Concerts | The Canadian Encyclopedia



Performances given by one or more artists before audiences which have assembled, and usually paid admission fees, primarily for the purpose of hearing and contemplating music as music, distinct from music performed as an adjunct to other activities such as worship, ceremony, dining, or theatre.

Performances given by one or more artists before audiences which have assembled, and usually paid admission fees, primarily for the purpose of hearing and contemplating music as music, distinct from music performed as an adjunct to other activities such as worship, ceremony, dining, or theatre. See also Bands; Broadcasting; 1967 Centennial Celebrations; Chamber music performance; Children's concerts; Choral singing; Concert halls and opera houses; Conductors and conducting; Criticism; CRTC; Electroacoustic music; Expo 86; Expo 67; Festivals; Mixed media music; Opera performance; Oratorio performance; Oratorio composition; Orchestras; Profession of music; Sängerfeste; Women's musical clubs; Youth orchestras. See also EMC articles on individual cities.

This article will study some of the social, economic, and organizational aspects of the concert as an institution and as a vehicle for the diffusion of musical literature: who brings concerts about, how they have been financed, who participates, the changing tastes of performers and public, the introduction of the music of the great foreign composers, and the emergence of Canadian compositions on concert programs. In the absence of a comprehensive book on the subject, this article will attempt to marshall available data but does not claim completeness.


New France
European music was used first in Canada by the French explorers under Jacques Cartier in 1534 in religious services and ceremonial meetings with the native people, and as early as 1606 as an adjunct to masques or plays; but no evidence has been found of formal, organized concerts prior to the late 18th century. This is hardly surprising, for even in contemporary Europe music was an aristocratic entertainment or a domestic diversion, and public concerts were rare. Moreover, the colonies were remote from the great centres, their population small and widely scattered. Much spontaneous music-making no doubt filled the hours of work, travel, and leisure, but education was needed to produce the skilled performers and receptive listeners who would justify and demand formal concerts. A lack of instruments also hampered early attempts: it is reported that only one piano existed in Quebec City as late as 1783. (The latest research has, however, inventoried about 60 instruments under the French regime, including 18 viols, some 20 violins, four harpsichords or spinettes and three chamber organs.)

There are some early references to 'concerts,' but it is likely that the term meant simply 'playing together' or 'consorts'. For instance, Jesuit Relations (vol 47, Feb 1662, p 275) mentions: 'This month commenced the concerts of four viols, first at the ceremony of the first prizes, then at the 40 hours' devotion; the rest was just as it was last year'. Religious music probably was performed outside the church services - the Indians apparently found it entrancing - on informal occasions or as part of some ceremony; some volumes of French music (eg, Campra motets) in early-18th-century editions surviving in Quebec libraries have led some scholars to believe that such music was performed in a secular setting. Another mention of 'concerts' concerns Jacques Raudot, who was intendant of New France 1705-11. The head of the cathedral parish, M. Glandelet, complained in 1706 that "the concerts and a sort of opera were held regularly at the home of Mr the intendant" (La Vie musicale en Nouvelle-France, p. 304). Mother Juchereau de Saint-Ignace, in Histoire de l'Hötel-Dieu de Québec (Montauban 1751, p 463) says, 'His entertainment was a mixed concert of voices and instruments. He was so obliging, he was resolved we should hear this symphony, and several times he sent his musicians to sing motets in our church'. Elisabeth Bégon, the widow of another intendant, whose correspondence from Montreal 1748-50 refers to many dances, balls, masquerades, and other entertainments, never mentions a concert. However, in a letter of 7 Nov 1757 to the Chevalier de Lévis, the Marquis de Montcalm states: 'We are going to have some concerts. Of all the pleasures of Quebec, I like best chatting with M. le chevalier de Lévis... There is good company here, and more to do of an evening than in Montreal'. On 16 Dec 1757 Montcalm wrote, 'On Sunday there is to be a huge supper for 80, many ladies, a concert, lansquenet [a card game] with nine cutters... ' (Journal du Marquis de Montcalm, ed H.R. Casgrain, Quebec City 1895). These were, of course, the entertainments of the nobility and upper classes, not concerts in the modern sense.

