Contemporary music from Canada this week, from American-born/Canadian naturalized composer, harpsichordist, organist, pianist and teacher Kelsey Jones – his Suite For Flute and Strings with the Montreal String Quartet featuring Mario Duschénes, Flute and Nathalie Clair, contrabasse. This recording made for CBC Radio in Canada was part of their international Transcription service from roughly 1954*, the year of its composition. (*I’m getting this information from the Canadian Encyclopedia, so it may be wrong and as late as 1963).
Jones was considered a rugged individualist as far as his compositional style was concerned. He often said he adhered to no style, but “wrote what he felt like” and steered away from much of the avant-garde and atonal style that was popular around mid-century.
The Suite for Flute and Strings has been characterized as typical of his work; lyrical and, by his own admission “dyed-in-the-wool romantic”. And although he didn’t rely on dissonance in his work, it’s there – and as Jones is quoted as saying “when there’s a reason for it – when I want to hit somebody. If everything is dissonant,” he argues, “you don’t hit anybody.”
He was a member of the Canadian League of Composers and an associate of The Canadian Music Centre, and began teaching at McGill University in 1954 – two years later, in 1956, he became a naturalized Canadian Citizen. He was very active in musical life around Canada, founding the St. John Symphony orchestra as well as frequently performing as harpsichord soloist with the Montreal Symphony and the McGill Chamber Orchestra. He died in 2004.
Like many composers of the last century, his work has not gotten the widespread exposure it needs. He is not well known outside Canada, and even less so now, since his death some 17 years ago.
But like so much material that appears unfamiliar on the surface, once you scratch it and explore, you find a lot to enjoy. I think you’ll find that to be true of Kelsey Jones’ Suite for Flute And Strings. Just a hunch.