Godfrey Ridout | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Godfrey Ridout

Ridout began teaching at the TCM in 1940 and at the University of Toronto in 1948; he retired from the latter in 1982as professor emeritus.
Ridout, Godfrey
Ridout's compositions, ranging from chamber music and symphonic pieces to scores for radio drama and film, are professional and tuneful (courtesy Canadian Music Centre).

Ridout, Godfrey

 Ridout, Godfrey. Composer, teacher, writer, conductor, b Toronto 6 May 1918, d there 24 Nov 1984; honorary LLD (Queen's) 1967, honorary FRCCO 1975. At the TCM (RCMT) he studied with Charles Peaker (organ and counterpoint), Ettore Mazzoleni (conducting), Weldon Kilburn (piano), and, on a scholarship received for Ballade for Viola and Strings (1938), with Healey Willan. Ballade brought Ridout his earliest recognition and was performed in Canada, the US, and Great Britain. Another ambitious early work was the full-length dramatic symphony Esther, premiered (1952) at Massey Hall with Lois Marshall and James Milligan as soloists under the direction of Mazzoleni. Between Ballade and Esther, the bulk of Ridout's professional work - with the exception of the oft-performed Two Etudes for strings (1946) - comprised many radio-drama scores and symphonic arrangements of popular music for the CBC, and some film scores for the NFB.

Ridout began teaching at the TCM in 1940 and at the University of Toronto in 1948; he retired from the latter in 1982as professor emeritus. In 42 years of teaching his pupils included Walter Babiak, Walter Buczynski, Hugh Davidson, Alan Detweiler, Ben McPeek, Welford Russell, Alfred Strombergs, and Charles Wilson. Assistant editor of Canadian Music 1940-1 and the Canadian Review of Music and Art 1942-3, Ridout contributed to other Canadian music publications and wrote program notes for the TS 1973-84. He served 1949-58 as music director of the Eaton Operatic Society, Toronto, and honorary vice-president of the Gilbert & Sullivan Society, Toronto branch.

Ridout's articles on Sullivan, Elgar, and Willan, and on church music, betray his particular enthusiasms as a music historian of Victorian and Edwardian Great Britain and suggest the formative influences on him as a composer. He himself noted the lasting impact of his first hearing of Holst's The Planets.

His early assignments for the CBC and the NFB gave Ridout an intoxicating exposure to jazz and a respect for popular music and resulted in extraordinary versatility and fluency of musical craft and a keen appreciation of just how much chaos in music a paying public will endure. Wide knowledge of the historical repertoire also informs his works. He could write occasionally in the serial manner without 'sounding serial.' He could hold on to rhythmic patterns with almost baroque tenacity. He could (and did in several contributions to Spring Thaw) produce stylistic parodies of unerring accuracy and telling wit; and this gift he put to good use in his idiomatic reconstruction (1964, from a second violin part) of the orchestral score of Quesnel's opera Colas et Colinette of 1790.

Essentially an eclectic, Ridout yet did not lack for individuality. His music, though intensely felt, is prevailingly sunny and affirmative; it eschews the 'doom and gloom' manner and self-conscious profundity of much 20th-century concert fare. Ridout liked fun in music and could not easily resist concluding a work with a 'good tune'. He saw no need to strive for ever-new styles, or for a progress through styles, or for the role of musical inventor; style for him was a means of communication, not the 'message' itself. In this aloofness from contemporary conformity, Ridout may be perceived to be more original than many innovators and one of the determined communicators of his day.

Two works separated by more than two decades reveal much of the stylistic consistency and growing refinement of Ridout as a composer. Two Etudes (1946, revised 1951) and Concerto Grosso (1974) are works for string orchestra (though the concerto has also a solo part for piano in the fast outer movements). Both works are held together mainly by short motives (more often of rhythmic than of melodic identity) that recur, sometimes in persistent repetition or sequence, sometimes greatly transformed. (The slow movement of Concerto Grosso even has a serial theme that occurs in all of the Schoenbergian permutations, though against the disjunct angularity of the tone row Ridout set a cohering bass that moves almost entirely by step, with the result that it sounds like Ridout, not Schoenberg.) The dramatic excitement, however, comes not from the integrating power of motives, but from discontinuities and sudden surges, which both works have in abundance. Similarly, the closing movements of both works achieve cumulation by fast tempo, driving rhythms, and brevity and by final terse cadences that leave the listener astonished but pleased. If both works proceed from the same stylistic premises, they are yet individual: the Two Etudes are a young man's effort - bold, impulsive and dramatic; the Concerto Grosso is more polished, sophisticated, knowing - it testifies to the composer's understanding of the concerto grosso principle, which he reinterprets in a manner that is fresh.

The Cantiones mysticae, three works for solo voice and orchestra, perhaps are the most deeply felt of all of Ridout's creations. It is no accident that their texts are sacred or that the composer himself chose them; for the music he writes to these words would convince any sensitive listener that the composer had strong spiritual convictions. Then too, the combination of redolent poetry and the expressive potential of the richly accompanied solo voice seems to trigger Ridout's highest creative powers. The melodies are fluid and finely arched, having none of the rhythmic rigidity that crops up here and there in his purely instrumental compositions; and they fit the texts like a glove.