Recent studies of archival documents have revealed the presence under the French Regime of essentially the same instruments and repertoire as in the provincial French capitals: fashionable cantatas by Clérambault, Bernier, Mouret; and opera excerpts by Lully, Boismortier and Mion performed on voice, viol, violin, German flute, recorder, lute or guitar, harpsichord or chamber organ.


The early years of the 19th century were plagued with the same problems encountered in the previous period: inadequate halls, inability to assemble a complement of instruments, and financial hardships. Much of the musical activity depended on the efforts of a few tireless and devoted individuals; a society revolved around its leader and often dissolved when he left. (The Toronto musician John Carter was described by the Globe in an 1866 performance of La Sonnambula as 'pianist, director, conductor, chorus leader and prompter'.) Nevertheless, it was through the societies that music grew in Canada during the early decades. After the relative sophistication of the 1790s, however, taste seemed to slip back to the popular and banal. Mélanges of sacred and secular music, usually described as 'Grand Concert of Vocal and Instrumental Music' persisted from about 1820 to 1870, and later than that in small centres. Public taste of the time accepted the overture to The Marriage of Figaro on the same program as a song entitled 'I Would I Were a Fairy'; at a Toronto Choral Society concert on 23 Oct 1845 Beethoven's Prometheus Overture was reported as giving 'general satisfaction' while Topliffe's song 'Consider the Lilies' was encored. Vocal novelties and instrumental stunts played an important part in the lighter Promenade concerts (as, indeed, they did in concerts in Europe and the Americas during this period), and it is doubtful that the original instrumentation was used in the overtures and symphonic movements that were played.

Kallmann (History of Music in Canada, p 107-8) has summarized this period: 'Concerts, other than oratorio and opera performances, were not yet specialized into the choral, orchestral, chamber, and solo types that we know today. The majority of musical organizations were choirs; instrumentalists were assembled hurriedly for each concert. Most concerts, in fact, displayed all the musical talent that happened to be available at the moment. A typical concert might feature an augmented church choir, an orchestra of from 15 to 50 players built around the core of a local brass band, the local music teacher performing first on the violin then on the cornet, a talented lady amateur and her daughter attempting an operatic duet, and on rare occasions a famous guest artist. Good performers were scarce and everybody who was willing to face an audience was welcome to have a try. At many concerts amateurs alternated with professionals, making for a very uneven quality of performance'.

Only in the 1860s and 1870s did the musical societies emerge as regular institutions with any kind of stability and continuity, eg, the Mendelssohn Choir of Montreal (1864-94), the Toronto Philharmonic Society (1872-94), the Montreal Philharmonic Society (1875-99), and the Orpheus Club (1882-1917) of Halifax. During the period of growth, each element of the process enriched the others and in turn was enriched by them: local societies took the lead in musical evangelism, which whetted the appetite of the public for music, resulting in more concerts which, reciprocally, could create an attractive working environment and thus encourage professional musicians to emigrate to Canada, and guest performers would set new standards for local musicians to strive for.

Some of the musical societies were very exclusive, selling no tickets at the door and being supported entirely by the subscriptions of their members; an example is the Philharmonic Society which existed 1845-7 in Toronto. Some other organizations, like the Germania Singverein that flourished in Victoria in 1861, were popular groups (some grew out of sporting clubs) that placed as much emphasis on eating, drinking, marching, and socializing as they did on music. Although most of the societies were primarily choral organizations, several did attempt to create and maintain permanent instrumental ensembles. From Halifax to Victoria such societies made possible the performance of large-scale choral works, sometimes with impressively massive forces. A sacred-music program in Quebec City, 26 Jun 1834, involved more than 100 singers and 60 instrumental musicians; Toronto's Metropolitan Choir could boast of 308 singers, 31 instrumentalists, and 150 subscribing members by 1858. Such ventures could be risky; if things went awry a conductor or impresario could lose his life savings on one concert, and there were no arts-support agencies to soften the financial blow.

