Fonds UAA - Violet Archer fonds

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Violet Archer fonds

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28 m of textual records. - ca. 750 sounds recordings. - 18 video cassettes. - 20 art works. - 2420 graphic materials.

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Biographical history

Violet Archer, distinguished composer and teacher, was born Violet Balestreri (Archer is the English translation of the Italian name) in Montreal on April 24, 1913. She studied piano and organ and received a Bachelor of Music degree in composition from McGill University in 1936, and studied organ with John Weatherseed at the Royal Canadian College of Organists. Throughout her years in Montreal, Archer was an active soloist, accompanist, and private music teacher as well as a percussionist with the Montreal Women's Symphony under the direction of Ethel Stark. She obtained her Bachelor of Music and Master of Music degrees in composition from Yale in 1948 and 1949. Amongst her teachers were Béla Bartók and Paul Hindemith.

Violet Archer was composer-in-residence at North Texas State College from 1950 to 1953 and taught at Cornell University in 1952. From 1953 to 1961 she taught at the University of Oklahoma, before coming to the University of Alberta in 1962. Here she remained until her retirement in 1978.

In addition to teaching, Dr. Archer also worked on behalf of the Canadian Folk Music Society, the Canadian Association of University Schools of Music, and served as the Western Canadian representative of the Canadian League of Composers for a number of years. One of Canada's most significant composers, she had a catalogue of over 300 works that included compositions for orchestra, choir, organ, and solo piano.

Dr. Archer was the recipient of countless honours and awards in recognition of her outstanding achievements. Besides receiving numerous honorary degrees, Archer was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1983; received the Canadian Music Council's Composer of the Year award in 1984; and in 1987 had the Canadian Music Centre Prairie Region library at the University of Calgary named after her. Other honours included being inducted into the Cultural Hall of Fame in Edmonton, and receiving the Sir Frederick Haultain prize for her contribution to music in 1987.

Violet Archer passed away in Ottawa on February 21, 2000 at the age of 86. In July 2021, the Violet Archer fonds was added to the Canada Memory of the World Register, which highlights the most meaningful documents in humanity's heritage and history.

Custodial history

Violet Archer's records were received at the University of Alberta as a bequest made by Violet Archer through her will. Ms. Archer had a friendship with Dr. James Whittle, Librarian, University of Alberta Department of Music and Dr. Whittle assisted Violet in creating a detailed listing of her compositions and scores. Compositions housed in her Edmonton home, her Ottawa home, and at the University of Calgary were included in the list prepared by Dr. Whittle. Upon Violet Archer's death in Ottawa in February of 2000, the music detailed in the Whittle list, as well as Violet Archer's extensive archives of textual, sound and photographic documents were forwarded to the University of Alberta Archives.

Scope and content

The Violet Archer fonds span a period of over seventy years, and provide a valuable record of the composing, research, teaching and life experiences of a noted University professor and internationally recognized composer of music. The Violet Archer fonds is unusually complete, with intact records that illustrate both professional and personal facets of her life. As noted in the introduction, the Archer records, except for her original compositions and scores, arrived at the University of Alberta Archives without much evidence of original order or organization. While her scores and musical compositions had been listed and numbered by James Whittle, Department of Music librarian at the University of Alberta, the remainder of her records was transferred in large boxes to the Archives from her home in Ottawa. Boxes were labeled as coming from her basement, piano bench, bookshelves, etc. but were pretty mixed in each box. A large volume of the textual records is comprised of correspondence, and while the correspondence tended to be boxed together, within any single box would be a range of letters spanning any number of years. Correspondence from the 1950's was interspersed with correspondence from the 1990's. Each letter appeared to be methodically opened with a letter opener, read, and returned to the envelope (even Christmas and birthday cards were returned to their envelopes). Other like records were often boxed together; teaching files in single boxes, and boxes containing books, others with sound recordings, etc., providing the only evidence of extant original order. The large volume of records received, however, essentially loose and unorganized, necessitated the imposing of order by the archivist. Two page series were determined, that of professional and personal papers, and several sub-series delineated within each of these two series. Series One Professional and Career-related papers, are the largest of the two series and are organized into several sub-series. The sub-series designations are based on the contents of the records, and often chronological in terms of order within each sub-series. Within Series One are student records (Archer as student); teaching records, chronicling her years on faculty at North Texas State College, the University of Oklahoma, and the University of Alberta; correspondence files; composing records; and reference records. The sub-series are substantial in size, and provide a wealth of information about Archer's professional life. Within the correspondence files, there is outgoing and incoming chronologically arranged correspondence, letters with identified individuals, reference letters, correspondence with associations and organizations, and publishing project and music dealer correspondence. The composition and composing sub-series of records is further organized into performing rights organization records, music publishers contracts and correspondence, conference and workshop records, performances, honors and awards, and original Archer compositions. The sub-series of reference material is also extensive, and includes listings of the imprint, books, music by other composers, and a collection of sound recordings maintained by Archer. Of especial significance, are the files of original Archer scores and compositions. A significant number of her compositions are represented in these holdings, and provide evidence about the steps and processes involved in creating a piece of music from manuscript beginnings to a final published piece of music. Series Two, Violet Archer's personal papers, while much smaller in extent than Series One, provide a fascinating glimpse of the person behind the public persona of professor and composer. Her personal correspondence files, particularly the incoming and outgoing correspondence with her younger sister Carolyn, document the emotions, struggles, triumphs and challenges she faces as a woman functioning in a very male-dominated field and time period. Carolyn is the one person that Violet freely confides in, and she shares thoughts, feelings, and philosophies with her sister that are only touched upon in the other records housed in the fonds. Rounding out the personal records in Series Two are other correspondence files, financial records, insurance records, artwork, and a large photographic sub-series. The Violet Archer fonds provides numerous research opportunities. Students of music history, composition, and theory will find the records valuable, as well as individuals interested in researching a woman's career path in pre-and post-second world war North American society. There are records related to the music scene in both the U.S. and Canada, letters exchanged with well-known musicians, colleagues, writers and students; and many documents associated with the music publishing industry. The growth of the University of Alberta's music department is documented in the records, as is the growth of Canadian music organizations. The completeness, extent, and condition of the Violet Archer fonds ensure its strong informational and evidential research value.

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RCRF Cold Room

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The records are open to research.

Terms governing use, reproduction, and publication

The University of Alberta Archives holds copyright on most materials in the Violet Archer fonds. Permission to reproduce, transmit, or distribute material from the Violet Archer fonds must be obtained from the University of Alberta Archives.

Some documents in the Violet Archer fonds are subject to third-party licensing and distribution agreements. Researchers obtaining access to Violet Archer material for reproduction purposes are responsible to secure any third-party licensing or distribution rights.

Finding aids

A detailed inventory is available.

Associated materials

Researchers may wish to consult the records from the Faculty of Fine Arts, Department of Music for the years Professor Archer was a faculty member (1962-1978).

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No further accruals expected.

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Finding aid written by Lynn McPherson and edited by Raymond Frogner. Encoded by Peter Wong on February 13, 2002. Revised on June 21, 2004.
Updated by M.Fraser on 13 July 2020; A.G.Hollow 17 Sep 2020.

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