Born in Toronto in 1925, Somers only began to study music in his early teens and, as if to make up for lost time, immediately engaged in intensive study. At the age of sixteen he entered the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto where he studied piano with Reginald Godden (1941-43) and Weldon Kilburn (1946-49) and composition with John Weinzweig (1942-43, 1946-49), receiving scholarships in 1947 and 1949. In the latter year he was awarded a Canadian Amateur Hockey Association scholarship through which he studied composition with Darius Milhaud in Paris (1949-50). At that time Somers’ music was subject to the dual influence of serial music (championed at that time by Weinzweig) and a more personal past-conscious view of music and the musical repertoire.
He once remarked that, for him: …composition evolves from a body of tradition and a series of conventions, be they old or new. “Now in the 1950s I was out of touch with developments that were happening in composition; I had to learn my own way. And my own way was to write works that employed Baroque techniques fused with serialism and the more highly tensioned elements of 20th century music I was familiar with at the time”.
Harry Somers was a founding member of the Canadian League of Composers and in 1971 was named a Companion of the Order of Canada. He received honorary doctorates from the University of Ottawa (1975), the University of Toronto (1976) and York University (1977). From the late 1950s he composed almost exclusively on commissions from a wide variety of North American musical organizations and individuals.
Harry Somers, Symphony No.1 (1951)
Canadian National Arts Centre Orchestra, Victor Fledbrill (Conductor)
Harry Somers “Picasso Suite”
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