W.O. Forsyth | The Canadian Encyclopedia


W.O. Forsyth

W.O. (Wesley Octavius) Forsyth. Composer, teacher, writer, b Markham Township, near Toronto, 26 Jan 1859, d Toronto 7 May 1937.

Forsyth, W.O.

W.O. (Wesley Octavius) Forsyth. Composer, teacher, writer, b Markham Township, near Toronto, 26 Jan 1859, d Toronto 7 May 1937. While a youth, he studied in Toronto with Edward Fisher, but as a young man he enrolled at the Leipzig Cons, where his teachers 1886-8 included Salomon Jadassohn (composition, harmony, counterpoint, canon, and fugue), Martin Krause (piano), Gustav Schreck and Paul Klengel (composition), Richard Hofmann (orchestration), Robert Papperitz (organ), and Bruno Zwintscher and Adolf Ruthardt (piano). In Leipzig Forsyth heard the 'Romanza' from his Suite in E Minor played 5 Dec 1888 by a military orchestra under Alfred Jahrow. The Suite was planned to have four movements, each based on episodes in the life of a student abroad, but it is doubtful that it was ever completed and only the 'Romanza,' which has enjoyed several performances over the decades, survives. Owing to overwork, Forsyth was unable to make a success of his solo debut in Vienna, ca 1888, and thereafter he avoided performing in public. He did perform occasionally, however - eg, in a Toronto recital of his own compositions 3 Oct 1889 with Harry Marshall Field and A.S. Vogt. Forsyth went again to Europe, in 1892 (to study in Vienna and Ischl with Julius Epstein and to hear Parsifal at Bayreuth), in 1905 (to hear Tristan und Isolde in Munich), and in 1912. However, he spent most of his life in Toronto, where he taught piano and theory 1889-92 at the Toronto College of Music and 1893-4 and 1924-37 at the TCM. He was the director 1895-1912 of the Metropolitan School of Music (which had opened in 1894 as the Metropolitan College of Music). At the turn of the century he was also an instructor at Upper Canada College and several ladies' colleges in the Toronto area and at the Hamilton College of Music. He taught 1912-19 privately and 1919-24 at the Canadian Academy of Music. In 1923 his pupils formed the Forsyth Club for study and discussion. In over 45 years of teaching his pupils included N. Fraser Allan, Sara Barkin (Sandler), Elsie Bennett, Hilda Capp, Phyllis Leith, Bruce Metcalfe, Charles E. Wheeler, and Valborg Zollner-Kinghorn. Forsyth wrote for publications in London, New York, and Philadelphia and was the regular critic 1894-5 for The Week in Toronto. Cyril Scott, Arthur Friedheim, A.S. Vogt, and Clarence Lucas were among his musical friends. The organist and music teacher Cecil (Carl) Forsyth (1870-1946), active in Lindsay and Perth, Ont, was his brother and is not to be confused with the English-born Cecil Forsyth (1870-1941), a composer and author of a textbook on orchestration.

Though his student compositions included orchestral pieces and keyboard preludes and fugues, W.O. Forsyth's later works were mainly short, lyrical piano pieces and songs. The piano works were useful as teaching material and as salon pieces of moderate difficulty. Some of the songs were published under the pseudonym Carl Krueger. Of Canadian composers who spent their careers in their homeland, Forsyth was the first to have most of his output published. A collection of his manuscripts and papers has been deposited at the National Library of Canada.

The W.O. Forsyth Memorial Scholarship 'in the higher art of piano playing' was established in 1968 at the University of Toronto by the estate of Marjorie Forsyth Barlow in memory of her father. Among the winners have been Chia Chien Chou, Robin Chow, Jane Coop, Leslie Kinton, Philip Thomson, Valerie Weeks, and Marc Widner. In 1985 the faculty obtained permission from the trustees to expand the scope of the award so that in addition to the existing graduating scholarship, an admission scholarship was offered which by 1990 could be extended to cover 4 years of study. Also in 1985, a fund was established to buy when necessary and to maintain a concert grand piano for Walter Hall. The first of these, purchased in 1985, is known as the Forsyth Steinway.

Selected Compositions

Abendlied. 1888. Str orch. Ms

Suite, Opus 17. 1888. Only the 'Romanza' appears to have been completed. CMH, vol 8.

Legende. 1890s. Str orch. Ms?


