Best Canadian Classical Pieces

The Best Canadian Classical Pieces Ever Written

March 8, 2017

One would think this is a short and sweet list because how many Canadian composers do we often hear of in mainstream conversation on the matter? The truth is, along with actors, writers, and other public figures of note, these Canadian composers get lost among their American and European counterparts and we never know they came from so close to home.

Our Canadian classical music legacy is actually quite rich and even distinctive at times, as is the care with Claude Vivier and Colin McPhee, both Canadians, who fused European compositional techniques with Balinese traditional music (gamelan). In order to celebrate these innovative Canadians, we’ve put together a short list of some of the best classical pieces ever written by Canadians, as performed by Canadians.  

Tabuh-Tabuhan by Colin McPhee

In 1998, Founding Music Director Alex Pauk and his Esprit Orchestra of Toronto released an album of Canadian composer Colin McPhee’s work featuring “Tabuh-Tabuhan: Toccata for Orchestra”. The piece was a commission in 1963 by the National Orchestra of Mexico that McPhee composed after his return from Bali and beautifully merges Balinese gongs and cymbals with Western orchestral music. The 1998 recording catapulted McPhee’s name into the consciousness of classical music lovers across the country.

Jacques Hétu Concertos by CBC Radio Orchestra

The CBC Radio Orchestra, Mario Bernardi, André Laplante, Robert Cram, Joaquin Valdepeñas, and Christopher Millard recorded this Juno and Western Canadian Music Award-winning CD in tribute to Jacques Hetu. Featuring four of Canada’s finest soloists at the time, it is a masterful performance of the celebrated Quebecois composer’s collection of works.

Ann Southam’s Glass Houses Series

Acclaimed Canadian composer Ann Southam’s most personal and insightful interpretation is by Ottawa-born pianist and Julliard graduate Christina Petrowska-Quilico. Southam and Petrowska-Quilico’s friendship and collaboration resulted in “Glass Houses Revisited”, a recording of what Petrowska-Quilico deemed “fiendishly difficult études” by Southam, played with deft precision in an endearing tribute.

Chimera by Murray Schafer

Nothing short of ‘epic’ describes the illustrious compositions of Murray Schafer. Best experienced outdoors, they seem to celebrate our unique, Canadian landscape. In 1979, Schafer composed “Chimera” for Toronto harpist Judy Loman. Backed by the original Orford String Quartet, its “The Crown of Ariadne” evokes the very mythology–bold and rich–it’s grounded in and the musicians performing it.

Marjan Mozetich’s Affairs of the Heart

Led by Canadian conductor and pianist Mario Bernardi, this CBC Radio Orchestra recording is a romantic interpretation of the award-winning composer’s work. Now one of Canada’s most broadcast classical composers, Marjan Mozetich nearly evaded a musical career by pursuing one in psychology after failing his Royal Conservatory exam in high school.

What quintessential Canadian composition is on your playlist? Share with us on Facebook!


3 thoughts on “The Best Canadian Classical Pieces Ever Written”

  1. Zelda Marshall

    Totally agree with the Colin McPhee work, Tabu-Tabuhan! Here are some favourites that I would add:

    (1) Passacaglia & Fugue for orchestra by Harry Somers

    (2) Suite pour le piano by Jean Papineau-Couture

    (3) “So You Want to Write a Fugue” by Glenn Gould

  2. Bob Schneider

    i learned from your “The Best Canadian Classical Pieces Ever Written”.

    p.s.You may find the website of one of the best Canadian chamber ensembles of interest:

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