Sir Ernest Alexander Campbell MacMillan, CC (August 18, 1893 – May 6, 1973) was an internationally renowned Canadian orchestral conductor and composer, and Canada's only "Musical Knight". He is widely regarded as being Canada's pre-eminent musician, from the 1920s through the 1950s. His extraordinary contributions to the development of music in Canada, as conductor, performer, composer, administrator, lecturer, adjudicator, writer, humourist, and statesman, are unparalleled.
Furthermore, he has remained "one of the most influential Canadian musicians of his time, having devoted his life and energies to the service and advancement of music in our country."
- 1 Biography
- 2 Career
- 3 The Sir Ernest MacMillan Collection at Library and Archives Canada
- 4 The Sir Ernest MacMillan Memorial Foundation (Fondation commérative Sir Ernest MacMillan)
- 5 Examples of Ernest MacMillan’s Recordings and Music
- 5.1 The Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the National Film Board of Canada
- 5.2 Recording of Gustav Holst’s orchestral suite The Planets
- 5.3 Recording of Sir Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 2
- 5.4 Recordings of the TSO with Canadian pianist Glenn Gould
- 5.5 Other Performances of MacMillan’s Music
- 6 Notes
- 7 References
- 8 Bibligraphy
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
Early Life and Education (1893-1914)
Ernest Alexander Campbell MacMillan was born in Mimico, Ontario. His first musical influences were his parents. From a very young age, he became fascinated while watching his mother play piano and decided to learn music. His father, who was a Reverend at the St. Enoch’s Presbyterian Church, bought an organ for a new house the family moved to in 1898. The house had an adjoined drawing room and study room, with enough space for both an organ and piano.Thereafter, Macmillan was officially hooked. Macmillan started studying the organ at the age of 8 with Arthur Blakely. A child prodigy, he gave his first organ recital at the age of ten. His talents astonished the public and critics alike in 1904 when he performed in the “Festival of Lillies,” which “firmly established him a prodigy.” 4000 people were known to attend. Moreover, he was the appointed organist at St. Enoch’s, which gave him a sense of importance and great experience in accompanying singers. Between 1908-1910, MacMillan held his first professional appointment as an organist and choirmaster in Toronto at Knox (Presbyterian) Church. In 1910 he had his first “official” organ recital. After that, he performed elsewhere in Toronto until 1914. He earned the Associateship and Fellowship diplomas of the Royal College of Organists, and from 1911 to 1914 studied modern history at the University of Toronto, earning a BA.
Internment in Germany (1914-1919)
MacMillan traveled to Paris in the spring of 1914 and began to study piano privately with Thérèse Chaigneau. He was visiting Bayreuth, Germany, to attend performances of the Bayreuth Festival, when the First World War began in August, following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria on June 28. MacMillan was initially detained by the German Police, and then imprisoned as an enemy alien, as Canada had declared war on Imperial Germany on August 5. MacMillan was subsequently interned for the duration of the War at Ruhleben, a British civilian detention camp, located on the site of a former horse racing track, on the outskirts of Berlin. During this period, he became a prominent member of the Ruhleben Musical Society and directed performances of The Mikado (with orchestra) and a pantomime version of Cinderella. MacMillan transcribed the music for the former from memory with the help of four other musicians, including Benjamin Dale. Among those attending these performances was James W. Gerard, the
As a Conductor
Upon return to Canada in 1919, MacMillan was appointed organist and chairmaster in Toronto at the Timothy Eaton Memorial Church. He was especially known there for his performances of Handel’s Messiah and Brahms' Requiem His career as a conductor truly began when he conducted a performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion in the Timothy Eaton Memorial Church in 1923. MacMillan conducted annual performances of this work for the next 30 years. Another annual tradition Macmillan initiated during his career includes the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir’s Christmas-time performance of Handel’s Messiah.
Throughout his time with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, MacMillan accomplished many of the major achievements of his conducting career. His authority as a composer influenced some major changes within the orchestra. During the Depression, he changed the concert times from 5pm to a more “evening hour.” As many theatre musicians were out of work during the Depression era, MacMillan hired them to play in these evening concerts on a regular basis. As a result, MacMillan was able to select much more ambitious repertoire for this stronger performing force, as well as lengthening its season, and increased their number of concerts.
MacMillan was a very unique conductor; he tried to make concerts fun and entertaining. The Christmas Box Symphony Concerts were a great example of this. Not only did MacMillan conduct, but he dressed up as Santa Claus and had the audience participate by singing along. He also “appeared in overalls with a monkey wrench for a baton to conduct Alexander Mossolov’s Iron Foundry.”
The entry of Canada into WWII proved to be “a difficult period,” but it was during the post-war years that his conducting was regaled as being “the most successful in the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s history.” MacMillan innovations in his repertoire changed yet again. He included Canadian music, as well as works by Western composers Bela Bartok, and Smitri Shostakovich.
