François Morel

François (d'Assise) Morel, composer, pianist, conductor (born 14 March 1926 in Montréal; died 14 January 2018), lauréat piano (AMQ) 1947, piano-teaching diploma (AMQ) 1950, deuxième prix piano (CMM) 1951, premier prix fugue (CMM) 1953.

François (d'Assise) Morel, composer, pianist, conductor (born 14 March 1926 in Montréal; died 14 January 2018), lauréat piano (AMQ) 1947, piano-teaching diploma (AMQ) 1950, deuxième prix piano (CMM) 1951, premier prix fugue (CMM) 1953. François Morel took private piano lessons 1935-43 before studying 1944-53 at the Conservatoire de musique du Québec à Montréal (CMM). One of the first Quebec musicians to be educated exclusively at the CMM, he studied with Claude Champagne (composition); Jean Papineau-Couture (acoustics); Isabelle Delorme (harmony, counterpoint, fugue); and Arthur Letondal, Germaine Malépart, and Edmond Trudel (piano). It was there that his friend Gérald Gagnier taught him the elements of orchestral conducting.

Although Esquisse was Morel's first important work, it was Antiphonie, premiered 16 Oct 1953 under the direction of Leopold Stokowski at a concert of Canadian music at Carnegie Hall, that marked the start of his career as a composer. The previous year he had won a second prize for composition with String Quartet No. 1 on the occasion of the centenary of Laval University. In 1954-5 Morel joined forces with Serge Garant and Gilles Tremblay to promote European and Canadian contemporary music; at the CMM they presented two concerts that provoked sharp reactions. In them Morel himself gave the Canadian premieres of Messiaen's piano pieces Île de feu II and Neumes rythmiques. In 1956 the group reorganized and adopted the name 'Musique de notre temps.' Morel now was associated with Garant, Otto Joachim, and Jeanne Landry.

Morel's Compositions

François Morel worked 1956-ca 1979 for CBC radio as composer of background music, music consultant, and researcher and 1964-6 as host for the radio program 'Festivals.' He also wrote a station-break theme introduced by CBC radio in 1974 and composed the music for several TV plays ('L'Heureux Stratagème' by Marivaux, 'The Andersonville Trial' by Saul Levitt, and 'Piège pour un homme seul' by Robert Thomas) and dramatic series ('Quelle Famille' and 'Grand-papa'). Several of his works - Spirale, String Quartet No. 2, Prismes-Anamorphoses, Trajectoire, and Radiance - were written in response to CBC commissions.

Significant Premieres 1960-88
In 1960 the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Igor Markevitch, premiered Boréal, which had been commissioned by the orchestra's Young People's Committee. The work also was performed by the Toronto Symphony in 1978 on its tour of Japan and China, and again in 1997. As in Rituel de l'espace and Nuvattuq, the language of Boréal reveals the influence of Morel's meeting with Varèse during the summer of 1958. In 1962 the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, under Thomas Schippers, premiered L'Étoile noire, a work inspired by the Quebec artist Paul-Émile Bourduas's painting of the same name. In 1976 the orchestra, conducted by Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, premiered Jeux, commissioned for the inauguration of the 78th session of the International Olympic Committee prior to the opening of the Olympics. Morel's Melisma (1980) for piano and orchestra was commissioned by the 14th Montreal International Music Competition. Aux couleurs du ciel (1985-7), inspired by Poussières d'étoiles (Paris 1984), a book by the astrophysicist Hubert Reeves, was commissioned and premiered in 1988 by the Montreal Symphony under Charles Dutoit.

François Morel's Later Works
Later works of Morel reveal a heightened interest in brass and wind writing in works such as Lumières sculptées: Litanies de la reconciliation (1992) for brass septet and percussion, inspired by England's Coventry Cathedral and commissioned by the Société de musique contemporaine du Québec; Les éphémères (1995) for horn quartet and tuba; Strophes, sequences, mouvements (1999) for 12 saxophones, premiered at the Lanaudière Festival under Jean-Marie Londeix 9 Jul 2000; and Calligraphies sonores (2002) for winds, brass, piano, harp, and percussion. Morel nevertheless continued composing in other media, writing orchestral works such as Et le crepuscule... se trouva libre (1996); Les récifs du rêve (2000), a concerto for two pianos (left hand) and orchestra; and Rupture (2001). His later chamber music includes Stèle (1991) for solo clarinet, Ekleipsis (1993) for solo marimba, and Miroir (2001) for solo bassoon. On 18 Jan 2006, Morel's Passage à l'aube (2005) was premiered by the Montreal Symphony under Jacques Lacombe in a concert celebrating the composer's 80th birthday.

