Thirty-four years after his death, Glenn Gould’s extensive catalogue of recordings, and the bold artistic vision behind them continue to resonate with music fans the world over. His irreverent interpretations of piano repertoire and perplexing idiosyncrasies have become the stuff of legend.
Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is releasing its latest podcast episode, “Glenn Gould: Remixing the Classics”.
Thirty-four years after his death, Glenn Gould’s extensive catalogue of recordings, and the bold artistic vision behind them continue to resonate with music fans the world over. His irreverent interpretations of piano repertoire and perplexing idiosyncrasies have become the stuff of legend. In this episode we speak with Kevin Bazzana, author of the award-winning biography Wondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould. He tells us about Gould’s extraordinary career in music and the surprising secrets revealed to him about Gould’s private life while conducting research at Library and Archives Canada.
Subscribe to our podcast episodes using RSS, iTunes or Google Play, or just tune in at Podcast–Discover Library and Archives Canada: Your History, Your Documentary Heritage.
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By Joseph Trivers
Throughout the 20th century, great operatic singers have populated Canada’s cultural landscape—from Raoul Jobin, Maureen Forrester and Jon Vickers to Gerald Finley and Measha Brueggergosman. Their lives are often as dramatic and inspiring as the roles they play on stage in an opera. The life of Portia White, Nova Scotian contralto, was no exception. Praised for her radiantly beautiful and consistently even tone as well as her regal and dignified stage presence, White was the first African-Canadian concert singer to win international acclaim. November 7, 2016, marks the 75th anniversary of her triumphant national debut in Toronto and gives us a welcome opportunity to reflect on her life, accomplishments and career.
“I really made my debut here [in Toronto] when I sang in November, 1941. It was my fourth professional engagement, but it was my first big city. The next day I received a contract. I always feel it was Toronto which discovered me.” – Portia White
White’s remarks about her debut in Toronto might give the impression that her success came quickly. However, the path to that 1941 concert, and the contract that followed, was marked by years of hard work, some good fortune, and plenty of support from her family and the people and governments of Halifax and Nova Scotia.
Early life and education
It seemed as if Portia was destined for a career in the performing arts and to have a strong and determined character. She was given the name Portia after the heroine of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice by a family friend. In the play, the character Portia achieves her goal of marrying the suitor of her choice through intelligence, grace and quiet determination. Whether or not such a name foreshadowed these same traits in Portia White, her upbringing certainly encouraged them.
Her parents were themselves remarkable people. Her father, the Reverend William A. White, was the son of freed slaves from Virginia, only the second African-Canadian admitted to Acadia University and the first to receive a doctorate in Divinity from Acadia. He also served as the only black chaplain in the British Army in World War I. Portia’s mother, who was descended from Black Loyalists in Nova Scotia, gave Portia her first music lessons. The family moved from Truro, Nova Scotia, to Halifax after Portia’s father returned from the First World War and became the pastor of the Cornwallis Street Baptist Church.
The family’s life was centred around the church, so it is no surprise that much of Portia’s early musical life and education began there. She began singing in the church choir under her mother’s direction. She later took teacher training at Dalhousie and became a teacher in black Nova Scotia communities such as Africville and Lucasville. The work helped to pay for her music lessons. Throughout the 1930s, she took lessons from Bertha Cruikshanks at the Halifax Conservatory of Music. A scholarship enabled White to study with the Italian teacher Ernesto Vinci at the Conservatory in 1939. It was Vinci who began to have her train and sing as a contralto.
Toronto and beyond
Portia White first gained recognition and acclaim in Nova Scotia by performing in local festivals and benefit concerts and by singing on her father’s weekly radio program. She won the Helen Kennedy Silver cup at the Halifax Music Festival in 1935, 1937 and 1938. Further opportunities beckoned when Edith Read, principal at Branksome Hall, a private girls’ school in Toronto, heard her singing. Read was originally from Nova Scotia and was on vacation from Toronto at the time. It was through the support of the Branksome Ladies Club that White came to sing at Eaton Hall in Toronto on November 7, 1941.
The Toronto concert was such a success that White was immediately offered a contract by a branch of Oxford University Press for concerts and a touring career. She resigned from her teaching job to devote more time to her music. In 1942 and 1943 she toured across Canada, which helped boost her Canadian reputation, eventually giving a command performance for the Governor General. White eventually gave her first performance in the United States at New York City’s The Town Hall, in March 1944, to wide acclaim. She moved to New York to be closer to her managers, and was supported financially by the governments of Halifax and Nova Scotia through the Nova Scotia Talent Trust. It marked the first time two different levels of government came together to support an artist’s career. White signed with Columbia Concerts Incorporated and went on to tour Canada, parts of the United States, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.
