IN MEMORIAM | Canadian Composer John Beckwith Has Died At 95

By Anya Wassenberg on December 6, 2022

Composer John Beckwith (Photos courtesy of the Canadian Music Centre)
Composer John Beckwith (Photos courtesy of the Canadian Music Centre)

Canadian composer John Beckwith had died at the age of 95. He passed away in Toronto after a long career that has left a legacy of more than 160 works.

As reported by the CBC, Beckwith passed away due to complications from a recent fall.

John Beckwith

Born in Victoria, BC in 1927, John Beckwith’s prolific career includes composition as well as a key role in music education with a strong connection to Toronto.

He began formal studies at the Royal Conservatory of Music and received a scholarship in 1945, which he used to study at the University of Toronto and obtain his Bmus. He went on to study composition under Nadia Boulanger in Paris under a hockey scholarship.

  • He began a 38-year career teaching at the University of Toronto in 1952;
  • Beckwith became Dean of the Faculty of Music from 1970 to 1977;
  • He was the inaugural appointee of the Jean A. Chalmers Professor of Canadian Music;
  • He was co-founder and the first director of the Institute for Canadian Music at the University of Toronto, serving from 1985 until his retirement in 1990.

Beckwith remained Professor Emeritus at the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto. He edited or co-edited several books about music scholarship, with an emphasis on Canadian composers, and held honourary degrees from five Canadian universities. He also worked as a writer and associate producer for the CBC for several years.

Awards

  • Canadian Music Council Composer of the Year award in 1984;
  • Toronto Arts Award for music in 1994;
  • Diplôme d’honneur of the Canadian Conference of the Arts in 1996;
  • Friends of Canadian Music award in 2010;
  • In 2014, he was given the SOCAN/CUMS Award of Excellence in the Advancement of Research in Canadian Music.

Beckwith was appointed to the Order of Canada in 1987.

His legacy

Beckwith’s works were often concerned with Canadian identity, such as his The Great Lakes Suite, and Stacey, a 1997 work based on texts by Margaret Laurence. Among his many works, there were:

  • Four operas;
  • More than 30 works for voice or choir;
  • A dozen works for piano;
  • A dozen works for orchestra/band;
  • 28 pieces of chamber music;
  • Works for the stage, and several sound collages.

In recent years, Beckwith’s work has found its way to a new generation of musicians. The SHHH!! Ensemble commissioned his Meanwhile for Marimba and Piano, and just released a recorded version on the Analekta label in November 2022.

Rest in peace.

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