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Jean Coulthard (Composer)

Born: Febuary 10, 1908 - Vancouver, Canada
Died: March 9, 2000 - North Vancouver, Canada

The Canadian composer and teacher, Jean Coulthard, studied in Vancouver with her mother, Jean (Robinson) Coulthard, and in 1924-1928 with Jan Cherniavsky (piano) and Frederick Chubb (theory), and from 1925 taught piano in the Coulthard home studio with her mother and with her sister Babs. On a scholarship from the Vancouver Woman's Musical Club she attended the Royal College of Music in 1928-1929, studying with Kathleen Long, R.O. Morris, and Ralph Vaughan Williams. On her return to Vancouver she continued to teach privately and at private girls' schools. She married Donald Adams in 1935 and in 1943 her daughter Jane was born. In 1947 she joined the faculty of the newly-created Department of Music at the University of British Columbia, where she remained on staff for the next 26 years.

Coulthard returned intermittently to compositional studies, working with Arthur Benjamin in 1939-1944, Bernard Wagenaar in 1944-1945 and in 1949, and Gordon Jacob 1965-1966 - the latter for advanced studies of orchestration. She submitted her work for criticism variously to Copland in 1939, Arnold Schoenberg and Milhaud in 1942, Béla Bartók in 1944, and Nadia Boulanger in 1955. After retirement from the University of British Columbia, Coulthard taught workshops and summer sessions at J.J. Johannesen's International School of the Arts (1973) and the Banff Centre (1978-1979). With Alys Monod around 1972, Coulthard founded the Okanagan Music Festival for Composers.

Compositions - Early Works

Jean Coulthard's early compositions - eg, Cradle Song and Threnody - were mostly for voice and piano. On the advice of Arthur Benjamin she turned to orchestral composition in 1939 and during the next four years produced four works - Canadian Fantasy, Excursion, Ballade (A Winter's Tale), and Song to the Sea - which established her reputation in Canada. Following her studies with Wagenaar she felt equipped to create in larger forms, eg, Music on a Quiet Song for flute and strings; sonatas for cello and piano, oboe and piano, and piano solo; String Quartet No. 1, and Symphony No. 1. As compared to the sonatas, with their looser formal structure and more overt romanticism, her Variations on B-A-C-H, Duo Sonata and especially String Quartet No. 2: Threnody reveal broadening tonal material, concision, and increasing mastery and intensity of expression. In 1953 the CBC commissioned A Prayer for Elizabeth to mark the coronation of Elizabeth II.

Jean Coulthard was in Paris in late 1955 on a Royal Society of Canada Scholarship, and then spent nearly six months in southern France in 1956. During her year in France, Coulthard began a violin concerto and an opera, completing the latter work, The Return of the Native, in 1979. (The opera was finally premiered in full, in concert form, in September 1993.) Lyric Suite: Sketches from a Medieval Town and Aegean Sketches show Coulthard's openness to European history and culture. In 1958 the Vancouver International Festival commissioned the song cycle Spring Rhapsody for Maureen Forrester. The Violin Concerto, a Canada Council commission, was premiered in 1959 by Thomas Rolston and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.


During the 1960s Jean Coulthard wrote increasingly complex works for a variety of ensembles, many on commission. Although her piano concerto (1963, recorded 1972 with Robert Silverman and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra) attracted the attention of the public, it was her double string quartet - Twelve Essays on a Cantabile Theme (1972) - that notably showed her mastery of musical form and content. The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra commissioned This Land and Canada Mosaic and performed the latter on its Japanese tour in 1974. Meanwhile, The Pines of Emily Carr, based on the journals of the West Coast painter, introduced aleatoric elements; The Birds of Lansdowne made use of an electronic tape incorporating bird songs of Vancouver Island.

Piano pedagogy material followed in 1977-1978 in the 8-volume series Music of Our Time (in collaboration with her former students David Duke and Joan Hansen, with art by Coulthard's daughter Jane Adams). The series was supplemented by teachers' guides and by a brief Student's Guide to Musical Form.

In the late l970s and the l980s Coulthard continued to write extensively - often influenced by literary discoveries - and in a variety of forms. Among significant works from this period are String Quartet No. 3 (1981); Image Astrale for piano (1981); Fantasy Sonata for horn and piano (1983); Christina Songs for high voice and piano (1983); Autumn Symphony for string orchestra (1984); Dopo Botticelli, a suite for cello and piano (1985); Sonata No. 2 for piano (1986), written for Jane Coop; Duo Sonata for Violin and Cello (1989), written for Shauna and Thomas Rolston; and Symphonic Image ("Vision of the North") for string ensemble (1989), written for the Guildhall Chamber Ensemble.

