Happy Canada Day!

Canada Day is on July 1st. This year’s event will be rather more special than usual as it is the 150th Anniversary of Canada’s Confederation, with big parties planned all across Canada. Radio 3 has been celebrating Canada 150 too, with a week long schedule featuring Canadian musicians. So, are you struggling to select your Canadian musical favourites? Here’s a quick selection….

Many Canadian musicians have contributed to popular music including Leonard Cohen, who passed away last year, and Neil Young. Celine Dion, despite being Canadian, won the Eurovision Song Contest for Switzerland in 1988, beating the UK entry (Scott Fitzgerald singing Go (no, I don’t remember it either)) by just one point. While Justin Bieber has made one of the more unusual contributions to the UL as, courtesy of Legal Deposit, we have a Justin Bieber “sticker dress-up book”, which includes a collection of fashion-wear for the young fan eager to dress Justin correctly.

Oscar Peterson, the renowned jazz pianist, also hailed from Canada. He is one of a handful of musicians that have been celebrated on both Canadian and Austrian postage stamps. Fellow pianist, Glenn Gould, also came from north of the 49th Parallel. Unlike Peterson, Gould performed in public very little. Debuting in 1955, by 1964 he had officially retired from the concert platform. His huge recorded output however would have an enormous impact on his posthumous reputation – though a lesser known artist during his lifetime he became phenomenally well-known after his death through his recordings. For some reflections on this see Paul Elie’s Re-inventing Bach (M520.c.201.56). And don’t forget Angela Hewitt, also famed for her Bach interpretations.

R. Murray Schafer is probably one of the best known of modern-day Canadian composers (he shares with Leonard Cohen and Oscar Peterson, the honour of a Glenn Gould Prize, indeed, he was the first recipient). Much of Schafer’s music is at the UL, along with his novel Smoke (2005.9.1144), and his writings on music. The Canadian Music Centre has lots more information on composers living and working in Canada.

The folk music of Canada derives from a rich diversity of cultures: There is music of Canada’s First Nations, some of which has made its way into more mainstream music – William Alwyn was inspired by the music of the Piikani Nation when writing a cello piece On the trail, which was to have an unusual sequel (more on that another time on MusiCB3), while Jesuit missionary, Jean de Brebeuf, created Canada’s oldest song – The Huron Carol (Jesous Ahatonia), when he adapted a French tune to his own lyrics written for the Huron / Wendat people in their language. (De Brebeuf is also credited with inventing the name of the game lacrosse!). An arrangement of the Huron carol can be found in M280.b.95.57.

Canada has a rich tradition of fiddle playing, dating back to Scottish, Irish, and French immigrants. The Scots had an especially high impact, especially in the Cape Breton area of Nova Scotia, which now has its own fiddling style. It has its own step-dance too which owes its roots to both Scottish and Irish influences. The “MacEdward Leach and the songs of Atlantic Canada” webpages contain a huge amount of songs and music from the Atlantic coast of Canada, much of which follows these traditions.

Further inland, Quebec’s French heritage has influenced its music. From French-Canadian songs and fiddle music to “La Turlutte”, a form of popular song with its origins in the French Chanson tradition. La Bolduc (Mary Rose-Anna Bolduc) was considered to be one of its greatest exponents combining elements of French chanson with traditions of the Irish reel. For a taste of Canadian music why not listen to Canada : Music Rough Guide (CD.078.71)?

I must also mention the Canadian Association of Music Libraries, Archives and Documentation Centres, which has one of the profession’s best acronyms – CAML.

Finally two pieces of music that are not by Canadians, but are inextricably linked with the country: Monty Python’s Lumberjack Song must be the most famous non-Canadian Canadian song ever.

While Vaughan Williams’ prelude to the film 49th Parallel (Vaughan Williams’ first film score) has long been one of my favourite pieces of music. Designed as a propaganda film to encourage the United States to enter the Second World War, 49th Parallel follows a U-Boat crew as they attempt to cross the 49th Parallel into the United States. Some wonderful performances from Leslie Howard and Anton Walbrook, along with powerful writing from Emeric Pressburger (both Walbrook (who donated his fee to the International Red Cross) and Pressburger were refugees from the Nazis), and some stunning shots of Canada mostly taken on a small hand-held camera, means that the film still retains its power years after.

Happy Canada Day! Here’s to the next 150 years.




About mj263

Music Collections Supervisor at Cambridge University Library. Wide musical interests. Often to be found stuck in a composer's archive, or enthusing about antiquarian music.
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