Later career and legacy
Concert life was hectic, and White eventually began to feel she didn’t rest enough between concerts and travelling. She started experiencing difficulties with her voice, and some critics began complaining of flaws in her voice. This, and disagreements with her managers, led White to retire from public performance. She settled in Toronto, where she took further singing lessons at the Royal Conservatory with the soprano Gina Cigna. She also taught singing privately and at Branksome Hall. White did perform again, throughout the 1950s and 60s, but not very often. One such notable concert was for Queen Elizabeth on October 6, 1964, at the Charlottetown Confederation Centre of the Arts in Prince Edward Island. Less than four years later, in February 1968, White passed away in Toronto after a battle with cancer.
As an artist, Portia White was renowned for her versatility and varied repertoire. She was equally at home singing spirituals as she was singing arias from Italian operas, German Lied or French mélodies. No commercial recordings of White were made during her lifetime; however, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) acquired audio recordings, from the White family, of concerts she gave in Moncton, New Brunswick, and New York City. Some commercial recordings were released posthumously, including the album Think on Me from 1968, two songs on the Analekta label’s Great Voices of Canada (Volume 5), and the album First You Dream (1999), all of which are in LAC’s collection. A documentary, Portia White: Think on Me, was directed by Sylvia Hamilton and released in 1999. White’s legacy continues to live on in the trust fund that was created in her name. Each year the Nova Scotia Talent Trust presents the Portia White Scholarship to a young person showing “exceptional potential as a vocalist.” The Government of Canada named Portia White a person of historical significance 1995 and honoured her with a millennial stamp issued in 1999.
Joseph Trivers is Music Acquisitions Librarian in the Published Heritage Branch at Library and Archives Canada.
By Rachelle Chiasson-Taylor
As the 85th anniversary approaches…
The year 2017 marks the sesquicentennial of Canada’s Confederation, and it also coincides with the 85th anniversary of Glenn Gould’s birth. Performers, composers, music historians, broadcasters, philosophers, and music lovers from all walks of life around the world celebrate this peerless musical figure every five years, and 2017 is no exception. In fact some major events to celebrate both Canada’s and Gould’s anniversaries are in store:
The House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage reports that the Glenn Gould Foundation is proposing to mount a spectacular year-long “Canada 150 World Tour” that will culminate in an epic Canada Day concert in celebration of Gould and the “musical aspirations of all Canadians”.
Gould’s iconic grand piano, the Steinway CD-318, which was removed from display at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa last February while the NAC undergoes renovations will be restored to its display space on Canada Day, 2017. In 2012, the piano and equally iconic concert chair were gifted by Library and Archives Canada to the National Arts Centre, where the piano has begun a new life that includes being played in public performances.
A new biography, Glenn Gould: Remix (Dundurn Press) is scheduled for release in June 2017.
The list goes on…
Glenn Gould Fonds
Library and Archives Canada is the foremost institution for the care and control of Gould’s documentary legacy. In 1984, LAC acquired the contents of the Glenn Gould Fonds, which comprises over 16 thousand items pertaining to the pianist’s personal life and career: official and personal autobiographical documents; personal and professional correspondence; awards and honours; compositions; published and unpublished writings by Gould; writings on Gould in newspapers and periodicals; a collection of books, recordings, and scores annotated by Gould; photographs of Glenn Gould, members of his family, and personalities of the international music world; audiovisual material that includes outtakes from now-legendary recording sessions. The Glenn Gould fonds at Library and Archives Canada is a goldmine for researchers that continues to inspire a huge outpouring of literature, musical happenings, broadcasts, new compositions, and events.
Music collections and communications experts at Library and Archives Canada are putting together a substantial podcast designed to make the public aware of the “other side of Glenn Gould”, acknowledging his image as a solo pianist while going far beyond that image. Gould wrote copiously about music and things extra-musical: he performed with other instrumentalists and singers; he composed; produced documentaries, hosted television shows, gave interviews and created new artistic forms.
