On the Record: Canadian Jewish Musicians of Note

Louis Applebaum: April 3, 1918 – April 20, 2000. Film Score and Theatre Composer, Conductor, Theatre Administrator

Aug. 6, 2020 – By DAVID EISENSTADT

While looking for a full-time gig after graduating from Carleton University’s School of Journalism, I thought the National Film Board (NFB) might be an interesting place to work, but received an unexpected offer from the Canadian Film Institute (CFI), a non-profit, non-government film repository in Ottawa. That’s where I spent many a day, over a year and-a-half, in a darkened screening room writing short descriptors for film catalogues.

As it turned out, CFI managed the distribution of NFB productions that were available for rent or sale to universities, community colleges, schools, churches/synagogues, and community service and business organizations across the country.

Many of those NFB films I screened were scored by Toronto-born Louis Applebaum, and I have never forgotten his name.

Louis Applebaum

Records show that over 18 years, Applebaum composed the music for about 250 NFB productions. Three notable credits, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia, include Royal Journey in 1951, The Stratford Adventure in 1954 and Paddle To The Sea in 1966.

Applebaum received a 1947 Academy Award nomination with a co-composer for The Story of G.I. Joe film score, and, as listed in Canada’s Awards Database, he received a 1968 Canadian Film Award for his non-feature music score of Athabaska and a 1989 Gemini Award for the Best Original Music Score for a Program or Mini-Series for Glory Enough For All.”

Applebaum began writing music when he was 15 and honed his skills at the University of Toronto with such luminaries as Boris Berlin and Sir Ernest MacMillan, and with Toronto Conservatory of Music’s Leo Smith. He also studied in New York with Roy Harris and Bernard Wagenaar. The multi-skilled Applebaum also wrote ballet music, and symphonic, chamber and choral works.

He served the NFB as music director and as a consultant from 1942-53, but his most stellar achievement, according to Playbill, was that he was considered “the dean of Canadian theatre composers” and as first director of the Stratford Festival’s music department, a position he held under founding director Tyrone Guthrie beginning in 1953.

Over 43 seasons, he wrote and conducted music for over 75 productions, working with eight Stratford Festival artistic directors. His fanfare composition marking the beginning of each Festival performance is well-recognized by theatregoers.

There was a confluence of the compositional and administrative aspects of Applebaum’s career; divergent to some, but not to him.

He moved to the private sector in 1960, becoming president of a TV production company, Group Four Productions, while serving as a music consultant for CBC-TV. He chaired an Advisory Committee for the National Arts Centre in Ottawa from 1963 to 1966 and wrote a federal government commissioned report leading to the creation of the National Arts Centre Orchestra, which included a first-time music department at the University of Ottawa.

During the 1960s and 70s, Applebaum held senior leadership positions with the Composers, Authors and Publishers Association of Canada, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, the Canada Council, the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, the Canadian Music Centre, and the Canadian League of Composers. 

From 1971 to 1980, he headed the Ontario Arts Council and, as chair of the Federal Cultural Policy Review Committee, co-authored the important Applebaum-Hebert Report – “the first review of Canadian cultural institutions and federal cultural policy since 1951,” reported the Canadian Encyclopedia.

“Essentially I’m working to improve the lot of my colleagues and I have been doing that for many years – at the same time staying on as a functioning artist,” he told Canadian Composer in 1974.

Known and respected as a strong supporter of young Canadian composers, Applebaum received many awards and commendations including the Order of Canada in 1976 (he was promoted to Companion in 1995) and the Order of Ontario in 1989.

The Ontario Arts Foundation established the Louis Applebaum Composers Award in 1998, and the University of Toronto created The Louis Applebaum Distinguished Visitor in Composition in his honour.

A public funeral for this larger-than-life personality took place on April 23, 2000 at Toronto’s Temple Sinai. I wish I had been there.


David Eisenstadt
David Eisenstadt

David Eisenstadt is founding partner of tcgpr.com and a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary