Composer John Weinzweig had an enormous impact on contemporary classical Canadian music.
Known as the “Dean of Canadian Composers”, Weinzweig received his MusBac from the Faculty of Music in 1937 (where he founded the original U of T Symphony Orchestra in 1935), went to study composition at Eastman, and returned to Canada where he worked at the CBC from 1941-1951 and began experimenting with serialism in his compositions.
He was founder and first president of the Canadian League of Composers in 1951.
He joined the Faculty of Music in 1952 as associate professor and was co-planner of the Canadian Music Centre in 1959. His students included Murray Adaskin, Robert Aitken, Kristi Allik, John Beckwith, Norma Beecroft, Brian Cherney, Samuel Dolin, Harry Freeman, Srul Irving Glick, David Jaeger, Phil Nimmons, Harry Somers, R. Murray Schafer, Doug Riley, and Kenny Wheeler.
He was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1974. He taught at the Faculty until 1977 but continued to remain very active as a composer following his retirement from teaching.
The Canadian Encyclopedia describes his compositions: “In all Weinzweig’s works, however varied the problems engaged or the solutions offered, qualities remain that have characterized Weinzweig’s music since 1939: clarity of texture; economy of material; rhythmic energy; tight motivic organization, usually but not slavishly controlled through serialism; short melodic outbursts contrasted with long flowing lines; and harmonies that, though often harsh, never fully lose their tonal orientation. The tonal references are more likely to be modal suggestions, or progressions blurred by added pitches, than recollections from Western common practice. Weinzweig once said, speaking of his (mainly unhappy) undergraduate years: ‘No one ever explained tonality to me.’ The core of his compositional output is the series of 12 divertimentos, four of them written after 1982.”
Weinzweig had a knack for celebrating his music around his birthdays. He would have celebrated his 106th birthday next Monday.
The Faculty celebrated in 1988:
A series of concerts were held for his centenary in 2013.
Alumnus Richard Henninger wrote of John Weinzweig in 1973 on the occasion of his 60th birthday: “Now, at a time when mainstream twentieth century techniques are a fact of life in Canadian composition, we can look back and realize that, more than any other musician, John Weinzweig was responsible for initiating their usage. With his own music, in the early forties, Weinzweig broke the ground for the rest of us by putting sounds inspired by Berg and Stravinsky before radio and concert audiences at a time when such sounds were sure to meet resistance. By introducing contemporary techniques to a few sympathetic colleagues and students, he generated a small group of like-minded composers which became the foundation of the variety and quality found in Canadian music today.”
John Weinzweig was born in Toronto on March 11, 1913 and died in Toronto on August 24, 2006.