Brian Cherney | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Brian Cherney

Brian Cherney. Composer, teacher, b Peterborough, Ont, 4 Sep 1942; ARCT 1961, B MUS (Toronto) 1964, M MUS (Toronto) 1967, PH D (Toronto) 1974. His interest in composition began in childhood.

Brian Cherney

Brian Cherney. Composer, teacher, b Peterborough, Ont, 4 Sep 1942; ARCT 1961, B MUS (Toronto) 1964, M MUS (Toronto) 1967, PH D (Toronto) 1974. His interest in composition began in childhood. He commuted weekly to study at the RCMT: piano with Margaret Miller Brown and Jacques Abram, composition with Samuel Dolin. His Variations for Orchestra were composed for his M MUS under the supervision of Weinzweig. In 1966 and 1969 he attended the Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik in Darmstadt, West Germany, where he attended lectures given by György Ligeti, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Mauricio Kagel, among others. He taught theory and composition at the University of Victoria 1971-2 and began teaching the same subjects at McGill University in 1972. His writings include the only major biography (1975) of Harry Somers.

In his early compositions Cherney absorbed the techniques of the early 20th-century avant garde; in his String Quartet No. 2 (1970, winner of the McMaster Prize for chamber music composition in 1971) he was already making confident use of the new string effects of the modern Polish school and the theatrical gestures of Kagel. Theatrical elements continued to play a role in such later works as Tangents I for solo cello (1975), Group Portrait - with Piano (1978), and Playing for Time (1981). The dominant characteristic of Cherney's music is a quiet intensity, as suggested by many of his titles. Over the years he has developed a personal style based on a rigorously organized harmonic language and carefully planned temporal proportions. Musical ideas often recur either literally or in an altered version from one piece to another. This was already evident in the Mobile series of the 1960s in which similar ideas were presented (both in the same work and from one work to another) in different perspectives, varied in time or instrumentation. A similar process occurs in two recent cycles of inter-connected pieces, one with the word 'stillness' in the title (eg, In Stillness Ascending), the other influenced by certain aspects of Jewish mysticism (eg, Illuminations, written for I Musici). Many pieces contain direct quotations from or veiled allusions to other, usually tonal music, although these references are subordinate to Cherney's own evocative and poetic style. In the 1980s the influence of Debussy, whose music is also frequently characterized by quiet intensity, became important. This influence has been evident not in the musical language, but rather in the orchestration, piano writing, and general sense of colour.

Cherney's music has been performed and broadcast throughout Canada, the USA, South America, Japan, Europe, and Israel. His String Trio (1976) and his orchestral work Into the Distant Stillness (1984) both won recognition at the International Rostrum of Composers in Paris, the former tying for first place. In 1985 he was awarded the Jules Léger Prize for New Chamber Music for River of Fire. Cherney has received commissions from many organizations and individuals, including the Stratford Festival, the SMCQ, the CBC, the Alliance for Canadian New Music Projects, the York Winds, the Canadian Jewish Congress, the Eckhardt-Gramatté National Competition, the Esprit Orchestra, New Music America, Trio Basso Köln, Rivka Golani, Louis-Philippe Pelletier, Lawrence Cherney, John Grew, Joseph Petric, and Vivienne Spiteri. Cherney is an associate of the Canadian Music Centre.

Cherney's brother is the oboist Lawrence Cherney.

