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Essays on His Life and Music

Edited by Brian Cherney & John Beckwith
Subjects History, Canadian History, Music, Biography & Autobiography
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Hardcover : 9781554582563, 420 pages, January 2011
Ebook (EPUB) : 9780889209220, 420 pages, March 2018
Ebook (PDF) : 9781554583218, 420 pages, January 2011

Table of contents

Table of Contents for
Weinzweig: Essays on His Life and Music, edited by John Beckwith and Brian Cherney
List of Illustrations
Preface and Acknowledgements
1. A Self-Made Composer | John Beckwith and Brian Cherney
Part One: Biographical Themes
2. Toronto: The Social and Artistic Context | Robin Elliott, University of Toronto
3. The Activist | Brian Cherney, McGill University
4. The Teacher | John Rea, McGill University
5. Music for Radio and Film | Elaine Keillor, Carleton University
Part Two: The Composer
6. The First Canadian Serialist | Catherine Nolan, University of Western Ontario
7. “Naked and Unashamed”: The Instrumental Practice | Clark Ross, Memorial University of Newfoundland
8. Works with Text | John Beckwith, University of Toronto
9. “Jazz Swing” and “Jazz Blues” | John Beckwith, University of Toronto
10. “The Story of My Life”: The Divertimento Series | Kames K. Wright, Carleton University
Part Three: The Legacy
11. In His Own Words | Alan Gillmor, Carleton University
12. Critical and Scholarly Views | J. Drew Stephen, University of Texas at San Antonio
13. Ear-Dreaming: A Study in Listeners | Eleanor V. Stubley, McGill University
14. How to Play Weinzweig | Robert Aitken, New Music Concerts
15. Weinzweig as I Knew Him | John Beckwith
List of Works, with Discography | Kathleen McMorrow, University of Toronto, and David Olds, New Music Concerts
General Bibliography with Annotations
Notes and Texts for the CD | David Jaeger, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation


First comprehensive study of John Weinzweig (1913–2006), the pre-eminent Canadian composer of his generation, with essays by composers, theorists, and musicologists. Includes a CD of extracts.
Influenced by European modernists such as Stravinsky, Berg, and Webern, Weinzweig was the first Canadian composer to employ serialism, thereby bringing a spirit of innovation to mid-twentieth-century Canadian music. A forceful advocate for modern Canadian composition, Weinzweig played a key role in the founding of the Canadian League of Composers and the Canadian Music Centre during a buoyant and expansive period for the arts in Canada. He was an influential force as a teacher of composition, first with the Royal Conservatory of Music and later with the University of Toronto’s music faculty.
This first comprehensive study of Weinzweig since his death consists of new essays by composers, theorists, and musicologists. It deals with biographical aspects (the social context of early-twentieth-century Toronto, his activism, his teaching, his early scores for CBC Radio dramas), analyzes his compositional processes and his output (his approach to serialism, his instrumental practice, the presence of jazz elements, the vocal works, the divertimenti), and examines various evaluations of his music (his own – in letters, interviews, talks, and writings – plus those of critics and scholars, of listeners, and of performers). The essays are framed by the co-editors’ portrait/assessment of Weinzweig and a brief personal memoir. Much of the content draws on new research in the extensive Weinzweig Fonds at Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa.
Included at the end of the book are a List of Works by John Weinzweig by Kathleen McMorrow and a Discography by David Olds. Supplementing the volume is an audio CD of extracts (some in their first public release), ranging from a 1937 student work to a song cycle of 1994.


  • Winner, Association for the Recorded Sound Collections Award for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research 2012


This book represents a milestone in Canadian music: a groundbreaking book on John Weinzweig, the man who brought Canadian concert music into the 20th century. This book anticipates the celebrations in 2013 of Weinzweig's 100th birth year, but it's a fantastic addition to our understanding of our musical past through a thorough examination of Weinzweig's life and times. The editors Beckwith and Cherney have written some chapters themselves, each of which is marvelously researched, brimming with information and insight. But they've also done a fantastic job of choosing the other articles that are included. It is impressive because it deals with the man and the music with equal depth and understanding. This excellent book will set the standard for any future publications about Canadian artists in any discipline. Bravo to WLU Press for helping to make it happen!

