John Beckwith, composer, music educator, and writer, was born in Victoria, British
Columbia, in 1927. He received his musical education in Toronto (1945-50) and Paris
(1950-52). He was associated with the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto, from
1952, serving as dean 1970-77 and as first director of its Institute for Canadian Music
from 1985 until his early retirement in 1990.
His more than 160 compositions include four operas, a dozen orchestral works, chamber and solo works, songs, and works for chorus. Since his university retirement, major premières have included Round and Round for orchestra (Winnipeg, 1992); the opera Taptoo!, libretto by James Reaney (Montreal, 1999, Toronto, 2003); Eureka for nine wind instruments (Toronto, 1996); Stacey, for voice and piano, on texts from Margaret Laurence (Toronto, 1997); four chamber works with harpsichord (Toronto and Montreal, 1996-8); Basic Music, for children's choir, youth choir, and orchestra (Guelph, 1998); Workout for percussion ensemble (Toronto, 2001); A New Pibroch for pipes, percussion, and strings (Toronto, 2003); Fractions for microtonal piano and string quartet (Toronto, 2006); Derailed for two choirs and percussion (Mississauga, 2008); and Wendake/Huronia for alto, narrator, chorus, early-instrument ensemble, and native drums (Midland, 2015). His three sets of transcriptions from J. S. Bach's Orgelbüchlein were introduced by Symphony Nova Scotia, Halifax, in 1993, 96, and 99 respectively, making up a complete orchestral version of the 45 chorales in this famous collection. His realization in 1991 of the early Canadian comic opera Lucas et Cécile by Joseph Quesnel was published (Quebec, 1992), performed in concert (Toronto, 1994), and staged in both Montreal (1999) and Toronto (2001).
Beckwith has edited or co-edited ten books, including volumes 5 and 18 of The Canadian Musical Heritage. He is the author of Music Papers: articles and talks by a Canadian composer, 1961-1994 (Ottawa, 1997), In search of Alberto Guerrero (Waterloo, 2006), and Unheard Of: Memoirs of a Canadian Composer (Waterloo, 2012). He is a former music columnist and reviewer for the Toronto Star and script writer and program planner for CBC Radio, and has contributed articles and reviews to musical journals in Canada, Britain, and the United States. He is a member of the Order of Canada, holds honorary degrees from five Canadian universities, and is an honorary member of the Canadian University Music Society and the Société québécoise de recherche en musique. He received the Canadian Music Council Composer of the Year award in 1984, the Toronto Arts Award for music in 1994, the diplôme d'honneur of the Canadian Conference of the Arts in 1996, and the Friends of Canadian Music award in 2010. Marking his 80th birthday in 2007, the Institute for Canadian Music and the Canadian Music Centre co-sponsored a concert and a one-day symposium devoted to his career (see ICM Newsletter 5/3, Sept. 2007). In 2013 he received the Arts and Letters Award (Arts and Letters Club of Toronto), and in 2014 the SOCAN/CUMS Award of Excellence in the Advancement of Research in Canadian Music. His 90th birthday in 2017 will be celebrated by several invited talks and live performances including premieres of two new works.
[revised, Jan 2017]