The Beginnings of Orchestral Music in Canada
The oldest piece in the Canadian registered NACmusicbox TIMELINE is part of Godfrey Ridout's Ballade, which dates from 1938. This does not mean, however, that no Canadian has written orchestral music before the 1900s. In fact, Joseph Quesnel composed the first opera in 1789 entirely original in North America, Colas et Colinette, who played for the first time by an orchestra of woodwinds and strings in Montreal and Quebec City. European operas are presented in these two cities and Halifax in the 1780s and 1790s, usually with orchestral accompaniment.
Given the conditions of life of the colony and the illegal presence of good musicians, orchestras set up in Canada in the nineteenth century are ephemeral or collected only for the presentation as oratorio The Creation by Haydn or Handel's Messiah. Nevertheless, in 1847, Torontonians can hear complete symphonies of Beethoven and Mozart played by the Philharmonic Society in their city.
In the nineteenth century, Canadians wishing to further their studies in music will usually study in European countries like Germany, France or England. In the advanced course of musical composition, students should create a piece for orchestra. Some of the works resulting from this exercise have been performed in Europe and even published. The first Canadian orchestra presented in Europe (in 1874) is probably Fatherland, Lavallée (1842-1891), composer of the national anthem O Canada. The following year, Guillaume Couture Reverie can hear her play performed by an orchestra in Paris. The room was so successful that it is published by a Parisian company.
W. W Forsyth (1859-1937) studied at the Leipzig Conservatory. His orchestral work Romanza is interpreted in Germany in 1888 and played several times by orchestras in Canada over the next two decades. His friend Clarence Lucas (1866-1947), who studied in Paris, sees several of his overtures for orchestra played in Europe and North America and published. At the same time on this side of the Atlantic, Eva Rose York (1858-1938) studied music at the Conservatory of Music New England, Boston, and made David and Jonathan, the first oratorio created by an artist born in Canada. At a benefit in Belleville, Ontario, in 1887, she also directs the orchestra's interpretation of another of his works.
Several reasons explain that these compositions are little known today. Many of them, including those of Ms. York, remained in manuscript form and were never found. Some of them were eventually recovered and made available in modern editions thanks to the work of the Society for the musical heritage in the 1990s. Consequently, Canadian orchestras have access to these works until very recently. Orchestra National Arts Centre has helped launch some of the partitions just found and published in 1990 by giving a concert of works by Mr. Lucas, Sir Ernest MacMillan (1893-1973) and Mr. Ridout ( his Ballade for Viola and Orchestra, 1938).
In the twentieth century, orchestras were gradually created in Canada and manage to survive for more than a few seasons. The man who gave the Canadian Football Cup, Earl Grey, Governor General of Canada from 1904 to 1911, inaugurated a National Festival of Music and Drama (1907-1911) during which a trophy is awarded to a Canadian symphony orchestra . It is the Quebec Symphony Orchestra, which won the honors in 1907, while the ancestor of the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra (1902-1927) won the trophy in 1908. The cost of traveling orchestras in Ottawa for the competition leads to the creation of other festivals, especially in Western Canada.
Often trained amateur or perhaps a small core of professionals, community orchestras are active across Canada during the first half of the twentieth century. Many of the most professional groups, including the current Toronto Symphony Orchestra, born ensembles formed to accompany silent films.
Seeing the number of bands active in Canada, Claude Champagne (1891-1965) undertook to provide them with original compositions. In addition to a piece created at the beginning of his studies, his first major work is Gaspé Symphony (1945), a musical impression of the landscape of Gaspé. Ten years earlier, Healey Willan (1880-1968) performed his Symphony No. 1 in D minor, piece composed of several movements.