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East (1973)

  • Composer: Schafer, R. Murray
  • Conductor: Bernardi, Mario
  • Performance Date: 1973-10-04
  • Recording courtesy of CBC Radio 2
Portrait of composer Schafer, R. Murray

Schafer, R. Murray

Jul 18, 1933 -


One never knows what to expect next from R. Murray Schafer, one of Canada’s most famous composers, one who seldom repeats himself, one whose musical boundaries have no limits. East is a musical mediation on a text from the Isha-Upanishad. Learn more

Music Connection

Breaking the Rules: Non-Traditional and Extended Techniques

Non-traditional composition plays an important role in the development of music as an art form as demonstrated by Robert Aitken, John Weinzweig, R. Murray Schafer, Norma Beecroft, and Michael Colgrass. Learn more


Born in Sarnia, Ontario, July 18, 1933;
now living in Indian River, Ontario

Murray Schafer is Canada’s pre-eminent composer who, in an era of specialization, has shown himself to be a true Renaissance man. Schafer has won national and international acclaim, not only for his achievements as a composer, but also as an educator, environmentalist, literary scholar, visual artist, and provocateur. After receiving a Licentiate in piano through the Royal Schools of Music (England), he pursued further studies at the Royal Conservatory of Music and the University of Toronto, followed by periods of study in Austria and England.

Schafer's diversity of interests is reflected in the enormous range of his output: scholarly books, theatre works, pieces for amateur and professional choirs, commissions for orchestral works from the Toronto Symphony, Montreal Symphony, Kyoto Symphony, Tokyo Symphony, and others, as well as a cycle of eleven string quartets and numerous works for solo voice with both piano and orchestral accompaniment. In addition, there is the monumental PATRIA cycle of twelve related music dramas, many of which are presented in unusual settings or at special times of the day or year.

As the originator of the word ‘soundscape,’ Schafer initiated research in acoustic ecology with the World Soundscape Project at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver during the early 1970s. The research is described in several publications, notably The Tuning of the World (which remains in print after 30 years and has been translated into several languages). The concept of soundscapes embraces all disciplines concerned with sound and the growing interest in soundscape research around the world led to the formation of the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology in 1994. WFAE hosts international conferences and publishes a journal entitled Soundscape. This work has influenced countless composers world-wide and has had significant influence on Schafer’s own environmental works.

In 1975, Murray Schafer left the Communications Department of Simon Fraser University to live as a free-lance composer and writer in Ontario. Schafer’s rural environment has allowed him to work with communities in Maynooth and Peterborough, remarkable models for how artists can integrate into their societies. Schafer founded the Maynooth Community Choir, with whom he wrote and produced the music theatre piece Jonah. He chose his rural home near the Peterborough area to work on artistic projects with this community. The productions of Patria 3: The Greatest Show in Peterborough in 1987 and 1988 included the participation of local amateurs. During Schafer’s years as the Artistic Director of the Peterborough Festival of the Arts, he helped steer a small, local undertaking with traditional programming towards an ambitious diversified arts festival garnering both strong regional support and national recognition. Schafer encourages artists to draw on the riches of their local surroundings and culture. The beauty of Canada’s wilderness is the setting of the Patria prologue The Princess of the Stars, which has been performed several times at different outdoor sites across Canada. Other outdoor works include The Enchanted Forest and The Palace of the Cinnabar Phoenix, performed at the Haliburton Forest in 2005 and 2006, respectively.

Besides his work as a dramatist, music educator, music journalist, and in the new field of soundscape studies, Schafer has made significant contributions to the humanities as a musicologist, literary scholar, creative writer, and visual artist. His E.T.A. Hoffman and Music is the first book-length study on the subject and his Ezra Pound and Music is a major achievement of musical and literary scholarship. In addition to prose works, he has also written a number of creative literary pieces which include the novellas Dicamus et Labyrinthos and Ariadne, both of which exhibit the composer’s calligraphy and art. Schafer’s visual art can be seen in many of his musical scores which include illustrations and/or graphic notation. Many of these have been exhibited in art galleries.