While the societies continued to carry music to an ever-widening public, another element was being introduced: the indigenous militia or civilian bands which were the main source of entertainment in the summer, and which took over the public role of the British regimental bands after Confederation. However, though both the choral societies and the bands were obliged to recruit additional performers from nearby communities in Canada (or the USA) for special performances, there was no national cohesion to musical activities and little exchange between major centres many hundreds of kilometers apart. Exceptions were Sängerfeste and band tournaments in the late decades of the century; but this kind of activity did not extend to the choral societies. Halifax and Montreal and Toronto had their own musical leaders and stars, who generally were little known in the other centres.

Concerts often served purposes other than musical ones. Band performances were excellent for stirring patriotic fervour or political partisanship and concerts often were held to raise funds for charity, as in Toronto in 1852 for the benefit of black fugitives from the USA, and in 1855 for victims of the Crimean War.

By the middle of the century populations had grown to a size that made concerts by international musical celebrities economically feasible, while railways and steamships made Canadian cities increasingly accessible. In both respects, Canadians benefited from their proximity to the larger population centres of the USA. Visits by such troupes as Hermann and Co of Munich, which in the 1830s gave concerts in the Maritimes, were well received and well attended, while a solo artist of the stature of Jenny Lind could draw 1000 people to a Toronto performance at St Lawrence Hall in 1851 and command press attention for weeks. By the 1850s visits by such celebrities had become fairly frequent in eastern Canada: the violinists Ole Bull and Henri Vieuxtemps, the pianist Sigismund Thalberg, the singers Henriette Sontag and Adelina Patti, and the Germanians Orchestra. While this development no doubt tended to raise standards of taste to some extent, the musical literature of the programs remained variable, and an entire evening of one type of music (vocal, piano, chamber, or orchestral) was almost unknown. Jenny Lind's 1851 farewell concert in Toronto, for example, included not only her arias and songs but also solo offerings by a pianist, a violinist, and a clarinetist. Some historians have claimed that the true solo recital did not come until around 1900, when it was cultivated by the pianist Émiliano Renaud; however, as early as 1865 in Montreal a pianist, writer, and composer named James Pech presented lecture-recitals of his works and those of Bach, Chopin, Mendelssohn, and Doehler, while another exponent of the lecture-recital, Waugh Lauder, by 1889 had given about 300 such recitals in Ontario alone. Johanna van Beethoven, wife of the grandnephew of Ludwig, gave a piano recital in Montreal in 1872.

Musical life had gained a good deal of stability and confidence after the middle of the century. Choirs and orchestras were strong enough to perform entire oratorios and symphonies, and concerts generally became more ambitious. Reportedly, by 1860 in Canada there had been performances of the overtures to The Marriage of Figaro, La Clemenza di Tito, The Magic Flute, The Creatures of Prometheus, A Midsummer Night's Dream, William Tell, An Italian Girl in Algiers, and Semiramide; Haydn's Surprise and Toy symphonies, Mozart's Symphony No. 40, and Beethoven's First or Second Symphony. Many concerts contained music of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, and Handel; excerpts from the operas of Bellini, Donizetti, and Rossini were popular, and so were the works of Mendelssohn and Weber. Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, and Berlioz as yet were little known. Sonatas and string quartets were played rarely, though Beethoven's 'Moonlight' and 'Pathetique' sonatas may have had some vogue. Bach was heard almost never except when played on the organ by such high-minded church musicians as John W.F. Harrison, R.-O. Pelletier, and F.H. Torrington. (See Organ playing and teaching.) Operatic medleys and light overtures were more usual in the repertoires of other organists. The main emphasis still was on choral music; oratorios and cantatas became so pervasive that a Montreal music critic of 1866 uttered a cry of joy when a sacred-music concert for once presented something other than Messiah or The Creation. Chamber music may have had a place in the private homes of some Canadians, but there is little record of public activity in that sphere (though, of course, the hodge-podge 'orchestral' concerts often included works for small forces). There were notable exceptions to the foregoing generalization. The Septuor Haydn, an ensemble comprising string quintet, flute, and piano, was founded in Quebec City in 1871 and lasted 30 years, giving hundreds of concerts throughout the province. The Toronto String Quartette presented 12 bi-weekly concerts in the 1885-6 season (one concert drawing 1300 listeners) and its programs included several whole (not excerpted) works of Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven. The violinist Frantz Jehin-Prume, his singer-wife, Rosita del Vecchio, and the pianist-composer Calixa Lavallée gave recitals in Canada and the USA. In 1871 Jehin-Prume organized a series of six classical chamber concerts, and in 1892 he founded the Association artistique de Montréal, an ensemble of four strings and piano which presented 30 concerts in the following five years.

