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The Great Fire


Perhaps the most amazing thing about the terrible fire that ripped through downtown Toronto on April 19th, 1904 is that no one was actually injured in the blaze. The fact that it started in the evening in a commercial area of town perhaps helped, but considering the vast amount of destruction it’s amazing that no lives were lost. It shouldn’t be overlooked, however, that one man was lost during the cleanup efforts in the days following the fire: John Croft had an untimely dynamite malfunction during the demolition of a burned-out building.


Now referred to as “The Great Fire”, this blaze changed the face of Toronto forever as most of the downtown core had to be rebuilt. The fire got me thinking about the transformative power of destruction and how that process is often mirrored in nature. The idea of a cycle of creation towards an apex, followed by the intervention of some sort of destructive force, fascinates me. I decided, however, to take a fairly programmatic approach to the piece to best explore the arc of the whole event – from the hours before the fire right through to the aftermath.


I tried to set up distinct spaces for the listener to occupy. There’s the busy downtown streets with their particular 1904 flavor of hustle and bustle, then the ominous calm, snowy night when the blaze quietly started.  Then of course, the fire, which is admittedly very fun to imitate with music! I tried to create a powerful insistence to the fire, an inevitable forward motion that can’t be stopped until it reaches its natural conclusion. The piece gets pretty intense at the peak of the blaze, but I think the rhythmic aspects of the writing make it a fun listen as well.  I wrapped up with a section to represent the morning after the disaster, which although reflective should hopefully also hint at renewal: the inevitability of the cycle of creation and destruction in the natural world.


I’m a bit of a sucker for programmatic music. It’s fun to try to relate abstract musical building blocks to literal aspects of the material world. Writing this way can also be very difficult, and I think that there’s a risk of being trivial. I think it’s important to let the music follow its own direction when it needs to–one shouldn’t be too rigid about sticking to a story.


The great thing is, the music is always a story unto itself – so come for the music and stay for the story!  You can tell us whether or not we captured these places, people and events of Toronto in a way that was meaningful for you.


I’m very much looking forward to playing all of this brand new music for you at our concert this Friday, April 5th at the Al Green Theatre.


- Ben Dietschi

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