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ClassicsOnline Home » OVATION, Vol. 1: Music of Weinzweig, Coulthard, Adaskin, Hetu and Freedman
John Weinzweig, a pioneer of contemporary Canadian music, was
born in Toronto on March 11, 1913. Through his teaching he has contributed extensively
to the introduction in Canada of 20thcentury techniques, notably serial writing,
of which he was the first Canadian proponent. By his active role within various
organizations dedicated to the recognition of Canadian composers, he has helped
enormously to establish the professional status of creative musicians. In 1951
he helped found the Canadian League of Composers and became its first president.
His career as a composer began in the late 1930s. By 1941, he was composing
incidental music for CBC radio dramas, as well as soundtracks for National Film
Board documentaries. Between 1943 and 1945 he served in the Royal Canadian Air
Force. In 1948, his Divertimento No. 1 for Flute and Strings won the
highest award in the chamber music category at the London Olympiad. His
teaching career stretched from 1939 until his retirement in 1978 as Professor
Emeritus from the University of Toronto . As a teacher he has fostered and encouraged
individuality in all his students while challenging them with the highest standards
of self-criticism. Their stylistic diversity is exemplified in the music of
Somers, Freedman, Schafer, Beecroft, Jaeger and Nimmons. Weinzweig’s extensive
repertoire is marked by clear, clean textures, lucid form and rhythmic drive.
His works have been widely performed in Canada and abroad by the Canadian Brass,
the Orford Quartet, Yehudi Menuhin, Seiji Ozawa and Zubin Mehta. In 1974, Weinzweig
received the Order of Canada. His other awards include the Canada Council’s
Molson Prize and a 1998 Toronto Arts Award.
1. Jumpin’ Blues from Out of the Blues (1981).
Out of the Blues is John Weinzweig’s third composition
for the large wind medium. The jazz-blues inflections in his music can be traced
as far back as the Bassoon Divertimento (1960) and have touched almost
all his compositions since. Out of the Blues tries to capture the spirit
and rhythm of the many moods of the blues in a sequence of six movements. Jumpin’
Blues features the clarinets in a bouncing swinging figure, answered by
a full percussion section and concluding with a flippant repartee from the solo
2. Fast from Contrasts for Guitar (1976).
Weinzweig’s first guitar work grew out of an association with
the guitar teacher Eli Kassner. Contrasts was premiered by the celebrated
Cuban guitarist Leo Brouwer at the International Guitar Festival in Toronto
in 1978. It is in six movements of which Fast is the second.
3, 4. Shoppin’ Blues and Hockey Night in Canada (1985).
These a cappella choral songs are from a set of five
composed with three objectives in mind: first, to sing about “life in his time”,
to sing words employing the vernacular, and to select words that can be articulated
well and overcome singers’ “lazy lips” through a careful choice of phonetic
content. Shoppin’ Blues describes the course of a carefree shopping trip
that turns into a frenetic experience under the pressure of persuasive inducements.
Hockey Night in Canada is based on the play-by-play announcements by
sports commentators in the media. It describes a hockey game in three periods
by means of hockey-talk that projects the fast-moving action through rhythmic
choral energy. It concludes with the inevitable, triumphant, “He scores!”.
5, 6, 7. Why Not?, Blue Note, and Fine Time from
15 Pieces for Harp (1986).
These works were written for harpist Judy Loman, as was Weinzweig’s
other work involving solo harp, the Harp Concerto (1967). In preparation
for writing the concerto, Weinzweig had taken harp lessons from Ms. Loman and
so he was able to try out the present set of pieces for himself. The influence
of the jazz idiom underlies much of the set, surfacing most notably in Fine
Time and Blue Note. Weinzweig’s whimsical sense of humour is evident
in the rhythmic subtleties underlying these pieces and in titles such as Why
8, 9, 10. Says what?, Hello Rico, and My Dear Etcetera
from Private Collection (1975).
Private Collection is an open set of songs for soprano
voice and piano with lyrics and music by the composer. Says What?, a
monologue of nonsense syllables combining slang and scat in phonetic rhythms
of pitched sounds and whispers, and Hello Rico, an overheard adolescent
conversation in which the telephone conveys more anxiety than communication,
were composed in 1975, while My Dear Etcetera, a letter, first appeared
11,12,13. Divertimento No.1 (1947).
The Divertimento No.1 for Flute and String Orchestra,
the first of a series in this genre, was begun during the composer’s service
with the RCAF in 1945. It was completed the following year in time for its radio
premiere by the CBC in Vancouver. The first concert performance took place in
Prague in 1947. In 1948 the Divertimento won the highest award for chamber
music in the Arts Division of the London Olympiad. It has since become one of
the composer’s most widely performed works. Its three movement plan combines
a neo-classic outlook with 12-tone rows for each movement employed freely as
a source of melodic invention. I. Fast and Playful : a chamber-like texture
with an interplay between the bright lyric sonority of the flute and the playful
staccato of the strings. II. Slow : an introduction in which the dominant
melodic character is established by the opening flute solo. Four variations
follow in shorter fragments, answered by the richly coloured strings. The movement
concludes with a reference to the introduction. III. Fast : The bright,
breezy rhythmic drive of the flute is impelled by sharply punctuated thrusts
from the strings, now more aggressive.
15,16,17. Divertimento No.5 (1961).
Divertimento No. 5 for trumpet, trombone and symphonic wind
ensemble was commissioned by the American Wind Symphony Orchestra for its
Music and Arts Festival in Pittsburgh, Pa., where it was premiered in
1961. Although the Wind Ensemble scoring represents a departure from
the first four divertimenti for solo woodwinds and strings, the basic
attitudes are the same: a modified three-movement concerto plan of fast-slow-fast,
using serial technique and rhythmic animation. For the greater part of the
work, the soloists engage in duets based on contrapuntal rhythmic structures,
usually without accompaniment; in the second and third movements they break
off into solo playing with orchestral support.
18. Barn Dance from Red Ear of Corn (1949).
The ballet The Red Ear of Corn was commissioned by the
Volkoff Canadian Ballet for performance during the Canadian Ballet Festival
held at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in March of 1949. The music was created
out of a blending of phrases and rhythms of both Indian and French-Canadian
dance-song styles. The Barn Dance is set in a French-Canadian village.
The people are celebrating the legend of the Red Ear of Corn with a corn-husking
bee. But first the young men must seek out a red ear of corn from the field.
The one who finds it can choose the girl he desires for the dance. The final
dance is gay and lively.
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