Counterpoint to a City: A History of the Women's Musical Club of Toronto


249 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-55022-306-2
DDC 780'.6'0713541





Reviewed by Desmond Maley

Desmond Maley is the music librarian at the J.W. Tate Library,
Huntington College, Laurentian University, and the editor of Newsletter
of the Canadian Association of Music Libraries, Archives, and
Documentation Centres.


Robin Elliott, a former associate editor of the Encyclopedia of Music in
Canada (1992) who is now a lecturer in music at University College
Dublin, has written a richly documented history of one of Toronto’s
most distinguished musical organizations.

Founded in 1899 in a studio in the Yonge Street Arcade, the Women’s
Musical Club (WMC) began in an era when segregation of the sexes was
rather strictly observed. Many of the members were wives of well-to-do
businessmen, and the WMC concert was the only socially acceptable forum
in which they could display their often considerable musical
accomplishments. Elliott’s account of these early years is especially

By the late 1920s, the WMC had evolved into a professional concert
series specializing in solo recitals and chamber music. In 1950, it
started offering annual scholarships to young musicians. In 1989, it
launched its Career Development Award, which provides generous financial
support to artists of outstanding promise, as well as a concert

The WMC has consistently displayed an impressive ability to manage its
bottom line, maintain its core audience, and choose outstanding talent.
A highlight of the book is its descriptions of the gallery of celebrated
artists and ensembles who made their Canadian debut under the WMC’s
auspices; but it would have also been interesting to know more about the
process by which musicians were invited to perform.

Counterpoint to a City was commissioned by the WMC, and Elliott’s
tone is therefore appreciative. But he is not altogether uncritical. It
is evident that the WMC became a bastion of conservative musical taste,
catering to an affluent audience that was steeped in the tradition of
Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms. For many years, Canadian musicians were
also paid far less than their foreign counterparts.

Nevertheless, the WMC has contributed significantly to the advancement
of Canada’s musical culture. The drastic erosion of public funding for
the arts in recent years suggests that organizations like the WMC
can—indeed, must—continue to play an important role. This is a
factor that Elliott could have explored in his conclusion.


Elliott, Robin., “Counterpoint to a City: A History of the Women's Musical Club of Toronto,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 21, 2024,