The music of Harry Somers this week. Somers, who was born in Toronto in 1925 and died in Toronto in 1999, has been regarded as one of Canada’s most prolific, original and important composers of the 20th century. In addition to being prolific, he also composed in a wide range of settings. He wrote for film, TV, radio – theatre productions and employed an equally wide range of instrumentation.
This piece, the Passacaglia and Fugue, comes from 1954, a time when Somers was writing using the device of deliberate tension and he utilized this, along with neo-Baroque Counterpoint and contrasting styles. It would be indicative of Somers trademark; mixing styles and borrowing for a number of influences ranging from 12-Tone to Gregorian Chant. It was part of the reason Somer’s music was so popular and widely played during his lifetime, and how it’s performed with regularity now. He didn’t restrict himself to one method or style, but rather embraced just about everything and used it all in his work.
Somers became an associate of the Canadian Music Centre as well as a founding member of the Canadian League of Composers. In 1976, he received the prestigious Wm Harold Moon Award from PROCAN (now SOCAN) for bringing international recognition to Canada through his music. In 1986, he was the subject of a half-hour documentary, The Music of Harry Somers.
Somers decribed his artistic development: “Over the years I’ve worked consistently on three different levels with three different approaches to composition. On one level my approach has been what I call ‘community music’ or ‘music for use’: For example music for amateurs and music for school use. On a second level I’ve created ‘functional music,’ in the specific sense: music for television, films and theatre, where the composition has to work in company with another medium and serve the demands of that medium. On a third level I have created without consideration for any limitations, sometimes completely experimentally, sometimes extending the line of a particular direction on which I had been working through a series of works.
The Passacaglia and Fugue has been recorded a number of times since it’s premier in 1952. This is, as far as I know, the first recording of the work, done at the CBC for broadcast and for international distribution via the Transcription Service. It was also recorded by the Louisville Orchestra under Robert Whitney.
Enjoy and check out his vast catalog of works.