I’ve published posts about or featuring Sir Ernest Macmillan. Sir Ernest MacMillan was, for decades, English Canada’s most prominent figure in the area of music.
Moving to Toronto
David and I had just moved to Toronto and we needed a home. While I was resting, David drove up and down the streets I liked. He saw a sign on a large tree and a lady standing by. She owned the house and she was Sir Ernest MacMillan’s niece. Yes, she would let me play the piano. I liked the little apartment very much. We moved to Walmsley Boulevard two weeks later. Andrea would be my best friend for nearly fifty years.
I have told this story, so let us hear Sir Ernest MacMillan’s “learned” version of the piece. It is learned because it has been composed and/or arranged. As interpreted by the McGariggle sisters, Blanche comme la neige belongs to folklore, or an “oral” tradition. It is as though it had yet to be composed. It is also somewhat naïve and forever renewed.
Let us return to our “learned” song. It was arranged, or composed, by Sir Ernest and is interpreted by Toronto’s Mendelssohn Choir, founded by Sir Ernest MacMillan (click on 2). We can classify this interpretation as “learned” because Sir Ernest set it to music. He also set to music “Notre Seigneur en pauvre,” a song I mentioned a few posts away. His Two Sketches on French Canadian Airs (click on 3) combines Blanche comme neige and Notre Seigneur en pauvre (Our Lord as a poor man). I do not know of a separate Notre Seigneur en pauvre. “À Saint-Malo,” French folklore, is number 4.
Angelology, the study of angels, is an extremely complex area of knowledge. Consequently, this post is a limited discussion. In fact, I will write a rather informal account of my findings, as though I were addressing students who have first been given the full written text.
First, angels are supernatural creatures and, therefore, immortal beings found in several religions and mythologies. In the beginning, they were members of a divine council and were referred to as “sons of God.” Later on, the term “sons of God” was applied to angels who engaged in sexual intercourse with women, mere mortals. (See Fallen angels, Wikipedia.) These angels could not return to heaven. They were “fallen angels” and, henceforth, mortals. But most angels have fallen led by Lucifer.
According to certain Muslim accounts, Lucifer fell from grace because he would not bow to Adam, the first human being. In Greco-Roman mythology, hubris “extreme pride or self-confidence” leads to the demise of Icarus. (See Hubris, Wikipedia.)
“And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. The dragon and his angels waged war, and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven… ” (The Apocalypse or Book of Revelation, 12.7)
For most members of the Western Church, Lucifer fell from grace when, as the leader of rebellious angels, he was defeated by the archangel Michael, God’s “holy fighter.” There was a war in heaven, and Michael proved a stronger warrior than Lucifer. In Western Christianity, the archangel Michael is St Michael. His feast day, the former Michaelmas, is 29 September and it coincides with the fall equinox. In 2014, the fall equinox–equal daylight and darkness–occurred on 23 September.
The Islamic and Christian interpretations of Lucifer’s downfall do not contradict one another, which should be noted. One does not rebel against God. Lucifer, the defeated archangel became Satan, and he and his troops were sent to hell: inferno. Inferno is the title of the first book of Dante‘s (C. 1265 – 1321), Divine Comedy, Lucifer’s story parallels the fall of man and is also told in John Milton‘s (9 December 1608 – 8 November 1674) Paradise Lost.
These two books are monumental literary works and both have been illustrated by French engraver Gustave Doré (6 January 1832 – 23 January 1883) who portrayed Lucifer not as a dragon, evil incarnate, but as a human being with wings resembling those of a bat (la chauve-souris or, literally, the bald mouse).
In both Dante’s Divine Comedy and Milton’s Paradise Lost, the account of the fall of man is associated with that of the fall of angels. God told Adam and Eve not to eat at the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the archangel Raphael re-warned them. But they defied God’s directives, hubris, and thus lost their immortality. They were driven out of Paradise and Eve gave birth to Cain and Abel (evil and good).
