German Music in Canada | The Canadian Encyclopedia


German Music in Canada

In 1986 Canadians of German descent formed the fifth largest ethnic group in Canada - after French, English, Scottish, and Irish. In 1986 the figure was approximately 900,000 of German origin and an estimated 1,700,000 with German-speaking ancestors from various parts of Europe.

In 1986 Canadians of German descent formed the fifth largest ethnic group in Canada - after French, English, Scottish, and Irish. In 1986 the figure was approximately 900,000 of German origin and an estimated 1,700,000 with German-speaking ancestors from various parts of Europe. The arrival of Germans began about 1750 in Nova Scotia and rarely has halted for long. They have settled in every province and have assimilated quickly. Except in certain areas of concentrated German settlement, such as Waterloo County, Ont, folk traditions have not been perpetuated by the second or third generation born in Canada.

There have been three streams of German immigration: from Germany itself (to Nova Scotia and Quebec in the 18th century, to the area west of Lake Ontario after about 1790, and to almost all regions later); from the USA (Loyalists in the 18th century and Mennonites or 'Pennsylvania Dutch'); and from German-speaking pockets of eastern Europe, usually sharing a religious identity (Mennonites, Amish, Hutterites).

Musicians of German Origin

The period of Canada's growth into a modern nation has coincided with the era in which Austrian and German composers and musical institutions held a position of world prestige. Like Italy in the earlier part of this period and eastern Europe in the later, Germany supplied professional musicians to the international market. Thus it is easy to understand the disproportionately large number of German musicians in Canada throughout the 19th century. It is not easy however to identify this contribution in precise detail, since German-sounding family names are borne by Austrians, and by many eastern European Jews, many Flemish, and many Swiss. Further, many German immigrants gallicized or anglicized their names or lost them through intermarriage.

The 30,000 mercenary troops from Anhalt, Brunswick, Hanau, and Hesse lent by the Duke of Brunswick to the British government to fight in the American War of Independence 1776-7 included many who eventually settled in what is now the province of Quebec. The 4000 Brunswick soldiers in 1777 included as many as 102 'tambours and oboists' - the latter a generic designation for military musicians (Georges Monarque, Un Général allemand au Canada, Montreal 1927). The children of the commander, Baron von Riedesel (1738-1800), were taught music by Frederick Glackemeyer (one of the mercenaries), who remained in Quebec to become the prototype of the pioneering all-round musical craftsman. Until about 1860 German names are in the forefront of musical activity in Quebec City, Montreal, Toronto and Halifax. In Quebec City Glackemeyer had a German competitor in Francis Vogeler and a son-in-law in T.F. Molt. J.-C. Brauneis, occupies a place in the early history of Canadian bands, Louis Sigismond Pfeiffer (1831-78) was a violinist and organist in the city after 1846, while J.M. Pfeiffer, perhaps a relative (fl 1849), built pianos. Louis-Édouard Glackemeyer, the only native Canadian mentioned so far, became an impassioned amateur of the flute and organizer of musical societies.

Active in both Quebec City and Montreal were Molt and J.-C. Brauneis II, also Frederic Hund (fl 1816-24), a music dealer and printer. Hund's associate in Quebec City in 1824 (in the former capacity) was Gottlieb Seebold, who later operated a music business in Montreal with his brother John G. Seebold, a teacher of Ernest Gagnon. Another early piano builder was Isaac Reinhardt (1808?-46) of Montreal; another music teacher and piano dealer, Leonard Eglaugh. The piano manufacturers H. and J. Philips set up shop in Halifax in 1845.

Among British regimental bandmasters of German origin serving in Canada were Adam Joseph Schott and the two James Zieglers, father (d 1833) and son. Bandmaster Kästner led a musical society in Antigonish, NS, in the mid-1840s, Professor Weisbecker a Sacred Music Society in Saint John, NB, in 1842, and Theodoric Wichtendahl a Harmonic Society in the same city in the mid-1850s. Peiler & Sichel operated a music store in Halifax for many years.

