Composed in 1963, it is a collection of eight compositions that moves its listeners across the Canadian landscape on a conceptual railway journey, starting in the Maritimes (Ballad to the East), sweeping through the Laurentian Mountains (Laurentide Waltz) to Montreal (Place St. Henri), Toronto, (Hogtown Blues) Manitoba (Wheatland), Saskatchewan (Blues of the Prairies) Calgary (March Past) and ending in British Columbia (Land of the Misty Giants).
The composition artfully captures the vastness and diversity of the Canadian landscape through a thoughtful blending of blues and swing, altering rhythm and mood as the mythical railway travels across the nation.
Peterson was moved to create this enormous masterpiece to express his deep affection for his native land. As he himself once stated, “My profession has taken me to every part of the world, none of them more beautiful than where I live. As a musician, I respond to the harmony and rhythm of life, and when I’m deeply moved it leaves something singing inside me. With a country as large and as full of contrast as Canada, I had a lot of themes to choose from when I wrote the Canadiana Suite. This is my musical portrait of the Canada I love.”
Canadiana Suite was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1965 for best jazz composition. In 1979, CBC created a television special designed and directed by Durnford King, who set Peterson’s expressive music against the beautiful backdrop of our country’s natural landscape.
Various jazz musicians have executed pieces from Canadiana Suite, which runs a total of 35:10. American jazz musician Ellis Marsalis perfected Wheatland for his Canadian Tour in the late ‘90s. In 2007, Peterson was honoured with a tribute concert at Carnegie Hall, where he had dazzled audiences for the first time so many years before. The show featured two movements from Canadiana Suite. Eldar, who noted Peterson as an inspiration while growing up in Kyrgyzstan, played a fiery rendition of Place St. Henri, while Renee Rosnes gave a beautiful delivery of Ballad to the East.