The first of the Cantiones mysticae, performed in Carnegie Hall under Stokowski (1953), sets three of Donne's Holy Sonnets (nos. 15, 1, and 7). The two outer pieces are in the composer's best rhapsodic manner; the gentle centre piece 'Thou Hast Made Me' would seem a perfect baroque aria were it not for the ominous music that suddenly occurs at the words 'despair, death, terror,' and the occasional eccentric modulation. The Ascension, Cantiones mysticae No. 2 (1962) is written to liturgical texts for Ascension Day and is in two continuous sections: the first, joyous, interpreting quite literally the words 'God is gone up with a merry sound... the sound of the trumpet... Alleluia'; the second, elegiac, at the words 'Lo the fair beauty of Earth' and boasting one of Ridout's most glowing melodies. In the third and most ambitious of the cantiones, The Dream of the Rood (1972), the animistic Cross narrates and comments on the poetically told story of the Crucifixion. The orchestral forces (winds, brass, and organ) are handled with exceptional brilliance and Ridout adds a large chorus in the introduction and at the close; it replaces the baritone soloist at especially poignant moments of the text.

By way of sad contrast, note must be taken of the three-act CBC TV opera The Lost Child (1975), a charming tale of the disappearance of the Christ Child from a church crèche on Christmas Day. While there are splendid musical ideas, Ridout cannot overcome the handicap of a fundamentally flawed libretto that in a one-hour work has far too many characters, far too many plot digressions, far too many bits of dialogue, simply far, far too many words for the music ever to take flight.

The public will know Ridout best from his many occasional works for orchestra. They are widely performed, addressed to the widest possible audience, and intended to please. Yet they are highly professional works. Music for a Young Prince was commissioned to celebrate the opening of the St Lawrence Seaway (1959) and with the young Prince Charles in mind. The two outer movements, 'Dreams' and 'Pageantry,' are everything they claim to be, the latter in the best Elgarian tradition. The inside movements are superb genre pieces. The third, 'The Cowboy and the Injun,' evokes memories of Ferde Grofé; but Ridout is much better. The second, a train ride 'From the Caboose,' is a veritable tour de force of orchestral realism (Ridout was a train nut). Ridout's instructions to the trombonists, telling them how to produce the final sounds of this movement (the release of air-brake pressure at the end of the ride) illustrate the exactitude by which he achieved this remarkable movement: 'The desired effect is gained by removing the mouth piece, reversing it, holding the cup against the tube opening at a slight angle and blowing through the shank.'

A CBC commission for a United Nations concert in New York produced the orchestral frolic Fall Fair (1961), a short, striking, and characteristic work that has deservedly retained its popularity. George III, His Lament was commissioned by the NACO for the Ottawa celebration of the 1976 bicentenary of US independence. The subtitle describes it as 'variations on a familiar theme' but what Ridout does not say is that the identity of the theme becomes clear only toward the end. To identify it here would only spoil the fun.

Ridout's retirement from University of Toronto was marked by a concert of his works at Walter Hall 22 Nov 1982. Ridout was a member of CAPAC, which he served 1966-73 as a director, and which instituted the annual Godfrey Ridout Award for choral composition in 1989. He was a member of the CLComp and his status as associate composer is maintained by the Canadian Music Centre.

Ridout's widow was the soprano Freda Antrobus Ridout (b Coleman, Alta 1920, d Walden, Ont 2005; ARCT (RCM). Freda Antrobus studied with George Lambert and performed as a recitalist and church soloist in Toronto and on CBC broadcasts. She was soloist in the Canadian premiere 17 May 1945 of Gerald Finzi's Dies natalis. Antrobus was a charter member of the Festival Singers.

Selected Compositions

The Lost Child, TV opera (John Reid). 1976. Ms

See also La Prima Ballerina.


'Fricker farewell,' CRMA, vol 1, Dec 1942

'Two west coast composers,' CRMA, vol 3, Dec-Jan 1944-5

'Canadian composing,' Here and Now, vol 1, Dec 1947

'Elgar the angular Saxon,' CMJ, vol 1, Summer 1957

'Healey Willan,' CMJ, vol 3, Spring 1959

'Sir Ernest MacMillan: an appraisal,' Music Across Canada Jul-Aug 1963/ CME, vol 6, 1964-5

'Aspects of Arnold Walter,' CanComp, 38, Mar 1969

'Orpheus in Ecclesia or the Riven Lute,' Canadian J of Theology, vol 15, no. 3-4, 1969

'Sir Ernest MacMillan: a considered appraisal,' CanComp, 82, Jul 1973

'Healey Willan,' Mcan, 42, Spring 1980

'Fifty years of music in Canada? Good Lord, I was there for all of them!' University of Toronto Q, vol 50, Fall 1980; and The Arts in Canada (Toronto 1980)

- and Kenins, Talivaldis, eds. Célébration (Toronto 1984)


Festal Overture. 1939. Full orch. Ms. RCI 41 (CBC Symphony Orchestra)

