Divertimento #6 part 2 for Solo percussion and orchestra by Murray Adaskin. From YouTube.
In 1952 he was named head of music at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. During his tenure, 1957-60, as conductor of the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra he insisted that the orchestra commission a Canadian work annually. He also included Canadian works in the program of the Summer Festival of Music which he organized in 1959 and in Six Exhibition Concerts (1967) which combined performances with an exhibition documenting the composers' careers. A charter member of the CLComp, he also served 1966-9 on the Canada Council. In 1966 at the University of Saskatchewan he became composer-in-residence, the first such position created by a Canadian university. In 1972 he retired, and in 1973 he moved to Victoria, where he continued to compose and teach. He formed a close association with the Victoria artistic community, especially at the University of Victoria where in the 1990s he taught both violin and composition. Most of his Victoria works were written for that city's performers and ensembles, especially its younger musicians.
In 1982 the University of Saskatchewan sponsored An Adaskin Celebration, a concert honouring his 75th birthday, and 12 Feb-26 Mar 1988 he was honoured by the University of Victoria with The Adaskin Years: a Celebration of Canada's Arts. This series of concerts of music by Adaskin and those who had influenced him or been influenced by him, combined an exhibition of the Adaskins' collection of Canadian painting and culminated in a Conference on Canada's Arts, 1930-1970. CBC radio honoured Adaskin in three episodes of 'Mostly Music' 27-29 Nov 1989, profiling his life and music.
A modernist without being a radical, Adaskin in his compositions developed a consistent and recognizable technique which exploits three main textures: counterpoint of two melodies, rhythmic activity under melody, and rhythmic activity alone. The rhythmic activity, often syncopated, is given characteristically to staccato woodwinds or strings. The form evolves from short motions repeated either sequentially or in rhythmic transformation, with frequent changes in texture and timbre. Phrase lengths also are short, often spanning only two bars. Adaskin used folk material occasionally, extracting from it short motives similar to those that appear in his other music and using them in a similar way. His Saskatchewan Legend and Algonquin Symphony contain examples of this procedure.
His style is marked by a French influence and pleasantness of expression, attained through a personal mixture of neoclassic and folk elements. He made use of serial procedures in some works but did not find strict 12-tone writing useful for his musical approach.
Compositions and Commissions
Most of his works were commissioned, including by the CBC (the opera Grant, Warden of the Plains, the Rondino for Nine Instruments, the String Quartet No. 1) the NACO (Diversion for Orchestra), the Chamber Players of Toronto, (In Praise of Canadian Painting in the Thirties), the Nanaimo Symphony Orchestra (Nootka Ritual), the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra (Divertimento No. 4), George Zukerman (the Bassoon Concerto), and others.
Adaskin's oeuvre comprises around 130 works, many written after his official retirement, and past the age at which most composers stop creating. In 1996 he was composer-in-residence for the Vancouver Chamber Music Festival, and the Victoria Symphony programmed a tribute concert for his 90th birthday. His final composition was Musica Victoria, written in 2000, an adaptation of his Cassenti concertante.
Volume 23 of RCI's Anthology of Canadian Music (1986) was devoted to Adaskin's compositions. Murray Adaskin and his second wife, Dorothea (b Larsen, m 1989), produced several recordings of his works 1995-2001. The Media Magic label has produced The Adaskin Collection, a series of CDs in several volumes of his compositions through the years: Vol 1 (1995); Vol 2 (1997); Vol 3 (1999); Vol 4 (2004); Vol 5 (2001); Vol 6 (2012). Adaskin was an associate of the Canadian Music Centre and a listing of his works and articles about him may be found on the CMC website.
Honours and Legacy
Adaskin's work as teacher, conductor, and advocate of Canadian music and musicians ranks with his work as composer. His benign and positive attitude towards Canadian music is expressed in his genial Saskatchewan reports in the Canadian Chronicles of issues 1 to 4 of the Canada Music Book (1970-2). He was one of the first to leave the Toronto-Montreal concentration and contribute in a real way to the decentralization of Canadian musical activity. His pupils included Andrew Dawes, Paul Pedersen, Boyd McDonald, and Neil Harris.
Adaskin was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1980. He received the Saskatchewan Arts Board's Lifetime Award for Excellence in the Arts in 1991, and in 1996 the University of Victoria established the annual Adaskin Lectures on the Arts in Canada, which have continued in 2012 with distinguished guest speakers.
He deposited his papers at the National Library of Canada, and made gifts of his scores to the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Western Ontario. His complete body of work has been published and bound as the Murray Adaskin Collection at the University of Saskatchewan. The University of Victoria also has an Adaskin fonds, and offers the Murray Adaskin Prize in Music Composition and an endowment fund in his name.
See also Amati String Quartet.
Author Jens Hanson, Betty Nygaard King, Susan Spier
Links to Other Sites
Canadian Music Centre
Search the extensive CMC website for Canadian composer biographies and interviews, music scores, online newsletters, audio clips, podcasts, and more. Check out "CentreStreams" to listen to online archived recordings featuring outstanding Canadian composers.
The Murray Adaskin Collection
A profile of Canadian composer Murray Adaskin from the website for the University of Saskatchewan Music Collections. Also features photos and related documents from their archives.
A biography of composer, educator, violinist, and conductor Murray Adaskin from the Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan.
Biographical sketch of Murray Adaskin. From Library and Archives Canada.
A brief note about the origins of the Amati Quartet from the website "Events in the History of the University of Saskatchewan."
An extensive collection of audio clips from recordings featuring the National Arts Centre Orchestra performing works by noteworthy Canadian and international composers. Click on a composer's name on the right side menu to access specific works. See also composer biographies and the interactive timeline of historical milestones in classical music. From artsalive.ca and the Virtual Museum of Canada.
An annotated catalogue of the music of composer Murray Adaskin. From the Canadian Music Centre.
The Adaskin Family
See a brief profile of one of Canada’s most esteemed musical families. From cabbagetownpeople.ca.
Canadian Composers Portraits: Murray Adaskin
Listen to audio clips from a recording devoted to Murray Adaskin (including excerpts of an interview with the renowned composer). From Classics Online.
Canadian Composers Portraits: Murray Adaskin
See a review of the Centrediscs documentary on acclaimed Canadian composer Murray Adaskin. From the CAML Review.
Canadian Composers Portraits Series: Murray Adaskin Documentary
View the transcript of a documentary that profiles the life and career of composer Murray Adaskin. From the website for the Canadian Music Centre. A pdf document.
Murray Adaskin, O.C., D.Mus.
Order of Canada citation for Murray Adaskin, O.C., D.Mus. From the website for The Governor General of Canada.
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