While native musicians and French immigrants supplied the needs of Quebec City after the middle of the century, Toronto experienced an 'invasion' of German musicians: the Nordheimers (1844) and the Heintzmans (1860), who became household names throughout Canada, and, of more temporary importance, the violinist Ferdinand Griebel, the brothers Schallehn, and the voice teacher Jules Hecht. In Hamilton Peter Grossman became a leading bandmaster and music dealer; in Preston, Ont, Hager & Vogt (the latter partner the father of A.S. Vogt) were an established organ-building firm, and Limbrecht was another.

A fugitive from his creditors, the musicologist Gustav Schilling (b Schwiegershausen, Germany, 1805, d Nebraska 1880) spent some years as a teacher in Montreal in the 1860s; the Bohrer family contributed to musical life for some 80 years. The Leipzig-trained brothers Carl and Theodore Martens participated in many facets of Toronto's musical life in the 1880s. The violinist Heinrich Klingenfeld was active in Halifax and later in Toronto. Charles Reichling (1854-1922) was 12 when his family settled in Montreal. He studied violin with Jules Hone and became an orchestral and chamber musician with the Montreal String Quartette, played in the McGill Orchestra, and was appointed violinist to the governors-general Lord Lansdowne and Lord Stanley. Ernst Doering (cellist, b Oldenburg 25 Mar 1868) was engaged to teach cello at the Halifax Conservatory, stayed to found the Doering-Brauer Cons and (1890) the Leipzig Trio, and also, in the 1890s, taught at the Halifax Ladies' College.

It is possible that two pioneers of music in Winnipeg, Joseph Hecker (fl 1880) and Gustav Stephan (fl 1916), were of German origin. Like many other European musicians active for a while in Canada, they eventually left for the greener pastures of the USA. The Berliner Gramophone Company was established in Montreal by German-born Emile Berliner.

Those who stayed in Canada included Ferdinand O. Telgmann, a musical leader for some 50 years in Kingston, Ont, Hans A. Zoellner and his son Theodor in Berlin (Kitchener), Paul Hahn and Otto Higel in Toronto, and Eugene Schneider, a Stuttgart violinist and violist who was an original member of the Dubois String Quartet of Montreal.

The first famous Canadian-born musician of German (and Swiss) origin was A.S. Vogt, founder of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. Other noted early figures of German descent were Noah Zeller, George Fox, and Joseph Baumann. Because of World War I, the shift of musical gravity to France, the USA, and other countries, and the increasing need for church musicians brought up in British traditions, as well as the growing supply of Canadian musicians, immigration of German musicians dwindled. It was only as a result of political oppression under Hitler that another wave of musicians or music students arrived in Canada. One group, internees transferred from Great Britain to Canada, included Helmut Blume, Freddie Grant, Walter Homburger, Helmut Kallmann, the violinist Gerhard Kander (b Mannheim, Germany 27 Aug 1921, d Jamaica 1 Jan 2008, arrived in Canada 1940) he gave recitals in Montreal and appeared with the TSO in the 1940s but later abandoned his musical career), and John Newmark. Others included Lotte Brott, Ulrich Leupold, Jan Simons, and Ernesto Vinci. Victims of Nazi persecution who settled in Canada after World War II included Andreas Barban, Mario Duschenes, Herman Geiger-Torel, Walter and Otto Joachim, Herbert Ruff, and Heinz Unger.

A new wave of German immigrants began about 1950, largely made up of persons who for professional or moral reasons wished to leave their homeland. They have included Wolfgang Bottenberg, Helmut Brauss, Franz-Paul Decker, Gisela Depkat, Herbie Helbig (pianist and composer of film and TV scores and of jingles), Friedemann Fischer (teacher of woodwinds and ensemble repertoire at Laval University), Theo Goldberg, Lothar Klein, Gabriel Kney, Jury Krytiuk, Otto-Werner Mueller, Helmut Seemann (flutist and composer in Montreal and Ottawa, no longer active in music), Hildegard Westerkamp, the country singer Hank Smith, and Phil Stark. The composer S.C. Eckhardt-Gramatté spent most of her professional life in Berlin prior to settling in Canada in 1954. Other German-born composers include Gerhard Ginader who moved to Winnipeg in 1981 to direct the Talent Education Institute, and in 1983 became director of the Suzuki program at Brandon University; and Stefan Bauer (b Recklinghausen, 13 Dec 1956) who moved to Canada in 1989 and began teaching at the University of Manitoba in 1990. Organ builders include Gerhard Brunzema and Karl Wilhelm (born in Rumania). Conductor Gunther Herbig served the TS as guest conductor from 1983, artistic advisor 1988-9, and in 1989 became the music director.

