Jean Girard

Jean Girard. Organist, serpent player, schoolmaster (b Bourges, France, 8 Aug 1696, d Montreal 23 Feb 1765). The son of a master baker, he was admitted 5 May 1704 to the choir school of Bourges' Sainte-Chapelle, where for eight years he received a thorough training as a church musician.

Girard, Jean

Jean Girard. Organist, serpent player, schoolmaster (b Bourges, France, 8 Aug 1696, d Montreal 23 Feb 1765). The son of a master baker, he was admitted 5 May 1704 to the choir school of Bourges' Sainte-Chapelle, where for eight years he received a thorough training as a church musician. In 1712 he was given a serpent, a wind instrument of the cornetto family that supported the singers. A tonsured cleric in 1710, he entered the Sulpician Seminary in 1720, in Bourges or in Paris, but was never ordained a priest.

In 1724, Girard was singing master at the Paris Seminary; he then asked for a special permission, 'to be allowed to have a spinet in his room to practise... to be ready to play [the organ] in Montreal where he proposed to go' (Registre des Assemblées des consulteurs II, 2 Jan 1724, Sulpician Archives, Paris). In July of the same year he sailed from Rochefort on the boat Le Chameau, taking with him Guillaume-Gabriel Nivers' Premier Livre d'orgue and Traité de la Composition de musique, and also a 540-page manuscript book of organ pieces by Nicolas Lebègue and anonymous composers, designated as the Livre d'orgue de Montréal since its discovery in 1978 by Élisabeth Gallat-Morin.

For the rest of his life, he taught various subjects 'with zeal and success,' no doubt including music and more specifically plainchant, at the boys' primary school run by the Sulpicians in Montreal (Catalogue de tous les prêtres et ecclésiastiques venus de France au Canada depuis 1657 jusques en 1754, Sulpician Archives, Montreal). For 40 years, he played the seven-stop organ (a gift of the Sulpicians) at Notre-Dame Church, although it is known that others performed this function until 1734, and in 1739 and 1741. Gauthier has also described him as the 'moderator of singing'. There was no lack of occasions on which Girard could put to use his musical talents: mass, vespers and benediction every Sunday, in addition to processions, jubilees, and the Te Deum. Indeed the numerous religious feasts were the highlights of the life of the small Montreal community.

Due to his fine handwriting, Girard served as secretary for his superior, who was also vicar-general of the Bishop of Quebec. Several extant documents written in his hand describe events in which he participated. In addition, a number of plainchant manuscripts - an 80-page hymnbook (Sulpician Archives, Montreal), the Mass for the Feast of the Visitation and hymns copied out for the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre-Dame, and also some 40 pages of French canticles (ANQ, Montreal) - bear witness to this activity. However, apart from his signature, there is no example of his handwriting in the Livre d'orgue de Montréal. Three months before his death, his signature appears, now shrivelled and uncertain, on the act of foundation of the Compagnie de Saint-Sulpice de Montréal, which detached itself from the Paris community.

His thorough training as a church musician, the liturgical functions that placed him at the core of the budding cultural life of the small community, his teaching of plainchant to children, his position as organist at the parish church for many years, which allowed him to play, probably for the first time in Montreal, the music of Nivers and Lebègue, all these activities confirm Girard's position as one of Montreal's first professional musicians.


Further Reading

  • Lapalice, Ovide. 'Les Organistes et maîtres de musique à Notre-Dame de Montréal,' BRH, vol 25, Aug 1919

    Gauthier, Henri. Sulpitiana (Montreal 1926)

    Gallat-Morin, Élisabeth. 'Jean Girard: premier musicien professionnel de Montréal?' Cahiers de l'ARMuQ, 3, Jun 1984

    - Un manuscrit de musique française classique - étude critique et historique - Le Livre d'orgue de Montréal (Montreal, Paris 1988).

    Gallat-Morin, Elisabeth. Jean Girard, Musicien en Nouvelle-France: Bourges 1696-Montreal 1765 (Quebec 1993)