This admirable series of double CDs, consisting of radio documentaries by Eitan Cornfield coupled with recorded performances of representative works, has been recommended previously. They build an engrossing picture of the creation of a new music culture in a country without an earlier tradition to build upon or challenge – my report for ClassicalNet about two pioneers from the previous generation, John Weinzweig & Jean Coulthard.
Now I have received for review two more double CDs, devoted to R Murray-Schafer (b. 1933) and Jean Papineau-Couture (1916-2000). The genial Papineau-Couture, a father of French-Canadian music from Quebec, was a student of Nadia Boulanger and devotee of Stravinsky, teacher of a generation of composers, and one for whom craft became axiomatic in his credo.
His life story is developed by Papineau-Couture himself, his daughter and his colleagues, tracing the composer's development from polytonal neo-classicism to 'total atonal chromaticism', with a preoccupation for colour. Particularly touching are the descriptions of his ideal marriage – "my life's dream was to have the wife I have" – which echoes how Milhaud wrote about his wife and good fortune.
The Violin Concerto (1952) is worth knowing, and is the sort of piece younger virtuosi should be introducing to radio audiences. Of the later works, I found Paysage for 8 speaking and 8 singing voices and chamber ensemble (1968) the most interesting and original, contrasting 'light and shade' and composed 'under the shadow of Varese'.
Murray-Schafer is an extraordinary polymath, painter and writer as well as composer. His portrait double CD is more problematic, the biography fascinating but the single work preserved with it less so. Schafer is presented here as environmental campaigner (against urban noise) and as eco-composer, featuring his annual get together in the wilderness in central Ontario for the performance of his Wolf Music with all comers, of whatever skill levels. Animals and birds respond to the performance and become part of it. Schafer wants everyone to be able participate in performing contemporary music, which should not remain the premise of the professionally expert trained musician. Wolf Music has great charm, but a naievety which does not really survive being transplanted onto CD, leaving me with a need to explore more widely Schafer's concert music to decide whether any of it matches the remarkable string quartets, which urgently await presentation as a cycle in UK.
I recommend strongly exploring the catalogue of the Canadian Music Centre and its excellent website which offers you numerous sound samples of music by these Canadian composers and many others.
Copyright © 2003, Peter Grahame Woolf