People who witness one of the three performances of Luminato’s 2015 revival of Murray Schafer’s Apocalypsis this June may read in the program book that the work was commissioned by CBC Radio in 1975. This new production of the piece may have a fresh look and presentation, but the score is the same bold Schafer composition, first produced during what John Peter Lee Roberts, then head of CBC Radio Music and the work’s commissioner, called “The Golden Age of Achievement” at CBC Radio.
The period of time Roberts refers to is 1950 to 1980, 30 years that correspond closely to the span of time that Glenn Gould had his own professional career, one that was intertwined with the development of music at CBC Radio. Glenn’s very first recital for CBC Radio was in December of 1950 and despite his enormous labours for an American record company between 1955 and 1982, the year of his death, he retained a close working relationship with those of us who produced music programs at CBC. Of course Glenn was one of thousands of Canadian artists who made programming for CBC, enabled by the Broadcasting Act, a cornerstone piece of Canadian legislation that remains in force to this day.
I joined CBC Radio Music in 1973 and my work with Glenn began in 1974 when we undertook the celebration of the centennial of Arnold Schoenberg’s birth. Ten CBC Radio programs of Schoenberg’s music, written and presented by Glenn, were broadcast across Canada that fall on a series I produced, Music of Today. Glenn’s own radio documentary, Schoenberg, the First Hundred Years - A Documentary Fantasy for Radio, followed the last of those broadcasts. We both felt, despite the admission that Schoenberg was unlikely ever to become, as Glenn put it, “a household word,” that our centennial observances had been a success. A friendship grew from this work and Glenn was a frequent visitor in our home, especially when he wished to see, not me, but our dog, Lamb, whom he adored.
Our eight-year friendship was, coincidentally, a time of rapid development in public broadcasting in general, and in the production of music at CBC Radio in particular. Many significant works were commissioned by CBC Radio Music during this period, including Schafer’s Apocalypsis, and others equally ambitious, such as A Lecture on the Weather by John Cage, a part of CBC’s celebration of the Bicentennial of the United States of America. Harry Somers’ massive Kyrie was also commissioned by CBC Radio during those years, as were Jacques Hétu’s Quatuor à cordes no. 1 and the iconic String Quartet No. 3 of Murray Schafer.
The program series Music of Today (1964–1977), which had been a one-hour weekly program using LP recordings, gave way to a new national network series, Two New Hours, in 1978. This two-hour program had a production budget for recording live concerts of new music from across Canada. It also had access to contemporary music concerts in other countries through international program exchanges supported by the European Broadcasting Union. Two New Hours was a network radio series that would continue to challenge CBC listeners’ definition of music with the newest works by living composers for a period of just under 30 years. 1978 was also the first year in which the Jules Leger Prize for New Chamber Music was awarded (coincidentally to Murray Schafer), and the winning works were always heard across the country on Two New Hours.
The CBC/Radio-Canada National Radio Competition for Young Composers was established in 1973, another initiative of John Peter Lee Roberts, together with Jacques Bertrand, his opposite number at Radio-Canada. When John left as head of CBC Radio Music and Variety two years later he handed me the file. This competition began modestly with a three-person panel of Canadian jurors looking at a few dozen scores submitted by composers who were recent university graduates and vying for a purse of $3,000. In its own 30-year lifespan, the scale of the competition grew to offer $50,000 in prize money, and the competing works, adjudicated by an international jury, were broadcast live to air across Canada during a gala concert with performances by the CBC Radio Orchestra, the National Arts Centre Orchestra and other respected ensembles.
The significance of the coupling of the National Radio Competition for Young Composers with Two New Hours was that emerging young Canadian composers such as Chris Paul Harman (the only teenaged Grand Prize winner), Brian Current and Ana Sokolović suddenly had access to the world’s airwaves. And, of course, radio audiences immediately became aware of these bright young talents and the fresh sound of their music. As these and many other emerging talents matured they became inevitable sources for CBC Radio to turn to for new works: an excellent investment if ever there was one!
Of course, along with all these content-generating initiatives, there was the ever-present reality of working with rapidly changing technology. When Glenn Gould and I assembled our Schoenberg broadcasts in 1974 we did our editing on quarter-inch wide analogue tape, using a razor blade and a splicing block to make our edits as physical cuts and then binding it together with splicing tape. Glenn’s hands were insured by Lloyd’s of London, so he was forbidden to touch sharp objects. He and I would edit together at the tape machine – as the tape rolled he would conduct each edit with several preparatory beats, and then a clear downbeat at the exact edit point where I would make the cut. His final preparatory beat and downbeat were usually accompanied by two words, “And…THERE!” I found it was an important ritual for him. By 1982 digital audio had become the medium of choice for music production, and the editing was performed using computers. Despite the recent retro-audio movement which has a growing number of music enthusiasts returning to their turntables and vinyl collections, digital audio remains the foundation of today’s recording industry, for better or worse, depending on your point of view.
In those eight years that Glenn and I collaborated, we witnessed a rapid and profound expansion of both the musicians’ and the broadcasters’ creative toolkit. CBC Radio Music was very much in the thick of this profound period of change, both as a developer of new production and broadcast technologies and as a commissioner of ambitious, challenging new works. Managing the balance of creation and communication in the context of ever changing technology during this span of time made for very stimulating work for people in public radio. It’s a chapter of history that the people in the 2015 Apocalypsis audience might wish to reflect on.
David Jaeger is a composer, producer and broadcaster based in Toronto.