The last decades of the 19th century were characterized by performances on the grand scale, reflecting a world-wide worship of bigness in musical and other endeavours. These were presaged by a concert held in Montreal 24 Aug 1860 to celebrate the opening of the Victoria Bridge by the Prince of Wales. R.J. Fowler conducted the 400 voices of the Montreal Musical Union, with an orchestra and the soloists Adelina Patti and Emma Albani, teenagers who were to become world-famous, before an audience of 6000. The main work was a specially written cantata by C.W. Sabatier. At a great festival in Quebec City in October 1883 several bands combined to form a huge orchestra, with choirs and soloists, the whole massive enterprise organized by Arthur Lavigne. Toronto's Philharmonic Society (1872-99), not to be outdone, in 1886 created an enormous ensemble for a series of four performances by 1000 adult choristers, 1200 children's voices, an orchestra of 100, and visiting soloists (one of whom, Lilli Lehmann, described the whole affair as 'extremely ludicrous'). Other mammoth music festivals were held in Hamilton, Ont, in 1887 and at the opening of Toronto's Massey Hall in 1894. Though these spectacles may have been somewhat gross musically, the public enthusiasm generated by them no doubt supported many musical developments in succeeding years. As a result, it became the practice of some choirs to import leading orchestras from New York or Boston to accompany them.


The 1900s ushered in a vital new era of concert life in Canada. Larger numbers of people than before had the leisure time to pursue musical activities and the money to support them, and the pioneer work of earlier decades began to bear fruit in wide public awareness of music. Because radio had not arrived and the phonograph was in its infancy, music was less a spectator's recreation than an active amateur's or professional's, and a much larger proportion of the population took part in music than was the case later. Increasing numbers of European musicians arrived to find employment with Canadian musical organizations, and visits by international celebrities no longer were unusual. These developments brought about major changes in musical life. The old amateur-based musical societies were replaced by two kinds of groups: amateur choirs and associations whose purpose was to create and support professional ensembles. The Musicians' Union began to exert its influence, and, to serve as the 'broker' between the public and the artists, a concert-management and impresario function began to develop. The Toronto Philharmonic Society disbanded in 1894, the Montreal Philharmonic Society in 1899, and the Septuor Haydn of Quebec City in 1903. All were supplanted by new organizations: the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and the Couture MSO in 1894; an orchestra at the TCM in 1906 organized by Frank Welsman; another in Montreal under the aegis of J.-J. Goulet in 1898; and the Société symphonique de Québec in 1903 (Quebec Symphony Orchestra).

While the orchestral organizations were building their professional skills the amateur choral groups were in their heyday. Towns as small as Lethbridge, Alta, St-Hyacinthe, Que, Truro, NS, and Sherbrooke, Que, had their own choral societies, while in the major centres the taste for bigness remained. The Mendelssohn Choir was only one of five large choirs in Toronto by 1910 (besides great numbers of church choirs) and a choirmaster named Herbert M. Fletcher had three choirs whose combined membership reached about 1000.

The impresario-management activities were carried out both by professionals and by talented amateurs. Among the latter were the women's musicals clubs, which undertook to arrange concerts by visiting artists and occasionally by Canadian performers. Such clubs existed in a great many cities (and some continued to flourish in 1990). Their sustained activity perhaps was the most important element in the presentation of concerts in Canada in the 20th century. The work of individual impresarios, managers, promoters, and organizations must not be deprecated, however. Concerts were arranged, prior to 1914, by Charles A.E. Harriss in Ottawa and Montreal; Louis-Honoré Bourdon in Montreal; Arthur Lavigne and J.-Albert Gauvin in Quebec City; the Hambourgs, M.L. Solman (manager of the Mutual Street Arena), the TCM, and Norman Withrow (manager of Massey Hall) in Toronto; and George J. Dyke and his brother Fred in British Columbia.

