Fonds F0210 - John P.L. Roberts fonds.

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John P.L. Roberts fonds.


  • [19--], 1942-2018 (Creation)

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Extent and medium

19.09 m of textual and other material
approx 20 photoprints: black and white
approx 6 photoprints: colour
22 audio cassette tapes
2 U-matic video cassettes
12 1/4" open reels
574 vinyl discs

Context area

Name of creator


Biographical history

John (Peter Lee) Roberts, administrator, cultural policy advisor and scholar related to serious (art) music in Canada, was born 21 October 1930 in Sydney, Australia and became a naturalized Canadian in 1961. After studying piano at the New South Wales State Conservatory of Music in Sydney and voice in London he settled in Canada in 1955. He obtained his MA in Canadian studies from Carleton University in 1988.
His distinguished career in Canadian music programming, began with CBC Winnipeg where he was a music producer from 1955-1957. There, he became closely associated with Winnipeg composer, pianist, and violinist Sophie Carmen Eckhardt-Gramatté and her husband, Dr. Ferdinand Eckhardt.
His career at the CBC quickly evolved to positions of leadership and greater reach. He was Program Organizer 1957-1965 and Supervisor of Radio Music 1965-1971 at CBC Toronto, Head of Radio Music and Variety 1971-1975 for the English Services Division (ESD), and Special Adviser in Music and Arts Development 1976-1977.
Roberts is credited with developing CBC music festivals which provided exposure to Canadian performers and composers in cities across Canada through performances. Building on these, he established an extensive program of commissions for Canadian composers. He also developed and held CBC talent competitions which have discovered outstanding young Canadian artists and launched important performers and composers on major careers.
Roberts encouraged education on music subjects through radio documentaries on composers and musicians and supported in early commissions of documentaries in the 1960s by Glenn Gould and others. Roberts made the CBC a major producer of art music recordings in Canada through his establishment of a separate recording division which produced the CBC's SM (serious music) series and the Canadian Collection. He also encouraged the development of a CBC distribution system which included commercial sales to a wider Canadian audience through mail order.
Roberts is also credited with bringing Igor Stravinsky to Canada in the early 1960s, which resulted in premier performances and recordings of some of Stravinsky’s late works with the CBC in Toronto at Massey Hall.
While still at the CBC, he was president of the board of the Canadian Music Centre in 1971-1973. When he took the reigns as the operating manager, or director general, of the CMC from 1977-1981, he established the Centredisc label which became a primary vehicle for the recording of Canadian Music.
Roberts has been an active member of numerous arts and culture boards and key committees in Canada and abroad. Roberts was President of the Canadian Music Council, from 1968-1971 and 1975-1977, board member of the Canada Council for the Arts, president of the Les Jeunesses Musicales du Canada, and co-founder of the Esprit Orchestra in Toronto and co-founder in 1984 of the Toronto International Festival. In Calgary, he served on the board of Honens Piano Competition in the early 2000s.
Roberts’s expertise has been utilized on the international level to chair the organization of several international contemporary music festivals and to act as an advisor on broadcasting and communications development in Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. Roberts was the first chairman 1969-70 of the Radio and Commercial Recording Group of the International Music Centre (IMZ), Vienna, an organization of representatives from broadcasting, recording, film, operatic and other organizations. In Vienna as well, he was vice-president in 1976 of the International Institute for Music, Dance and Theatre in the Audio-Visual Media (MEDIACULT). He also served on the Canadian Commission for UNESCO. In 1973 he became the first Canadian to be elected to the executive of the International Music Council, which he served 1975-1976 as vice-president and 1978-1979 as president, succeeding Yehudi Menuhin. When Canada was host in 1975 to the 16th IMC general assembly, Roberts was the chief planner of the concurrent first World Music Week. He was the organizer 1975-1977 (and chairman 1975-83) of International Music Day.
Roberts was a close colleague and life-long friend of Canadian pianist, Glenn Gould and eulogized him after his sudden death in 1982. Roberts ensured that Gould’s papers were deposited with the Library and Archives Canada and he was the first to publish selected letters of the artist. Roberts is also the Founding President of The Glenn Gould Foundation (1982) which established the prestigious $50,000 Glenn Gould Prize in the area of music and communications.
In the 1980s, he pursued his interest in cultural policy research and development in earnest. He took on a post as senior advisor to the Canadian Radio and Television Commissions (CRTC), working under the chair, John Meisel from 1981-1983. In 1983-1987 he was senior adviser, cultural development for the CBC, at its head office in Ottawa.
In 1986, John Roberts moved into academia, when he became an Adjunct professor and then Dean of Fine Arts at the University of Calgary in 1987, a post he held until his retirement in 1995. At the University of Calgary, he was responsible for the building of the Rosza Centre, the University of Calgary’s music and concert centre, and he also founded another new but short lived record label – Unical. During 1995-1996 he was the first Seagram Visiting Fellow in the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada at McGill University. He has a distinguished record as a lecturer and published writer in Canada and Europe in the fields of music and communications in the electronic media as well as cultural policy.
John Roberts is the recipient of numerous awards and honours for his service to contemporary art music in Canada and internationally. In 1972, the Canadian League of Composers honoured Roberts with a special award for service to Canadian music. In 1978 Roberts received the Queen's Silver Jubilee Medal and in 1981 the Cross of Honour for Science and the Arts from Austria. Also in 1981 he was made a Member of the Order of Canada. He received two honorary Doctorates, from the University of Victoria (1992) and the University of Manitoba (1996). In 1996 he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.

Archival history

The materials were received as donations from John P.L. Roberts in 2013, 2014, 2016, and 2018 as Accessions 919/13.18, 958/14.23, 2016.30, and 2018.65.

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Content and structure area

Scope and content

The fonds consists of John Peter Lee Roberts’ personal papers and records from his professional and academic career and involvement in the art music community spanning the years 1940 to 2015, however, the bulk of the records fall within the 1950s to the 1990s.
Evidenced in the fonds in particular is John Roberts’ work at the CBC, the Canadian Music Centre, the Canadian Music Council and the International Music Council, as well as his advisory role with the CRTC. There are reports and internal correspondence within the CBC documenting Roberts work as architect of programs, policy maker and as decision maker in leadership roles in the development of festivals and performances which include CBC concert programs, from the 1950s to the early 1980s. There is a significant volume of CBC correspondence between him and Canadian composers regarding the commissioning of works, performance and recording of commissioned works and about their developing careers. Among the composers are Murray Adaskin, Bruce Mather, R. Murray Schafer, Norma Beecroft, John Weinzweig, Barbara Pentland, Serge Garant, Istvan Anhalt, Harry Somers, and John Beckwith. There is also correspondence with Yehudi Menuhin with whom he and Gould worked, as well as musicians of note, such as Maureen Forester and Robert Craft.
There are files on Igor Stravinsky’s visits to Toronto in the 1960s which include photographs, correspondence with Stravinsky and Robert Craft, copies of scores, concert programs, news clippings, and articles. As well as, there are files on Roberts’ and Glenn Gould’s development of radio and TV documentaries.
Roberts’s research and writing is documented in files containing reference material, drafts and copies of presentations, papers, and publications, notably from his academic career, and also include research files on his M.A. thesis on the development of music, draft chapters and a copy of the thesis. Roberts’ work to preserve and promote Gould’s legacy after his death are evidenced in numerous research files and correspondence about his Gould’s letter publishing projects, and the establishment of the Glenn Gould Foundation and Prize and its early adjudication. Robert’s involvement as cofounder of the Toronto International Festival is documented in many file containing correspondence, proposals, budgets and reports. There are photographs, both candid shots and professionally produced which show Roberts in company of composers and other members of the Canadian and international music community in the 1960s to the 1980s. There are also files from his work with national and international associations in particular from his work with the Canadian Music Council and Canadian Music Centre and the International Music Council. The series CBC is by far the largest with a volume of 5.2 m and consists mainly of corporate CBC records which Roberts chose to retain and took with him when he left the CBC and which have therefore survived filling large gaps in the administrative records of the CBC acquired by the former National Archives.
The fonds is arranged into sixteen series which reflect a number of recordkeeping systems of the institutions Roberts was part of as well as his own as is particularly evident in the series Correspondence with its three subseries, chronological, alphabetical and personal correspondence. The sixteen series are: Correspondence, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC); Toronto International Festival, Glenn Gould, Igor Stravinsky, Canadian Music Centre, Canadian Music Council, CRTC, International Music Council, International Music Centre Vienna (IMZ), Mediacult, Academic Appointment – Dean, Presentations and Lectures, Reports and Studies, Publications by Roberts, About Roberts, Photographs, Other Service Activities, Sound Discs.

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Conditions governing access

There are no restrictions on access for study and research. Requests for reproduction of material for publication and other dissemination may directed to Archives and Special Collections, University of Calgary.

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Language and script notes

Text in English.

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Related units of description

composer fonds in the Richard Johnston Canadian Music Archives Collection in Archives and Special Collections; the fonds of the following organizations held at Library and Archives Canada: CBC, Glenn Gould Foundation, Canadian Music Centre and Council; as well as the fonds of individual musicians and composers including Glenn Gould.

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For a selection of digitized documents see here:

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