Stephen Codman | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Stephen Codman

Stephen Codman. Organist, composer, teacher, b Norwich, England, ca 1796, d Quebec City 6 Oct 1852.

Codman, Stephen

Stephen Codman. Organist, composer, teacher, b Norwich, England, ca 1796, d Quebec City 6 Oct 1852. He obtained a solid grounding in music with John Christmas Beckwith and William Crotch before crossing the Atlantic in 1816 at the invitation of Bishop Jacob Mountain to take a position as organist of the (Anglican) Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Quebec City, probably succeeding John Bentley. The outstanding events of Codman's career were a 'Grand Performance of Sacred Music' 26 Jun 1834 for the benefit of the Emigrants' Society (Codman not only served as 'Chairman of the Musical Committee of Management and Music Conductor' of the 174 performers, but also performed as soloist and accompanist) and two concerts, in April 1841, of excerpts from Messiah, The Creation, and Christ on the Mount of Olives. It seems likely that he was responsible for the replacement of the cathedral's original organ in 1847.

With the exception of Introduction and Variations on a Canadian Melody, the subject of a subscription in 1818, his known works, which all seem to date from before 1835, are all written for solo voice or vocal ensembles. Two of them, 'The Fairy Song' and 'They Are Not All Sweet Nightingales,' published in London at Goulding, D'Almaine, and Co and highly praised in an article in the Quarterly Musical Magazine and Review (London 1827), are among the oldest published Canadian compositions ('The Fairy Song' is reproduced in CMH, vol 3), as is, most likely, the song 'Night Blooming Flowers' (London, no date). Unfortunately, two glees, (including 'Hark! Comrades, Hark!' 1832), and certain occasional religious pieces, such as the anthem 'I Heard a Voice in Heaven' (performed 20 Jun 1825 at the funeral of Jacob Mountain) and the invocation 'O Most Merciful' (which opened the concert in 1834) well may have exemplified Codman's best work, but copies have not survived. The only manuscripts preserved in the archives of the cathedral contain some adaptations and orchestrations of fragments of works by Webbe, Spohr, Crotch, and others; a glee, 'Brothers'; and a collection of some 40 psalm-chants for four voices with organ accompaniment, in the manner of many English church composers of the end of the 18th century. Although the reputation of this learned organist did not travel very far beyond the parish, it appears that in upholding high standards of liturgical singing he was able to implant in Quebec City the musical tradition exemplified in the religio-dramatic music of Handel, Boyce, Haydn, Mozart, Cherubini, and Beethoven, his spiritual masters. His piano teaching, moreover, introduced to the city the methods of Cramer and Kalkbrenner. A plaque at the Anglican cathedral commemorates his 36 years of service as organist.

Letters and documents in the archives of Notre-Dame parish reveal that Codman also took an interest in the musical standards at the Catholic cathedral. In appreciation of their efforts in this direction he sent the churchwardens in 1837 a volume of his accompaniments (published in London), and in 1838 he acted as an adviser, advocating a systematic course of study and recommending the services of his pupil Bender. The same year the churchwardens were instructed to 'enquire of Messrs Codman and Binder [sic]' as to their availability 'to undertake to play the organ... and to form a lay choir on a solid foundation'. In a letter of 9 Jun 1839, 'remaining under consideration,' Codman offered his services as organist and choirmaster to the parish church; he was, however, not appointed to the post.

Further Reading