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Sir Ernest MacMillan

Sir Ernest MacMillan: The Importance of Being Canadian

Copyright Date: 1994
Pages: 374
  • Book Info
    Sir Ernest MacMillan
    Book Description:

    As a conductor, organist, pianist, composer, educator, writer, administrator, and musical statesman, Sir Ernest MacMillan stands as a towering figure in Canada's musical history. His role in the development of music in Canada from the beginning of this century to 1970 was pivotal. He conducted the Toronto Symphony Orchestra for twenty-five years, and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir for fifteen . He was principal of the Toronto (now Royal) Conservatory of Music and dean of the University of Toronto's Faculty of Music. He founded the Canadian Music Council, and the Canadian Music Centre, and was a founding member of the Canada Council. He was also the first president of the Composers, Authors, and Publishers Association of Canada (CAPAC).

    Ezra Schabas provides not only the first detailed biography of MacMillan, but also a frank, richly detailed and handsomely illustrated account of the Canadian music scene. He tells of MacMillan's rise in Canada, from his early years as a church organist to his international successes as a guest conductor; from his internment in a German prison camp to the knighthood conferred on him by King George V. As Robertson Davies said of MacMillan, 'It is on the achievements of such men that the culture of a country rests. Their work is not education, but revelation, and there is always about it something of prophetic splendour.'

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7996-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xvii-2)
  6. 1. A Gifted Child
    (pp. 3-19)

    Ernest MacMillan was on his way home after almost five years in Europe. It was January 1919 and he was twenty-five years old. He had been trapped for four years in German prisons as a civilian internee. Yet, bad as that had been, he knew that he was lucky not to have been killed or maimed in the trenches of Vimy Ridge or Passchendaele like so many other young Canadians. He wondered what Canada would be like, what musical opportunities would be awaiting him. Would Elsie, his betrothed, still love him? And, as he stood on the deck of the...

  7. 2. Choosing a Career
    (pp. 20-36)

    Before returning to Canada from Scotland, Ernest had accepted the position of organist-choirmaster at the Knox Presbyterian Church in Toronto - his first real job. He began his duties in September 1908, and things went badly from the start. The church had recently moved to a new building at the corner of Spadina and Harbord, a residential area near the University of Toronto campus. It had not yet installed an organ, and Ernest had to make do on a small harmonium for several months. Once the organ was in place, he launched a variety of musical activities, but the church...

  8. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  9. 3. Life behind Barbed Wire
    (pp. 37-51)

    Ruhleben - peaceful life! - was an internment camp close to the industrial town of Spandau on the outskirts of Berlin. Formerly a popular racetrack, it consisted of three grandstands, eleven brick stables (used as barracks for the internees), and an administration building. The Germans had created the camp in reprisal for Britain’s internment of German nationals. In all, over 4,000 men of all ages, mainly British but also a few Canadians and other British subjects from the far-flung Empire, were imprisoned there. About a third of the internees were merchant seamen and fishermen whose boats had been stranded in...

  10. 4. No Finer Organist
    (pp. 52-68)

    A quick and successful revolution in the fall of 1918 brought down Germany’s military regime. At Ruhleben, the guards dismissed their leaders and freed their prisoners, then asked the latter to be tolerant of the German people, who had deposed their autocratic leaders and were looking forward to establishing a democracy. Three weeks after the armistice, Ernest wrote to his father: ‘There seems to be ... doubt here as to the genuineness of the revolution, but to the mind of anybody who was in Berlin during the last few weeks there can be no doubt whatever ... One German soldier...

  11. 5. Directing a School
    (pp. 69-83)

    By the 1924-5 season, Ernest MacMillan was becoming increasingly unhappy at Timothy Eaton Memorial Church. The elders accused him of doing too much German music and criticized his authoritarian ways with the choir. He countered by stating that they wanted ‘the milk and watery stuff ... emanating from the United States.’¹ He pointed out that Handel, whose music was among the targeted, was really English. Opinionated and uncompromising, he let it be known that he thought church music much too serious a subject for ministers and laymen to rule upon. The complaints reminded him of the troubles he had as...

  12. 6. Canada’s Musical Heritage
    (pp. 84-97)

    Interest in Canadian folk music had begun long before John Murray Gibbon’s festivals. Marius Barbeau, one of the driving forces in this field, had already done much to research, collect, preserve, and publish Canada’s indigenous - folk and aboriginal - music. A native of Quebec and a contemporary of Ernest MacMillan’s, he had studied at Laval, Oxford (as a Rhodes Scholar), and the Sorbonne. In 1911 he had been appointed anthropologist and ethnologist at the Museum Branch of the Geological Survey of Canada (renamed the National Museum in 1927) in Ottawa, a post he would hold for his entire career....

