Barbara Lally Pentland was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1912. She began to study piano at age nine. Three years later she expressed a desire to become a professional composer, even though only a handful of composers were writing in Canada at that time and none of them were women.
Her parents hoped that she would focus on performance rather than composition, which they considered to be an inappropriate career choice for a woman.
Pentland was accepted at the Juilliard Graduate School in New York City in 1936 on full fellowship. She was exposed to many styles of music during her time in New York City.
In the early 1940s, Pentland taught theory and composition at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto and attended the Tanglewood Music Center where she studied with Aaron Copland and Paul Hindemith. In 1949 Pentland became a faculty member in the music department at the University of British Columbia.
The famed Canadian pianist Glenn Gould recorded her work Ombres (1964) — yet it was omitted from the album when it was released. The recording finally appeared on Sony’s re-release of the album 25 years later. The exclusion is symbolic of the composer’s ostracization that occurred throughout most of her career as she struggled to gain professional recognition. She found particular difficulty as a ‘woman’ composer writing contemporary music.
Toward the end of her career, Pentland finally received recognition and significant accolades. She became first composer to receive the Order of British Columbia, she was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada, became an Honorary Member of the Canadian Music Centre, and received honorary Doctorates from Winnipeg’s University of Manitoba, and Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University. In celebration of her 75th birthday the city of Vancouver announced “Barbara Pentland Day”.
© 2015-2018 Dr. Réa Beaumont