The massive concert festival continued to be popular during the first years of the 20th century, one of the most notable events being a country-wide series of concerts arranged by the aforementioned Charles A.E. Harriss. In 1903 Harriss invited the Scottish conductor Sir Alexander Mackenzie to conduct the Cycle of Musical Festivals, emphasizing British music, in 18 cities during five weeks. The Winnipeg Oratorio Society began its Western Canada Musical Festival in 1908 and gave an annual series of six concerts with the Minneapolis SO, besides presenting many artists of international reputation. Some chamber-music ensembles also gave concerts: the Dubois String Quartet in Montreal (1910), the Toronto String Quartet (1907), the Academy String Quartet (1912) and the Hambourg Trio in Toronto. Their programs, however, were restricted in the main to movements from quartets and arrangements of familiar songs and to performances by guest soloists.


With the outbreak of World War I the male sections of many choirs were depleted and many orchestras reduced as the men went into the armed forces, while funds were diverted to wartime purposes. Recovery took a long time, and in some cities it was 1930 (when cinema orchestras became unnecessary with the introduction of sound movies) before concert orchestras were revived to provide employment for musicians. In the 1920s there was a shift in taste from vocal to instrumental music, and, at least in the cities, concerts had become standardized into specific categories: choral concert, orchestral concert, chamber concert, solo recital, and so on, with few mixtures of genre. An exception was the CPR Festivals, a series presented across the country from 1927 to 1931. In these, singers and chamber ensembles combined in presenting folk-song arrangements and other music.

Though leading international artists toured regularly, and Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, and Vancouver had competent orchestras, serious music still was offered in fairly small doses. A Fritz Kreisler or Mischa Elman recital of the 1920s probably would consist of one classical sonata and a number of trifles; and the main orchestras had to educate their audiences to Bach and Brahms as much as to Sibelius and Debussy (although radio broadcasts from the USA usually offered a wider repertoire). Avant-garde music rarely was performed, and 'modern' usually implied Richard Strauss, Delius, Sibelius, Ravel, or even Elgar, rather than Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Hindemith, or Bartók.

Gradually, repertoires and audience tastes developed in historical depth. Sir Ernest MacMillan pioneered in presenting the music of Bach and in 1937 invited Stravinsky to conduct the TSO; a Beethoven quartet cycle was done in Toronto in 1927, and the TSO's Sunday afternoon one-hour broadcasts were initiated that same year; Healey Willan, the Halifax Madrigal Society (founded 1923), and others cultivated interest in renaissance music; the guitar and harpsichord were re-discovered; Mozart, Schubert, and other composers who earlier had been represented by a handful of works now were explored more fully. Important in this process of discovery were recordings and broadcasts, both by privately owned radio stations and, from 1936 onwards, by the CBC. Radio took performances by major ensembles even to small towns, while Canadian performers' broadcasts made their names known to potential concert audiences. The restrictions imposed by the economic Depression of the 1930s imposed a handicap. Nevertheless the period is remembered as one when groups like the Hart House String Quartet (Toronto), the Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir, the Schubert Choir of Brantford, and the Canadian Grenadier Guards Band (Montreal) achieved exceptionally high standards of performance. Impresarios active in this period were the Tremblays of Ottawa; Dorothy Parnum, Catharine Whetham, Hart House at the University of Toronto, and later Walter Homburger, in Toronto; Edouard Blouin, Samuel Gesser, and Nicolas Koudriavtzeff in Montreal; the Men's Music Club and Fred M. Gee in Winnipeg, the Prairies, and western Ontario; the Musical Art Club in Saskatoon; the Chautauqua organization in the mid-west; and Lily Laverock, the Philharmonic Music Club, Gordon Hilker, and (later) George Zukerman (Overture Concerts) and J.J. Johannesen (Festival Concert Society) in British Columbia. Another element was the Community Concerts system (a division of Columbia Artists Management, Inc., USA) founded in Chicago in 1920 and introduced to Canada in 1930. After World War II Canadian universities began to play an important part in concert activity. The JMC (YMC) also began in 1949 to develop its country-wide network of centres, presenting young artists from Canada and abroad. The rise of these impresarios ensured that important foreign artists appeared with reasonable regularity on Canadian concert stages.


