Montréal, New York, Texas, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Toronto, Edmonton, Ottawa
L. Mus + B.Mus, McGill University B.Mus + M.Mus, Yale University
Media & More
Violet Louise Archer was a composer, teacher, pianist, organist, and percussionist born in Montreal in 1913. A composer of marked individuality, Violet Archer was widely recognized for her command of both traditional and contemporary music techniques, and for her large and diverse body of work. She composed more than 330 compositions, many of which have been performed in over 30 countries. As well, Archer was a percussionist with the Montréal Women's Symphony Orchestra (1940–47), worked as an accompanist, and teacher of piano and music theory, and was deputy organist at various Montréal churches. Archer produced a large body of music embracing most of the vocal and instrumental performance media, including the comic opera Sganarelle (1973) and a film score for the documentary Someone Cares (1976). Recognizing the importance of creating both musicians and audiences that understand and appreciate 20th century harmony, melody and rhythm, she wrote many pieces for elementary and intermediate performers, and encouraged other composers to write for children. Throughout her career she worked and lived in Montreal where she attended and eventually taught at McGill University, commuted to New York to study with Béla Bartók, studied at Yale University, was a percussionist with the New Haven Symphony Orchestra based in Connecticut, taught at the University of Alberta summer school, and was the composer-in-residence at what is now the University of North Texas. Following her return to Canada in 1961, she took up doctoral studies at the University of Toronto. Shortly after, she was appointed the chair of Theory and Composition departments at the University of Alberta, where she remained until her retirement in 1978, when she was named professor emeritus and continued to lecture part-time, and was made a member of the Order of Canada in 1983 .
With a body of work spanning over 300 compositions and more than 60 years, Violet has composed all types of works solo flute pieces to electronic works.
Landscapes (set of 3)* - SATB a capella. This set of three texts by T.S. Elliot and set to music by Archer, especially highlights Archer's late-romantic / early 20th-century choral writing style. Much akin to the works of Ralph Vaughn Williams, these pieces drift from key centre to key centre seamlessly, much to the affect of the poetry. 1. Red River is set in a mostly minor tonality, 2. Red River is a largo piece that takes it's time in exploring harmonies between two to four voices; especially in the 20th century style. 3. Quick Quick... is a sprite, 8th note driven piece that features quick 16th note triplets and melismas. The end of the piece slows the pace down, but maintains intensity to an almost spoken ending. These pieces individually, or combined would be a great chance for a university or advanced youth choir to explore lesser known choral works.
The Mater Admirabilis Chapel* - SSA, Oboe and Harp or Piano. This piece features oboe and can feature soloists as well, as there are recitative-like interludes for both voice and oboe sections, with sparse piano chording underneath. After these recit's, the full choir and instruments cries "come out, for the sky is blue." This piece would suit the adult SSA choir looking for something less traditional, as this piece features many call and response verses from the solo recit sections and the chorus.
Eight Short Songs for Young Singers* - Unison Choir and Piano. The highlight of these pieces is the poetry, written by Inge and Mark Israel, that is akin to Ogden Nash's short poems about animals. With a charming piano part that represents the animals being sung about, these short pieces would be great fun for children's choir and audience alike.
I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes* - SATB choir and Organ. Along with her other compositions, Archer also wrote a selection of pieces for the church choir setting. This setting of Psalm 121, commissioned by the Edmonton Centre of the RCCO, is a powerful anthem with a melody inspired by chant. With many unison passages and slightly straying key centres, this anthem has marked dynamics that can be adjusted according to the choir's needs. A fresh work to use for the more advanced church choir.
* = in the Choir Alberta library
Violet Archer was and still is respected internationally for bringing classical music to young audiences, as well as being a leader among women composers. She began working as an accompanist at 17, acted as percussionist for the Montreal Women's Symphony Orchestra for 7 years at age 27. Her primary composition teachers were Béla Bartók and Paul Hindemith, with whom she studied with in New York starting in 1942.
In 1985, a three-day long festival entitled the Violet Archer Festival was held in Edmonton. This festival was the first time a North American Female Composer had been honoured in such a way.
Read all about Violet's varied and exciting career and life here at the Canadian Encyclopedia website