  13. 7. Conducting a Symphony Orchestra
    (pp. 98-111)

    As 1931 got under way there was no inkling that by year’s end Ernest MacMillan would be the permanent conductor of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO), a post he would hold for twenty-five years. The year started out well when London’s Royal College of Music, one of England’s two most prominent music schools, honoured him with a fellowship, a distinction held by only fifty living British musicians, including at that time such luminaries as Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Hoist, and Stokowski. Much was made of it in the Canadian press. (Ernest would receive similar recognition from the Royal Academy of Music,...

  14. 8. The Depression Years
    (pp. 112-129)

    The Great Depression did not hit Toronto as hard as other Canadian cities. Nor did it have much impact on MacMillan’s personal well-being. Like others with a steady income, he saw the drop in consumer prices by as much as 30 per cent make his own money go even further. The plight of the nation, with its relief lines and soup kitchens, its homeless and hungry, its protest demonstrations and pitched battles, did, however, affect his world of music enough to impede its growth for the entire decade.

    In 1930 Toronto and its suburbs had a population of about 850,000,...

  15. 9. A Musical Knight
    (pp. 130-146)

    The eighteenth of May, 1935, was a red-letter day for Ernest MacMillan. It was the day the Right Honourable R.B. Bennett, Prime Minister of Canada, wrote him a ‘personal and confidential’ letter, which began: ‘Although a young man, you have rendered great and conspicuous service in the many branches of human endeavour to which you have directed your efforts. Not only have you earned high commendation for the creations of your genius, but your skill as an organist and your ability as a teacher are widely known, and in my opinion merit recognition by the Sovereign.’¹ ‘King George V,’ Bennett...

  16. 10. Personal Problems — Resolved
    (pp. 147-161)

    The 1938-9 TSO season consisted of ten subscription concerts, four school concerts, a Christmas Box concert, two special concerts, and two Opera Guild performances - nineteen in all, about the same number as in preceding years. The budget was only $62,000 - a mere $4,000 more than, for example, in 1933-4 - and there was an accumulating deficit. The CBC weekly series of nine ‘Nine O’clock,’ concerts for which the CBC paid the TSO an additional $20,000, was the one new development. Of the $82,000 total, $3,500 went to MacMillan (an abysmal fee for a ranking conductor) and $54,500 to...

  17. 11. Music and the War Effort
    (pp. 162-182)

    Ernest MacMillan was fearful that activities and organizations not considered vital to the war effort, such as symphony orchestras, would be neglected or abandoned. In the Great War, Toronto’s orchestra had limped along for four years and then folded, not to be revived for five years and not to regain its prestige and audiences for still another decade. Now it was a more substantial organization, and Ernest was determined that it not go under again.

    And so in those first horrendous days of the war, as Hitler successfully invaded Poland and the Western powers stood helplessly by, Ernest, who had...

  18. 12. Canada’s Musical Ambassador
    (pp. 183-197)

    With the end of the European war imminent and his sons safely back in Canada (both returned home in early 1945), Ernest welcomed an invitation from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) to do an extended conducting tour of Australia in the spring and summer of 1945. Other than a brief trip to Jamaica in 1940 and guest conducting in the United States in 1941-2, he had not been out of Canada since before the war.

    An Australian tour had been in the wind as far back as 1937, when Ernest and his Australian counterpart, Bernard Heinze, a prominent conductor and...

  19. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  20. 13. A Spokesman for Music
    (pp. 198-212)

    As expected, Norman Wilks succeeded Ernest competently as conservatory principal. Two years later, the conservatory had a financial bonanza: Frederick Harris, president of the thriving Frederick Harris Music Company, which published the conservatory’s examination material, willed his company shares and its considerable annual income to the TCM.¹ Then, in late November 1944, Wilks died unexpectedly at fifty-nine. The board appointed the witty and affable organist Charles Peaker as director (a new position) and Ettore Mazzoleni as principal. But it soon became apparent that Peaker was a poor administrator, and Mazzoleni took over, assuming his new responsibilities with ease. Floyd Chalmers...

