October 29 2018

Jean Coulthard: A threnody for her mother.

Jean Coulthard was only 25 years old when she lost her mother to a sudden, severe appendix attack in 1933, in the days before antibiotics. Her choral work, Threnody (a wailing ode, song, hymn or poem of mourning composed or performed as a memorial to a dead person), is dedicated to her mother, Jean Robinson Coulthard. Coulthard took organ lessons at Christ Church Cathedral as a teenager. She wrote this work, imagining it being sung in the cathedral’s acoustics, where we will sing it on November 10th.

Born in Vancouver, Coulthard eventually studied composition at London’s Royal College of Music under Ralph Vaughan Williams. While continuing to compose, she also studied with Bartók, Schoenberg, and Copland. Returning to Vancouver after WWII, Coulthard taught music at UBC for 26 years.

She is described in the Canadian Encyclopedia as “a pioneering woman composer and the first composer from Canada’s West Coast to receive wide recognition. [Her] music is remarkable for its integrity, purity of expression and deeply emotional language…
Often romantic and impressionistic, her more than 350 compositions span virtually every genre and range from the intentionally accessible to the uncompromisingly abstract.”

Her music and her name have gained further recognition since her death in 2000. For instance, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra’s emerging composer program, Jean Coulthard Readings, are named in her honour. Vancouver Cantata Singers will perform Threnody and other choral works that explore themes of grief, loss, and consolation in our season opening performance, Threnody: Requiem and Remembrance on November 10th.


Read more HERE about the life and compositions of Jean Coulthard, written by David Gordon Duke (with critical notes by Geoffrey Newman) for Vancouver Classical Music.