Joseph Vézina

(François) Joseph Vézina. Bandmaster, organist, choirmaster, teacher, composer, music dealer, publisher, b Quebec City 11 Jun 1849, d there 5 Oct 1924; honorary D MUS (Laval) 1922. He was educated at the École St-Jean-Baptiste and the Séminaire de Québec.

Vézina, Joseph

(François) Joseph Vézina. Bandmaster, organist, choirmaster, teacher, composer, music dealer, publisher, b Quebec City 11 Jun 1849, d there 5 Oct 1924; honorary D MUS (Laval) 1922. He was educated at the École St-Jean-Baptiste and the Séminaire de Québec. Except for instrumental lessons with his father, François, and six months of studies in harmony with Calixa Lavallée, he was self-taught in music. Owing to a remarkable memory and a capacity for hard work, however, he succeeded in playing and teaching most of the wind instruments and established himself as the leading conductor of musical ensembles in Quebec City and the surrounding area. He enrolled at the Quebec Military College in 1866, began to play the baritone in the band of the 9th Battalion of the Quebec Rifles in 1867, and conducted the band 1869-79. From 1879 to 1880 and from 1886 to 1919 he directed the band of the 'B' Battery of the Royal Canadian Artillery, which in the intervening years was replaced by the 'A' Battery, which he also conducted from 1881 to 1886.

In 1876 Vézina founded the Beauport Concert Band, which made its debut the following December in Quebec City at a concert organized by Célestin Lavigueur. At a competition for concert bands in 1877 the ensemble received a mention, and the Montmorency Concert Band, which Vézina also conducted, tied for first prize with the band of the 9th Battalion. The Beauport band placed first in 1878 in a national competition held in Montreal. Vézina also served 1879-1924 as director of the concert band of the Séminaire de Québec.

For special occasions Vézina added choirs, solo singers, and extra instrumentalists, both Canadian and foreign, to his bands. He conducted 100 band musicians from Quebec City, Beauport, and Fall River, Mass, at the historic performance 24 Jun 1880 of 'O Canada', which he added as a finale to his Mosaïque sur des airs populaires canadiens. Emma Albani sang under his baton in 1896. When the Duke of York visited Quebec City in 1901, Vézina conducted 250 musicians and 1000 choristers. In 1902, for the 50th anniversary of Laval University, he conducted a 300-voice choir in two performances of the oratorio Le Paradis perdu by Théodore Dubois. His success encouraged J.-Alexandre Gilbert and Arthur Lavigne to assemble about 30 of these musicians in 1903 to form the Société symphonique de Québec (Quebec Symphony Orchestra), of which Vézina was the conductor until his death and president 1910-11. The orchestra won the Earl Grey Trophy in Ottawa in 1907.

In 1908 Vézina organized the musical events for Quebec City's tricentennial celebrations. He served 1911-24 as conductor of the concert band of the cadets of the École St-Jean-Baptiste, and in 1916 he founded the Vézina brass band, which gave summer concerts on the terrace of the Château Frontenac.

For these ensembles, Vézina composed numerous marches and light concert pieces. His earliest known composition is a valse de concert, The Canadian Rifles Waltzes. He also wrote for orchestra, voice, and piano. His three operettas, Le Lauréat, Le Rajah, and Le Fétiche, were premiered by the Société symphonique de Québec with soloists and a choir from Laval University. Several of Vézina's tunes were used by Godfrey Ridout in his orchestral suite Frivolités canadiennes, recorded by the CBC Vancouver Chamber Orchestra. Vézina published several of his works through his own publishing firm and ran a music store 1872-9, either alone or in partnership with Alfred Vézina.

Vézina was organist 1896-1912 at St-Patrice Church and choirmaster 1912-24 at the Quebec Basilica. He was president 1914-15 of the AMQ and in 1922 took part in the establishment of the School of Music of Laval University, where he taught harmony until 1924. He also taught 1879-1924 at the seminary, 1916-24 at the Académie commerciale, and 1917-24 at the Collège Jésus-Marie de Sillery.

A hard-working man of limitless patience and tenacity, Vézina was a leading light in the musical life of Quebec City between 1870 and 1925. A year before his death he conducted 350 choristers and 100 instrumentalists in Gounod's oratorio La Rédemption.

