Some Canadian Sheet Music (1850-1911)
by John E. Rutherford
Fig. I - The Emblem of Canada
Not much sheet music was published in Canada
before 1844, the year that A. and S. Nordheimer
set up a publishing business on King Street in
Toronto. The earliest composition that I have come
across was published by that firm around 1850. The song
is called "The Emblem of Canada" (Fig. I) and the
Encyclopedia of Music in Canada lists it as Canada's first
national song in the English language. The words are
very British and no mention is made of French Canada.
The first verse is about the English rose:
"Oh, beauty glows in the Island Rose,
The fairest English flower,
and mem'ry weaves in her emblem leaves
Proud legends of fame and power."
This is followed by a chorus and two more verses,
one about Scotland and one about Ireland.
The composer, J. Paton Clarke, gained substantial
recognition in his day. He was slated for the first
Doctorate in Music ever given in Canada, but this honour was mysteriously withdrawn at the last moment.
Clarke was also chosen to organize the gala musical
celebration to commemorate the opening of Toronto's
first streetcar line in 1861.
The cover for "The Emblem of Canada" is printed
from an etched copper plate. The lettering was from a
standard copybook of the day, but the drawing of the
maple leaf is quite crude, and was probably etched onto
the copperplate by one of the employees of the
Fig. II - Irving's Canadian Series of Five Cent Music
Clarke's compositions, even as early as the 1860's,
were regarded as mediocre, and the popularity of "The
Emblem of Canada" faded with the 1867 publication of
Muir's "The Maple Leaf For Ever". I am not aware of any
recording of the "Emblem" song.
During the last half of the nineteenth century printing methods changed,first from etched plates to lithography, and then from lithography to off-set printing.
This last method was very economical and allowed small
companies to publish music with little outlay of capital.
"Irving's Canadian Series of Five Cent Music" was one
result (Fig. II). Using the octavo size format, it published
nearly 700 titles. Most were printed between 1880 and
1885 and many reflected the Victorian fascination with
death — "Found dead in the street", "The dying Nun",
"T'll see that yourgraveis kept green" — but they also
brought into Canadian homes many beautiful and last-
ing songs "Juanita", "Beautiful Dreamer", "Killarney",
and "The Maple Leaf For Ever".
Most of the songs were from other countries. At
that time there was a very loose copyright law, and
Canadians could "pirate" any song from a foreign country, including the United States. It was not until 1921
that a new copyright law spelled the death of not only
"pirating", but also of many Canadian music publishers
including Nordheimer's and Musgrave's.
Around the turn of the century, manufacturing
companies began publishing sheet music as advertisements. Photos could now be included. The Otto Higel
Company of Toronto, manufacturers of piano actions,
the Bell Organ and Piano Company of Guelph and the
Mendelssohn Piano Company of Toronto all published
their own songs. One example is from "The Canada
Flour Mills Company" (Fig. III). (The two children in
the photo are probably the children of the company
president and have nothing to do with the subject or
the song.) Included in this sheet music are several
advertisements. For example, we are told: "Never eat
poor food out of compliment; self-preservation is the
first law". We are also reminded that Canada flour will
give you "two loaves of bread more to the barrel".
Fig. IV - Coronation Medley March and Two Step
Some companies could afford to publish complimentary sheet music in full colour. Around 1906, the
T. Eaton Company published "The Maple Leaf for
Ever" with a coloured cover showing Alexander Muir,
the composer, on the front, and Eaton's stores on the
back. Below Muir's portrait one can see his Leslieville
home where he was living at the time he wrote his most
famous song, and on the other side there is a one-room
schoolhouse typical of the kind that dotted the Ontario
landscape, and where Muir was a teacher for most of
Fig. III - Young Lochinvar
Muir died in 1906, and it is possible that this
sheet music was published to honour the man whose
composition was once considered to be "Canada's
National Song", at least in English Canada.
The Charles E. Musgrave Publishing Company,
with offices in Toronto's old Yonge Street Arcade, was
well known for its coloured sheet music covers. One
such cover adorned the "Coronation Medley March
and Two Step" (Fig. IV), which was "specially selected
and played by the massed bands at the Toronto
Exhibition 1911". This was Coronation Year for King
George V and Queen Mary, and British patriotic
fervour was evident, an enthusiasm that did not subside
until after World War 1.
It is interesting to note that no credit is given to
any of the artists who created these covers. Music from
the United States and from Europe regularly gave the
artists credit (in the form of a visible signature or
symbol) from before the turn of the century. Could it
be that other countries had more respect for their artists
than we did in pioneering Canada?