- Laurence's Picks January 2011–Soundstream Blog, 2011 January 1

John Weinzweig was a life force, a great Canadian, a wonderful musician and an exceptional composer. He was supremely influential as a teacher and composer, and a formidable activist for musical causes. How we could do with Weinzweig today, to lead the charge against the dumbing-down of culture. This magnificent collection of essays and memoirs has been fastidiously edited by John Beckwith and Brian Cherney. They have done full justice to their brief, superbly capturing the feisty, indomitable spirit of a man whose avuncular gaze could be dangerously disarming. The authors present a unique insight into the irascible, yet adorable nature of a creative spirit who was unfamiliar with compromise, and who until the very end of his long life was willing to confront mediocrity wherever he saw it. Compelling throughout, this is one of the most absorbing books on a composer that I have read in a long time.

- Bramwell Tovey, Music Director, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, 2010 November 1

John Beckwith and Brian Cherney's co-edited book about the life and music of John Weinzweig is a valuable addition to the growing body of publications available from Wilfrid Laurier University Press devoted to Canadian music topics.... The sum total of the essays Beckwith and Cherney have a stunning achievement...which will no doubt serve as the benchmark for future Canadian composer studies for years to come.... Simply put, Beckwith and Cherney make the case that Canada's musical landscape, in terms of the concert hall, the university/conservatory classroom, and government granting agencies, was profoundly shaped by Weinzweig, and the picture today would be markedly different without his influential voice.... By bringing together such a diverse group of authors—composers, musicologists, theorists and performers—the editors have...presented all three aspects of Weinzweig—the composer, the teacher and the activist—through a refreshing, new lens. It is a brilliant achievement leading to stimulating insights not just about Weinzweig, but also about our musical culture during the second half of the twentieth century.... One feature worthy of praise is the impressive quality of the musical examples.

- Edward Jurkowski, University of Lethbridge, CAML Review (Canadian Association of Music Libraries), 39, no 2, August 2011, 2011 September 1

This collection of essays about John Weinzweig, one of Canada's most respected and influential twentieth-century composers, offers a vivid description of a man whose music and life might best be understood through their surprising contradictions: a young, activist outsider who came to occupy iconic status in Canada's art music establishment in his senior years; Canada's ‘first serialist’ who advocated musical progress and innovation but continued to use twelve-tone techniques decades after they were out of fashion; and a musical style that balanced the harshness and warmth, seriousness and playfulness inherent in the man.... [The group of chapters exploring Weinzweig's music] offers a fresh, informed, and nuanced appraisal of a Canadian icon's music.... [while the] balanced picture of the man, which celebrates his huge accomplishments while admitting his foibles and failures, may be the most enjoyable aspect of the book.

- Benita Wolters-Fredlund, Calvin College, MLA Notes, 2012 March 1

In Weinzweig, Beckwith and Cherney commission 15 essays by writers, composers, and educators—including themselves—and provide us with an absorbing, penetrating and multifaceted understanding of John Weinzweig and his times.. Comprising personal reminiscence, historical, social, and artistic context, accessible descriptions of the compositions, and appreciations of the legacy, the book also includes a helpful catalogue of works and a discography by Kathleen McMorrow and David Olds, plus a CD produced by that stalwart of Canadian music broadcasting, David Jaeger.... Both books [Weinzweig: Essays on His Life and Music and Unheard Of: Memoirs of a Canadian Composer] incorporate photographs, music examples, detailed notes and indexes. In addition to their narrative strengths, the books also include comprehensive and credible technical discussions and anlysis of the subjects' music by practising composers, musicians, and authors. Should they delve into these chapters, general readers will learn a great deal about mid-20th-century compositional and performance practice too.

- John Brotman, Literary Review of Canada, Vol. 20, no. 6, July/August 2012, 2012 July 1