John Weinzweig

I’ve just been reading up on the Canadian composer John Weinzweig, who died last month. I confess I’d never come across his name before reading his obituaries, but it turns out he was an unusual character. As well as being the ‘dean of Canadian composers’, and a founder of the Canadian League of Composers, he was also a silver medal-winning Olympian, from back in the days when ‘Arts Contests’ was an officially recognised Olympic sport.*

But perhaps the most interesting thing about Weinzweig’s long career was his time spent, from 1941 onwards, as an in-house composer for the CBC. In this capacity he wrote about 100 radio scores, most of which featured 12-tone serialism, his preferred compositional technique of the time. So pretty much any Canadian who listened to a documentary in the 1940s would have been familiar with at least some 12-tone composition. Remarkable stuff – particularly considering that this is 15 years before William Glock‘s time at the BBC, and even he never asked Schoenberg to score The World at One.

*Back then – this is 1948 and earlier – not only was the definition of ‘sport’ somewhat broad, but the definition of ‘arts’ was too – the contests awarded medals for mountaineering, aeronautics and town planning. And to think we quibble about the Olympic validity of synchronised swimming and beach volleyball…

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