Most musical organizations were more firmly founded at the time of World War II than they had been when World War I unseated them so summarily, and consequently most of the orchestras and other ensembles were able to continue throughout the war or resume operations shortly after hostilities ceased. There were some changes on the horizon, though. In the 1950s and 1960s there was a gradual loosening of the tight categorization of concert types which had prevailed from the 1920s onwards. Perhaps these new varieties of event were a response to the threat posed to traditional concerts by the increase of broadcasts and recordings. In any case, widely differing types of music were to be found bundled together, in such summer festivals as those at Stratford, Montreal, Vancouver, and Niagara-on-the-Lake and in the concerts organized by CBC Radio (see Broadcasting) in cities all across the country. A conscious effort to shake up traditional concert formats and program-content was made by Montreal's Musica Antica e Nuova in the 1950s and Toronto's Ten Centuries Concerts in the 1960s, the latter mixing all kinds of music from plainchant to jazz. In attempts to enlarge the popular base of support for serious music, some orchestras and other ensembles gave concerts in shopping plazas and factories, arranged concerts combined with wine-and-cheese parties, co-operated closely with schools and universities in presenting music to young people, and employed various 'gimmicks' to make the classics more approachable for the musically un educated potential concert-goer. Smaller specialized audiences were served by organizations such as NOVA MUSIC in Halifax, SMCQ in Montreal, NMC in Toronto, and the Vancouver New Music Society, as well as by other historically oriented or experimental groups. (In the latter category were the Isaacs Gallery concerts in Toronto, organized by Udo Kasemets.) Some observers, notably the pianist Glenn Gould, prophesied the demise of the live concert in the face of the competition provided by the electronic media, but that gloomy prospect was averted. Indeed, the concert season, extended by several summer festivals, became year-round.

During the 1970s Canada's numerous orchestras - full-time, chamber, radio, community, and school - perhaps were the country's most active and continuous purveyors of concerts, live and broadcast, in main series and supplementary series, in schools, at festivals, and on tour. By 1980 the three busiest orchestras - the MSO, the TSO, and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra - each were giving more than 130 concerts a year.

In 1969 the Canada Council established the National Concert Bureau, under the direction of Edith Binnie at the University of Toronto, in an effort to begin meeting the need for representation felt by Canadian performing artists in the absence in Canada of agencies like Columbia Artists and Sol Hurok in the USA. The bureau's modest initial undertaking was the promotion and management of six young solo artists and the Orford String Quartet. It continued until its function was absorbed by the National Touring Office, established by the Canada Council in 1973. Prior to this, in 1970, the OAC had initiated its Concerts and Artists Program (see James Norcop), which in January of 1971 distributed to musical employers its first catalogue of Ontario solo performers. The response, particularly from orchestra conductors, led to a series of auditions in Toronto of specific performers whom conductors had asked to hear. After a similar series of opera auditions early in 1972 the OAC's first large-scale bringing together of employers and performers from all parts of Canada took place that same year in Toronto under the name Contact 72. Its success led to its annual repetition (and development) in Ontario.

In 1974 the OAC (whose Concerts and Artists program had been transformed into its Ontour Dept) and the Canada Council Touring Office - the latter by then in its second year - encouraged the arts agencies of the other provinces to establish similar audition systems, and one by one they did: Pacific Contact in British Columbia was followed by Contact East in the Atlantic provinces; then came Alberta Showcase, Contact Québec, and similar events on alternating years in Saskatchewan (first in 1978) and Manitoba (first in 1979). The effect of these programs was to heighten concert-giving organizations' awareness of the remarkable amount of Canadian talent available to them, and in fact to cause a major turnabout in the proportions of Canadian and foreign artists appearing on Canadian concert platforms.

For this and other reasons, Canadians in the 1970s were acquainted increasingly with their nation's performers, including chamber groups, which enjoyed a particular surge in popularity. Groups like Camerata, Canadian Brass, the Dalart Trio, One Third Ninth, the Orford String Quartet, and Quartet Canada became familiar to a wide public. Individuals and organizations continued in the 1970s to promote such chamber-music series as those of the Vancouver East Cultural Centre, the Vancouver Society for Early Music, and the Northstars series (Toronto) of Anton Kuerti.

