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Dr. Jean Coulthard was born in Vancouver, in 1908; she wrote her first compositions under the supervision of her mother. Her early professional training was at the Royal College of Music in London, where her teachers included R. O. Morris and Ralph Vaughan Williams. In the 1930s and early 40s she had assessment critiques from Schoenberg, Milhaud and Bartók as well as further studies with Bernard Wagenaar in New York.
Throughout the 1950s and 60s Coulthard forged her own tonally-based musical idiom and laid the foundations of her extensive repertoire, which encompasses over 350 works in virtually all musical genres. During these years Coulthard also maintained her "parallel career" as a lecturer at the University of British Columbia.
With her retirement from UBC in 1973 her musical activity as a composer continued with renewed vigour. In 1978 she was named a Freeman of the City of Vancouver and an Officer of the Order of Canada. In 1984 she was declared "composer of the year" by PRO Canada; in the spring of 1988, she received an honourary doctorate from UBC.
Coulthard's earliest works show the marked influence of the French impressionists and, to a lesser extent, the imprint of her early training in England. Immediately after the Second World War she was to develop her characteristic style: a blend of traditional formal processes with polytonally based and chromatically enriched harmonies. Several major works dated from this period, including the frequently performed Sonata for Cello and Piano, Québec May, and the Variations on B.A.C.H. During the next three decades Coulthard wrote many new works, such as Canada Mosaic, which were intentionally designed to be accessible to the general musical public. A smaller number of works, such as the Octet, String Quartet No.3, and Hymn of Creation, are considerably more abstract and uncompromising.
Very recent Coulthard works often explore a growing vocabulary of contemporary techniques -- aleatory effects, microtones, musique concrète, tone clusters -- all assimilated within the context of her personal voice.
Biography courtesy the Canadian Music Centre