Publications || Weinzweig: Essays on His Life and Music

Weinzweig: Essays on His Life and Music

Edited by John Beckwith and Brian Cherney
2011, Wilfrid Laurier University Press (Waterloo, ON)

Click here to read more, or to purchase this book from Wilfrid Laurier University Press. 

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. Read the Notes and Texts for the CD.

About the Authors: John Beckwith and Brian Cherney

John Beckwith’s thirty-eight years with the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto, included seven as its dean and five as founding director of its Institute for Canadian Music. Among his compositions are four operas and many orchestral, choral, chamber, and solo works. A frequent contributor to Canadian and foreign music journals, he is the author of Music Papers (1997) and In Search of Alberto Guerrero (WLU Press, 2006).

Since 1972 Brian Cherney has been on the staff of the Faculty of Music (now the Schulich School of Music) at McGill University, where he teaches composition at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. His extensive compositional output includes orchestral, choral, and instrumental music. His monograph on the Canadian composer Harry Somers was published in 1975.

Book Reviews

“With the Weinzweig centenary coming up in 2013, the time does seem right to encourage more discussion concerning his influence and, hopefully, performance of his music. This new volume makes a valuable contribution to the rather small body of research devoted to Canadian composers... Each of the authors makes a worthwhile contribution to our understanding of how the craft of composition was practised by an important Canadian composer during one of the most tumultuous periods in musical history.... An excellent sampler CD, including representative works covering Weinzweig’s entire career, accompanies the volume. Put together by veteran CBC producer David Jaeger, it is one of the best parts of the whole project. As the disc played through, I was struck again and again by the quality of the music. A complete list of works and discography is also included. Any composer who remains active for as long as John Weinzweig did is bound to go in and out of ‘fashion’ during his lifetime. One who is as involved with the “political’ side of things runs the risk of having his public feuds overshadow the importance of his music. This may have happened to this ‘self-made composer.’ If such is the case, then I hope that time will give performers and listeners the distance necessary to hear his compositions with fresh ears. This volume will help.”

 — T. Patrick Carrabré, Intersections

“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)

“A thorough and affectionate account of John Weinzweig, his life and music, with detailed analyses of individual works. John was a friend, always ready with good advice, and this book says much about the development of the music scene in Toronto and how influential John was and how tirelessly he worked to move the ‘old boys’ into the twentieth century. A marvellous tribute to someone who has a unique place in Canadian music history.”

 — Mary Lou Fallis, soprano comedienne

“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!”

 — Lawrence’s Picks, January 2011–Soundstreams Blog

“This reviewer cannot remember reading a better compendium of essays on a composer’s ‘life and music’ than this.... The book is beautifully balanced, written for literate music lovers, not just professionals. Readers will find biography, cultural and social history, personal recollection, and musical analysis both accessible and arcane—Weinzweig was, after all, ‘Canada’s first serialist.’ The accompanying CD illustrates various aspects of the composer’s style; one wishes it were longer, but both it and the work list/discography are welcome.... This is an important book on Canadian music from WWII through the 1980s. Summing Up: Highly recommended.”

 — W. Metcalfe, Professor Emeritus, University of Vermont, Choice

“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

“Weinzweig referred to himself as a ‘radical romantic.’ In an essay about how to play his music, Robert Aitken writes about ‘his spry wit, intense irony, twinkling eyes yet steadfast seriousness of purpose.’ By the end of the final essay, co-editor John Beckwith’s affectionate Weinzweig As I Knew Him, a vivid portrait has emerged from the various perspectives explored in this superb book.

This book has been produced with uncommon care, right from the cover art, through the documentation on Weinzweig’s compositions and recordings, to the enclosed CD of his music. Throughout the text there are photos of items such as a page from his first piano teacher Gertrude Anderson’s hand-written account of his early years, and a portrait by Harold Town, whose rejection of realism, as Robin Elliott shows, parallels Weinzweig’s own unswerving rejection of tonality.”

 — Pamela Margles, Wholenote



Huronia Symphony Celebrates Weinzweig


The Huronia Symphony performs Symphonic Ode and Enchanted Hill in Barrie, Ontario.

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Quinte Symphony performs Divertimento No. 3


Hear Belleville's Quinte Symphony perform Divertimento No. 3 under the direction of Gordon Craig.

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Les AMIS celebrates Weinzweig


Members of Les AMIS Ensemble celebrate Weinzweig's Centenary with performances in Ukraine, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, and Poland between September 24, 2013 and October 5, 2013.

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Ottawa Chamberfest celebrates Weinzweig


On Sunday, August 4, 2013, Dr. James Wright illuminates the life and accomplishments of Canadian composer John Weinzweig on the centenary of his birth. This is a 45-minute "snapshot performance."

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The National Arts Centre Orchestra honours Weinzweig


On Sunday, July 7, The NAC Orchestra is performing Weinzweig’s Red Ear of Corn in honour of John Weinzweig’s 100th birthday celebration.

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