Schafer is best known for his writings on music education, including The Composer in the Classroom (1965), Ear Cleaning (1967), Creative Music Education (1976), A Sound Education (1992), and HearSing (2005). His works have been translated into multiple languages, and his innovative methods have been used in classrooms around the world.

In the 1980s, Schafer wrote concertos for flute, harp, and guitar, three string quartets, and various chamber and orchestral works, and he continues to receive commissions. In particular, his love for the solo female voice has inspired numerous works. Specifically for his partner Eleanor James’s rich mezzo-soprano voice, he has written demanding chamber music (Tanzlied for voice and harp, Tantrika, voice and percussion) and works for voice and orchestra (Letters from Mignon and Thunder/Perfect Mind). These works, as well as the orchestrated version of the Minnelieder were newly released in May 2007 by ATMA Classique to critical acclaim. Eleanor James has also appeared in leading roles in most of the Patria theatre works.

Schafer’s diversity belies generalizations of style; his work could be described as a synthesis of 20th century avant-garde techniques with 19th century Romantic spirit. In 1977, he received both the Canadian Music Council’s first Composer of the Year award and the first Jules Léger Prize for New Chamber Music. In 1980 he was awarded the Prix International Arthur-Honegger; in 1985 he received the Banff Centre for the Arts National Award, and in 1987 he became the first recipient of the $50,000 triennial Glenn Gould Award. Schafer holds seven honorary doctorates from universities in Canada, France, and Argentina. Yehudi Menuhin praised “His strong, benevolent, and highly original imagination and intellect, a dynamic power whose manifold personal expressions and aspirations are in total accord with the urgent needs and dreams of humanity today.”

Concert Program Notes

Raymond Murray Schafer : Born in Sarnia, Ontario, July 18, 1933; now living in Indian River, Ontario

Over the years, the National Arts Centre Orchestra has performed the music of R. Murray Schafer on more than thirty occasions, beginning in 1973 (only the fourth year of the Orchestra’s existence) when it commissioned East. Since then, it has commissioned four additional works: Cortège (1977), The Garden of the Heart (1981), Gitanjali (1992) and Dream-E-Scape (2009). In July, 2008, the NAC honored the composer with a “Schafer at 75” celebration of his lifetime achievement.

Schafer is one of Canada’s most gifted, most articulate, most provocative, most eclectic and most performed composers. There is no such thing as a “typical” work by Schafer. His compositions often result from special explorations into the worlds of sound, sonics, language, philosophy, psychology, mythology, theater, ritual, or any combination thereof. Even audience participation is not unknown. His compositions can range from a modest four-minute Untitled Composition for Orchestra to an all-night ritual involving the five senses (Ra). Schafer also tends to write for unusual and unorthodox combinations: harp and string quartet (Theseus) or twelve trombones (Music for Wilderness Lake), to cite just two cases. One of the most significant aspects of Schafer’s wide-ranging catalogue is the series of string quartets he has been producing since 1970. As of 2009, he was up to eleven, making him the composer of string quartets in Canada, at least for the foreseeable future.

In addition, Schafer is widely-known, both throughout Canada and abroad, as an environmentalist, educator and writer. He has some twenty literary works to his credit, of which E.T.A. Hoffmann and Music and The Tuning of the World are especially important. As for his musical training, Schafer is largely self-taught, having been dismissed from the University of Toronto in his first year. He acknowledges influence from John Weinzweig and Greta Kraus, and intellectual stimulation from Marshall McLuhan.

