Augustus Vogt | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Augustus Vogt

Augustus Stephen Vogt, choral conductor, educator, administrator, organist, pianist (born 14 August 1861 in Washington, Canada West; died 17 September 1926 in Toronto, ON).

Augustus Stephen Vogt, choral conductor, educator, administrator, organist, pianist (born 14 August 1861 in Washington, Canada West; died 17 September 1926 in Toronto, ON). Augustus Vogt is best known for founding the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, which became renowned for its a cappella work and annual performances with leading orchestras. He was appointed principal of the Toronto Conservatory of Music (now the Royal Conservatory of Music) in 1913 and retired from conducting in 1917 to devote himself to administration. He helped develop the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto and served as dean from 1918 until his death. Vogt was also well known for a number of his publications, such as An Indian Lullaby (1906) and Modern Pianoforte Technique (1900).

Early Years and Education

Vogt was born near Berlin, Ontario (now Kitchener-Waterloo), and received his early education in Elmira, where his family settled in 1865. At the age of 12, he became the organist at St. James Lutheran Church, playing an instrument made by his father, George Vogt, a pipe organ builder who had emigrated from Germany after the revolutions there in 1848. After studying with L.H. Parker in Hamilton in 1878, Augustus Vogt became organist at the First Methodist Church in St. Thomas, Ontario, that same year.

He went to Boston to study at the New England Conservatory (1881–84) under S.A. Emery and H.M. Dunham, and while there, met Calixa Lavallée. He continued his studies in Germany at the Leipzig Conservatory (1885–88) with Salomon Jadassohn, Willy Rehberg, Carl Reinecke and Adolf Ruthardt among others, and often heard the famous choir at the Thomaskirche, directed by Gustav Schreck.

Early Career

Settling in Toronto, Vogt served as organist-choirmaster at Jarvis Street Baptist Church (1888–1906), where his choir became known for its a cappella singing. He taught piano and organ at the Toronto College of Music, at several ladies' colleges and after 1892, at the Toronto Conservatory of Music (TCM, now the Royal Conservatory of Music). He was Toronto secretary of the first Canadian College of Organists (1889–92) and president of the Canadian Society of Musicians (1893–95). A fellow in the Royal College of Organists, he was the only Canadian organist to perform at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. In the mid-1890s, he was the music critic for Saturday Night, writing under the pseudonym “Moderato.” Vogt and other leading Toronto musicians waged a heated attack against the Associated Board examinations in the late 1890s.

Career as Conductor

In 1894 Vogt founded the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, initially drawing most of the personnel from his choir at Jarvis Street Baptist Church. He suspended the choir's activities in 1897–1900, mainly to devise the kind of long-range strategy (including annual auditions for all members) that would ensure its healthy perpetuation. Resuming leadership of the reconstituted choir, Vogt soon developed it into one of the finest in North America.

In 1902, he became the first choir director in Toronto to present annual festivals in conjunction with major orchestras. Those he employed most often were the Pittsburgh Orchestra and the Chicago Orchestra under Theodore Thomas. Katherine Hale described Vogt as a magnetic conductor with “Napoleonic qualities of concentration [and] assimilation, and great determination” (Canadian Magazine, February 1909). By the time he resigned in 1917 (due to increasing pressures at the TCM, of which he became principal in 1913) he had gained an international reputation as a conductor.

Career as Administrator

A gifted administrator, Vogt devoted the remainder of his life to the TCM, which under his leadership became one of the largest such institutions in the British Empire, establishing examination centres throughout Canada. During a European sojourn from May 1912 to April 1913 (ostensibly to arrange a tour for the Mendelssohn Choir, which was subsequently made impossible by the First World War), Vogt visited leading European music schools. His keen assimilative and organizational mind perceived ways in which their systems could be adapted for use by the TCM. Until 1921, he also made adjudicating trips to Western Canada and was very much concerned with providing opportunities for competition. After establishing a closer liaison between the TCM and the University of Toronto, Vogt helped plan the Faculty of Music at the university and in 1918 was appointed dean.

Career as Composer

Vogt's small compositional output shows a great understanding of choral craft and effect. Several of his works were published, including The Sea (G. Schirmer, 1911), and arrangements of The Lord's Prayer (Whaley Royce,1900) and Crossing the Bar (Whaley Royce, 1906). His composition for women's voices, An Indian Lullaby (Whaley Royce, 1906), was performed by the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir as early as 1907 and as late as 1945, and also by choirs outside Toronto. His arrangement of Rule Britannia (orchestration by Frederick Stock) was also popular. His earlier works included a “scholarly and very effective” (according to John Daniel Logan) Prelude and Fugue for Organ, written in Leipzig.

Writing and teaching Career

Vogt compiled the widely used Standard Anthem Book (Whaley Royce: vol. 1, 1894; vol. 2 prior to 1909) and, with Healey Willan, The School and Community Song Book (Gage, 1922). His Modern Pianoforte Technique (Whaley Royce, 1900) was reissued 10 times by 1909. His published articles include “Choir Music in Europe” (Musical Canada, October 1907) and “Musical Canada: Yesterday and Today” (Musical Life and Arts, 1 December 1924). A teacher for over 30 years, Vogt's pupils included G.D. Atkinson, Jessie M. Allen, Mona Bates, Ernest Farmer, H.C. Hamilton, William Hewlett, Ada Twohy Kent, Ernest Seitz, Bertha Tamblyn and George Ziegler.


Vogt received an honorary doctorate from the University of Toronto in 1906 and was honoured in other ways after his death. In 1928, former TCM students set up a memorial scholarship and a Vogt Choir (conducted by a pupil, Richard Greene) was established in Guelph. In 1929, the Mendelssohn Choir placed a memorial window in St. Paul's Anglican Church in Toronto. A 1917 oil portrait of Vogt by Wyly Grier hangs in the Royal Conservatory of Music. In 1936, the Vogt Society was founded in Toronto.

A version of this entry originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada.

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