During WWII he also gained fame as a guest conductor in the United States. He conducted many Hollywood Bowl concerts, and the National Broadcasting Company Symphony Orchestra in NYC. In Canada, he guest conducted the Orchestre symphoniques de Montreal and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. By the end of the 40’s, he conducted the Vancouver Symphony on 45 different occasions, and 25 different occasions in Montreal. MacMillan also toured Australia for three months and conducted 30 concerts in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
Later in his career (1948-1953), MacMillan introduced Canada to entirely new prospects of recording and broadcasting. A good number of performances he conducted were recorded for Beaver Records, and were also broadcast nationally by CBC Radio.
As a Composer
While a prisoner in Ruhleben, MacMillan wrote what is seen to be his most significant composition, titled String Quartet in C Minor. Influenced by the “war-time style and themes,” the first performance of this piece was heard on February 8, 1925, by the Hart House String Quartet, and was conducted by MacMillan himself. Although MacMillan’s composing abilities were much praised during this performance, he stated composition was not his main preoccupation; he preferred conducting to composing.
Nevertheless, not only did the musical language influence MacMillan in the 19th century romantic period, but he was also interested in Folklore music. In 1927, he traveled alongside Marius Barbeau to the Nass River region of British Columbia to “hear, record and notate music of the Tsimshian People.” As a result, he composed Three Songs of the West Coast, arranged for voice and piano.
MacMillan composed less during his commitment to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Still, he managed to compose Scottish and French songs for the ballad opera “Prince Charming.” In addition, he composed Te Deum Landamus in E Minor (1936) and Song of Deliverance (1944), both choral works.
Apart from composing his own works, MacMillan made arrangements of works by composers such as Bach, Beethoven, Handel, and Tchaikovsky, all of whom he said had great influence on his style. Both Canadian and US orchestras have performed his orchestra arrangement of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C Minor.
As a Performer
MacMillan became well known in Toronto music circles after he first started giving performances in his earlier career. Upon returning to Canada after the war, MacMillan started off his later career as a performer by giving 5 organ recitals commissioned by the Canadian Academy of Music from November 1919 to March 1920. In addition, he gave recitals at the Timothy Eaton Memorial Church after each Sunday service. MacMillan also gave “all Bach recitals” which attracted members of the congregation and Toronto musicians.
CBC Radio in the 1920s helped to heighten MacMillan’s talent as a performer. Thus, he became acknowledged as far west as Vancouver. He was frequently asked to perform there, as well in the United States. at the 1935 Convention of the Royal College of Organists in Toronto.
In the early 1940s, MacMillan formed “The Canadian Trio.” Alongside musicians Zara Nelsova (cellist) and Kathleen Parlow (violinist), MacMillan often performed in Toronto and occasionally “elsewhere.” Amazingly, they once performed Beethoven’s Triple Concerto in C Major with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra at Massey Hall. In addition, MacMillan started “The Canadian Duo” with Kathleen Parlow; their performances were broadcast on CBC Radio as well.
MacMillan gave 100 concerts and recitals between the 1920s and 1950s. He eventually stopped performing due to his other responsibilities as a conductor, composer and an educator.
As an Educator
Throughout his professional life, MacMillan put a strong emphasis on music education, and “contributed to the foundations of the development of music in Canada.” In the year 1919, MacMillan was selected for a staff position at the Canadian Academy of Music, even though he had little training in teaching. Regardless, he taught theory, harmony, counterpoint, piano and organ. Furthermore, MacMillan was sent to lead examination tours at McGill University in Southern Ontario, and in various parts of the west coast on the Academy’s behalf.
Eventually, MacMillan was appointed the Dean of the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto. He made many valuable contributions and innovations during his tenure with their music department. MacMillan then established a conservatory choir in 1927, because he felt that the vocal students “needed experience in choral singing.” MacMillan also started the first opera classes at the conservatory in 1920, with performances of Hansel and Gretl, The Sorcerer, Dido and Aeneas and Hugh the Drover. Amazingly enough, MacMillan also improved the library, made improvements to the colleges’ sight reading/ear tests, and prepared teaching materials which include “The Modern Piano Student” in 1931 and “On the Preparation of Ear Tests in 1938.
MacMillan was also very interested in the education of young people. He worked in Children’s concerts and Secondary School concerts, which were presented by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. In order to enrich children’s musical experience, MacMillan introduced a series called “Music for Young Folk” in 1942. Focusing on all primary, junior and senior levels, the program ran for 45 minutes with soloists accompanied by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.
Alongside composing, conducting and performing, MacMillan additionally became recognized internationally as an adjudicator starting in 1924, when he participated as an adjudicator for the Ottawa Music Festival. Forward to 1937, MacMillan became the first Canadian to adjudicate at the National Eisteddfod of Wales. Furthermore, he adjudicated at various festivals in Jamaica and the United States.
Honours and Awards
He became an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Music in 1938, and was also a recipient of the University of Alberta National Award in Music (1952). MacMillan also received the Canada Council Medal twice (1964 and 1973) for “outstanding achievements in the arts, humanities or social sciences.”
The University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music received a new facility in 1964, in which they named their new theatre “The MacMillan Theatre.” It holds up to 815 people, and the orchestra pit is large enough to fit 60 musicians.
