The Composers and their Music

Murray Adaskin

After being a successful violinist in the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Murray Adaskin (1906-2002), in his thirties, decided to focus more on composing music. He became one of Canada's most distinguished composers. The National Arts Centre Orchestra requested a composition from him for their inaugural concert. For an important occasion such as this composers would often write something serious or grandiose. Adaskin decided on a "diversion" instead. Divertimentos became popular in the mid-1700s as light, playful instrumental works. Adaskin's Diversion for Orchestra is no exception. The Rondo form (A-B-A-C-A) switches between solo instruments, instrument families, and quirky full orchestra sections.

Photo of composer Murray Adaskin

Portrait of composer Murray Adaskin

John Beckwith

Along with many other composers, John Beckwith (b. 1927) studied with John Weinzweig. Originally written for piano, Music for Dancing, was Beckwith's first commission; he was twenty-one. After a discarded initial version, Beckwith scored this version for the National Ballet of Canada. It is a light and humorous suite of movements for dance. Each movement has a self-revealing name; Prelude, First Pantomime, Valse, Second Pantomime, Polka, Dance for Two, and finally, Round Dance. These short movements are brought together into one piece by their always dancelike rhythms and shifts.

Photo of composer John Beckwith

Portrait of composer John Beckwith

John Estacio

John Estacio (b. 1966) has become one of Canada's loved and most often commissioned composers. He has served as composer in residence for the Banff Centre, Calgary Opera, the Calgary Philharmonic, and the Edmonton symphony. During his time in Edmonton he composed, among other things, Frenergy. Orchestras often program short multi-themed compositions at the beginning of concerts. These overtures have developed from a tradition of introducing themes of an opera or setting the mood of the rest of the concert. Estacio used material from compositional sketches for a concerto for this frequently performed concert opener.

Photo of composer John Estacio

Portrait of composer John Estacio

Jacques Hétu

Jacques Hétu (1938-2010) studied in Canada with Clermont Pépin and in France with Olivier Messiaen. Robert Markow observes that Hétu did not adopt a particular "ism" and did not adhere to a specific style (p. 19). Despite this, Hétu was drawn to structures and forms. His Concerto pour flûte , like most other concertos, has three contrasting movements. The middle movement, more specifically, adheres to a ternary form, an 18th century structure. In the A section a flute is accompanied by a muted trumpet, the middle, B, section begins with a violin solo with virtuosic flute accompaniment, and then the A section returns this time with woodwind accompaniment.

Photo of composer Jacques Hétu

Portrait of composer Jacques Hétu

Clermont Pépin

Clermont Pépin (1926-2006) studied composition in Philadelphia, Toronto, and, because of a Canada Council Grant, in Paris. Symphonie No. 2, like much of his other work uses modern musical language such as complex rhythms and atonal material, within traditional forms. Like the symphonies of the late 1700's, Pépin's composition shares the characteristics of three movements and fast-slow-fast tempo. The three-movements make use of different Baroque forms. The opening movement, Toccata, has running, virtuosic passages. The second movement, Chorale, is a slow-moving harmonization of a tonal shifting hymn-like them. The final movement is an atonal fugue with a shifting melodic theme. Each structure provides Pépin with a container to explore his shifting harmonic and complex rhythmic language.

Photo of composer Clermont Pépin

Portrait of composer Clermont Pépin

Godfrey Ridout

The concerto is a popular choice of compositional form for Canadian composers. Using viola as a solo instrument is not so popular. Despite this choice, Ballade for Viola and Strings was Godfrey Ridout's (1918-1984) first large success. Ridout was a self-proclaimed musical conservative. At the age of twenty he wrote this beautiful conversation between the viola and string orchestra.

Photo of composer Godfrey Ridout

Portrait of composer Godfrey Ridout

Credits and Copyright

  • Image asset: Murray Adaskin
    Murray Adaskin Estate
  • Image asset: John Beckwith
    Canadian Music Centre
  • Image asset: John Estacio
    Johnestacio.com
  • Image asset: Jacques Hétu
    Canadian Music Centre
  • Image asset: Clermont Pépin
    Wikipedia commons
  • Image asset: Godfrey Ridout
    Robert Ragsdale
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