Outstanding 20th-century Canadian-born musicians of German or part-German ancestry include Victor Braun, Joyce Redekop-Fink, Elmer Iseler, Alfred Kunz, John Martens, Victor Martens, R. Murray Schafer, and George Ziegler. As recorded-sound archivist and music publisher respectively, the cousins Fred and Edward Moogk (Waterloo Music Co) have made their mark.


Research into German folk music traditions in Canada has not been extensive. In her study Folklore of Lunenburg County, Nova Scotia (Ottawa 1950) Helen Creighton found that few German songs had survived. Surveying the field of ethnic music study in 1975, Ramón Pelinski ('The music of Canada's ethnic minorities,' CMB, 10, Spring-Summer 1975) noted that the National Museum of Man (Canadian Museum of Civilization) had collected 195 songs and 40 instrumental pieces of German origin. The five manuscript books at the Jordan Historical Museum of the Twenty, Jordan, Ont. - the survivors of 20 written by Mennonite pupils of Clinton Township School (Niagara Peninsula) 1798-1834 - reveal religious and pedagogical rather than folk traditions. It is probable that the majority of later German immigrants knew 'songs in the popular tone' (by Reichardt, Silcher, Zelter, etc, taught from books and sung in groups) to a greater extent than true 'folk' songs. The popularity of brass bands (Waterloo from the 1830s) and singing societies (Victoria, BC, 1861; Waterloo ca 1865), resulting in the Sängerfeste of the late 19th century, supports this premise.

After a period of relative inactivity 1914-50 singing societies sprang up again, reviving some of the old names: Concordia in Kitchener, Germania in Hamilton, Harmonie (instead of the former Harmonia) in Toronto, and Liederkranz in Edmonton. Choirs are associated with many of the German-Canadian clubs and community organizations. The German-Canadian Choir Association (Sängerbund), formed in 1958 in Kitchener, in 1991 included some 15 choirs from cities in Ontario and Quebec. Other choral associations exist in the Prairies and the North Pacific (British Columbia and Washington). The Oktoberfest, a Munich tradition since 1810 in which music plays an important role, has been transplanted to Canada and flourishes in such cities as Kitchener-Waterloo, Regina, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Calgary, and Edmonton.

