John Kraglund, who died last week, served as the music critic of The Globe and Mail from 1952 to 1987, longer than any music critic in this newspaper’s history. As noted in the Canadian Encyclopedia, his drily sardonic reviews with their trademark “measured enthusiasm” were written under the daily deadline pressure of those days that often saw him having to produce a literate assessment in under an hour.
Although never needlessly cruel, he had no problem with an acerbic verdict and this sometimes led to the charges from some in the musical establishment that he, and by extension The Globe and Mail, were “killing” serious music in Canada and Toronto. Then, as sometimes is the case now, there was pressure for uncritical criticism, for streams of rapturous praise to be directed at even emetic performances in the belief that falsely fawning reviews would encourage something other than a culture of mediocrity. Curious, then, that the greatest period of musical expansion, the phenomenal growth in audiences for serious music, and the rise to international excellence occurred in Canada and Toronto over the same period.
It is also worth remembering that he was absolutely faithful to small local groups and understood the connection between these efforts and the support they gave to larger and often more professional ensembles. His passing reminds us of a period of artistic expansion in Canada and any student of musical history who chooses to understand the era will have to consult the necessarily hurried but musically faithful accounts of this decent and conscientious critic.