John Reeves | The Canadian Encyclopedia


John Reeves

John Reeves, composer, broadcaster, author (born 1 December 1926 in Merritt, BC, died 3 November 2022 in Clarksburg, ON). BA classics (Cambridge) 1948. Educated in England, he began conducting Gregorian chant and renaissance polyphony as a teenager and won a choral scholarship to St John's College, Cambridge. Returning to Canada after graduation he taught classics at the University of British Columbia, then joined CBC Radio as a music producer in 1952, branching out later into productions of dramas, documentaries, and religious programs. He retired from the CBC staff in 1987, but continued to produce programs on a freelance basis.

As a music producer, in addition to the standard repertoire of operatic, symphonic, and chamber music, Reeves presented much pre-classical music, some of it never heard before in Canada. He was for several years producer of the long-running series Songs of My People, starring Jan Rubes and Ivan Romanoff. He frequently commissioned and premiered new works by Canadian composers, including Violet Archer, Ron Collier, Tomas Dusatko, John Fodi, Harry Freedman, Paul Hoffert, Talivaldis Kenins, Oskar Morawetz, Phil Nimmons, Tibor Polgar, Sid Robinovitch, R. Murray Schafer, Ben Steinberg, Morris Surdin, and Norman Symonds. As a producer of radio drama and features he commissioned incidental music from Lucio Agostini, Godfrey Ridout, Rafael Nuñez and others. He also composed incidental music himself.

While on CBC staff, Reeves was a leader in technical innovation: he helped to establish stereo in Canadian radio, organized the world's first quadriphonic series, and introduced to North America from Germany the Kunstkopf technique of surround-sound broadcasting.

As a composer Reeves is best-known for his choral and vocal works, in which the musical settings are closely attuned to the high literary merit of the texts, whether the setting be of prose (as in the Compline Cantata, Opus 11) or verse (as in the Advent Cantata, Opus 17). The musical language of Reeves' compositions is contemporary, its highly personal idiom characterized by strict, though non-serial, twelve-tone procedures (particularly in the later works), non-abrasive modern harmony, and counterpoint that the composer likens to that of William Byrd, transmuted for 20th-century ears.

Reeves wrote extensively on music, particularly in broadcast scripts such as A London Trio (1966) about Handel and Bach, and the St Matthew Trio (1990), a cycle of poems about Bach and Passion music. Music is also a major theme in his three detective novels Murder by Microphone (Toronto 1978), Murder before Matins (Toronto 1984) and Murder with Muskets (Toronto 1985). He has written texts for his own compositions and has contributed the libretti for Norman Symonds' Opera for Six Voices (1961) and Lucio Agostini's opera David.

Reeves' music has received public performances in Canada, the USA, and Europe, and has been broadcast on the CBC. He received commissions from the Chamber Players of Toronto, the Kitchener Bach Choir, Janet Smith, Mark DuBois, and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. A long standing commitment to the political liberation of Czechoslovakia which has found expression in his music (notably in Calendar, Opus 41, a set of 13 motets composed to his own poems on personages and events of Czech history) won him the Masaryk Award in 1989. The Canadian Music Council Award for best choral broadcast of 1982 was given for his production of a performance of the Elmer Iseler Singers on CBC Radio's Celebration series. Scripts of the radio dramas he produced and his papers are held at Concordia University.

Selected Compositions

  • Canons for String Orchestra, Opus 7. 1979. Ms
  • Missa Brevis, Opus 9. 1979. Ms
  • Compline Cantata, Opus 11 (Liber Usualis and Monastic Antiphoner). 1980. Sop, trumpet, strings. Ms
  • Advent Cantata, Opus 17 (various). 1980. Sop, tenor, string orch. Ms
  • Salvator Mundi, Opus 20, music drama (Reeves). 1983. Soli, double chorus, grand organ, chamber organ. Ms
  • Threnody for the People of Poland, Opus 22 ('Lamentations of Jeremiah'). 1984. Mezzo, chorus, strings. Ms
  • Veni Creator Spiritus, Opus 31 (various). 1986. Sop, 4 choirs, 2 organ. Ms
  • Rossetti Prelude and Fugue, Opus 33 (C. Rossetti). 1988. Choir, organ. Ms
  • Requiem Mass, Opus 40. 1990. Chor, strings, organ. Ms
  • Calendar, Opus 41 (various). 1991. Chor. Ms
  • Also the 14 motet cycle For The Feast of All Hallows, five of which,'O Rex Gloriae,''Hodie Sanctus Benedictus,''Isti Sunt Sancti,''Ecce Sacerdos Magnus,' and'Regnum Mundi,' have been published by GVT (1979-80)

Further Reading