A History of Music in Canada 1534-1914


317 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-6102-8




Reviewed by J.B. Snelson

J.B. Snelson is a librarian, bibliographer, and (antiquarian) bookstore
owner in Wolfville.


Helmut Kallmann’s magisterial History of Music in Canada was first published in 1960. Nine years later it was reissued with some 45 one-line corrections. Now, 19 years later, it is again reissued. What was without a doubt the best book on the subject at original publication remains that despite the passage of time, and should be welcomed by all those who have been unable to find copies of earlier printings.

The text has not been altered this time, which is probably for the best. I am sure there are minor alterations and changes of emphasis which the author might think reasonable after the passage of time, but he wisely restrained himself. It is difficult to see how this masterpiece, which has stood up to a generation of scholarship, can be improved. The one new feature of the work proves this. Slightly over three pages of notes have been added which indicate the results of later scholarship. Only one of these means much. And then, it merely indicates that a different emphasis would have been better. Factually the text stands.

Such quibbling indicates just how accurate, thorough, and comprehensive Kallmann’s work is. It is perhaps the one book essential to understanding Canada’s musical development. No library on Canadian music can afford not to have Kallmann.

While there is little to add to what has already been said about the excellence of the text, there is one area where this reissue is a disappointment. The bibliography is now thoroughly out of date. No attempt has been made either to include new studies or to delete publications now superceded or corrected by later work. To a minor extent, Kallmann’s notes indicate useful references. But this is neither inclusive nor does it indicate more than where minor points have been discussed. One would have thought that someone at the University of Toronto Press, if not Kallmann himself, would have recognized the need to update and improve the bibliography.

This minor fault-finding notwithstanding, this is a masterpiece too long unavailable and one ought to thank the University of Toronto Press for making it once more available. A hearty welcome back for Kallmann and profound thanks to the publisher for once more making it available to the average reader.



Kallmann, Helmut, “A History of Music in Canada 1534-1914,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 12, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/34459.