Characteristics of François Morel's Work

Reflected throughout Morel's work is a concern for rhythmic drive and a search for a richer sound palette. This is particularly evident in Rythmologue and Deux Études de sonorité. The Études are in the repertoires of many Canadian pianists including André Laplante, Arthur Ozolins, Claude Savard, André-Sébastien Savoie, and William Stevens. Commenting on his process, Morel said that his "approach to composing a work depends upon the instrumentation for which it is destined, because... the musical interest resides in the idiomatic writing for the instruments used" (Canadian Music Centre site). The composer himself divided his output into three broad categories: 'After a period in which my writing was totally preoccupied with modes (Antiphonie), I became attracted to total chromaticism, although not elevating it to a system (Rituel de l'espace). Finally, I grasped the importance of a coherent system such as the one suggested by Arnold Schoenberg and his school, but I must add, immediately, that I used the twelve-tone ''series'' with extreme discretion and caution' (Variations, Sep-Oct 1978). The third approach is found in L'Étoile noire, Radiance, and IIKKII (Froidure).

In the preface to the Canadian Music Centre publication Compositeurs au Québec: François Morel (1974), Lyse Richer gave a succinct analysis of Morel's development: 'Educated according to French traditions, François Morel underwent a slow interior evolution, each step marked by a sign of exorcism. From an analysis of the form and structure of works by Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, Messiaen, and others, his language followed the direction traced by Bartók, finally to embrace decisively the spatial territory associated with Varèse. To accomplish this, winds and percussion were given preferential treatment; a few attempts at electronic music were rejected because of the likelihood of writing a work fixed in time and unable to evolve. A quality of vitality, always so essential for a musical work, has penetrated Morel's thought - and led him to revise, reconstruct, and even rethink certain works which bore evidence of a period that had passed. This compulsion might be interpreted as a need to follow fashion, to identify with the avant garde among Quebec's various musical movements. François Morel vigorously denies this. He remains a composer who uses rich colours and dazzling sonorities. He is also a man whose free and spontaneous sense of wonder gives way readily to the satisfaction afforded by a well-written work which sounds well.'

Teaching Positions

François Morel taught analysis and composition 1959-61 at the Institut Nazareth and served 1972-8 as a director of the Académie de musique de Québec. He returned to teaching in 1976 at the Bourgchemin Cegep in Drummondville. In 1979-80 he taught orchestration and composition at the University of Montreal; he taught at Laval University 1979-97 and directed the contemporary music ensemble as well as the Ensemble contemporain bois, cuivres et percussion.

Honours and Memberships

Morel joined the Canadian League of Composers during its first year of existence (1951). He is an associate of the Canadian Music Centre. Volume 6 of RCI's Anthology of Canadian Music (5-ACM 6), issued in 1980, was devoted to Morel's compositions. In 1994 he was honoured as a Chevalier de l'Ordre national du Québec, and in 1996 by the Prix Denise-Pelletier.

Selected Compositions

Orchestra or Band
Esquisse. 1947. Med orch. BMIC 1964. RCI 129 (TS)/CBC SM-332/5-ACM 6 (NACO)

Antiphonie. 1953. Full orch. BMIC 1960. RCI 180/5-ACM 6 (CBC Symphony Orchestra)/RCI 644 (NYO)/(1966) Louisville LS-661 (Louisville O, R. Whitney conductor)

Boréal. 1959. Full orch. Berandol 1976

Rituel de l'espace. 1959. Full orch. Ms. RCI 213/RCA CCS-1007/5-ACM 6 (R. Leduc)

L'Étoile noire (Tombeau de Borduas). 1962. Full orch. BMIC 1964. 2-Col M2S-756/Odyssey Y-31993/Col MS-6962/CBS Master 32110038 (TS)

Prismes-Anamorphoses. 1967. Orch. Québec-Musique 1981. RCI 292/5-ACM 6 (Deslauriers)

Radiance. 1972. Sm orch. Ric 1974. RCI 367/5-ACM 6 (SMCQ)

Melisma. 1980. Pf, orch. Ms

Aux marges du silence. 1982. Band. Ms. (1985). SNE 508 (Laval University band, Bircher conductor)

Aux couleurs du ciel. 1985-7. Band. Ms

De subitement lointain. 1989. Band. Ms. SNE 561 (see Discography)

Et le crépuscule... se trouva libre. Orchestra. 1996. Ms

Les récifs du rêve. Two pianos (left hand), and orchestra. 2000. Doberman

Passage à l'aube. Orchestra. 2005. Doberman


'La conscience du son et de l'espace,' Liberté 59, vol 1, Sep-Oct 1959

'Faire sonner la musique,' 'Quintette pour cuivres,' Musiques du Kébèk, Raoul Duguay ed (Montreal 1971)

'Boréal (1959),' Variations, vol 1, Feb 1978

'L'Étoile noire (1961),' ibid, vol 2, Sep-Oct 1978

'Serge Garant, structuralist and lyrical musician,' ibid, Dec-Jan 1978-9


Dyptique (originally Suite for small orch). 1948 (rev 1956). 23 instr. Ms. (1948 version) RCI 7 (J.-M. Beaudet)

