Denis Gougeon, composer, teacher (born 16 November 1951 in Granby, QC). One of Canada’s most prolific, versatile and important composers, Denis Gougeon has composed over 100 works, including music for solo instruments, voice, chamber groups, orchestra, theatre, ballet and opera. The Canadian Music Centre, of which he is an associate, has described his music as “at once accessible, dynamic, forceful and highly melodic.” He has received numerous awards and honours, including a Juno Award and four SOCAN awards.
Education and Early Career
Gougeon taught himself music theory and guitar (with the Carcassi method) at age 15. After completing one year at the CEGEP de Sherbrooke, he transferred to the École Vincent-d'Indy where he obtained a diploma in guitar and a bachelor’s degree in musicology. He took private composition courses with André Prévost and also studied under him at the Université de Montréal, where he earned a Bachelor of Music in 1978 and a master’s degree in composition under Serge Garant in 1980.
Gougeon has received numerous commissions from various ensembles, soloists and institutions throughout Canada and abroad. He wrote Dialogues (1981) for the percussionist Marie-Josée Simard, Ludus (1980) for the ensemble Répercussion, Argile (1983) for the Vancouver New Music Society (VNM) and Éternité (1985) for his wife, the soprano Marie-Danielle Parent and the Orchestre métropolitain. He composed Heureux qui, comme... (1987) for the Société de Musique Contemporaine du Québec (SMCQ) and Jardin secret (1989) for the Montréal Symphony Orchestra (MSO).
As a member of the Groupe des sisses with Walter Boudreau, Michel-Georges Brégent, Michel Gonneville, Alain Lalonde and John Rea, Gougeon participated in collective works such as La Folia (1984) and Musique des jardins sans complexe (1987). The latter was used as the basis for Rhombus Media’s short film Fanfares (1994), which provides a portrait of these composers.
Gougeon’s chamber opera, An Expensive Embarrassment, was commissioned and premiered by the Canadian Opera Company in 1989. In 1999 his ballet, Emma B., was premiered by the Munich Opera and the Bayerisches Staatsballett of Munich; and the following year, another dance work entitled Liaisons dangereuses was premiered in Oslo by the Norwegian National Ballet. Quelqu'un va venir was commissioned for the National Arts Centre in Ottawa (2002), Alice au pays des merveilles for l'Arsenal à musique (2002) and ARTE! for the 100th birthday of the Québec Symphony Orchestra (2003). Both Clere Vénus (featured on a 2003 Radio-Canada album of Gougeon's music) and the opera Hermione et le temps were commissioned for the 60th birthday of the Conservatoire de Musique et d'art dramatique du Québec in 2003.
Mutation was commissioned by the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne (NEM) in 2010 and Ah quelle beauté!, for string quartet and actor, was commissioned by the Molinari Quartet in 2011. Gougeon’s Coups d’archet, written for the 15th anniversary of I Musici de Montréal in 1998, was so successful that the ensemble commissioned him to compose another work to mark its 30th anniversary in 2013. Toronto’s Esprit Orchestra also celebrated its 30th anniversary that year and commissioned Gougeon’s TUTTI! in commemoration.
Style and Approach
Gougeon describes himself as an “intuitive” composer who wishes to touch the listener emotionally. He has acknowledged the influence of Claude Vivier and of 20th-century French instrumental composers. He is particularly fond of writing works specifically for individual performers whom he considers “marvellous ambassadors” of music.
“There is a personal stamp in what I do,” Gougeon has said, “but it is up to musicologists to define it… I try to infuse a quality in my music that keeps it from revealing all its secrets at once. I work hard to make my works seem simple while providing performers with material that excites them. That is where the joy lies for me, in that special relationship with the performers… or in the eyes of my composition students when something works! That, to me, is at the heart of it all.”
Gougeon was a director of the avant-garde concert society Événements du neuf (1982–90), a guest professor of composition at McGill University (1986–87) and a lecturer at the Université de Montréal (1985–88). He served as a columnist on the Radio-Canada program Musiques actuelles (1984–85), and became the first composer in residence for the Montréal Symphony Orchestra (MSO) in 1989, a post he held until 1992. He is also a member of the Canadian League of Composers and an associate of the Canadian Music Centre.
In 2001, he returned to teaching at the Université de Montréal. His pupils have included Analia Llugdar, Mathieu Lavoie, Simon Bertrand, Pierre Michaud, André Cayer and Ashot Ariyan.
Gougeon has won a Juno Award, two Opus Prizes from the Conseil québécois de la musique, first place at the Shanghai International Composition Competition and four Jan V. Matejcek Concert Music Awards from SOCANfor being the Canadian composer most often played in concert or on the radio. Upon accepting the award in 2002, Gougeon publicly asked the CBC “not to let us down” and “to increase its investment in Québec-produced concert music.”
Le piano muet, a collaborative recording featuring a children’s story by Gilles Vigneault and music by Gougeon (released on the Atma/Fides label in 2002), received a Coup de Coeur from the Académie Charles-Cros in 2003. The piece has since been performed throughout Québec. Gougeon was the focus of the SMCQ’s Homage Series in 2013–14.
A version of this entry originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada.
Canada Music Citation, Canadian League of Composers (1977)
Second Prize, Choral Category (Berceuse), CBC National Competition for Young Composers (1980)
St. Clair Low Fellowship, CAPAC (1981)
Opus Prize, Composer of the Year, Conseil québécois de la musique (2000)
Jan V. Matejcek Concert Music Award, SOCAN (2001, 2002, 2003, 2007)
Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal, Governor General of Canada (2002)
Coup de Coeur (Le piano muet), Académie Charles-Cros (2003)
Classical Composition of the Year (Clere Vénus), Juno Awards (2007)
First Prize, Toy (Music Box), Shanghai International Composition Competition (2010)
Opus Prize, Composition of the Year (Mutation), Conseil québécoise de la musique (2012)