The other side
His apparently eccentric and secluded lifestyle raised eyebrows, but had the effect of increasing his fame. His retirement from the concert stage in 1963 also had a paradoxical effect: rather than Gould disappearing from the public consciousness, each of his recordings and broadcasts was viewed as a cult-like happening. His thinking on technology was prophetic, and his views on the authority of the performer in the interpretation of a musical work by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, or other composers from the canon of Western art music, while controversial, were always stimulating. As his friend, the American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein, wrote,
Glenn had […] the kind of daring which accounts for his freshness, the great sense of inquiry which made him suddenly understand Schoenberg and Liszt in the same category, or Purcell and Brahms, or Orlando Gibbons and Petula Clark. He would suddenly bring an unlikely pair of musicians together in some kind of startling comparative essay. […] Here was a man you could really come to love. He was about fifteen years younger than I, I think, but I never felt that he was my junior, in any sense. He was a real peer, in every sense. When he died, l just couldn’t bear it.
Leonard Bernstein, The Truth About a Legend
In preparation for Glenn Gould’s 85th anniversary year in 2017, Library and Archives Canada celebrates the great musician’s eclectic genius, prophetic vision, and compelling quest for meaning through music and art. These were the things that constituted the other side of Glenn Gould.
Rachelle Chiasson-Taylor is a Music Archivist in the Private Archives Branch at Library and Archives Canada.
At the turn of the 19th century, the theatre scene was languishing in Canada. Some plays were a huge success, such as Colas et Colinette, which was performed between 1790 and 1807 and was written by Joseph Quesnel, one of the first playwrights in the country. However, it was often too expensive to maintain theatre companies on a permanent basis. Moreover, the companies faced the disapproval of the Church, which did not like these types of performances.
Most often, it was theatre lovers—members of the social elite composed of French Canadians, military members and British merchants—who arranged venues and presented shows. American actors on tour also entertained audiences in major Canadian cities. When the Theatre Royal opened in Montreal in November 1825, the dramatic arts in Lower Canada were given a new boost.
Support for the Society of Young Artists
Under these circumstances, shortly after the War of 1812, a company called the Society of Young Artists was formed. Driven by the revival of the theatre scene and the English Theatre’s move to the United States, it launched its first season in fall 1815, performing shows mostly in Montreal. The company promoted its season by printing a bilingual leaflet advertising its first play, Voltaire’s The Death of Caesar.
The leaflet’s main goal was to seek funding from the public through subscribers who committed to paying for tickets each month. For its part, the company promised to give four performances a month, under the best possible conditions, from November 15, 1815, to May 15, 1816. The ticket price was set at one dollar, for a monthly total of one louis (or one Halifax pound).
The Canadian newspapers at that time, such as the Spectateur Canadien dated November 20, 1815 (in French only), also promoted the Society’s shows.
An intriguing list
Interesting fact: a list of items was written on the back of the English leaflet. Valued at 25 pounds (Halifax rating), these items could have been used either on stage or to meet the Society’s needs. The list is very difficult to read, but the following items can be identified: millwork, cloth, a pulley, rope, green flannel, white iron and costumes—in short, the items needed for the company’s activities.
Repertoire: Molière, Shakespeare and company
Unfortunately, we do not know all the plays performed by the Society of Young Artists. However, in his book L’activité théâtrale au Québec (1765-1825), Baudoin Burger gives us an idea of the repertoire on the French stage at that time. From 1814 to 1819, the Montreal and Quebec City audiences could enjoy the plays of Molière, Beaumarchais, Voltaire, Regnard, Bruyes and Dancourt. On the English stage, the artists performed Molière, James Kenney, and of course Shakespeare, who remained the most popular.
A unique record
Very few archival records remain that document the beginnings of Canadian theatre under the English regime. The leaflets from the Society of Young Artists are therefore important and even unique records of our theatre heritage. They also show the love of art that pushed the Society to take the stage despite financial difficulties and varying levels of attendance. These people are, in a way, pioneers who believed in artistic development in Canada.
These photographs of Oscar Peterson and his family were taken in 1944. He was in his late teens and already an experienced professional musician. He had been playing regularly with the Johnny Holmes Orchestra since 1942, a popular swing band that played to the dance crowd in and around Montreal. Oscar left the orchestra in 1947 and began a residency at the Alberta Lounge, a club near Windsor Station, leading a trio there for two years.Given the vibrant jazz scene in the city, Oscar had lots of opportunities to play: he performed professionally, played live for CBC Radio broadcasts, attended jam sessions, and met and jammed with visiting musicians performing in town. He earned praise from Count Basie, Woody Herman, Ella Fitzgerald, Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie and others. Oscar was based in Canada until 1949 when Norman Granz convinced him to join the “Jazz at the Philharmonic” concert series in Los Angeles. This marked the beginning of his international career.
