed in Québec City, he took a personal interest in the activities of Frederick Glackemeyer.

19th Century

On 27 February 1819, the band of the 60th regiment played Jean-Chrysostome Brauneis’s Grand Overture of Québec as the Duke of Richmond, the governor-in-chief of British North America, entered Government House in Québec City. The work was dedicated to the duke's daughter, Lady Mary Lennox. Brauneis advertised copies of this piece and also, in September 1819, of one in memory of the duke, who had died in August.

Prince Edward's grandson (later King Edward VII), who visited Canada in 1860 as the Prince of Wales, was the dedicatee of the first major Canadian composition written for a dignitary, C.W. Sabatier’s Cantata in Honour of the Prince of Wales (ca. 1860). The visit also inspired Antoine Dessane’s Marche-Cantate pour la visite du Prince du Galles, and shorter pieces such as Henry Prince’s The Prince of Wales Gallop and Henry Francis Sefton’s “Welcome to Canada.”

According to the Encyclopedia Canadiana, Sir William Robinson, lieutenant governor of Prince Edward Island from 1870 to 1873, was “a musical composer of some note and author of a number of well-known songs.”

20th Century

Distinguished patrons of music in Canada included Lord Strathcona (1820–1914), a benefactor of several music institutions and musicians, and creator of the Montréal Scholarship (later the Strathcona Scholarship) for studies at the Royal Conservatory of Music; and Lord Beaverbrook, who commissioned Louise Manny to collect and record songs of the Miramichi (New Brunswick) lumbermen.

Federal cabinet ministers of the 1970s with an interest in music have included Mitchell Sharp, an accomplished pianist, and Paul Hellyer, a tenor. On a municipal level Paul Pratt, mayor of Longueuil, Québec from 1935 to 1966, was a composer, conductor and clarinetist, while prominent bandleader Edmond Hardy was mayor of Montréal-Sud (Longueuil) for eight years.

21st Century

Charlie Angus enjoyed some success in Ontario in the 1980s and 1990s with the punk band L’Étranger and the Juno-nominated alternative country group Grievous Angels before becoming a Member of Parliament in 2004, winning the Timmins—James Bay riding for the New Democratic Party. He was re-elected in 2006, 2008 and 2011. That year, his former L’Étranger bandmate Andrew Cash — who also played in the bands Ursula and The Cash Brothers, and as a solo artist — was elected as an NDP MP in Toronto’s Davenport riding. In 2013, the two led sing-alongs at Parliament Hill to commemorate the deaths of Stompin’ Tom Connors and Stan Rogers

Music and Explorers

One of the earliest Canadian-born explorers was Louis Jolliet. He was the first European to discover the source of the Mississippi River and also one of the first organists in Canada. Explorers of the Canadian North in the 19th century included Ferdinand Wentzel, a Norwegian in the service of the North West Company, who mastered both the flute and the fiddle, and compiled a collection of voyageur songs that survived him until at least 1890. Due to the inclusion of several obscene songs, the collection was never published. Edward Ermatinger, a Swiss-born explorer who worked for the Hudson's Bay Company, also wrote down voyageur songs that, unlike Wentzel's, have survived.

Sir William Edward Parry notated Inuit music during his exploration of the Northwest Passage in several expeditions between 1819 and 1827. To help pass the time, he carried several flutes and even a barrel organ on his ships the Fury and the Hecla. Parry was co-author of an “opera,” The North West Passage, or Voyage Unfinished, performed aboard his ship in -24°C weather. The performance undoubtedly set a precedent in operatic history for geographical location, and a record for temperature.

Music and the Governor General

There have been numerous “welcome” and “farewell” pieces written for the monarch's representative in Canada, the Governor General. The oldest in print is probably Vincenzo Mazzocchi's Welcome to Canada (1839), dedicated to Baron Sydenham.

Judging by the number of pieces written for them, the most popular of crown representatives were Lord Dufferin (in office 1872–78) and the Marquess of Lorne (who followed 1878–83). Canada's Welcome (1879) — a masque written by Arthur A. Clappé, director of the Governor-General's Foot Guards Band, and dedicated to the Marquess of Lorne and his wife, Princess Louise — was the largest of these compositions. Lady Dufferin organized theatrical and musical performances at Government House (see Frederick W. Mills), and was the author of poems that were set to music and published in Canada. G. Raineri wrote the Dufferin Galop for the Dufferins' visit to Halifax in 1873.

The Marquess of Lorne wrote the words for the “Dominion Hymn” (1880), and Arthur Sullivan set them to music, but the work failed to gain acceptance as a national anthem. Lorne and Princess Louise were the dedicatees of Calixa Lavallée's Cantate en l'honneur du Marquess de Lorne et de la Princesse Louise, performed for them in Québec City on 11 June 1879 by more than 300 singers and instrumentalists. Célestin Lavigueur’s Soyez la bienvenue was written especially for Princess Louise.