W.O. Forsyth, 'Toronto letter,' New York Musical Courier, vol 25, Apr 1892

Column 'Music and drama,' The Week, vols 11-12, 29 Apr 1894-22 Nov 1895

'Flagrant evils of musical life in Germany,' The Violin, Mar 1906

'The winsome, wonderful west,' CanJM, vol 1, Sep 1914

'Canadian composers,' ibid, vol 2, Jun 1915

'Cyril Scott,' ibid, vol 2, Mar 1916

'Modernism in music,' CQR, vol 8, Autumn 1925

'The newer paths in modern music,' ibid, vol 12, Spring 1930

'The road to pianism,' ibid, vol 17, Mar 1935


String Quartet. Nd. Ms?

Melodie, Opus 37. Nd. Vn, piano. Ms

Romance, Opus 69. Vn, piano. FH 1934


Floating Echoes 'Idylle,' Opus 4. Ditson 1882

Impromptu, Opus 8. Nordheimer 1885

Wiegenlied (Lullaby), Opus 12, no. 1. CMH, vol 6

Summer Hours, Opus 14, no. 1-3. Edwin Ashdown 1890, (no. 3) CMH, vol 6

Prelude and Fugue, Opus 25. Ang-Can 1897

Two Picturesque Valses, Opus 29. Nordheimer 1907

In the Twilight 'Reverie' and Poeme d'Amour, Opus 31, no. 1 and 2. Nordheimer 1907 (no. 1), 1908 (no. 2)

Moto Appassionato and A Night in June, Opus 32, no. 1 and 2. Nordheimer 1910

A Summer Afternoon and The Lonely Pine, Opus 33, no 1 and 2. John Church Co 1912

Through the Fields and Song of the Silver Night, Opus 34, no. 1 and 2. WR 1914, (no. 1) CMH, vol 6

A Song of Summer, Opus 38, no. 1. CMH, vol 6

On the Highway, Opus 40. Nordheimer 1917, rev edn 1924, CMH, vol 6

A Starry Night, Opus 44, no. 1. Presser 1917, The Etude, vol 35, May 1917

Confession, Opus 45, no. 2. CMH, vol 6

Southern Love Song and In the Vale of Shadowland, Opus 50, no. 1 and 2. Elkin and Co 1922, (no. 2) CMH, vol 6

Through Enchanting Meadows, Opus 54. John Church Co 1921

Bells at Midnight, Opus 56, no. 1. Wat 1931, Musical Canada, vol 12, Jan 1931

Prelude, Opus 59, no. 2. CMH, vol 6. Elaine Keillor WRC1-3315 (Keillor)

Valse Romantique, Opus 62. Ang-Can 1929

The Stream in the Hills, Opus 66. FH 1934

Summertime Sketches, Opus 68, no. 1-4. Nd. Ms

The Girl with the Wistful Eyes, Opus 71, no. 2. GVT 1934


'Slipping Away,' Opus 5. Suckling 1883

'The Merry, Merry Lark' and 'Frühlingsabend,' Opus 16, no. 1 and 2. Jost and Sander no date, (no.2) CMH, vol.3

'Whip-Poor-Will,' 'The Valley of Silence,' 'Trust,' Opus 20, no. 1, 2, 3. Nordheimer 1889, (no.3) CMH, vol 3.

'The Little Old Red Schoolhouse' and 'Love Took Me Softly by the Hand,' Opus 30, no. 1 and 2. Nordheimer 1907, (no. 1) Home Journal

'Love's Tribute,' Opus 35. Nordheimer 1914

'O Little Wee Girl of Mine' and 'A Crimson Rose,' Opus 36, no. 1 and 2. Empire Music and Travel Club 1915, (no. 1) CanJM, vol 2, Jan 1916

'Once in a Purple Twilight' and 'Summer Showers Are Falling,' Opus 39, no. 1 and 2. Fischer 1915 (no. 2), Fischer 1920 (no. 1)

'The Little Blue Ghost,' Opus 60, no. 1. Nordheimer 1927

'The Homelight,' Opus 60, no. 2. Wat 1930, MCan, vol 11, Dec 1930

Also a work for organ, Prelude and Fugue, Opus 18. Nordheimer 1918 and a hymn tune 'Wiesbaden' (CMH, vol 5)

Some other published works are listed in the Catalogue of Printed Music in the British Library to 1980 (London 1982)

Further Reading