Oscar’s parents were immigrants to Canada. Daniel Peterson, Oscar’s father, was from the British Virgin Islands and worked as a boatswain on a merchant ship. His mother, Kathleen Olivia John, was from St. Kitts, British West Indies, and worked as a cook and housekeeper. They met and married in Montreal, settling in Little Burgundy/St-Henri, a predominately black neighbourhood. Like many men living there, Daniel got a job at Windsor Station as a porter on passenger trains for the Canadian Pacific Railway.With instruction and encouragement from their parents, the Peterson children became accomplished musicians.
Fred, the eldest child, introduced Oscar to ragtime and jazz when he played it on the family piano. Fred died in the 1930s while still a teenager. Oscar said Fred was the most talented musician of the family.
Another brother, Charles, who served with an artillery battery in the Canadian Army during the Second World War, played in the regimental band. After the war, he continued as a professional trumpet player, doing studio work and performing at various Montreal nightclubs through the 1950s and 1960s. Like his siblings, he also played the piano, but was forced to give it up after suffering an industrial accident while working in a factory in Montreal after the war. Daisy, Oscar’s oldest sister, was also a virtuoso pianist. She earned a degree in music from McGill University and had a lengthy and influential career as a music teacher in Montreal. She was her siblings’ first piano teacher and introduced Oscar to her own piano teacher, Paul de Marky, a concert pianist who played in the Franz Liszt tradition. Daisy taught for many years in Montreal; her students included future jazz musicians Milton Sealey, Oliver Jones, Reg Wilson and Joe Sealy.
Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is releasing its latest podcast episode, Celia Franca: Shall we dance?
Discover the story of Celia Franca, a woman who introduced Canada to world-class dance performances, pioneered the internationally famous National Ballet of Canada and devoted her entire life to dance. In this episode we are joined by LAC archivists Michel Guénette, Théo Martin and assistant archivist Judith Enright-Smith who will speak to us about who Celia Franca was, and the dance-related resources available to researchers at Library and Archives Canada.
Subscribe to our podcast episodes using RSS or iTunes, or just tune in at Podcast–Discover Library and Archives Canada: Your History, Your Documentary Heritage.
Celia Franca—dancer, teacher, choreographer, founder and artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada—has been described as beautiful, graceful, talented, determined, a powerhouse and a tour de force. Other descriptions have been more pointed, alluding to Ms. Franca’s no-nonsense teaching methods as well as her drive and tenacity in her successful attempt to establish a Canadian classical ballet company in only ten months while at the same time working as a file clerk in a Toronto department store.
Celia Franca was born Celia Franks in London, England in 1921. Her parents were Polish Jewish immigrants, her father a tailor in London’s East End. She surprised her family when at a very young age, she announced that she wanted to be a dancer. After earning scholarships, she studied at London’s Guildhall School of Music and the Royal Academy of Dance. Franca made her London stage debut at the age of 14, after which there was no turning back. By the age of 20, Franca was considered to be one of the most accomplished ballerinas with the Sadler’s Wells Ballet Company (a forerunner of the Royal Ballet) and by the age of 26, Franca was ballet mistress, choreographer and soloist with the London-based Metropolitan Ballet.
In 1950, a new national Canadian ballet company was being contemplated by some Toronto arts patrons and members of that city’s business community. When it was time to choose a director, Franca was approached and accepted the job. She was not only director of the newly formed National Ballet of Canada, but also principal dancer with the company until 1959. Under her direction, the National Ballet of Canada flourished and became recognized and applauded internationally. As a result of Franca’s tenacity and teaching style, “Canadian dancers now had no need to leave Canada to become world-renowned artists.”
In 1959, Celia Franca along with Betty Oliphant, founded the National Ballet School of Canada as a training institution for aspiring dancers and teachers. It was also a very ingenious way to provide definitive dancers for the National Ballet of Canada. Franca resigned from the National Ballet in 1974, and in 1978 co-founded The School of Dance in Ottawa with Merilee Hodgins.
Throughout her lifetime, Celia Franca was the recipient of many awards and honours. In 1968, she was invested as an Officer of the Order of Canada and later promoted to Companion. Celia Franca died in Ottawa in 2007, but her dancing legacy lives on.
Celia Franca’s legacy at Library and Archives Canada:
Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is releasing its latest podcast episode, Between the Sheets.
Archival assistant Gilles Leclerc joins us to talk about LAC’s sheet music collection. We explore what sheet music is, what’s included in LAC’s collection and how the collection came about. We also discuss the historical value of sheet music and why it’s still relevant today.
Subscribe to our podcast episodes using RSS or iTunes, or just tune in at: Podcast – Discover Library and Archives Canada: Your History, Your Documentary Heritage.
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