Angels as Zoomorphic Creatures
In appearance, angels are zoomorphic, a blend of animal features or human and animal features. In the eyes of some early Christian Church fathers and lesser Christians, this was not altogether acceptable. Certain fathers of the Western Christian Church did not like the fact that angels had wings, an animal feature.
One reticent early saint was St. John Chrysostom (c. 349 – 407). How could nascent Christianity be burdened by so many winged creatures, all of whom were males? But the opposite could be just as embarrassing. How could a sacred text not shelter supernatural beings, despite their wings? Fortunately, it occurred to John Chrysostom that wings gave angels “sublimity.” Moreover, without wings, how could an angel be an intermediary between God and mere mortals? How could he be a prophet? (See Angel, Wikipedia.)
“Not that angels have wings, but that you may know that they leave the heights and the most elevated dwelling to approach human nature. Accordingly, the wings attributed to these powers have no other meaning than to indicate the sublimity of their nature.” (See Angel, Wikipedia.)
At any rate, we do swear on the Bible despite the presence of angels. As for Satan, the “shining one, morning star, Lucifer,” (see Strong’s Concordance [1822–1894], Wikipedia) he did lead rebellious angels. However, despite his fall from grace, Satan retained his name and, as Lucifer, the “morning star,” he remains the Christian counterpart to Roman mythology’s goddess Aurora, the goddess of dawn.
Gustave Doré, illustration to Paradise Lost, book IX, 179–187: “… he [Satan] held on /His midnight search, where soonest he might finde /The Serpent: him fast sleeping soon he found…” (Caption and Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Michael and Lucifer are archangels, a higher realm than angels. In Judaism, there were seven archangels. (See Archangels, Wikipedia.) The Eastern Christian Church also has a larger number of archangels than the Western Christian Church. But Catholicism has three archangels: Michael, God’s fighter, Gabriel, God’s messenger, and Raphael, “God who heals.” (See Raphael, Wikipedia.) A fourth archangel was Lucifer or Satan, a fallen angel.
Raphael would be an ancestor to Christianity’s “ministering angel” a female angel. There is a “ministering angel” in Shakespeare’s Hamlet (1598-1602): “a ministering angel shall my sister be[.]”The same words are used by Sir Walter Scott in Marmion (1808):
When pain and anguish wring the brow,
A ministering angel thou!
Raphael would also be an ancestor to guardians angels. Angels have always been guides or counselors and this role has become their chief duty, a duty performed by a female.
As for Uriel, a post-ExilicRabbinic angel, he could be the fourth Catholic archangel, but he belongs to other Christian traditions, not Catholicism.
Roles Angels Play
Michael is God’s fighter, Gabriel (Jibra’il or Jibril in Islam), God’s messenger, and Raphael, a healer. The archangel Gabriel announced to Mary that she was bearing Jesus. Gabriel therefore straddles Judaism and Christianity or the Old Testament and New Testament.
In Islam, angels are often made to carry messages from God to his prophets, one of whom is Muhammad, and another, Jesus. (See Prophets in Islam, Wikipedia.) Muhammad was also visited by Gabriel. (See Muhammad, Wikipedia.) But as messengers, angels and archangels have, at times, also been counsellors or guides. Had Adam and Eve listened, they would have retained their immortality.
“Notre Seigneur en pauvre” (folklore)
the “ministering angel”
the “guardian angel”
Angels have long been “ministering angels.” Their role as healers dates back to Raphael. Moreover, the following sentence points to godliness in the humblest among humans:
“Forget not to show love unto strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (Hebrews 13:2)
In French Canada, leaving a place at table for the beggar who might knock at the door was a tradition. One also left a bench at the door for the beggar (un gueux) to sleep on. The bench was a chest. I suppose there were blankets inside the chest. That beggar could have been Jesus himself.
Sir Ernest MacMillan set that legend to music, but very few people remember the story. Sir Ernest entitled his composition “Notre Seigneur en pauvre” (Our Lord as a poor man). I have inserted an untitled video at the foot of this post. It may be untitled, but that piece of music is Sir Ernest’s “Notre Seigneur en pauvre.”
Most importantly, however, angels are guardian angels. Guardian angels are sometimes portrayed looking after children who are about to cross a narrow bridge over a precipice or are standing near a precipice.