  21. 14. A Question of Power
    (pp. 213-224)

    By 1951 fifty-eight-year-old Ernest MacMillan had reached the peak of his career. The TSO and the Mendelssohn were continuing to improve, the Faculty of Music was growing, and his work at CAP AC and the CMC1 was stimulating and rewarding. Soon there would be a national arts council to fund music and the other arts, and he had played no small role in its creation. The future of music in Canada looked bright indeed.

    Thus he was ill-prepared for the events of the spring of 1952. A major confrontation unfolded at the University of Toronto. As the RCM had developed...

  22. 15. A Matter of Morality
    (pp. 225-242)

    Although the TSO’s popularity had reached new heights by midcentury, it was still underfunded. It paid its players inadequately, had a limited budget for soloists and guest conductors, was unadventurous in its programming, and did not tour. Compare it to the Minneapolis Symphony, for example, which had a similar length of season (twenty-six weeks) and served a population of roughly similar size. Minneapolis and St Paul together were, at that time, slightly smaller than Toronto, yet its symphony was larger - it had eighty-eight regular players compared with Toronto’s eighty-three - and its basic weekly wage was $90 while Toronto’s...

  23. 16. Successes and Failures
    (pp. 243-259)

    In a life which seemed to be increasingly prone to ups and downs, Ernest had an ‘up’ when the Mendelssohn Choir recorded his two favourite choral works,Messiahand theSt Matthew Passion. The recordings were done by Beaver Records, a company which Fred MacKelcan had founded in 1950, primarily to record the Mendelssohn. MacKelcan was one of Canada’s great patrons of the arts at the time and as good a personal friend as Ernest ever had. Beaver was the first commercialCanadiancompany to record serious music. It released Messiah in 1952 and the Passion in 1953 - each...

  24. 17. Good Statesmanship
    (pp. 260-270)

    With the publication of the Massey Report in 1951, the Canadian Music Council (CMC1) could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel - a national organization that would fund the arts. But when? No one knew. In the meantime, the council did the best it could with its limited resources. It sent selected Canadian scores to the 1952 Helsinki Olympiad, and the CMCl’s John Cozens began a library of sorts with 700 Canadian pieces. The council provided the Department of External Affairs with information about Canadian music to send to its embassies around the world, but when...

  25. 18. The Busy Sexagenarian
    (pp. 271-289)

    To return to the winter of 1956-7, Ernest conductedMessiahat Massey Hall on New Year’s Day and, as usual, John Kraglund disliked his slow tempi his ‘contemplative interpretation [which] does nothing to stress its inherent excitement and joy.’¹ Kraglund even suggested that some in the audience were falling asleep in their seats because of the dull performance! A week later Ernest resigned from the Mendelssohn. The choir’s board, in appreciation, voted him a gift of $2,000 and, on his recommendation, appointed chorusmaster Frederick Silvester his successor.

    Now, without winter commitments for the first time in twentyfive years, the MacMillans...

  26. 19. A Theatre Is Named
    (pp. 290-301)

    The early 1960s were rewarding years for Ernest MacMillan. His health was relatively good, and his phone kept ringing with offers of engagements. Some were fun, if only because they were so challenging. Just after his father’s death, and on short notice, he gamely agreed to conduct the Vancouver Symphony on a strenuous week’s tour in the mountainous southeast corner of British Columbia, replacing VSO conductor Irwin Hoffman, who was filling a prestigious engagement elsewhere.¹ (Ernest had long been a hero in British Columbia, thanks to the MacMillan Fine Arts Clubs and more than two decades of guest conducting the...

  27. 20. A Life Draws to a Close
    (pp. 302-312)

    Ernest’s health deteriorated noticeably in the mid-1960s. His swift and purposeful gait gradually changed to the slower and more careful pace of an aging man. In a letter to Marjorie Agnew in April 1965 he told her that he was cutting out some Talent Festival conducting because he didn’t want to work anymore!¹ Making light of it so as not to concern her, since she was in poor health herself, he related a joke about a sailor who went to the ship’s doctor. When asked ‘What’s the matter?’ he replied, ‘Well sir, I don’t rightly know. I eat hearty, I...

  28. Notes
    (pp. 313-337)
  29. Interviews
    (pp. 338-338)
  30. Archival Material
    (pp. 339-340)
  31. Bibliography
    (pp. 341-345)
  32. Selected Writings by Sir Ernest MacMillan
    (pp. 346-349)
  33. Selected Musical Works by Sir Ernest MacMillan
    (pp. 350-354)
  34. Discography
    (pp. 355-356)
  35. Index
    (pp. 357-374)