Selected Compositions

Two songs (Rilke). 1963. Sop, chamber orch. Ms

Concerto. 1964. Vn, orch. Ms

Variations for Orchestra. 1967. Ms

Six Miniatures. 1968. Ob, string. Ms

Seven Images for 22 Players. 1971. Ms

Adieux.. 1980. Ms. RCI 568/McGill University Records 81013 (McGill SO)

Into the Distant Stillness... 1984. Ms. CBC SMCD-5101 (Esprit Orchestra)

Illuminations. 1987. Str orch. Dob-Yppan 1989

Final Furnishings. 1989. Ob, orch. Ms

Transfiguration. 1990. Dob-Yppan 1990. CBC SMCD-5106(Orch Métropolitain)


'The Bekker-Pfitzner controversy (1919-1920): its significance for German music criticism during the Weimar Republic (1919-1931),' PH D thesis, University of Toronto 1974

Harry Somers (Toronto 1975)

Articles on Somers for Contemporary Canadian Composers, The New Grove Dictionary, EMC


Quintet. 1962. Alto saxophone, string quartet. Ms

Interlude and Variations. 1965. Ww quintet. Jay 1970. RCI 364 (Ayorama WW Quin)

Suite. 1965. Va, piano. Ms lost. 1968. ('Largo') CBC SM-78 (O. Green viola, Barkin piano)

Woodwind Quintet. 1965. Ms. RCI 563/Centrediscs CMC-0482 (York Winds)

3 String Quartets. 1966, 1970, 1985. Ms

Mobile II. 1968. Vc. Ms

Kontakion 'Quiet Music for Eleven Players'. 1969. Ww quintet, string quartet, double-bass, piano. Ms

Mobile IV (Tu Fu, transl K. Rexroth). 1969. Sop, chamber ensemble. Jay 1970

Eclipse (B. Hendersen). 1972. Sop, fl, piano. Ms

Notturno. 1974. Ww quintet, piano. Ms. Melbourne SMLP-4040

Chamber Concerto for Viola and Ten Players. 1975. Ms. RCI 537 (Golani)

Tangents I. 1975. Vc, tape. Ms

Tangents II. 1975-6. Ob, tape. Ms

String Trio. 1976. Ms. RCI 537 (Golani)

Group Portrait - with Piano. 1978. Ww quintet. Ms

Seven Miniatures in the Form of a Mobile. 1978. Va. Ms. Centrediscs CMC-0883 (Golani)

Études. 1979. Solo oboe. Ms

The Garden of Earthly Delights. 1979. Ten, woodwind quintet, optional harpsichord or spinet, optional chimes, offstage piano. Ms

Trois petites pièces desséchées... en forme de sandwich. 1979. Va, piano. Ms

Triolet. 1980. Fl, harp, bsn. Ms

Playing For Time. 1981. Ob, percussion, piano. Ms

Beyond the Seventh Palace. 1982. Va, percussion. Ms

Gan Eden. 1983. Vn, piano. Ms

River of Fire. 1983. Ob d'amore, harp. Ms. McGill University Records 85026 (L. Cherney)

Accord. 1985. Rec, oboe, violoncello. Ms

Epitaph. 1986. Eng horn. Dob-Yppan 1989

InStillness Ascending. 1986. Va, piano. Ms

In the Stillness of the Summer Wind. 1987. Ob, string quartet. Ms

Dunkle Stimmen... am Rande der Nacht. 1988. Va, violoncello, double-bass. Ms

Le Fil d'Ariane. 1988. Guit, percussion. Ms

Shekhinah. 1988. Va. Dob-Yppan 1990

Six Miniatures for Oboe and Piano. 1989. Dob-Yppan 1990


Six Miniatures for Piano. 1965. Jay 1971

Sonata. 1966. Ms

Jest. 1967. Jay 1971

Intervals, Shapes, Patterns. 1968. Wat 1970

Pieces for Young Pianists. 1968. Jay 1971-2

Elegy for a Misty Afternoon. 1971. WBM 1973

Mémoires, reflets et rêves d'ailleurs... 1977-9 (rev as Dans le crépuscule du souvenir, 1980). Dob-Yppan 1989

In the Stillness of the Seventh Autumn. 1983. Dob-Yppan 1989

Also Gothic Scenes and Interludes (1983-7) for organ, Déploration (1988) for harpsichord, and In the Stillness Between... (1982) for concert band; all manuscript

Further Reading