Malcolm Forsyth | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Malcolm Forsyth

Forsyth composed in a 20th-century idiom, but it was also of paramount importance to him to create music that sounded good to contemporary listeners.

Malcolm Forsyth

Malcolm (Denis) Forsyth. Composer, teacher, trombonist, conductor, b Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, 8 Dec 1936, d Edmonton 5 Jul 2011, naturalized Canadian 1974; B MUS (Cape Town) 1963, M MUS (Cape Town) 1966, D MUS (Cape Town) 1972. He first studied piano, then trombone and flute. His teachers included Hans Grin (trombone), Stefans Grové (composition, orchestration), Stanley Glasser (composition), David Tidboald and Georg Tintner (conducting), and later George Hurst (conducting). After playing trombone 1960-7 with the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra, teaching privately and at the University of Cape Town in 1967, and writing orchestrations for the South African Broadcasting Corporation, he moved to Canada in 1968. He played in CBC Toronto studio orchestras and that same year joined the University of Alberta, Edmonton, to teach theory, composition, and trombone. He was chairman of band and orchestra studies 1984-6, became artistic director of the university's 'Encounters' concert series in 1985, and was the music department's artistic director 1986-9. He played bass trombone 1968-71 in the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and was principal trombone 1973-80. In 1973 he began teaching the instrument at the Banff SFA. A member 1969-73 of the Goliard Brass Quintet, he formed and led the Malcolm Forsyth Trombone Ensemble 1974-83 and was conductor and director of the West Wind Chamber Ensemble 1981-3 and the University of Alberta Brass Quintet 1975-81. In addition to studio work for radio and TV, he was program host and director of CBC TV's 'Twentieth Century Music' (1968), broadcast commentator on CKUA radio (1968-71), and program annotator (1968-71) for the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. Forsyth was conductor of several University of Alberta ensembles, including 1977-86 of the St Cecilia Orchestra and 1991-2002 of its symphony orchestra. He conducted the Edmonton Wind Sinfonia (1978-9), was guest conductor of the Alberta Ballet Company (1980), and guest conducted other orchestras in Canada and South Africa.

Forsyth composed in a 20th-century idiom, but it was also of paramount importance to him to create music that sounded good to contemporary listeners. In a 1987 interview for CBC radio, Forsyth spoke of a split in his own output between his academic or 'research' music and his more accessible works, which were written more intuitively. In 1996 the composer explained that 'I always have had a sense of responsibility to the audience ... I am myself a dedicated audience member, dedicated to the idea of concert music that does sweep people away ... Everything I've done is with that experience in mind' (composer's website, 2003). Forsyth's distinctive use of rhythm and of the orchestral palette were hallmarks of a richly expressive style. His compositions ranged from works for large orchestra to chamber and choral pieces and songs. Certain works - notably Sketches from Natal (1970, a CBC commission), Symphony No. 1 (1972), and Music for Mouths, Marimba, Mbira and Roto-Toms (1973) - show strongly the influence of black South African, especially Zulu, music while some later works, among them Atayoskewin (1984) and Canzona (1985), embody the spirit of indigenous North American music. 'On the lighter side, many of the brass works make liberal use of pastiche and parody, often equally evident in their wry, alliterative titles as in the music itself' (CMCentre Directory of Associate Composers).

Forsyth's music has been widely performed in Canada and abroad. He received commissions from organizations including the Canada Council, the CBC, Shell Canada, the Canadian Brass, the MSO and Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, the Montreal International Music Competition, the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra, and the Natal Philharmonic, as well as from individual performers including Maureen Forrester, Judith Forst, and Stéphane Lemelin. A 1993 Camargo Foundation fellowship led to his setting of Longfellow's poem Evangeline. Many of his works enjoyed repeat performances, particularly the cello concerto Electra Rising, composed for his daughter, Amanda Forsyth, and premiered by her in 1995 with the Calgary Philharmonic. He was frequently broadcast on the CBC, and several recordings of his music were released. The composer received Juno Awards for best classical composition in 1987 for Atayoskewin, and in 1988 Forsyth was named composer of the year by the Canadian Music Council. In 1991 he served as composer-in-residence at Festival of the Sound. Appointed the University of Alberta's composer in residence in 1996, he retired from teaching in 2002. He was a member of the CLComp and an associate of the Canadian Music Centre. For his services to music, he was awarded the Order of Canada and the Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal in 2003. Forsyth's final work, A Ballad of Canada (conductor, Pinchas Zukerman) premiered at the National Arts Centre just weeks before his death. Forsyth referred to the piece as his "epic, iconically Canadian work."