MacMillan’s sons, Keith and Ross MacMillan, established the Sir Ernest MacMillan Memorial Foundation. To this day, the annual awards grow up to 10,000 dollars for “advanced education at a graduate level.”
Ernest MacMillan died in Toronto in 1973.
The Sir Ernest MacMillan Collection at Library and Archives Canada
The collection of Sir Ernest MacMillan's personal papers and music was established in the
To access the Sir Ernest MacMillan Collection at Library and Archives Canada, go to the
[NOTE: All the links in this section relate to an exhibition mounted by the former National Library of Canada in 1994-1995. The exhibit links are no longer active, but have been "archived" for historical memory. When you click on each of the links to the Exhibition below, you may see the following message:
Disclaimer: You are viewing a document archived by Library and Archives Canada. Please note, information may be out of date and some functionality lost. You will be redirected in 15 seconds or follow this link to continue to the document.]
[Then, please click on "Continue to the document".]
A special Exhibition,
In the Overview to the Exhibition, Curator Maureen Nevins, examined and outlined Sir Ernest MacMillan's life and musical career as follows:
[Please click on each of the following headings to view the archived document.]
The Sir Ernest MacMillan Memorial Foundation (Fondation commérative Sir Ernest MacMillan)
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the National Film Board of Canada
MacMillan conducted the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in two films produced by the National Film Board of Canada in 1945.:
In the first film,
MacMillan conducted the TSO in a number of recordings with Canadian pianist Glenn Gould as soloist, playing works by various composers, including Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven. Several of these recordings are available on the World Wide Web:
- Nevins 1994, p. 31.
- Schabas 1994, p. 7.
- Schabas 1994, p. 11.
- Schabas 1994, p. 12.
- MacMillan, Keith (1988). The Rubleben Years. Toronto: Dundurn Press. p. 29.
- MacMillan 1997, pp. 25–29.
- Hart, Harold B. "Life in Ruhleben – Stories of Returned Civil Prisoners", The Scotsman, 9 January 1918, pp. 5 and 11.
- Nevins, Maureen (1994). Sir Ernest MacMillan (1893–1973): Portrait of a Canadian Musician, Ruhleben. Library and Archives Canada (electronic collection). Retrieved 2011-09-12.
- "Sir Ernest MacMillan Recalls Being a POW", CBC Radio
- Nevins 1994, p. 21.
- Schabas 1994, p. 103.
- Nevins 1994, p. 27.
- McCready, Louise (1957). Famous Musicians: MacMillan, Johnson, Pelletier, Willan. Toronto: Toronto University Press. p. 42.
- McCready, Louise (1957). Famous Musicians: MacMillan, Johnson, Pelletier, Willan. Toronto: Toronto University Press. p. 54.
- MacMillan, Ernest (1955). Music in Canada. Toronto: Toronto University Press. p. 55.
- MacMillan, Ernest (1955). Music in Canada. Toronto: Toronto University Press. p. 56.
- Nevins 1994, p. 29.
- Nevins 1994, p. 32.
- Nevins 1994, p. 33.
- Nevins 1994, p. 35.
- Nevins 1994, p. 36.
- McCready, Louise (1957). Famous Musicians: MacMillan, Johnson, Pelletier, Willan. Toronto: Toronto University Press. p. 71.
- MacMillan, Ernest (1955). Music in Canada. Toronto: Toronto University Press. p. 133.
- MacMillan, Ernest (1955). Music in Canada. Toronto: Toronto University Press. p. 134.
- MacMillan, Ernest (1955). Music in Canada. Toronto: Toronto University Press. p. 136.
- Schabas 1994, p. 71.
- Schabas 1994, p. 75.
- Schabas 1994, p. 79.
- MacMillan, Ernest (1997). MacMillan on Music. Toronto: Dundurn Press. p. 148. ISBN 1-55002-285-7.
- MacMillan 1997, p. 149.
- MacMillan 1997, p. 153.
- Nevins 1994, p. 51.
- Nevins 1994, p. 62.
- Nevins 1994, p. 53.
- Nevins, Maureen (1994). Sir Ernest MacMillan (1893–1973): Portrait of a Canadian Musician, Overview. Library and Archives Canada (electronic collection). Retrieved 2012-06-17.
- Bach-cantatas.com Sir Ernest MacMillan biography
- Encyclopedia of Music in Canada - MacMillan, Sir Ernest
- Encyclopedia of Music in Canada - Sir Ernest MacMillan Memorial Foundation
- Schabas, Ezra (1994). Sir Ernest MacMillan: The Importance of Being Canadian. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 978-0-8020-2849-5.
- MacMillan, Sir Ernest (1997). MacMillan on Music: Essays on Music. Dundurn. ISBN 978-1-55002-285-8.
- Nevins, Maureens (1994). Sir Ernest MacMillan: Portrait of A Canadian Musician. National Library of Canada. ISBN 0-662-61311-2.
- McCready, Louise G. "Sir Ernest Campbell MacMillan", in her Famous Musicians, in series, Canadian Portraits (Toronto: Clarke, Irwin & Co., 1957), p. -28, ill. with sketched ports.