East was commissioned by the National Arts Centre Orchestra with the aid of a grant from the Canada Council. Mario Bernardi conducted the first performance on October 4, 1973. The composer has written the following words on the title page of the score:

East is a meditation on a text from the Isha-Upanishad: ‘The self is one. Unmoving it moves faster than the mind. The senses lag, but self runs ahead. Unmoving it outruns pursuit, The self is everywhere, without body, without shape, whole, pure, wise, all-knowing, farseeing, self-depending, all-transcending. Unmoving, it moves far away, yet near, within all, outside all.’ The forty-eight words of the text are punctuated by forty-eight gongs, sounding approximately every ten seconds. Each letter of the text is given a pitch value depending on its frequency of occurrence in the text and the note patterns arising from the words form the harmonic and melodic material which the orchestra plays and occasionally sings.”

Robert Markow

This Year in History: 1973

History, Politics and Social Affairs

  • Montreal announces Canada’s first lottery to help pay for the upcoming 1976 Summer Olympics.
  • Some 200 natives occupy the Indian Affairs building to protest the government’s failure to deal with native grievances.
  • Former Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent dies.
  • Canada announces it will withdraw from the ICCS truce observance force in Vietnam because other participating countries do not favor keeping an impartial role.
  • Prime Minister Trudeau meets with Chairman Mao in China.
  • U.S. President Richard Nixon announces that a peace accord has been reached in Vietnam.
  • OPEC (the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries) instigates the oil crisis by cutting back on exports to western nations following the Arab defeat in the Six-Day War, which Israel won with western support.
  • The World Trade Center officially opens in New York City with a ribbon cutting ceremony.
  • U.S. President Richard Nixon signs the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act into law, authorizing the construction of the Alaskan Pipeline.
  • Roe v. Wade makes abortion an American constitutional right.

Nature, Science and Technology

  • The first handheld cellular phone call is made by Martin Cooper in New York City.
  • Genetic engineering, the manipulation of genetic material by biochemical techniques, is invented.
  • The General Motors research team invents the first air bags, offered in the 1973 model Chevrolet as an option.
  • Optic Fiber is invented to permit transmission over longer distances and at higher bandwidths (data rates) than other forms of communications.

The Arts, Literature and Entertainment

  • Karen Kain and Frank Augustyn of the National Ballet of Canada win first prize for duet ensemble at the International Ballet Competition in Moscow.
  • The Royal Canadian Air Farce is formed.
  • Work begins on the construction of the CN Tower.
  • Heritage Canada is established.
  • The alternative gallery Western Front is formed in Vancouver, immediately helping to organize the Matrix International Video Conference.
  • The Sydney Opera House is opened by Elizabeth II after 14 years of construction work.

Music Connection

R. Murray Schafer (b. 1933) has long had a reputation of “breaking the rules” of composition and has at times done so largely for the purpose of challenging listeners and performers. Even then his creativity and compositional skill are always present. East is no exception, containing non-traditional techniques often used by Schafer such as slow harmonized glissandos and also challenging performers by asking instrumentalists to sing and hum while also playing. East was composed in 1972 and first performed in 1973 by the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Bath, England.

With much of Canadian orchestral music being composed in the 20th century after Arnold Schoenberg had already abandoned tonality, it is no surprise that avant-garde and non-traditional methods are a common part of current Canadian composers’ techniques. Works often include graphic notation, serialism, improvisation (which has all but disappeared from Western Music), unorthodox performer placement, a pluralism of style, extended instrumental techniques, and more. Works with any combination of the above are often a challenge to play as well as a challenge to hear but they can also be a source of inspiring questions, of individual interpretation and exploration, and can be a beginning place for the formations of new art and a new way to listen to the world around us.

Breaking the Rules: Non-Traditional and Extended Techniques addresses some questions about creative individuality in creating and listening to music. Canadian composers Robert Aitken, John Weinzweig, R. Murray Schafer, Norma Beecroft, and Michael Colgrass have all made individual use of non-traditional compositional techniques. These approaches to alternative composition allow a wide range of experience and response from musicians and listeners.

Learn more