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Themes - Theatre, Dance, and Music

Barbara Pentland

Photograph of Barbara Pentland

(born January 2, 1912)



"The creative force has to be such that the laws necessary for its expression should be continually challenged. There is an element of daring in all great art." When Barbara Pentland wrote these words she was no doubt thinking of her own career. Composer, teacher, pianist and pioneer of Canadian music, Barbara Pentland was born in Winnipeg in 1912. Despite the opposition of her parents, who considered composition to be potentially too demanding for someone of fragile health, Pentland began to compose at the age of nine. She studied music first in Winnipeg, later at a boarding school in Montreal, and then in 1929 she began formal composition training in Paris. Her studies continued in Winnipeg and at the Julliard school in New York and, with Aaron Copland, at the Berkshire Music Center. In 1942 Pentland moved to Toronto. By 1945, with the première of her Violin Concerto, she had made a name for herself as one of the new generation of "radical" composers.

While her compositions have always continued to evolve, by the mid-1950s Barbara Pentland had reached her mature style "exploiting...sound combinations in a sensitive but unsensual and, certainly, unsentimental way" (Encyclopedia of Music in Canada, Toronto, 1992). By 1995 her list of compositions included more than 100 works for all combinations of instruments, voice and media, and a series of teaching materials designed to introduce young piano students to 20th-century techniques. Long a critic of what she believed to be Canada's colonial mentality, Barbara Pentland has been an outspoken advocate for Canadian music in general and women composers in particular.

In honour of her 75th birthday, the City of Vancouver declared September 27, 1987, as "Barbara Pentland Day." She was named a Member of the Order of Canada in 1989 and has received honorary degrees from the University of Manitoba and Simon Fraser University. She is a member of the Canadian League of Composers and an associate composer of the Canadian Music Centre. Her papers have been deposited at the Music Division of the National Library of Canada.


Dixon, Gail. — "The string quartets of Barbara Pentland". — Canadian university music review. — Vol. 11, no. 2 (1991). — ISSN 07100353. — P. 94-121

Eastman, Sheila and Timothy J. McGee. — Barbara Pentland. — Toronto: University of Toronto Press, c1983. — 134 p. — ISBN 0802055621

You can listen to an excerpt of Allegro giocoso [WAV 848 KB] from the Concerto for Piano and Strings composed by Barbara Pentland in 1955-56. (Anthology of Canadian Music, Barbara Pentland, Radio Canada International, ©1986)

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