Violet Archer

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Violet Archer
Violet Balestreri

(1913-04-24)24 April 1913
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Died21 February 2000(2000-02-21) (aged 86)
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Occupation(s)Composer, teacher, pianist, organist, and percussionist
AwardsOrder of Canada, 1983

Violet Louise Archer[1] CM (24 April 1913 – 21 February 2000) was a Canadian composer, teacher, pianist, organist, and percussionist. Born Violet Balestreri in Montreal, Quebec, in 1913, her family changed their name to Archer in 1940. She died in Ottawa on 21 February 2000.[2]

Education and teaching career[edit]

Black and white photograph of Violet Archer on graduation day at Yale University
Violet Archer on graduation day, Yale University. Source: University of Alberta Archives

Archer earned a licentiate degree in music from McGill University in 1934, and a bachelor of music degree from McGill in 1936. She studied composition with Douglas Clarke.[3] Archer travelled to New York City in the summer of 1942 and studied composition, including Hungarian folk music and variation technique, with Béla Bartók.[3] She taught at the McGill Conservatory from 1944 to 1947.[3] Later in the 1940s she studied with Paul Hindemith at Yale. She earned a B MUS from Yale in 1948, and a M MUS also from Yale in 1949.[3] From 1950 to 1953 Archer was Composer-in-Residence at the University of North Texas.[4] From 1953 through 1961 she taught at the University of Oklahoma.[5] Returning to Canada in 1961 for doctoral study at the University of Toronto, she set that aside when, in 1962, she joined the Faculty of Music at the University of Alberta. There she would become chairman of the Theory and Composition Department. She remained at the University of Alberta until her retirement.[3] Her notable students include Larry Austin, Jan Randall, Allan Gilliland, and Allan Gordon Bell.

Musical career[edit]

Archer built a career as a musician and composer in addition to her teaching. She played percussion with the Montreal Women's Symphony Orchestra from 1940 to 1947,[6] a time period when major municipal orchestras were not admitting women to their ranks.[7] In addition to percussion, Archer played clarinet and strings,[8] and worked in Montréal as an accompanist and organist.[6] As a composer, Archer's prolific work of more than 330 compositions included traditional and more contemporary works for instrument and voice.[2] Examples of her wide-ranging work include a 1973 comic opera, Sganarelle, the film score for a 1976 documentary, Someone Cares, and experiments with electronic music.[6] Her music includes some 90 compositions for novice musicians, written to acquaint performers and audiences with modern concepts of harmony, melody, and rhythm.[6]

Awards and honours[edit]

Archer has received honorary degrees from McGill University (1971), University of Windsor (1986), University of Calgary (1989), Mount Allison University (1992), and University of Alberta (1993).[9] In 1983, she was made a Member of the Order of Canada.[10][11]

In 1985 the three day Violet Archer Festival was held in Edmonton where 14 of her works were performed.[9] This festival is credited as being first festival to honour a living Canadian composer.[12] She is memorialized at Violet Archer Park in the Parkallen neighbourhood of Edmonton.[12] In Calgary, the Prairie Region of Canadian Music Centre Library is home to The Violet Archer Library which holds over 20,000 scores.[13][14]

In 2021, Violet Archer fonds held at University of Alberta Archives was added to the Canada Memory of the World Register.[15]

The Canadian indie rock band The Violet Archers is named for Archer.[16]

Image Gallery[edit]

Selected works[edit]

  • 3 Concerti, Archer Piano Concerto, Christina Petrowska Quilico, piano, CBC Vancouver Orchestra, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, conductor, Centrediscs(CMCCD)15610
  • Women Composers for Organ, Barbara Harbach. Peterborough, NH: Gasparo Records (294), 2006.[17]
  • Ovation, Volume 2. Toronto: CBC Records (PSCD 2027-5), 2002.[18]
  • Canadian Composers Portraits. Toronto: Centrediscs, (CMCCD 8502) 2002.[19]
  • Sinfonietta (CBC Vancouver Chamber Orchestra, John Avison, conductor)
  • Trio no. 2 (The Hertz Trio)
  • String Quartet no. 3 (University of Alberta String Quartet)
  • The Bell (CBC Chorus and Orchestra, Geoffrey Waddington, conductor)
  • Northern Landscapes – A Tribute to Violet Archer, Sarah Muir and Ann Nichols, performers with the Columbian Girls Choir and Chanteuses. Edmonton, 1997.[20]
  • Surrealistic Portraiture Kenneth Fischer, saxophone, Martha Thomas, piano. Atlanta: ACA Digital (ACD 20036), 2001.[21]
  • By a Canadian Lady – Piano Music 1841–1997, Elaine Keillor, piano. Ottawa: Carleton Sound CD1006, 2000.[22]
  • Assemblage, Charles Foreman, piano. Calgary: Unical (CD9501), 1995?.[23]
  • NORTHERN ARCH, various artists, Edmonton: Arktos Recordings (ARK 94001), 1994.[24]
  • Soliloquies for changing Bb and A clarinets (performed by Dennis Prime)
  • CROSSROADS, James Campbell, clarinet. Toronto: Centrediscs / Centredisques (CMCCD 4392), 1992.[25]
  • Ballade, Charles Foreman, piano. Toronto: Centrediscs, (CMCCD 1684), 1991.[26]
  • Hertz Trio. Calgary: Unical Records, 1991.[27]


  • "À la claire fontaine" (SA and Piano) – Berandol Music

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sanderson, Kay (1999). 200 Remarkable Alberta Women. Calgary: Famous Five Foundation. p. 86. Archived from the original on 2015-09-24.
  2. ^ a b Keillor, Elaine; Nygaard King, Betty; Kallman, Helmut (4 March 2015). "Violet Archer". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2020-05-30.
  3. ^ a b c d e Kallmann, Helmut; Keillor, Elaine; Nygaard King, Betty. "Violet Archer". The Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. The Historica Dominion Institute. Retrieved 17 January 2012.
  4. ^ Violet Archer Fonds Finding Aid Archived 2005-10-29 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Obituary: Violet Archer | Independent, The (London) | Find Articles at[dead link]
  6. ^ a b c d "Violet Archer". Choral Music Composed by Canadian Women. Retrieved 2020-06-19.
  7. ^ "Montreal Women's Symphony Orchestra/Symphonie féminine de Montréal | The Canadian Encyclopedia". Retrieved 2020-06-19.
  8. ^ "Obituary: Violet Archer". Independent [London, England]. 9 March 2000.
  9. ^ a b Keillor, Elaine; Nygaard King, Betty; Kallmann, Helmut (March 4, 2015). "Violet Archer | The Canadian Encyclopedia". Retrieved 2020-06-19.
  10. ^ Order of Canada citation
  11. ^ Schreyer, Edward Richard (30 April 2009). "Violet B. Archer, C.M., D.Mus". Ottawa: Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved 17 January 2012.
  12. ^ a b Aubrey, Merrily K. (2004). Naming Edmonton : from Ada to Zoie. Edmonton Historical Board. Historic Sites Committee. Edmonton : University of Alberta Press. p. 319. ISBN 9780888644237.
  13. ^ "Canadian Music Centre – Prairie Region Library Research Guide". Retrieved 2020-07-03.
  14. ^ "Canadian Music Centre – Prairie". Archived from the original on 2012-02-03. Retrieved 2012-03-09.
  15. ^ UNESCO, Canadian Commission for. "The Canada Memory of the World Register Lists Three New Collections". Retrieved 2023-02-13.
  16. ^ "See: "our namesake"". Archived from the original on 2012-02-10. Retrieved 2012-03-09.
  17. ^ "Women Composers For Organ – Amy Beach, et al. / Harbach Classical". Retrieved 2012-03-09.
  18. ^ "Canadian Music Centre — About the CMC". Archived from the original on 2012-02-07. Retrieved 2012-03-09.
  19. ^ "Violet Archer. Canadian Composers Portraits". Retrieved 2012-03-09.
  20. ^ "Canadian Music Centre – About the CMC". Archived from the original on 2012-02-07. Retrieved 2012-03-09.
  21. ^ "Surrealistic Portraiture / Kenneth Fischer, Thomas – ACA Digital – ACD 20036 – – HBDirect Classical". 2001-04-01. Archived from the original on 2012-02-08. Retrieved 2012-01-29.
  22. ^ de:Elaine Keillor
  23. ^ "Canadian Music Centre – About the CMC". Archived from the original on 2012-02-07. Retrieved 2012-03-09.
  24. ^ Northern Arch – CD Archived 2006-10-20 at the Wayback Machine
  25. ^ "Canadian Music Centre – About the CMC". Archived from the original on 2012-02-07. Retrieved 2012-03-09.
  26. ^ "Canadian Music Centre – About the CMC". Archived from the original on 2012-02-07. Retrieved 2012-03-09.
  27. ^ "Canadian Music Centre". Archived from the original on 2012-02-07. Retrieved 2012-03-09.

External links[edit]

  • University of Alberta Archives – Violet Archer Fonds (28 m of textual records. – ca. 750 sounds recordings. – 18 video cassettes. – 20 art works. – 2420 graphic materials.)
  • University of Calgary Special Collections – Violet Archer fonds. (0.525 m of textual records.)
  • Music of Violet Archer