Robert Aitken

(b. 28 August 1939, Kentville, Nova Scotia).

Canadian composer of mostly orchestral and chamber works that have been performed throughout the world; he is also active as a conductor and flutist.

Mr. Aitken studied flute privately with Nicolas Fiore in Toronto from 1955–59 and counterpoint with Barbara Pentland at the University of British Columbia in 1958–59. He then studied composition with John Weinzweig and electronic music with Myron Schaeffer at the University of Toronto from 1959–64, where he earned his BMus and MMus in composition. He had subsequent training in flute with Marcel Moyse in both Europe and Vermont intermittently for nine years and studied with Hubert Barwähser in the Netherlands, Severino Gazzelloni in Italy, André Jaunet in Switzerland, and Jean-Pierre Rampal in France, all in 1964–65, on a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts.

Among his honours as a flutist are prizes in the competition Paris (1971) and the new music for flute competition in Royan (1972), as well as an invitation from Pierre Boulez to present a solo recital at IRCAM in Paris (1977, among twelve instrumentalists chosen). He has received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Flute Association (2003). Among his honours as both a composer and flutist are the Canada Music Citation, the Canadian Music Council Medal, the Jean A. Chalmers National Music Award, the Order of Canada, and the William Harold Moon Award. In addition, he was named a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the government of France.

As a conductor, he has primarily been active as a regular conductor of the New Music Concerts Ensemble, which he co-founded with Norma Beecroft in Toronto in 1971, but has also served as a guest conductor of orchestras in Canada and Japan. Moreover, he led performances of Patria 1: Wolfman by R. Murray Schafer for the Canadian Opera Company in 1987.

As a flutist, he served as principal flutist of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra in 1958–59, second flutist in the CBC Radio Orchestra in Vancouver from 1960–64 and co-principal flutist of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra from 1965–70. More than 65 works have been written for him by John Beckwith, Elliott Carter, George Crumb, Manuel Enríquez, Heinz Holliger, Bruce Mather, Arne Nordheim, Roger Reynolds, R. Murray Schafer, Tōru Takemitsu, Gilles Tremblay, and John Weinzweig.

He is also active in other positions. He co-founded with soprano Mary Morrison and his wife, the pianist Marion Ross, the Lyric Arts Trio in Toronto in 1964 and performed with it, as well as with harpsichordist Greta Kraus, until the 1970s. He founded the concert series Music Today at the Shaw Festival in Ontario in 1970 and served as its director from 1970–72. He then co-founded with Norma Beecroft the concert series New Music Concerts in Toronto in 1971 and has served as its artistic director since 1971.

He taught flute at the University of Toronto from 1960–75 and at the Shawnigan Summer School of the Arts in British Columbia from 1972–82, where he founded Music at Shawnigan in 1981, a three-week festival devoted to the study of chamber music. He later served as director of the program Advanced Studies in Music at the Banff School of Fine Arts from 1985–89 and taught as Professor für Flöte at the Hochschule für Musik Freiburg in Freiburg im Breisgau from 1988–2004. He has given masterclasses in Cuba, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Mexico, Norway, Poland, Sweden, and the USA.


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Concerto, piccolo, flute, oboe, English horn, clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon, French horn, violin, viola, cello, double bass, orchestra, 1964

Spectra, 4 ensembles (flute, oboe, piano, 10 violins; clarinet, 2 trumpets, 3 violas, timpani; English horn, 2 French horns, harp, 3 cellos; bass clarinet, bassoon, trombone, 2 double basses), 1969

Shadows I: Nekuia, large orchestra, 1971

Spiral, 1975

Berceuse (For those who sleep before us), flute, orchestra, 1992

Concerto for Flute and String Orchestra (Shadows V), flute, string orchestra, 1999


Quartet, flute, oboe, viola, double bass, 1961

Music for Flute and Electronic Tape, flute, fixed media, 1963

Kebyar, flute (+ temple blocks), clarinet (+ temple blocks), trombone, 2 double basses, percussion, fixed media, 1971

Shadows II: Lalita, flute, ensemble (2 harps, 3 cellos, 2 percussion), 1972

Plainsong, flute, 1977

Icicle, flute, 1977

Folia, flute, oboe, clarinet, French horn, bassoon, 1981

Shadows III: Nira, violin, ensemble (flute, oboe, viola, double bass, piano, harpsichord), 1973–88

Shadows IV: My Song, 2 flutes, ensemble ad libitum (oboe, bassoon, violin, cello), 1994

A Little Ground for Max, bass clarinet, trumpet, violin, double bass, piano, percussion, 1997

Wedding Song, 2 flutes, 1999


Monody (text by Karen Aitken), mixed chorus, flute, 1983


Noesis, fixed media, 1963

Music from Hamlet, fixed media, 1964