Schutzengel (Guardian Angel) by Bernhard Plockhorst depicts a guardian angel watching over two children (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Where are seraphs and cherubs? Well, there simply was not enough room to include seraphs and cherubs in this post. Nor was there sufficient room to mention putti. These “angels” can be discussed at a later point. I was somewhat surprised to see that the entire Middle East harboured angels. The extent to which North Americans believe in angels is equally surprising. That figure, nearly 75%, is their true measure. The prominence of the fallen angel as an archetype is also astonishing.
Canadians love music and Canada has produced several fine composers and performers.
But, the person I wish to write about today is Sr Ernest MacMillan (CC[Canada Council], a companion of the Order of Canada; b. Mimico, Ontario 1893 – d. Toronto, 1973), whose contribution to the establishment of music in Canada is simply unparalleled.
Sir Ernest MacMillan’s Childhood House in Mimico
Sir Ernest was a child prodigy who gave his first organ concert at the age of ten. He then accompanied his father to Edinburgh and, during his three-year stay in Scotland, Ernest studied at the University of Edinburgh under Friedrich Niecks and W. B. Ross, and took private organ lessons from Ross. Consequently, before his eighteenth birthday, he had earned his certificate as a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists (FRCO) and an extramural B Mus (Bachelor of Music) degree from Oxford University (1911). From 1911 to 1914, he studied modern history at the University of Toronto, but was awarded his Bachelor of Arts in absentia. He was detained in Germany.
Ruhleben: an unlikely detainee
Ernest MacMillan was a colourful individual and he led a colourful life. In the spring of 1914, he went to Paris where he began to study piano privately with Thérèse Chaigneau (1876-c. 1935). However, he travelled to the Bayreuth Wagner Festival, but did so at the worst possible moment. While he was in Bayreuth, Canada declared war against Germany and, as a result, young Ernest was detained, first and briefly, at Nuremberg and, later, in a civilian detention camp at Ruhleben, Germany, for the duration of the first World War.
Accomplishments at Ruhleben
Resilient as he was, Ernest MacMillan learned German and got involved in the musical and theatrical life of Ruhleben. He became an active member of both the Ruhleben Musical Society and the Ruhleben Drama Society. He conducted, transcribed the music of Cinderella (Tchaikovsky/ Prokoviev) from memory, with some help. He also honed his skills as an actor. However, his finest achievement as a detainee was his setting of Swinburne‘s ode England, which he submitted as part of the Requirements for his D Mus (Doctorate in Music) from Oxford University.
The Royal Toronto Conservatory
After the war, Ernest MacMillan returned to Toronto and started to teach piano and organ at the Canadian Academy of Music (CAM). On December 31st, 1919, he married Laura Elsie Keith, his fiancée since before the war. In June 1924, the Canadian Academy of Music (CAM) amalgamated with the Toronto College of Music (TCM) and, in 1947, it became the Royal Toronto Conservatory (RTCM), then located at the corner of College Street and University Avenue. The Royal Toronto Conservatory would move to its present location in 1964.
However, Ernest MacMillan’s position was not affected by these changes. At first, he was a teacher, but would go on to become Canada’s most prominent musician. Allow me simply to list his better-known official functions. He was:
But Ernest MacMillan, who was knighted in 1935, was also a composer, a performer, a lecturer, a writer, an adjudicator, an administrator, a statesman, the founder of the Royal Toronto Conservatory’s Opera Company and the co-founder of The Canadian Trio (1941-1943), of which he was a member as pianist, with Zara Nelsova (cellist) and Kathleen Parlow (violinist). Moreover, during his tenure as principal of the future Royal Toronto Conservatory, Sir Ernest travelled everywhere in Canada as examiner, spreading enthusiasm for music.