In the 20th century, governors general who took an interest in music included Earl Grey, who held office from 1904 to 1911. He organized contests for amateur orchestras, choirs, solo instrumentalists and singers. Winners included the Société symphonique de Québec (Quebec Symphony Orchestra) and the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra. For the diamond jubilee of Canadian confederation, Lord Willingdon (governor general, 1926–31) composed a suite, which was performed in Ottawa on 1 July 1927 by the Chateau Laurier Orchestra and broadcast nationwide over the CNR network. He also founded the Willingdon Arts Competition for excellence in Music, Literature, Painting and Sculpture, and wrote several songs under a nom de plume.

Prior to his appointment in 1952, Vincent Massey, the first Canadian-born governor general, had demonstrated his devotion to the arts as a patron of the Hart House String Quartet, and as chairman of the Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences, known as the Massey Commission. He was the dedicatee of The Vincent Massey March by the Montréal violinist and composer Maurice Zbriger. In 1978, Jules Léger (governor general, 1974–79) established the Jules Léger Prize for New Chamber Music.

Music for Royals

When Prince Arthur, younger son of Queen Victoria, visited Canada in 1869–70, a march by F.J. Hatton, a galop by Hunter Gowan and a mazurka by William Bohrer were named for him. To honour the same visit, G. Raineri wrote Dominion State Ball Galop and Jean-Chrysostome Brauneis II composed the Royal Welcome Waltzes. The golden jubilee (1887) of Queen Victoria inspired F.H. Torrington’s “Queen's Jubilee” and François Vézina’s Le Jubilé de la Reine, while her diamond jubilee (1897) resulted in over 15 published Canadian compositions.

Following the visit of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII), Lillian Casselman wrote the song “His Smile,” arranged by Jules Brazil and published in Toronto in 1921. Among the songs composed to mark other royal events are Oscar O'Brien’s “King's Jubilee” (English words by Charles F. Larkin, French by Hector Beauregard) published in Montréal’s La Presse on 13 May 1939 during the royal tour of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. Godfrey Ridout’s Music for a Young Prince (written in honour of Prince Charles) was commissioned by the CBC for the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway and the attendant royal tour in 1959.

(See also: Coronations in Canadian Music.)

Music and the Prime Minister

Among Canadian prime ministers, perhaps only Stephen Harper has been known for an interest in music. Harper made his first public appearance as a musician at a National Arts Centre gala in 2009, playing piano and singing The Beatles’ “With a Little Help from My Friends,” accompanied by cellist Yo Yo Ma. Harper subsequently performed on occasion as lead vocalist and keyboardist with the Ottawa band Herringbone, and in 2014 performed “Hey Jude” at an official state dinner in Israel.

Three prime ministers are noteworthy for the number of musical dedications they have received: Sir John A. Macdonald, Alexander Mackenzie and Sir Wilfrid Laurier. The latter and his wife were patrons of Eva Gauthier. Examples of works written for these prime ministers are the Loyal Opposition Galop by George Orme, the Sir John A. Macdonald Waltz by Annie Douglas, The Premier's NP [National Policy] Galop by Arthur Koerber, the Ministerial Galop (dedicated to the Liberal Party and featuring Mackenzie's picture on its printed cover) by A. Overell, Vive Laurier by Alexis Contant and “Our Chieftain” by “an Ottawa lady.”

Macdonald and Sir George-Étienne Cartier, joint leaders of the governing ministry of the Province of Canada from 1857 to 1862, both had funeral marches written for them: the Grand Requiem March (1873) by A. Koch; and the Sir John A. Macdonald Funeral March by Charles Bohner. Cartier himself was the author of the words of two songs (see Patriotic Songs). Macdonald was a friend of Albani, and in a letter to Dr. James Williamson dated 18 February 1889, he wrote, “She sang for me on my birthday. Was it not kind of Her? I was charmed with her voice” (The Letters of Sir John A. Macdonald and His Family, ed. J.K. Johnson [Toronto, 1969]).

Among later 20th-century tributes to Canadian prime ministers is “Dief Will Be the Chief Again” (1975), a salute to John Diefenbaker by Bob Bossin of Stringband. An LP, Graham Townsend Salutes Canada's Prime Ministers 1867–1967 (London SBS-5275) comprises fiddle tunes named for each Canadian prime minister up to and including Lester Pearson.

Music for Religious Figures

Among the few Canadian compositions honouring religious dignitaries are Dame Emma Albani's “Hymne à Pie IX” (ca. 1864), Lavallée's Marche funèbre Hommage à Pie IX (ca. 1878), Gustave Gagnon's Marche pontificale (1886), written for Québec's Cardinal Taschereau and Frantz Jehin-Prume’s Oratorio à Léon XIII (1885).

On the occasion of Pope John Paul II's first visit to Canada in 1984, a number of works were written, including Roger Matton’s organ piece Tu es Petrus, performed on 9 September at the Basilica-Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Québec in the presence of the Pontiff.

A version of this entry originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada.