Jean Coulthard

1908 - 2000

Jean Coulthard was a Canadian pianist and composer from British Columbia who wrote more than 350 works during her life. She is often grouped along with Violet Archer and Barbara Pentland as one of the most important Canadian composers of the twentieth century.

Born in a musical family, Coulthard completed the Associate of Toronto Conservatory of Music (ATCM) with a diploma in piano and later graduated from the Royal College of London where she studied composition with Ralph Vaughan Williams. She returned to Vancouver and began teaching and performing, appearing with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra as a pianist during their 1930-31 season and in several solo recitals beginning in 1932. In the late 1940s, Coulthard joined the music faculty at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and also taught at St. Anthony’s College and Queen’s Hall School in Vancouver.

During her teaching career, Coulthard was surrounded by fellow composers who wrote in an increasingly dense and intellectual idiom (indeed, both Archer and Pentland were heavily influenced by serialism). However, Coulthard’s approach remained accessible and reminiscent of previous musical eras, such as French impressionism, while exhibiting many “brooding” and reflective aspects reminiscent of the geography of Coulthard’s home province of British Columbia. In recognition of her importance in the Canadian music scene, she was awarded two honourary doctorates (UBC, 1988 and Concordia University, 1991) and was also appointed to the Order of Canada in 1978.