Jubilee Overture. 1964 (rev 1966). Ms. CBC SM-5069 (Edmonton Symphony Orchestra)

Sketches From Natal. 1970 Str orch. Boosey & Hawkes. CBC SMCD 5135

Symphony No. 1. 1968-72. Ms

Sagitarius: Concerto Grosso No. 1. 1975. Brass quintet, orch. Ms. CBC SM-328 (Canadian Brass)

Concerto. 1974 (orch 1976, rev 1985). Piano, orch. Kerby 1982 CBC SMCD 5124

Symphony No. 2 '...a host of nomads..'. 1976. Ms

African Ode: Symphony No. 3. 1981 (rev 1988). Ms

Images of Night. 1982. Ms

ukuZalwa. 1983. Ms. Pro Arte CDS 3413

Atayoskewin: Suite for Orchestra. 1984. BMG Ariola. CBC SM-5059 (Edmonton Symphony Orchestra)

Canzona. 1985. V, orch. Ms. RCI 606 (Northcott soprano, MSO)

Concerto. 1987. Trumpet, orch. Ms. CBC SM 5130

Electra Rising: Concerto for Cello and Orchestra. 1995. Cello, orch

Morning's Minion. 2000. Orch

Concerto for Accordion and Orchestra. 2001. Accordion, orch

Also other works for string orch, brass quintet and orch, mezzo and orch, and band

Additional Discography

Canadian Composers Portraits: Malcolm Forsyth. 2002 Centrediscs CMCCD 8802

Electra Rising: Music of Malcolm Forsyth. Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, Amanda Forsyth cello, Street saxophone. 1997, CBC SMCD 5180

Prokofiev - Forsyth - Bartók. Jane Coop and the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. 1993. SMCD 5180

Soaring with Agamemnon. Amanda Forsyth cello, Longworth piano. 1998. Marquis MAR 812312


Student's Guide to the Trombone (Agincourt, Ont 1980)

'Diary of a song - Atayoskewin,' CanComp, 244, Oct 1989


The Melancholy Clown: A Frippery in Three Flaps. 1962 (rev 1977). Fl (E-flat clarinet), clarinet, bsn (bass clarinet). Kerby 1977

Aphorisms for Brass. 1971. Brass quintet. Kerby 1978. 1982. Bellaphon 680-01-015 (Budapester Blechbläser-Quintett)

The Golyardes' Grounde. 1972. Brass quintet. Canadian Brass 1979. Boot BMC-3003/Vanguard VSD-17345 (Canadian Brass)

Quartet '74. 1974. Kerby 1978. Crystal S-224 (Malcolm Forsyth Trombone Ens)

Four Pieces for Brass Quintet. 1976. Kerby 1983

Saltarello. 1976. Brass quintet. Kerby 1982

Fanfare and Three Masquerades. 1979. Hn, instr ensemble. Kerby 1983. Centrediscs CMC-CD-3488 (Canadian Chamber Ensemble)

Solemn Intrada. 1980. Trb choir. Ms. 1981. Crystal S-224 (Moravian Trombone Choir of Downey, Reynolds dir)

Quintette for Winds (or...) Everythynge ye ever wanted to knowe about Essex. 1986. Fl (piccolo), oboe, clarinet, horn, bsn. BMG Ariola. Centrediscs 5595

Also works for brass and for other instr ensemble including Eight Duets for Young Cellists (Kerby 1979) and The Well Meaning Recorder (Kerby 1980, 'Viva Vivalidiev' by The Plumbers' Union on CBC LM-463)

Choral and Vocal

Music for Mouths, Marimba, Mbira and Roto-Toms. 1973. SATB, percussion. Kerby 1979

Three Métis Songs from Saskatchewan (arr). 1975 (orch 1976). Mezzo, orch. (V, piano) B&H 1978. CBC SMCD-5081 (Forst)/McGill University Records 85025 (Forrester)

The Dong with a Luminous Nose (Lear). 1979. Mezzo, viola, piano. Ms

Three Zulu Songs (Vilakazi, Forsyth). 1988. SSA, fl, oboe. GVT 1988

Evangeline (Longfellow). 1993. Soprano, trumpet, chamber orch

Also other works for choir, voice and piano, and three for piano, Strange Spaces (Wat 1985), Tre Toccate (1987, Ms), and Je répondrais (1997)

Further Reading