Visitors from Germany

Perhaps the first German musical group to visit Canada was Hermann and Co of the Royal Cons of Munich, entertaining the citizens of Halifax and Saint John, NB, in 1832. Of greater significance were the three visits to Canada (including Kingston, Montreal, Quebec, and Toronto) 1850-2 by the Germanians, an orchestra of Berliners who had gone to the USA in 1848. This was probably the first professional orchestra to play in Canada, and its reception was enthusiastic. Individual visiting German artists included Henriette Sontag (soprano, 1854), Hans von Bülow (pianist, 1876), August Wilhelmj (violinist, 1880), Lilli Lehmann (soprano, 1886), and Xaver Scharwenka (pianist, 1890s). There is no need to list the many 20th-century visitors, from Elena Gerhardt and Walter Gieseking through Lotte Lehmann (who gave Lieder recitals in the 1930s in Montreal and in the 1940s in Toronto and master classes at Mount Allison University in 1962) and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau to Anne-Sophie Mutter and Christian Tetzlaff. Orchestras have included the Leipzig Philharmonic Orchestra (ca 1901), the Berlin Philharmonic under Herbert von Karajan (1955, 1956), the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (1968), the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra under Kurt Masur (1983, 1986), and the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra. During Expo 67 the Munich Bach Choir and Orchestra and the Hamburg State Opera performed. The latter, conducted by Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt, gave the Canadian premiere of Hindemith's opera Mathis der Maler. German conductors who have visited Canada include Fritz Busch (Montreal), Bruno Walter (Montreal, Vancouver), Otto Klemperer (see MSO), Eugen Jochum, Ferdinand Leitner, Karl Munchinger (NACO, Guelph Spring Festival), Helmuth Rilling (as guest conductor, and with his Gächinger Kantorei of Stuttgart), Kurt Sanderling and his son Thomas Sanderling (who married Rivka Golani), and Klaus Tennstedt (his North American debut was with the TS in 1974 and he has often returned thereafter). The Obernkirchen Children's Choir sang in Toronto in 1955, 1961, and 1962 and in Barrie and Kitchener in 1964. It also appeared in several other Canadian cities. The Goethe Institute with branches in Montreal, Ottawa,Toronto, and Vancouver, which is primarily concerned with teaching the German language and literature, also sponsors many and diverse public events featuring the music and performers of Germany. Some of those it has presented are Albert Mangelsdorff, the jazz trombonist, with his quintet in 1967 and as a soloist in 1978; the Westfälische Kantorei, conducted by Wilhelm Ehmann in 1970; the Berlin Philharmonic Octet in 1972; and the duo pianists Alfons and Aloys Kontarsky in 1979. It sponsored the SMCQ's performances of Wolfgang Rihm's chamber opera Jakob Lenz in Montreal and Toronto in 1985, and has also helped NMC and others bring German music and musicians to Canada. German artists who have toured in Canada under the auspices of the JMC (YMC) include pianist Herbert Drechsel (1954-5), the Pfeiffer Quartet (1966-7), and the Stuttgart Trio (1971-2, 1973-4).

German Music in Canada

The prime contribution of Germany to Canadian musical life undoubtedly has been the staples of the concert repertoire from Bach and Gluck to Richard Strauss and Carl Orff, overlapping as they do with those from Austria (Beethoven, Brahms, Schoenberg). It would be beyond EMC's scope to provide a list of Canadian premieres of even the main German masterpieces (see Concerts), but one should note that the more popular works of Beethoven were performed long before Bach gained a foothold. (For instance, in 1870, a memorial concert in Montreal was devoted to works of Beethoven.) F.H. Torrington and R.-O. Pelletier played Bach's organ music in the 1860s, but it remained for Healey Willan, Ernest MacMillan, Herbert Fricker, and Wilfrid Pelletier in the 1920s to make the large choral-orchestral works known to Canadians. Wagner's operas had been heard in Montreal (The Flying Dutchman in 1871?, the Ring in 1914, Parsifal in 1905), and the Welsman TSO played some Strauss tone poems, but Germany's national operatic favourite, Weber's Der Freischütz, has had few performances. The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir was formed to sing choral music of Mendelssohn and presented several of the composer's motets in 1895 and his setting of Goethe's Walpurgisnacht in 1906. Other Canadian choral organizations named after German composers include the Bach Choir of Hamilton, the Toronto Bach Choir, the Vancouver Bach Choir, the Handel Society of Music of New Westminster, and the Mendelssohn Choir of Montreal. Instrumental ensembles have used the names of Beethoven (trios in both Montreal and Toronto) and of Mendelssohn (trio in Montreal).

German composers who have visited Canada include Wolfgang Fortner, Paul Hindemith, Carl Orff, Dieter Schnebel, and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Werner Egk wrote his concert arias Chanson and Romance for Pierrette Alarie, who premiered them in 1953. Karl Hoeller and Hermann Reutter were German representatives at the 1960 International Conference of Composers in Stratford, Ont.

