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Essays on His Life and Music

JohnBeckwith, BrianCherney

Publication Year: 2011

John Weinzweig (1913–2006) was the pre-eminent Canadian composer of his generation. Influenced by European modernists such as Stravinsky, Berg, and Webern, he was the first Canadian composer to employ serialism, thereby bringing a spirit of innovation to mid-twentieth-century Canadian music. A forceful advocate for modern Canadian composition, Weinzweig played a key role in the founding of the Canadian League of Composers and the Canadian Music Centre during a buoyant and expansive period for the arts in Canada. He was an influential force as a teacher of composition, first with the Royal Conservatory of Music and later with the University of Toronto’s music faculty.

This first comprehensive study of Weinzweig since his death consists of new essays by composers, theorists, and musicologists. It deals with biographical aspects (the social context of early-twentieth-century Toronto, his activism, his teaching, his early scores for CBC Radio dramas), analyzes his compositional processes and his output (his approach to serialism, his instrumental practice, the presence of jazz elements, the vocal works, the divertimenti), and examines various evaluations of his music (his own – in letters, interviews, talks, and writings – plus those of critics and scholars, of listeners, and of performers). The essays are framed by the co-editors’ portrait/assessment of Weinzweig and a brief personal memoir. Much of the content draws on new research in the extensive Weinzweig Fonds at Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa.

Supplementing the volume is an audio CD of extracts (some in their first public release), ranging from a 1937 student work to a song cycle of 1994. Read the [http://www.wlupress.wlu.ca/General/beckwith-cherney-cd-notes.pdf Notes and Texts for the CD.]

Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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Preface and Acknowledgements

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pp. xi-xiii

In the spring of 2006, the editors each visited John and Helen Weinzweig at the seniors' home in Toronto where they were then living. In the course of several conversations after these visits, we came to the conclusion that it was time for a new study of Weinzweig and his music. It had been...

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1. A Self-Made Composer

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pp. 3-26

These remarks, delivered spontaneously to a gathering of members of the arts community in Toronto towards the end of his long life, give a vivid sense of what mattered most in John Weinzweig's professional life: the status of the composer in Canada. His drive to establish and...

Part One: Biographical Themes

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2. Toronto: The Social and Artistic Context

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pp. 29-46

John Weinzweig was born on 11 March 1913 in a city that was poised on the brink of modernity. During his infant years, life in Toronto, as in much of the world, was dominated by the Great War, but even during that period—and with still greater urgency immediately thereafter—developments...

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3. The Activist

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pp. 47-73

Throughout his long creative life, John Weinzweig campaigned vigorously and relentlessly on behalf of contemporary Canadian composers and their music. He wrote letters, articles, recommendations, and briefs; lobbied organizations such as the CBC; sat on numerous committees...

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4. The Teacher

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pp. 75-101

In September 1960 at the age of forty-seven—midway through his ninety-three years—Weinzweig had already completed twenty of almost forty years devoted to teaching. Like most concert composers in Canada then as today, he projected a double identity, or so it...

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5. Music for Radio and Film

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pp. 103-127

John Weinzweig regarded 1941 as "the turning point in my career. I was invited by Samuel Hersenhoren, violinist-conductor, to compose the incidental music for a series of CBC radio dramas."1 Over the following five years, Weinzweig produced incidental music for at least...

Part Two: The Composer

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6. The First Canadian Serialist

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pp. 131-150

John Weinzweig's interest in serialism was awakened in 1937—8 while he pursued his master's degree at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. Eastman was a primary North American centre for the creation and performance of new music under the...

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7. "Naked and Unashamed": The Instrumental Practice

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pp. 151-171

So too could Weinzweig's. Overscoring is a subjective term, of course, and what some may consider overblown could be regarded by others to be perfectly appropriate, depending on the character of a particular work. Nevertheless, it is hard to imagine any orchestral writing by John...

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8. Works with Texts

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pp. 173-205

John Weinzweig's works for chorus and for voice(s) with or without piano and/or other instruments may be summarized as follows: three works with non-English texts; two works with English texts translated from other languages; and twenty works with texts compiled—or, in most cases...

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9. "Jazz Swing" and "Jazz Blues"

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pp. 207-223

In Weinzweig's youth, people listened to the radio as habitually as in later decades they watched television, and prime-time radio fare contained heavy amounts of music of all kinds, from symphonic concerts to popular dance bands. He and his brother, in their teens, earned pocket...

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10. "The Story of My Life": The Divertimento Series

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pp. 225-264

Over a span of more than fifty years (1946-98), John Weinzweig created his extraordinary series of twelve Divertimenti. Nine of these works feature a woodwind or brass instrument—flute, oboe, bassoon, trumpet/trombone, clarinet, alto saxophone, French horn, tuba, and...

Part Three: The Legacy

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11. In His Own Words

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pp. 267-285

T here is no measure of disrespect in saying that John Weinzweig, unlike a number of his composer colleagues—Istvan Anhalt and R. Murray Schafer, for example—was not, apart from his creative compositional work, a public intellectual. He made no such pretence. ...

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12. Critical and Scholarly Views

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pp. 287-315

The critical and scholarly writings about John Weinzweig's music encompass materials written over multiple decades and address nearly every aspect of Weinzweig's career. They range from personal accounts to analytical studies and appear in many different types of publication from...

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13. Ear-Dreaming: A Study in Listeners

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pp. 317-347

Ear-Dreaming—the title came to me as I watched Larry Weinstein's cinematic rendering of John Weinzweig's "Hockey Night in Canada" (1986). Sprawled on a well-worn couch, Weinzweig was watching television, seemingly transfixed by the fast-paced action of a hockey game as first one...

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14. How to Play Weinzweig

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pp. 349-364

"Integrity" is a word which continually shows up when discussing John Weinzweig. He seemed to give his all for his beliefs. Until the end of his life he fought for a better world for Canadian music, wrote and telephoned incessantly to those in power who could help, and was tireless in...

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15. Weinzweig as I Knew Him

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pp. 365-372

John was always good for a quote. Irony was one of his trademark tools, as for example when he referred to conductors as "the crowned heads of the podium," or wrote (concerning the cutbacks of the Ontario government headed by Mike Harris): "With the arts under 'Harrisment'...

List of Works, with Discography

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pp. 373-388

General Bibliography with Annotations

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pp. 389-390

Notes and Texts for the CD

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pp. 391-394


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pp. 395-402

E-ISBN-13: 9781554583218
E-ISBN-10: 1554583217
Print-ISBN-13: 9781554582563
Print-ISBN-10: 1554582563

Page Count: 420
Publication Year: 2011