- Niki Goldschmidt: A Life in Canadian Music
When Nicholas Goldschmidt died on 8 February 2004, two months after his ninety-fifth birthday, one of the most remarkable lives in Canadian music came to a close. In his early years he had been a singer of modest accomplishment who specialized in song recitals at which he accompanied himself at the piano. Throughout his long life he was an active conductor, especially of opera. But above all he was truly an animateur, someone who dreamed up big and impractical events and then breathed vibrant life into them, from the founding of the Canadian Opera Company and the Vancouver International Festival in the 1950s to a series of performances in the fall of 2003 that formed a Celebration of the composer Benjamin Britten. It was for a production of one of Britten's church operas that he made his last appearance as a conductor. Along the way there had been the Guelph Spring Festival, three spectacular choral festivals, brilliant celebrations for Canada's centennial in 1967 and for the arrival of the new millennium in 2000, and more.
The chronicle of Goldschmidt's life is a chronicle of a significant part of Canadian music for almost sixty years. In just under two hundred pages, Gwenlyn Setterfield manages to touch on virtually everything that Goldschmidt did in music without slighting anything. The danger is that such a book will become a mere list of events, but it is Setterfield's great success that she related details within a constantly moving narrative. Nevertheless, there is an inherent problem in the subject for the biographer. Through all the information about festivals and performances that Goldschmidt organized and conducted, Goldschmidt himself comes across as unfailingly optimistic and upbeat. That is how he did appear in real life, but a curious reader looks for more subtle and personal revelations. Did he never get depressed, have regrets, go to a hockey game, walk the dog? The riddle lies in the character of a man whose entire being seemed motivated by and dedicated to music, without time for or interest in anything else. Indeed, it is difficult to separate the person from his activities, and it is his accomplishments and influences that defined the man. The result is that personal shadings are missing from a portrait that in the end is a stunning collage of events that were inevitably external to the man himself.
The book is modest in size but it is packed with information. Those who knew Goldschmidt in his Canadian years will read with interest about his childhood and youth in a privileged Moravian family in the old Hapsburg empire. He spent almost a decade in the United States before his fortuitous arrival in Toronto in 1946, and Setterfield is especially good at weaving the contacts and experiences that Goldschmidt had in Europe and the usa into her account of his later life, something that he himself was immensely skilled at doing. The book is carefully researched and annotated and the author was able to draw on extensive interviews with Niki and Shelagh, husband and wife for fifty-five years, as well as with many people who knew them. [End Page 382]
Gwenlyn Setterfield is a notable administrator in the arts. With her bok on Nicholas Goldschmidt she proves herself an equally able researcher and a writer of clarity and style. Niki Goldschmidt is both an entertaining read and a valuable record of a vital chapter in Canadian musical life. [End Page 383]
Carl Morey, Faculty of Music, University of Toronto