Two Etudes. 1946 (rev 1951). Str orch. Chap 1960. Centrediscs CMC-2887 (Van SO)

Music for a Young Prince. 1959. Full orch. Ms. Centrediscs CMC-CD-3890 (TS)

Fall Fair. 1961. Full orch. GVT 1966. Audat 477-4001 (TSO)/RCI 653 (NYO)/CBC SM-5069 (Edmonton Symphony Orchestra)

Overture toColas et Colinette (Quesnel). 1964. Med orch. GVT 1971. Sel SSC-24-160/RCI 234 (CBC Montreal O, P. Hétu conductor)

La Prima Ballerina: Suite No. 1. 1967. Full orch, optional soprano. Ms. Centrediscs CMC-CD-3890 (TS, Kolomyjec soprano)

Frivolités canadiennes (from melodies by Vézina). 1973. Full orch. Ms. 1974. CBC SM-226 (CBC Vancouver Orchestra)/RCI 513

Jubilee. 1973. Full orch. Ms

George III, His Lament. 1975. Med orch. Ms. CBC SM-5050 (CBC Vancouver Orchestra)

Kids' Stuff. 1978. Orch. Ms

No Mean City: Scenes From Childhood. 1983. Ms. Centrediscs CMC-CD-3890 (TS)

Soloist(s) and/or Choir with Orchestra

Ballade for Viola and String Orchestra. 1938. Ms. Centrediscs CMC-CD 3890 (Dann)

Esther, dramatic symphony (H. Voaden). 1952. Sop, bar, SATB, orch. Ms

Cantiones mysticae (Donne). 1953. Sop, orch (piano). FH 1956. Centrediscs CMC-CD-3890 (Kolomyjec soprano, TS)

The Dance (Carmina burana CXXXVII, transl J.A. Symonds). 1960. SATB, orch. Novello 1964

Pange lingua (Aquinas). 1960. SATB, orch. Wat 1960.

The Ascension, Cantiones mysticae No. 2 (Propers for Ascension and the Ascension Day Hymn by Bishop Venantius Fortunatus). 1962. Sop, trumpet, string. FH 1971

Four Sonnets (J.E. Ward). 1964. SATB, orch. GVT, Novello 1964

In Memoriam Anne Frank 'A Song of Strength' (text arr B. Attridge). 1965. Sop, full orch. Ms

When Age and Youth Unite (C. Bissell). 1966. V and/or SATB and orch. GVT 1966. Audat WRC-276 (L. MacDowell)

Folk Songs of Eastern Canada (traditional). 1967. Sop, full orch (piano). GVT 1970. CBC SM-5081 (Forst soprano, CBC Vancouver Orchestra)/('I'll Give My Love an Apple,' 'She's Like the Swallow') Centrediscs CMC-2185/RCI 613 (Vickers)/('Ah Si Mon Moine Voulait Danser!') Marquis ERA-113 (Robbin)

Cantiones mysticae No. 3, Dream of the Rood (anonymous). 1972. Bar (tenor), SATB, orch, organ. Ms

Concerto grosso. 1974. Pf, violin, string orch. Ms. 1975. CBC SM-289 (Chamber Players of Toronto)

Ballade II. 1980. Va, string orch. Ms

Concerto Grosso No. 2. 1980. Brass quintet, full orch. Ms

Chamber and Keyboard

Prelude in F. 1958. Pf. GVT 1958

Three Preludes on Scottish Tunes. 1959. Org. Novello, GVT 1960

Introduction and Allegro. 1968. Ww quintet, violin, violoncello. Ms

Prelude for Organ (arr by F.R.C. Clarke from 'Four Sonnets'). 1968. GVT 1968

March (arr from 'Partita academica'). 1969. Org. Ms

Two Dances for Guitar. 1976. Solo guitar. Ms

Tafelmusik. 1976. Ww ensemble. Ms

The Seasons (Blake). 1980. Ten, piano quintet. Ms

A Birthday Fantasy. 1982. fl, clarinet, bassoon. Ms

Exile. 1984. Female narrator, fl, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, viola, violoncello, double-bass. Ms


'Ave Maria' (liturgical). 1954. SSA. GVT 1972. Poly 2917-009 (Festival Singers)/Anne Campbell ACS-100/ACS-101

The Domage of the Wise (R. Hambleton). 1968. SATB. Ms. CBC SM-86 (Tudor Singers of Montreal)

Spirit is Flesh This Night (J. Reid). 1976. SSATB. GVT 1979. St. Mary Magdalene SMM-7807

4 arrangements for SATB: 'We'll Rant and We'll Roar'. Wat 1958. Recorded by the Powell River Academy Singers (P2-C, cass). 'Sainte Marguerite' and 'J'entends le moulin'. Both Wat 1960. Recorded CBC SM-19 (Festival Singers) and CBC SM-219 (Kelvin High School Choir of Winnipeg) respectively. 'O Canada!' GVT 1965. Recorded by Anne Campbell's choirs, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, and others.

Several other works for choir, and a few for voice, some of which have been published by GVT, Wat, and Belwin.

Further Reading