Live performances undoubtedly received their greatest single stimulus through the 1967 centennial celebrations, during which the federal government contributed about $91 million for activities of all kinds in cities and towns from coast to coast. In the wake of that boom, however, arts funding became less plentiful, and financial problems continued to plague performing groups and creative artists. The Canada Council, the provincial arts agencies (notably those in Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, and Saskatchewan), and municipal funding bodies like those of Montreal and Toronto have helped the situtation; but private and corporate assistance to the arts remained minimal in the 1970s, despite organized efforts to stimulate it. The performing repertoire, meanwhile, became entirely cosmopolitan. Few countries have displayed so little prejudice as Canada in the presentation of and reception of music and performers from all parts of the world. This tolerant attitude has been decried by nationalists, who would wish to see greater enthusiasm for the performance by Canadians of works by Canadians.


Economic climate
Adverse financial pressures, recessions, and high levels of unemployment during much of the 1980s affected concert life to a lesser degree than might have been expected. Admittedly, some orchestras and other organizations came close to the brink of collapse (eg, the Vancouver SO in 1988) or went into eclipse for mainly economic reasons. However, these near-crises and crises stimulated counteraction, such as more vigorous lobbying for the support of the arts, more aggressive and skillful subscription drives and other marketing techniques, and new kinds of programming. Another compensating factor was the increase of urban population and of musically educated audiences. Altogether, the 1980s witnessed another decade of growth in the.number and quality of public concerts. Despite the immense variety of music available on recordings, the demand for live performances continued undiminished.

Programming of Canadian Music

Little is known about Canadian music performed in the 19th century, though programs show that many bandmasters conducted their own marches, and solo performers often played small-scale pieces of their own composition. EMC's entry on cantatas lists a fair number of performances from about 1860 onwards (and even two in the 18th century). The first all-Canadian concert of record, in Toronto in 1889, was devoted to the works of the teacher and composer W.O. Forsyth (1859-1937). The first opportunity to hear the works of an entire group of Canadian composers was in October 1903 in Montreal, when a concert of music by 10 Montreal composers was presented. Concerts devoted to the works of one Canadian composer, or of several, were held every few years throughout the first three quarters of the 20th century. Highlights included a CNR network radio program by the All-Canada Symphony in April 1930, a Lavallée concert in Montreal in July 1933, a BBC broadcast of Canadian works in 1935, and concerts in New York in 1942 and 1953, in Prague in 1946, in Budapest 1949, and in Paris in 1956. The vogue for all-Canadian concerts reached its height in the 1950s and early 1960s under the influence of the CLComp, whose first offering was a Weinzweig concert in 1951. By the 1970s Canadian music had become a familiar component of concert fare, integrated into programs as a matter of course. The need to emphasize it as something unique and separate seemed to have lessened. However, many Canadian composers would reject the suggestion that there is room for complacency in promoting their efforts, and their continuing concern was demonstrated by the major concerts organized in Paris and London in 1977 under the name Musicanada, those in France and Germany in the same year under the name Rendezvous with Canada, or those in the context of the OKanada exhibition in Berlin in 1983. The number of performances of Canadian music increased greatly during the 1980s, but so did the number of composers. Both are positive developments, though for the individual composer the amount of exposure may continue at the same unsatisfactory frequency.


The musical repertoire has continued to grow both forward and backward in time, and has diversified also in performance style (eg, Haydn on modern or period instruments) and manner of presentation. One noticeable tendency is that towards specialization. Each major city by 1990 had its early music ensemble and its new-music society, in addition to the major orchestra, chamber music, and operatic societies concentrating on 18th and 19th century mainstream repertoire. The music lover in the larger cities, with a modicum of effort, could choose from a smorgasbord of concert fare, amateur and professional, classical and popular, sacred and secular, western, southern, northern, and eastern, experimental and traditional, evergreens and rediscoveries, presented by resident or visiting musicians.

Ensembles have become more flexible in instrumentation. Where once the string quartet and the piano trio ruled chamber music concerts, eclectic combinations of instruments or instruments and voices have become common. In the keyboard recital the harpsichord, fortepiano, and electroacoustic instruments have joined the grand piano and organ.

