Violet Archer

 Violet Archer, composer, educator (b at Montréal 24 Apr 1913; d at Ottawa 21 Feb 2000). A composer of marked individuality, widely recognized for her command of both traditional and contemporary techniques, Violet Archer studied composition with Claude CHAMPAGNE and Douglas Clarke in Montréal. Using her own funds, Archer began to go to New York regularly to have lessons with Béla Bartók, who instilled in her an abiding interest in folk music. He also interested her in exploring different types of modes and rhythms. With 2 scholarships and grants from the Québec government, Archer was able to complete a Master's degree in composition in 1949 at Yale University. Her principal professor there, Paul Hindemith, influenced her strongly in 2 ways: to always write music that the composer herself must play on the instrument concerned, and to work with the performer. Later studies were done towards a doctorate and she also undertook studies in electronic music in Toronto and England.

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.