LeVasseur, Nazaire

(Louis) Nazaire (Zéphirin) LeVasseur. Historian, organist, violinist, bassist, composer, b Quebec City 6 Feb 1848, d there 8 Nov 1927. At five he began to study music with Antoine Dessane. While completing his academic studies at the Séminaire de Québec and taking medical courses at Laval University, he took lessons in piano and organ and studied violin with Joseph Lyonnais. In 1867 LeVasseur was employed as a reporter for L'Événement, where he was 1872-8 chief editor. In 1869 he helped Dessane found the Société musicale Ste-Cécile, serving 1872 as assistant director and 1873-90 as director. In 1878 he conducted Félicien David's La Perle du Brésil. LeVasseur was a founder (1871) and the double-bass or second violin of the Septuor Haydn and served the group 1878-89 as secretary and 1890-1914 as president. He succeeded Dessane as organist 1872-81 of St-Roch Church and became director of the Quatuor vocal in 1893.

In 1880 LeVasseur served as secretary of the music committee which had been established by the St-Jean-Baptiste Association (later Society) to commission a national anthem. He recounted the origin of 'O Canada' in an article, 'La genèse de l'hymne national 'Ô Canada!'' (Montreal La Presse, 11 Dec 1920), the essence of which was reproduced in Vie Musicale (no. 3, 1966).

LeVasseur was an adjutant captain in the 9th Infantry Regiment (Quebec Rifles) and participated in the campaign to put down the North-West rebellion in 1885, rising to the rank of major on his return to Quebec City. He played double-bass for the Société symphonique de Québec (Quebec Symphony Orchestra, founded in 1903), and served the orchestra as its first vice-president. He left several works, including the songs 'Aurora Snow Shoe Club' (Quebec City 1884), 'Le Jour de l'An à la campagne' (CMH, vol 7) and 'On me disait' (Demers & Frère, Quebec City 1887); other songs; a romance for string quintet; and a military march.

LeVasseur wrote a series of historical and geographical articles published 1884-1913 in the Bulletin de la Société de géographie de Québec. His name is remembered chiefly, however, for a series of chronicles and reminiscences published 1919-22 in La Musique under the title 'Musique et musiciens à Québec: souvenirs d'un amateur' and in the volume Réminiscences d'antan (Quebec City 1926). In his writings, anecdotal flavour sometimes prevails over historical accuracy, but they remain important sources of information about musical life in Quebec in the 19th century.

At LeVasseur's death, La Presse wrote: 'With him disappears one of Quebec's most colourful characters, and one of her best artists, a lively and talented writer who for fifty years was involved in the political, social and artistic life of Champlain's city'.

See also Musicology