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Jack Behrens (Composer)

Born: March 25, 1935 - Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA

Jack Behrens is an American-born Canadian, composer and teachere. He obtained his B SC degree from the Juiliard School of Music in New York in 1958, and his M SC degree from Juilliard in 1959, anf his PH D degree from Harvard University in 1973. His composition teachers were William Bergsma, Vincent Persichetti, and Peter Mennin at the Juilliard School and Leon Kirchner and Roger Sessions at Harvard University. He also received instruction from Darius Milhaud at the Aspen Music Festival (summer 1962) and from Stefan Wolpe and John Cage at the Emma Lake Composers-Artists Workshop (summers 1964, 1965) in Saskatchewan.

In Regina from 1962 to 1966 Jack Behrens taught at the University of Saskatchewan and was head of the theory department at the affiliated conservatory. He taught from 1966 to 1970 at Simon Fraser University and from 1970 to 1976 at California State College. He joined the Faculty of Music, University of Western Ontario in 1976 and was chairman of its department of theory and composition until 1980, and was dean of the faculty from 1980 to 1986. He has given many lectures and lecture-recitals on 20th-century music. His compositions include commissions from Adele Marcus, the CBC, the Ontario Arts Council (OAC), Orchestra London, and several Saskatchewan organizations. He has recorded some of his own compositions together with Peter Racine Fricker's Ballade for Flute and Piano (with Fiona Wilkinson) and Bagatelles for Clarinet and Piano (with Robert Riseling) on the album Signs (1983, Orion).

Jack Behrens' 1965 Canada Council-sponsored research in the Scandinavian countries on Viking literature, art, and music led to a Canadian centennial commission for the chamber opera The Lay of Thrym (libretto by C.K. Cockburn). Behrens has stated that 'Those of us involved... felt that the boldness and enterprise (sometimes artistic) of the Vikings might serve as an appropriate focus as Canada was about to begin its second century of confederation' (Ewen, American Composers). Based on an Icelandic legend, the four-scene work is atonal and employs aleatoric and improvisational techniques. He conducted its premiere on April 13, 1968 at Darke Hall, Regina. His orchestral work The Sound of Milo won first prize in the New Orleans Symphony contest in 1970 and in the same year he was awarded the Francis Boott Prize at Harvard U for his choral work, How Beautiful is the Night. A friend of the author Margaret Laurence, Behrens composed music to accompany her reading of A Fable - For the Whaling Fleets. Thematic material from this work was used again in his Landmarks which uses sentences from three of Laurence's books as guides, 'landmarks,' for the listener. Though Behrens' idiom is thoroughly modern, he is not fettered by any single approach: '[His] compositional methods range from serial to indeterminate, although few works are exclusively either' (ibid). Much of his music reflects the individual talents of the particular performer for whom it was composed.

Jack Behrens' music has been performed on the CBC and on US radio stations. He is a member of the Canadian League of Composers and an associate of the Canadian Music Centre.

His wife is the pianist Sonja Peterson Behrens.

Selected Compositions

The Lay of Thrym, opera (Icelandic 'Thrymskvitta,' transl C. Keith Cockburn) (1968, Ms)

Trumpet Concerto (1955; Ms)
Introspection, for string orchestra (1956; Ms)
Declaration (1964; Ms)
The Sound of Milo, for narrator & orchestra (Jack Wasserman) (1970; Ms)
Concerto 'Triple Concerto', for clarinet, violin, piano & orchestra (1971; Ms)
Fantasy on Francis Hopkinson's 'My Days Have Been So Wondrous Free', for samll orchestra (1976; Ms)
New Beginnings (1976; Ms)
A Greeting (1977; Ms)
Fantasia On A Fragment, for piano & chamber orchestra (1984; Ms)
Landmarks (1991; Ms)

Quartertone Quartet, for string quartet (1960; Ms)
Green Centre, for wind ensemble ((1964; revised 1990; Ms)
Early Song (Ted Godwin), for tenor (baritone), flute, oboe, horn, violin, viola (1965; Ms)
Serenades, for flute, clarinet, piano, violin, violoncello (1969; Ms)
Happy Birthday John Cage I and II, for Solo instrument in C, A, G, E flat (1972; Ms)
Clarinet Quintet, for clarinet & string quartet (1974l; Ms)
Bass Variants, for double-bass (1977; Ms)
Looking Back (Pratt), for soprano, flute, piano (1979; Ms)
Dialogue, for violoncello & piano (1980; Ms) (recorded on Orion with Tsutsumi violoncello, Behrens piano)
String Quartet 'In Nomine' (1980; Ms)
Fiona's Flute, for flute & piano (recorded on Orion with Wilkinson) (1982; Ms)
Well-tempered Duo, for violoncello & piano (1984; Ms)
A Fable - For the Whaling Fleets (Laurence), for narrator, flute, clarinet, violin, violoncello, piano (1985; revised 1990; Ms)
'I Have Mislaid Something' and 'The Death of the Loch Ness Monster' (G. MacEwan), for baritone, flute, piano (1985; Ms)
Reflections, for viola & clarinet (1990; Ms)
Reverberations, for trumpet (1990; Ms)

Passacaglia, for piano (1964; revised 1976; Ms)
Music for a New Arrival, for harpsichord (1970; Ms)
The Feast of Life (1975. Ms) (recorded in 1976 on Opus One 13 by Behrens)
Taos Portraits, for piano (1976; Ms)
Music For Two Pianos (1979; Ms)
Tributaries (1981; Ms)
Aspects, for 3 pianos (1983; Ms) (recorded on McGill with Pelletier, Helmer, P. Couture)

including a film score, The Old Order Amish (1959); many works for voice, choir, including 'In a Manger' (Elkan-Vogal 1964) and How Beautiful is the Night (1969)

Jack Behrens, 'Recent piano works of Christian Wolf (1972-76),' Studies in Music from the University of Western Ontario, vol 2 (1977)
'Helpful hints for program building,' Piano Q, 106 (Summer 1979)
'Peter Racine Fricker on his 60th birthday,' Studies in Music from the University of Western Ontario, vol 5 (1980)


Source: Source: The Canadian Encyclopedia 2011 Historica Foundation of Canada (Authors: Barclay McMillan, Stephen Willis);
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (July 2011)

Jack Behrens: Short Biography | Bach-inspired Piano Works: Works | Recordings

Links to other Sites

Behrens, Jack (The Canadian Encyclopedia)

Jack Behrens (Wikipedia)


David Ewen. American Composers (New York 1982)

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