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Music Archives at the National Library of Canada

SOMERS, HARRY, 1925-1999
MUS 15


Harry Somers fonds.  - 5.39 metres of textual records. - 87 photographs. - 42 negatives. - 306 audio tape reels. - 10 audio tape cassettes. - 3 videocassettes. 

Biographical sketch
Toronto-born Harry Somers discovered his passion for music as an early teen and entered the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto in 1941. He studied piano with Reginald Godden and Weldon Kilburn, and composition with John Weinzweig. Scholarships received in the 1940s allowed him to continue his piano studies with E. Robert Schmitz in San Francisco and to study composition with Darius Milhaud in Paris. Somers was a gifted pianist, performing numerous recitals during the second half of the 1940s. Despite these successes, he left the concert stage in 1948 to devote himself entirely to composing, supplementing his income driving a taxi. He later accepted a position as a music copyist, further refining what would become his trademark calligraphy. During the 1950s, requests for his compositions increased significantly and by the 1960s, Somers was able to make a living entirely from his art. Somers became an enthusiastic promoter of Canadian music. He found his audience of choice in schools, where he strongly encouraged musical programs. To this end, Somers created a repertoire designed for musical learning. He was also able to reach a wider audience of students, and the public in general, through such radio and television programs as "Music of Today" which he hosted for the CBC from 1965 to 1969. Somers was known not only for his great versatility but also for his tremendous productivity. His body of work comprises more than one hundred major compositions both traditional and experimental. His stage music includes the opera Louis Riel, commissioned for performance during Canada's Centennial Year and also performed during the U.S. Bicentennial celebrations in Washington, DC. Somers composed for renowned artists such as Maureen Forrester (Five songs for Dark Voice), Cathy Berberian (Voiceplay) and Yehudi Menuhin (Music for Solo Violin). Somers was a founding member of the Canadian League of Composers and an associate of the Canadian Music Centre. He was made a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1972.  

Scope and content
The fonds contains records pertaining to the life and musical activities of Harry Somers: autograph manuscripts of compositions by Somers; scripts for radio and television programs; personal and professional correspondence, including letters from István Anhalt, Aaron Copland, Sir Yehudi Menuhin and R. Murray Schafer; personal diaries; writings; notes; drawings; passport; last will and testament; agenda; contracts; financial records; musical works by other composers; concert programmes; posters; press clippings; photographs mainly of Harry Somers, his family and friends; sound recordings of musical works by Somers, of his work on radio, film and television, and of interviews; video recordings of the opera Louis Riel

Immediate source of acquisition:  acquired from Barbara Chilcott Somers, widow of Harry Somers, in 2000 and 2001. 

Restrictions:  none. 

Finding aids:  provisional description. 

Accruals:  futher accessions expected. 



Proactive Disclosure