Canadian Students in Germany

The first young Canadian to complete his studies abroad - J.-C. Brauneis II - included Germany in his trip 1830-3; so did Tom Haliburton (1821-47), son of the creator of Sam Slick. Later on, the Leipzig Cons, established in 1843 by Mendelssohn, gained a world reputation and rivalled Paris as a magnet for North American music students. L.-A. Dumouchel, Gustave Gagnon, and Joseph Baumann went there about 1870; Nora Clench, Harry Field, W.O. Forsyth, Annie Lampman Jenkins, Waugh Lauder, and A.S. Vogt in the 1880s; Frank Blachford, Harry Puddicombe, Frank Welsman, and Ernest Whyte in the 1890s. Those who studied in Berlin included S.P. Warren 1861-4, Émiliano Renaud 1898-9, Alfred La Liberté ca 1900-05, Ernest Seitz 1910-14, Harold Sumberg 1922-7, and George Fiala 1942-5. Canadian pianist and composer Adele Lount-Tyson (ca.1875-1901?) studied in Germany in the 1890s and had two of her songs performed at a Dresden concert by Lilli Lehmann in 1900. Canadians who studied in Germany after 1950 include Donald Bell, Keith Bissell, Denys Bouliane, Victor Braun, Douglas Haas, Alan Heard, Davis Joachim, Alfred Kunz, Rachel Martel, John Martens, Victor Martens, Robin Minard, Alvin Reimer, Nigel Rogers, John Thrower, and Claude Vivier. Berlin, Munich, Detmold, and Hamburg appear to hold the greatest attraction for students, while the summer courses at the Kranichstein Institut in Darmstadt have been visited by Norma Beecroft, Brian Cherney, Bruce Mather, Gilles Tremblay, and many other composers. Still others have gained experience as young singers through engagements in provincial opera houses before launching international careers. After studies with Orff, Doreen Hall introduced the Orff-Schulwerk method to North America.

Canadian Performers in Germany

The first Canadian to receive ovations in Germany was Waugh Lauder, in Leipzig in 1880, for his performance in Beethoven's Emperor Concerto. Emma Albani made her German debut in 1882 and sang Elsa in Lohengrin in the presence of the emperor in 1887. Like Albani, Alfred La Liberté played before German royalty. Kathleen Parlow made her recital debut in Berlin in 1907 to critical acclaim.

Canadians who have appeared on the German lyric stage or concert platform after 1950 include Robert Aitken, Pierrette Alarie, Kenneth Asch (Ascher Duo), Donald Bell, Colette Boky, Victor Braun, Maurice Brown, Marie Daveluy, Paul Frey, Janina Fialkowska, Maureen Forrester, Kenneth Gilbert, Frances Ginzer, Glenn Gould, Ida Haendel, Gladys Kriese-Caporale, Anton Kuerti, Bruno Laplante, Louise Lebrun, Diane Loeb, John MacDonald, Norman Mittelmann, Geneviève Perrault, Henriette Platford, Dodi Protero, Irene Salemka, Léopold Simoneau, Steven Staryk, Lilian Sukis, Micheline Tessier, Jon Vickers, Edith Wiens, and Jeannette Zarou. In 1953 the Royal 22nd Regiment Band played in Germany. The TS (1974, 1983, 1986, 1991), the NACO (1978), and the MSO (1984, 1987) have toured in Germany, and the SMCQ, the Festival Singers, and the Canadian Brass took part in Rendezvous with Canada, a series of concerts in Bonn (17-24 Nov 1977) which featured Canadian composers and performers. The SMCQ returned to Germany in 1988. The NFB made a film of the successful visit of the Alberta All-Girls Band to Munich in 1974. In 1979 the Salvation Army Canadian Staff Band included Germany in its European tour and also played at the Canadian Armed Forces Base in Lahr, West Germany. A branch of the RCMT at this base is visited annually by examiners. Oscar Peterson has performed and recorded in Germany, the Montreal composer John Warren has led his British jazz band in concert and on radio in 1973 and 1975, and the CCMC played in Bremen, Munich, and Cologne in 1978. In Feb 1975 the Perth County Conspiracy recorded their album Breakout to Berlin (Rumour V) in what was then East Berlin. In 1988 Robert Aitken was appointed to the faculty of the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik in Freiburg.

Further Reading