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Unheard Of

Memoirs of a Canadian Composer

John Beckwith

Publication Year: 2012

Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press

Series: Life Writing

Title Page, Copyright

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List of Illustrations

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pp. vi-viii

List of Music Examples

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pp. ix


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1. Father

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pp. 3-19

The surname Beckwith is Anglo-Saxon, and it means “beechwood.” My father’s branch of the family traces back to the emigration of Samuel Beckwith from his birthplace, Pontefract in Yorkshire, to the area near New London, Connecticut, in 1638. His is the first of...

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2. Mother

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pp. 21-39

In the same year, 1977, as my visit to the Beckwith ancestral haunts of Old Lyme, Connecticut, Grace Dunn, my mother’s English cousin, paid me a visit in Toronto. The previous year had seen the first Parti Québécois victory in the Quebec provincial election, and Ms Dunn said...

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3. Victoria: Childhood and Adolescence

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pp. 41-60

I entered the world in a maternity home (“lying-in hospital” would be the English term) off Cook Street in the pleasant city of Victoria, British Columbia. The names resonate oddly. James Cook, on his last round-the-world voyage in 1777, sailed by the strait flanking the future...


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4. Toronto: Youth

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pp. 63-84

I had travelled little. I knew a good deal of my native Vancouver Island, but even there the furthest west I had been from Victoria was Sooke, and the furthest north Campbell River. Excursions off the island had taken me as far south as Portland in northern Oregon and as far east as...

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5. Composing

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pp. 85-95

A publication of 1974, Colombo’s Canadian Quotations, included a saying of mine from an interview of 1967: “From about age eight I had the idea I wanted to be a composer—mainly, at that time, in order to become very, very famous.” This awful, but true, statement...

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6. Paris

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pp. 97-116

Compared with other European cities, Paris in 1950 showed few outward signs of having survived a war. But if you looked, the walls around the main open spaces displayed plaques marking where nineteen- and twenty-year-olds had died in the street fighting just...


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7. Writing

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pp. 119-146

As I returned from Europe in the fall of 1952, what were my prospects? Colin Sabiston had written that Leo Smith was seriously ill (Smith died that spring) and suggested I should apply for the position of music critic on The Globe and Mail. I contacted the editors...

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8. Academia

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pp. 147-163

As teachers, Alberto Guerrero and John Weinzweig both strongly influenced my musical formation. Guerrero’s only piano teacher, as far as anyone knows, was his mother. Weinzweig’s only composition instructor, for a limited time, was Bernard Rogers in Rochester...

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9. Politics

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pp. 165-189

The pie graph of normal adult life patterns includes large slices for sleeping, eating, working, and running errands. In my case there is another large slice for attending meetings. I became accustomed to the (often lengthy and verbose) decision-making processes of academia...


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10. For Instruments (1)

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pp. 193-213

Arnold Walter once remarked that a composer may do many jobs in order to survive—writing, teaching, performing—but always regards himself or herself primarily as a composer. (A moment of self-revelation, perhaps? His own composing took a back seat to his...

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11. For Instruments (2)

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pp. 215-244

A commission from Arraymusic the following year, 1980, prompted me to write another collage piece with a scenario of players-in-motion. The request was for a quintet of mixed instrumentation, and I conceived a work that could be played by any five instruments...

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12. Operas

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pp. 245-276

In my early teens I became an opera buff through listening to the live radio broadcasts every Saturday morning from the Metropolitan in New York. I subscribed to Opera News and, with its illustrations in front of me, would try to visualize the performance I was hearing. Occasionally...

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13. Choirs

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pp. 277-303

Stanley Bulley, in whose choirs in Victoria I developed a love of classical choral literature, moved east in 1945 to work on a University of Toronto doctorate while holding a position as organist and choirmaster. At his invitation, for my first two undergraduate years I sang tenor...

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14. For Voice(s)

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pp. 305-315

The four e.e. cummings songs for soprano and piano are student works of 1950. The six e.e. cummings songs for baritone and piano were composed between 1980 and 1982—that is, thirty years later. During those thirty years I had many contacts with first-class singers but...


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15. Full Length

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pp. 319-347

This chapter of the tale is more like apologies and confessions. There’s nothing very juicy in it. Having begun by depicting my parents, it seemed appropriate for a full-length self-portrait (now that the account nears its full length) to write of people and happenings...


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pp. 349-369


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pp. 371-372

Recordings and Scores

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pp. 373


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pp. 375-388

Further Reading, Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781554583980
E-ISBN-10: 1554583985
Print-ISBN-13: 9781554583584
Print-ISBN-10: 1554583586

Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Life Writing