Late Period; Influence

Jean Coulthard continued to accept commissions through the 1990s, from the Canada Council, Vancouver's Community Arts Council, the Toronto Children's Chorus, and individuals. Premieres of Coulthard works during this decade included her Symphonic Image: Of the North (1993). Other late works include songs and The Encore Series (1995; teaching repertoire for violin and piano, with David Duke and Jean Ethridge). Coulthard's 90th birthday in February 1998 was celebrated by a gala at the University of British Columbia, broadcasts on CBC radio, and performances, one by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.

Jean Coulthard was the first West Coast composer to gain wide recognition. By the mid-1940s she had absorbed the diverse influences of her teachers and fashioned her own personal style, which evolved steadily from then onward. Her music displays two significant streams, the lyrical, as in the Lyric Sonatina (1976), and the profound and brooding, as in the String Quartet No. 2: Threnody (1954, rev 1969), and is unified and characterized by an integral romanticism within a distinctly personal and contemporary framework.

Awards and Honours

Jean Coulthard was made an Officer of the Order of Canada and Freeman of the City of Vancouver in 1978, and was named to the Order of British Columbia, 1994. She was an associate of the Canadian Music Centre and a member of the Canadian League of Composers. Volume 10 of RCI's Anthology of Canadian Music (6-ACM 10), issued in 1982, was devoted to Coulthard's compositions and includes a monologue by her entitled "Music Is My Whole Life." In 1984 she was named composer of the year by PRO Canada. In 1990 Maclean's magazine named her to its Honour Roll, and quoted Mavor Moore, former chair of the Canada Council, who praised Coulthard as "an extraordinarily original composer, with a voice very much her own." Glenn Colton, writing in Centregramme, described her contribution thus: "Coulthard was not only a driving force behind the mid-century promotion and dissemination of Canadian music, but also a pioneer who paved the way for women composers (and, to a certain extent, Western Canadian composers) on the national music scene." Other titles and honours: ATCM 1926, LRSM 1930, honorary D LITT (British Columbia) 1988, honorary LLD (Concordia) 1991.

Coulthard's papers are deposited at the Archives of the University of British Columbia. The university established the Jean Coulthard Fund for Canadian Music Studies in recognition of the composer's commitment to Canadian music.

List of Works

See: Coulthard, Jean (The Canadian Encyclopedia)

Source: The Canadian Encyclopedia 2006 Historica Foundation of Canada (Authors: Vivienne Rowley, Bryan N.S. Gooch, Betty Nygaard King, William Bruneau, David Duke)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (July 2011)

Jean Coulthard: Short Biography | Bach-inspired Piano Works: Works | Recordings

Links to other Sites

Coulthard, Jean (The Canadian Encyclopedia)
Jean Coulthard (Canadian Music Center)

Jean Coulthard (Wikipedia)
Jean Coulthard - Biography (Naxos)


Godfrey Ridout: "Two west coast composers," Canadian Review of Music and Art, Vol. 3 (Dec 1944-Jan 1945)
Lawrence Cluderay: "Jean Coulthard," Music Scene, 240 (Mar-Apr 1968)
BMI Canada Ltd/PRO Canada Ltd. "Jean Coulthard," pamphlets (1970, 1979, 1985)
Vivienne W. Rowley: "The solo piano music of the Canadian composer Jean Coulthard," DMA thesis (Boston, 1973)
Contemporary Canadian Composers, ed John Beckwith and Keith MacMillan (Toronto, 1975)
David Duke: "Coulthard's career intensifies since 'retirement'," Music Scene, 299 (Jan-Feb 1978)
Ian L. Bradley: "Jean Coulthard...composer, teacher, pianist," Twentieth Century Canadian Composers, Vol. 2 (Agincourt, Ontario, 1982)
Ian L. Bradley: "A conversation with Jean Coulthard," Music Scene, 370 (Nov 1989)
James Deaville, ed: "Colloquy/débat: Violet Archer, Jean Coulthard, and Barbara Pentland remembered," Canadian University Music Review, Vol. 20:2 (2000)
William Bruneau: International Alliance of Women in Music Journal, issue dedicated to Archer, Jean Coulthard, and Barbara Pentland, Vol. 6:3 (2000)
David Duke: "The orchestral music of Jean Coulthard: a critical assessment," PhD thesis (University of Victoria, 1993)
Glenn Colton: "The Piano Music of Jean Coulthard," PhD thesis (University of Victoria, 1996)
Linda Black: "Jean Coulthard and her Choral Music," PhD thesis (University of Florida, 1997)
Christine Crookall: "Jean Coulthard's Sonata for Cello and Piano," DMA thesis (University of Texas at Austin, 2001)
William Bruneau and David Gordon Duke: Jean Coulthard: A Life in Music (Vancouver, 2005)

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