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Beckwith, John

Beckwith, John

Beckwith, John, Canadian composer, teacher, writer on music, and pianist; b. Victoria, British Columbia, March 9, 1927. He studied piano and harmony with Gwendoline Harper. After taking classes at Victoria Coll. (1944–45), he settled in Toronto and studied at the Univ. (M.B., 1947; M.M., 1961). He also pursued piano training with Alberto Guerrero (1945–50). In 1950 he made his debut in a lecture-recital in Toronto. A scholarship award allowed him to study composition with Boulanger in Paris (1950–51). In 1952 he joined the music faculty of the Univ. of Toronto, while also teaching theory at the Royal Cons, of Music of Toronto from 1952 to 1966. He served as dean of the faculty (1970–77), and in 1984 was named the Jean A. Chalmers prof. of Canadian Music at the Univ. of Toronto, the first position of its kind in a Canadian Univ. In 1990 he retired as prof. emeritus. Active as a reviewer, program annotator, and editor, he made a specialty of the Canadian musical repertoire past and present. He restored Joseph Quesnel’s early 19th century musical comedy Lucas et Cécile (1992). He ed. Vols 5 and 18 of The Canadian Musical Heritage anthology series (1986, 1995), and publ. Music Papers: Articles and Talks by a Canadian Composer, 1961–1994 (1997). In 1987 he was made a Member of the Order of Canada. Beckwith’s music is marked by pragmatic modernism, in which techniques of serialism, both chromatic and non-chromatic, and structural collage often recur. Many of his works reveal a North American, or specifically Ontarian, origin by their choice of topics, motives, coloration, or sometimes by quotation.


DRAMATIC: Night Blooming Cereus, chamber opera (1953–58; radio premiere, Toronto, March 4, 1959; stage premiere, Toronto, April 5, 1960); The Killdeer, incidental music (1960); The Shivaree, opera (1965–66; 1978; Toronto, April 3, 1982); Crazy to Kill, opera (1987–88; Guelph, May 11, 1989); Taptoo!, opera (1993–95; Montreal, March 17, 1999). ORCH.: Music for Dancing (1949; rev. 1959); Montage (1953); Fall Scene and Fair Dance for Violin, Clarinet, and Strings (1956); Concerto Fantasy for Piano and Orch. (1958–60); Flower Variations and Wheels (1962); Horn Concertino (1963); All the Bees and All the Keys for Narrator and Orch. (1973); A Concert of Myths for Flute and Orch. (1982–83; Calgary, April 15, 1984); Peregrine for Solo Viola, Solo Percussion, and Small Orch. (1989; Toronto, March 3, 1990); Round and Round (1991–92; Winnipeg, Oct. 9, 1992). band:Elastic Band Studies (1969; rev. 1975); For Starters for 11 Brass Instruments (1984). CHAMBER: 3 Studies for String Trio (1955–56); Circle, with Tangents for Harpsichord and 12 Solo Strings (Vancouver, July 16, 1967); Taking a Stand for 5 Players, 8 Brass Instruments, 14 Music Stands, and 1 Platform (1972); Musical Chairs for String Quintet (1973); Quartet for Strings (1977; Montreal, Feb. 10, 1978); Case Study for Any 5 Instruments (1980); Sonatina in 2 Movements for Trumpet and Piano (1981); Arctic Dances for Oboe and Piano (1984); Coll Airs for String Quartet (1990); Scene for Clarinet, Trumpet, 2 Percussion, Piano, and Contrabass (1991); After-images, after Webern for Guitar and Cello (1994); Echoes of Thiele for 8 Instruments (1995; Kitchener, Jan. 17, 1996); Eureka for 9 Wind Instruments (Toronto, Oct. 11, 1996); Lines Overlapping for Harpsichord and Banjo (1996–97); Blurred Lines for Harpsichord and Violin in Quarter Tones (1997); Ringaround for Harpsichord and Celtic Harp (1998). KEYBOARD: Piano: Music for Dancing for Piano, 4-Hands (1948); Novelette (1951); Études (1983). Organ: Upper Canadian Hymn Preludes for Organ and Tape (1976–77). Other Keyboard: Keyboard Practice for 10 Instruments, 4 Players (Toronto, Nov. 24, 1979); On the Other Hand: 4 Quartertone Studies for Harpsichord (1997). VOCAL: 5 Lyrics of the Tang Dynasty for High Voice and Piano (1947); The Great Lakes Suite for Soprano, Baritone, Clarinet, Cello, and Piano (1949); 4 Songs to Poems by e.e. cummings for Soprano and Piano (1950); Jonah for 4 Soloists, Chorus, and Small Orch. (1963); The Trumpets of Summer for Speaker, 4 Soloists, Chorus, and 6 Instrumentalists (1964); Sharon Fragments for Chorus (1966); Place of Meeting for 3 Soloists, Chorus, and Orch. (1966–67); The Sun Dance for Speaker, 6Soloists, 2 Choruses, Percussion, and Organ (1968); Gas! for 20 Speaking Voices (1969); 3 Motets on Swan’s “China” for Chorus (1980–81); 6 Songs to Poems by e.e. cummings for Baritone and Piano (1980–82); Mating for 20 Solo Voices, Electric Piano, and Percussion (1981–82); A Little Organ Concert for Organ, Brass Quintet, and Chorus (1982); Harp of David for Chorus (1984–85); Avowals for Tenor and Keyboardist (1985); Les Premiers hivernements for Soprano, Tenor, and Early Instrumental Ensemble (1986); Synthetic Trios for Soprano, Clarinet, and Piano (1987); beep for Soprano, Baritone, Chorus, and Percussion (1990); The Hector for Soprano/Narrator and Early Instruments (1990); Stacey for Soprano and Piano (1997); Basic Music for Children’s Choir, Youth Choir, and Orch. (Guelph, May 29, 1998). Collage: A Message to Winnipeg for 4 Narrators, Clarinet, Violin, Piano, and Percussion (1960); 12 Letters to a Small Town for 4 Narrators, Flute, Oboe, Guitar, and Piano or Harmonium (1961); Wednesday’s Child for 3 Narrators, Soprano, Tenor, Flute, Viola, Piano, and Percussion (1962); Canada Dash, Canada Dot for Folk Singer, 5 Narrators, Soprano, Contralto, Baritone, Bass, and Instruments (1965–67); The Journals of Susanna Moodie for 2 Keyboard Players and Percussion (1973); “In the middle of ordinary noise...”, auditory masque for Speaker, 2 Singers, 3 Instrumentalists, and Tape (1992).


T. McGee, ed., Taking a Stand: Essays in Honour of I. B. (Toronto, 1995).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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