New formats and venues

Conventional concert formulas continued to dominate during the 1980s, but were challenged by new imaginative concepts related to place, time of day, and program structure. R. Murray Schafer, one of the inventors of the Ten Centuries Concerts format, continued pioneering along these lines, eg, in the 'dusk-to-dawn musical/theatrical ritual' of RA in which the distinction between performers and audiences is nearly cancelled. The Harbour Symphony for the horns and bells of the ships in St John's, Nfld, harbour (1983) and other outdoor happenings created for Sound Symposium are also adventurous escapes from or extensions of the traditional concert. Festivals have remained popular; new ones have sprung up in many locations, competition forcing them to search for distinctive programming.

New modes of presenting music have reached new audiences, eg, at old age homes, shopping centres, or during the summer on pedestrian malls.

The English regime

After 1759 a new element, the British regimental band, augmented the existing elements of spontaneous folk music and church music. Until Canada's Confederation (1867) British home regiments served in rotation, bringing with them their bands, which included some of the best instrumentalists in Britain. The French had had military musicians as well, of course, but the British bands brought with them a tradition of music-making which exercised an influence far beyond the military sphere. Bands assisted at theatrical performances or provided players for the orchestras in the few concerts that were given; gala balls were popular and frequent in garrison towns such as Halifax, Quebec City, Montreal, and Niagara during the long winters, and Saturday morning promenade concerts were given by bands in many towns. Moreover, the military officers often were proficient in music and, as time hung heavy during peacetime in the colonies, they frequently would take part in musical activities, or would engage the bands to play for their guests at social affairs. Upon retiring from military service, some of the bandsmen and bandmasters (many of whom were German) settled in Canada, where they later wielded considerable influence as teachers and performers.

Quebec City appears to have been the cradle of concert life in Canada. The Quebec Gazette of 29 Nov 1764 carried an advertisement for a dance being held at the Concert Hall, and that of 14 Feb 1765 announced a concert there 16 February for the benefit of Sieur Dienval, M.M. (probably maître de musique) (Amtmann p 204). A 1770 notice announced that the Gentlemen's Subscription Concerts henceforth would begin at six o'clock. The other garrison towns enjoyed the benefits of the bands' efforts also: in April of 1769 an oratorio was performed at St Paul's Church in Halifax by the 'Philharmonic Society' assisted by officers of the army and navy. (That society is the first noted in Canada; a hundred years later there were to be Philharmonic Societies, ie, choirs with available instruments, in almost every city and town.) Elizabeth Simcoe, the wife of the first lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada, recorded in her diary in November 1791 that she had attended a Quebec City subscription concert by the band of the Seventh Fusiliers, and five years later in Toronto she wrote about concerts given by the regimental band in that city. In Montreal in 1792 the band of the 60th Regiment played 'generally for a couple of hours' on summer evenings, for the delectation of the public promenading on the Parade. Such events provided an impetus to the cultivation of secular art music for which the military officers' patronage was largely responsible.

The musical content of these concerts was variable, to say the least; anything from the latest popular songs to symphonic excerpts might be heard. A concert in Quebec City, 21 Feb 1792, was presented in two parts with 13 separate numbers and offered music by Gluck and Grétry for 'orchestra,' arias with harp and guitar accompaniment, a concerto for hunting horn, a clarinet-bassoon duet, and other items. In Halifax in 1783 a certain Mrs Mechtler gave a concert which included some arias sung by herself, a harpsichord concerto played by the local bandmaster, and an overture (played by his band) which probably was by Johann Christian Bach. But from these relatively informal concerts, often given in taverns, coffee houses, or church halls, grew the first subscription series, such as the 24 Monday-evening performances given in Quebec City during the winter of 1790-1, and with continuity came the possibility of improved quality. Indeed, the musical content of many of the concerts ca 1790-1815 reflects a remarkably sophisticated taste. The programs included symphonies, overtures, and concertos by leading European composers of the time such as Haydn, Mozart, Pleyel (by far the most frequently performed composer in Quebec City), J.C. Bach, Gluck, Grétry, Gyrowetz, and Jean-Baptiste Davaux, and much of the music was quite new: Mozart's String Quintets, K515 in C and K516 in G minor were played in Quebec City in 1793, six years after their composition.

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