Sir Ernest and French-Canadian Folklore
Having reviewed Marius Barbeau’s and Edward Sapir’s Folksongs of French Canada, Sir Ernest MacMillan joined prominent Canadian anthropologist Marius Barbeau, (CC [The Canada Council], Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, recipient of the Order of Canada; b. Sainte-Marie, Québec, March 5, 1883 – d. Ottawa, February 27, 1969). Sir Ernest therefore participated in gathering the folk music of French-speaking Canadians. German-born American anthropologist-linguist Edward Sapir 1884–1939) and Marius Barbeau were Canada’s first anthropologists and worked together at the National Museum of Canada. For Ernest MacMillan, this collaboration was an important moment. He became a folklorist.
In all, Marius Barbeau collected some 9,000 songs and 5,000 melodies. Dr Barbeau, a Rhodes Scholar, had written his thesis on the “Totemic System of the North Western Indian Tribes of North American.” However, renowned German-American anthropologist Franz Boas, then of the American Folklore Society, convinced Barbeau to specialize in French-Canadian folklore. Barbeau took Boas’s advice and, in 1918, he had become president of the AFS. For composers, exposure to folklore can prove extremely fruitful. The music of Dvořák attests to the creative influence of folk music.
When he met Barbeau, Sir Ernest was already an accomplished composer. While a detainee in Nuremberg, he had composed a String Quart in C Minor. In Ruhleben, he set Swinburne‘s ode England, a choral work which earned him his D Mus (Doctorate in Music) at Oxford University. He had also composed a Te Deum and other pieces.
But his partnership with Barbeau would lead to further compositions. Sir Ernest drew inspiration from the music of French-Canada and composed:
“Notre Seigneur en pauvre” and “À Saint-Malo”
Six Bergerettes du Bas-Canada; and
a choral setting of the Canadian ballad “Blanche comme la neige” or “White as Snow.”
“Notre Seigneur en pauvre” is rooted in the French-Canadian legend according to which the poor who knocks at one’s door is Jesus himself. As for “À Saint-Malo,” it is a song that could reflect the discovery of Canada. In 1534, Jacques Cartier had sailed from Saint-Malo, Brittany, and had claimed Canada for France. But “À Saint-Malo” is a folksong that had probably belonged to an oral tradition for centuries. Bergerettes are a fifteenth-century bucolic form.
“Notre Seigneur en pauvre” and “À Saint-Malo” were combined to constitute Two Sketches for Strings, performed by the Hart House [University of Toronto] String Quartet at the 1927 Folksong and Handicraft Festival, a Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR)Festival, which took place in Quebec City. The Six Bergerettes du Bas-Canada were performed the following year, at the 1928 CPR Festival.
Sir Ernest’s partnership with Dr Marius Barbeau was all the more enriching since Dr MacMillan took an interest in the music of French Canada. In French Canada, music had long an establishment, but Sir Ernest brought it under the wider umbrella of Canadian Music.
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Would that Sir Ernest had composed more music, but he was otherwise occupied. The founding of the Canadian Music Council, established c. 1946 was his initiative. He became Chairman in 1947. The CMC received its federal charter in 1949. From 1947 to 1969, Sir Ernest also served CAPAC (Composers, Authors and Publishers Association of Canada Limited/Association des compositeurs, auteurs et éditeurs du Canada Ltée). Moreover, Sir Ernest got involved in the Jeunesses Musicales movement.
Ernest MacMillan was indeed an organizer. In this respect, I will quote a sentence from the Sir Ernest MacMillan entry in the Canadian Encyclopedia:
MacMillan was an educator, an administrator, and a developer of systems and policies rather than a teacher.
To the above, we could perhaps add “rather than a composer,” except that Sir Ernest had demonstrated he was an excellent composer. When I studied Music in Canada, members of the class lamented his not bequeathing more compositions since the music he had composed was delightful. It could be, however, that having been detained for four years, Sir Ernest had to work publicly. And there can be little doubt that Canada needed such a musician. Matters were perhaps just as they should.
* * *
But Sir Ernest did compose music and more of his compositions should be unearthed, including his many arrangements, his compilations, such as his Book of Songs, used in Canadian Schools in the 1930s and 1940s, music written for the teaching of music and the hymns he composed for The University [Toronto] Hymn Book (Toronto 1912). There is more to this story.