Archer produced a large body of music embracing most of the vocal and instrumental performance media, including a comic opera, Sganarelle (1973), and a documentary-film score (Someone Cares, 1976). Her Piano Concerto No. 1 (1956), which demands great virtuosity from soloist and orchestra alike, is considered one of the finest concertos composed by a Canadian. Often inspired by poetry, she wrote several song cycles and individual songs using poems as varied as those by Walt Whitman, Vachel Lindsay and Dorothy Livesay. Recognizing the importance of creating audiences that understand and appreciate 20th-century harmony, melody and rhythm, she wrote many pieces for elementary and intermediate performers and strongly encouraged other composers to also write for children. For these works as well as concert repertoire such as the piano trio Ikpakhuaq she often turned to Canadian folk music for initial melodic and rhythmic ideas.
After appointments at universities in the US (1950-61), where she also adjudicated state and national young composer competitions, Violet Archer returned to Canada and taught theory and composition at the University of Alberta from 1962 until her retirement in 1978. She almost single-handedly established a nurturing environment for young composers in Edmonton and the province. Archer's activities as composer, teacher and promoter of Canadian music continued throughout her life. Even after her retirement she continued to teach privately and at various institutions, such as the Universities of Saskatchewan (1990), and Alaska (1992). In 1993 she was composer-in-residence at the Festival of the Sound in Parry Sound, Ont. After moving to Ottawa in 1998, she became an adjunct professor at Carleton University. Among the numerous awards she received in the 1990s were the Alberta Life Achievement Award (1990) and the Canada 125 Award (1992). She wrote over 330 compositions, the Concerto for Accordion and Orchestra (1999) being her final commissioned work.
Her contributions to music in Canada were recognized with the Order of Canada in 1984. She was also named composer of the year by the Canadian Music Council and received innumerable awards from both governments and arts groups. She was honoured with a festival of her own compositions in Edmonton in 1985, the first North American female composer to be so honoured. The Violet Archer Library of the Canadian Music Centre, Prairie Region, was named in her honour in 1987.
Author BARCLAY MCMILLAN Revised: ELAINE KEILLOR
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.
Album notes and music clips from the recording "Remembered Voices," featuring Ralitsa Tcholakova, violin and Elaine Keillor, piano. From the Carleton Sound website.
100 Years of the Sounds of Music
This article offers historical highlights of the University of Alberta's Department of Music. From the website "The University of Alberta at 100 years."
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.