2 String Quartets. 1952; 1963. Ms (No. 1), Berandol 1982 (No. 2)

Cassation. 1954. Ww septet. Ms. RCI 128/5-ACM 6 (R. Leduc)

Symphonies. 1956. Brass ensemble, percussion. Ms. SNE 521 (see Discography)

Rythmologue. 1957 (rev 1970). 6 or 8 percussion. Ms. RCI 298 (see Discography)/McGill University Records 77003/5-ACM 6 (Béluse)

Quintet. 1962. Brass. Québec-Musique 1989. CBC SM-216/5-ACM 6 (Canadian Brass)

Étude en forme de toccate. 1965. 2 percussion. BMIC 1968

Nuvattuq. 1967. Fl. Kerby 1975. (1976) RCI 409/(1980) 5-ACM 6 (J.C. Morin)

Départs. 1969. 2 percussion, guitar, harp, 14 string. Ms. RCI 367/5-ACM 6 (SMCQ)

IIKKII (Froidure). 1971. 18 instr. Ric 1974. RCI 367/5-ACM 6 (SMCQ)

Me Duele España. 1975 (rev 1977). Guit. Québec-Musique 1980. RCI 457/5-ACM 6 (Laucke)

Duolet I and II. 1982, 1988. 2 fl. Doberman-Yppan 1988. 1990. SNE 561 (Breton, Lemay)

L'Oiseau-Demain. 1982. 12 fl, 2 clarinet, 3 percussion. Ms. SNE 508 (see Discography)

Divergences. 1983. Vn, guitar. Ms. RCI 583 (Laucke)

Talea (Couleur). 1984. Fl (alto fl, piccolo), oboe (english horn), clarinet (bass clarinet). Ms

Aerea. 1986. Brass ensemble. Ms. SNE 521 (see Discography)

Fulgurance I. 1986. Fl, horn, violoncello, piano (celesta), harp, 2 percussion. Ms.

Lyre de crystal. 1986. 6 percussion. Ms. RCI 652 (Béluse)

Les Voix de l'ombre. 1987. Brass ensemble. Ms. SNE 521 (see Discography)

Figures-Segments-Ellipses. 1990. 2 clarinet, string quartet. Ms

Fulgurance II. 1990. Alto fl, oboe d'amore (english horn), clarinet, horn, violin, viola, violoncello, piano (celesta), harp, 2 percussion. Ms.

Paysage dépaysé. 1990. 2 violin, viola, 2 violoncello. Ms

Distance intime. 1991. Fl, piano. Ms

Stèle. 1991. Cl. Ms

Stèle. Solo clarinet. 1991. Doberman

Distance intime. Flute and piano. 1991. Doberman

Lumières sculptées: Litanies de la reconciliation. 2 trumpets, 2 horns, 2 trombones, tuba, 3 percussionists. 1992. Ms

Ekleipsis. Marimba solo. 1993. Doberman

Les éphémères. Four horns and tuba. 1995. Doberman

Strophes, sequences, mouvements. 12 saxophones. 1999. Doberman

Miroir. Solo bassoon. 2001. Doberman

Calligraphies sonores. Woodwinds, brass, piano, harp, and percussion. 2002. Ms

Imaginaire: 3 pièces pour guitare. Solo guitar. 2002. Doberman


Ronde enfantine. 1949. Pf. BMIC 1953. RCI 135 (J. Dufresne)

Deux Études de sonorité. 1954. Pf. BMIC 1966. RCI 251/5-ACM 6 (A.-S. Savoie)/CBC SM-182 (Savard)/(No. 2) Laurentian CTM-6036 (Stevens)

Prière. 1954. Org. BMIC 1965. CBC SM-5024 (M. Lagacé)

Alleluia. 1964-8. Org. Ms. 5-ACM 6 (B. Lagacé)

Other works for orch and for instr ensemble; 2 works in manuscript for voice and piano: Quatre Chants japonais (1949), and Les Rivages perdus (1956), the last recorded on RCI 201/5-ACM 6 (Jeannotte)

Further Reading

  • Lagacé, Bernard. 'François Morel, musicien canadien,' Liberté, vol 2, Jan-Feb 1960

    'François Morel,' interview with Jacques Thériault, Music Scene, 256, Nov-Dec 1970

    Canadian Music Centre Compositeurs au Québec: François Morel (Montreal 1974)

    Cadrin, Paul. 'Aux couleurs de François Morel,' Sonances, vol 8, Summer 1989

    MacMillan, Keith and Beckwith, John, eds. Contemporary Canadian Composers (Toronto 1975)

    Vinton, John, ed. Dictionary of Contemporary Music (New York 1974)Cadrin, Paul. "François Morel: A composer in action," SoundNotes, Fall/Winter 1993

    "Retraité en action" (interview), FAMEQ à la une, mars 1998

    Olivier, Dominique. "Pas de retraite pour François Morel," Paroles & musique, juillet/août 2000

    Richer, Lyse and Lefebvre, Marie-Thérèse. "Morel, François." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Accessed 22 Aug 2008