photo by André Leduc

HARRY SOMERS

Biography


Born in Toronto in 1925, Somers only began to study music in his early teens and, as if to make up for lost time, immediately engaged in intensive study. At the age of sixteen he entered the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto where he studied piano with Reginald Godden (1941-43) and Weldon Kilburn (1946-49) and composition with John Weinzweig (1942-43, 1946-49), receiving scholarships in 1947 and 1949. In the latter year he was awarded a Canadian Amateur Hockey Association scholarship through which he studied composition with Darius Milhaud in Paris (1949-50). At that time Somers’ music was subject to the dual influence of serial music (championed at that time by Weinzweig) and a more personal past-conscious view of music and the musical repertoire.

He once remarked that, for him: ...composition evolves from a body of tradition and a series of conventions, be they old or new. Now in the 1950s I was out of touch with developments that were happening in composition; I had to learn my own way. And my own way was to write works that employed Baroque techniques fused with serialism and the more highly tensioned elements of 20th century music I was familiar with at the time.

Harry Somers was a founding member of the Canadian League of Composers and in 1971 was named a Companion of the Order of Canada. He received honorary doctorates from the University of Ottawa (1975), the University of Toronto (1976) and York University (1977). From the late 1950s he composed almost exclusively on commissions from a wide variety of North American musical organizations and individuals.


Other biographies of Harry Somers:

Canadian Music Centre

The Canadian Encyclopedia

The Encyclopedia of Music in Canada (Including a full list of works and detailed biographical information)


Selected Press:

On the performance of the opera, Louis Riel in Washington
,
as Canada’s cultural contribution to the American Bicentennial celebrations, Wendell Margrave of the Washington Star described the opera as:

'one of the most imaginative and powerful scores to have been written in this century.'


On Harry's death, John Gray of The Vancouver Sun wrote:


"The Second World War generation has been checking out at such a rate, I feel like I am running an obituary column. But what gaping holes they leave behind! Last week it was Harry Somers, arguably Canada's greatest composer in this century.

Such a gent: tall, handsome, with flowing white hair and an innocent curiosity of a six-year-old, Harry's preoccupations were music, tennis and the truth. His mother was a Theosophist who subscribed to the Daily Worker and the Financial Times - which deeply puzzled the RCMP during the McCarthy era. As a young man he got his start with a scholarship to study composition in Paris - a hockey scholarship. The team wanted to honour a great hockey player with artistic talent. (Isn't Canadian culture boring?)"

On the release of the DVD of the opera, Louis Riel
Robert Everett-Green, The Globe and Mail, July 22, 2011:

“Speculation about a major remount of Louis Riel, however, seems long overdue. We need to get on with recovering this monument of Canadian music drama in Canada’s opera houses.”