Some of Vézina's children have continued the family's musical tradition. Raoul (b Quebec City 1882, d there 1954) was the original principal bassoon with the Société symphonique de Québec and served as president 1926-9. He was also a cornetist and taught winds at Laval University and the Séminaire de Québec. His brothers Jules and Arthur were respectively violinist and bassoonist and were also members of the Société symphonique de Québec. A great granddaughter, Raven Kane, has made a career in the USA as a composer of popular music for large productions.

The Séminaire de Québec has a Joseph Vézina collection, as has the CMQ, which also holds material pertaining to Raoul and his grandson Roger. Other documents are also deposited at the ANQ in Quebec City and in Montreal.

Selected Compositions

Stage
Le Lauréat, opéra comique (F.-G. Marchand). 1906. Ms, CMH, vol 10 (excerpts)

Le Rajah, opéra bouffe (B. Michaud). 1910. H. Chassé 1910 (libretto only), CMH, vol 10 (excerpts)

Le Fétiche, opéra comique (A. Villandray [A. Plante], L. Fleur [A. Langlais]). 1912. Ms, Quebec City L'Événement 1912 (libretto only)

La Grosse Gerbe, opera comique. Ms (incomplete)

Orchestra or Band

The Canadian Rifles Waltzes. 1870. band (piano). Morgan 1870? (piano)

Pot-pourri sur des mélodies canadiennes. 1877. Band. Ms. Edison 689,2290 (Edison Concert Band)

La Canadienne. 1878. Band (piano). Ms

Le Voltigeur de Québec. 1879. Band. Ms

Mosaïque sur des airs populaires canadiens. 1880. Orch (band or piano). R. Vézina 1926 or 1927 (piano)

Estrella Valse. 1881. Orch (fl, strings or piano). A. Lavigne (piano)

Le Galant artilleur, overture. 1882. Band. Ms

Souffle parfumé. 1882. Orch (band or piano). Lavigne & Lajoie 1887 (piano). RCI 233/Cap ST-6261/4-RCI 513 (CBC Winnipeg Orchestra)

Ton sourire. 1882. Orch (band). CMH vol 8

Fantaisie caractéristique. 1883. Band. Ms

Grande Valse de concert. 1883. Band, solo cornet. Ms

La Brise 'The Quebec Yacht Club Waltz.' 1886. Orch (band). A. Lavigne

Hymne à l'Union commerciale (P. Lemay). 1887. Chor, band (organ). Ms

Le Jubilé de la Reine. 1887. Orch (band or piano). A. Lavigne (piano)

De Calgary à MacLeod. 1889. Band (piano). A. Lavigne (piano)

Le Lys blanc. 1889. Orch (band or piano). Ms

Conversazione. 1891. Orch (band or piano). A. Lavigne (piano)

Vive Champlain. 1898. Band (piano). Ms

Souvenir d'amour. 1901. Orch. Ms

Friskarina, overture. 1905. Band. Samuels

Several other works and arr for band including Frontenac (1879), B.B. Battery Officers (1880), Royal Rifles March (1890), Carnaval de Québec (1894), 17th Regiment March (1895), Royal Grand March (1901), Chant triomphal (1923)

Several works for piano including Les Roses d'or (A. and J. Vézina 1876) and Cupid Polka (Lavigne 1884); a work for fl, L'Oiseau mouche (1885); works for voice or choir, including 'Je me souviens' (1898), 'En m'ouvrant ton coeur' (CMH, vol 7) and En avant (1914, Bélair 1915, P-T, Feb 1915, CMH, vol 7)


Further Reading

  • 'M. Joseph Vézina,' La Musique, vol 1, May 1919

    LeVasseur, Nazaire. 'Musique et musiciens à Québec,' ibid, vols 3, 4, 1921, 1922

    Du Berger, Jean. 'Le Lauréat,' Dictionnaire des oeuvres littéraires du Québec, vol 1, ed Maurice Lemire (Montreal 1978)

    Émond, Vivianne. '"Musique et musiciens à Québec : souvenirs d'un amateur'' de Nazaire LeVasseur (1848-1927): étude critique,' M MUS thesis, Laval University 1986