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CANADIAN COMPOSER PORTRAITS R Murray-Schafer & Jean Papineau-Couture

15Jean Papineau-Couture

CD1: J Papineau-Couture documentary
produced and prepared by Eitan Cornfield [60:15]

CD 2: Concerto pour violon et orchestre de chambre [19']
Pièce concertante no. 3 "Variations" [16']
Paysage [12']
Concerto pour piano et orchestre [16']


R Murray-Schafer

CD1: R. Murray Schafer documentary
produced and prepared by Eitan Cornfield [54:50]

CD 2: Wolf Music [64:16]
R. Murray Schafer (music / musique, text / texte, narration)
Michael Cumberland (Alphorn / cor des Alpes, tuba)
John Dewirst (trombone)
Wendy Humphreys (sorpano)
Stuart Laughton (trumpet / trompette, cornetto / cornet)
Tilly Prudhom (clarinet / clarinette)
Ellen Waterman (flute / flûte)

This admirable series of double CDs, consisting of radio documentaries by Eitan Cornfield coupled with recorded performances of representative works, has been recommended previously as a model for other countries to consider following. Several of these taken together provide an engrossing picture of the creation of a new music culture in a country without an earlier tradition to build upon or challenge. Read, in conjunction with this short notice, my other report about two pioneers from the previous generation, John Weinzweig & Jean Coulthard.

My interest was aroused by encountering a string quartet by R Murray-Schafer, and went on to explore in depth what turned out to be as notable a cycle as those of Bartok's or Shostakovich's (hear the whole Schafer cycle as recorded by the Molinari Quartet before you deride this extravagance as hyperbole!).

Now I have received for review two more double CDs, devoted to R Murray-Schafer (b. 1933) and Jean Papineau-Couture (1916-2000). The latter's unusual name remained with me since the somewhat abortive attempt at a Festival of Canadian Music in London which I covered, with pleasure and profit, some three decades ago. It comprised a modest series of concerts at the Purcell Room which attracted very small audiences and little critical attention. I enjoyed hearing examples of music by Brian Cherney and others, and talking with several of these visitors, including the genial Papineau-Couture, a father of French-Canadian music from Quebec, student of Nadia Boulanger and devotee of Stravinsky, teacher of a generation of composers, and one for whom craft became axiomatic in his credo.

His life story is developed by Papineau-Couture himself, his daughter and his colleagues, tracing the composer's development from polytonal neo-classicism to 'total atonal chromaticism', with a preoccupation for colour -an attractive mix of enduring worth. Particularly touching are the descriptions of his ideal marriage - "my life's dream was to have the wife I have" - which echoes how Milhaud wrote about his wife and good fortune.

The Violin Concerto (1952) is worth knowing, and is the sort of piece younger virtuosi should be introducing to radio audiences, instead of those usual war-horses of the 'canon' that concert promoters demand. Of the later works, I found Paysage (1968) the most interesting and original, contrasting 'light and shade - - under the shadow of Varese' for 8 speaking and 8 singing voices and chamber ensemble.

Murray-Schafer's double CD is more problematic, the biography fascinating but the single work preserved with it less so. Schafer is an extraordinary polymath, painter and writer as well as composer and presented here as environmental campaigner (against urban noise) and as eco-composer, featuring his annual get together in the wilderness in central Ontario for the ongoing creation and performance with all comers, of whatever skill levels, of his Wolf Music, in which the animals and birds respond to the performance and become part of it. This bears a distant relation to the work of COMA in UK, which has grown successfully upon a premise that everyone can participate in performing contemporary music, which should not remain the premise of the professionally expert trained musician. It has great charm but a naievety which does not really survive being transplanted onto CD for urban home listening. So I am still left with a need to explore more widely Schafer's concert music to decide whether any of it matches the remarkable string quartets, which urgently await presentation as a cycle in UK.

I can however recommend strongly exploring the catalogue of the Canadian Music Centre and its excellent website which offers you numerous sound samples of music by these Canadian composers and many others.


© Peter Grahame Woolf