Léo-Pol Morin

Léo-Pol Morin. Pianist, music critic, teacher, composer (under the name James Callihou), b Cap St-Ignace, near Quebec City, 13 Jul 1892, d in an accident near Lac Marois, north of Montreal, 29 May 1941.

Morin, Léo-Pol

Léo-Pol Morin. Pianist, music critic, teacher, composer (under the name James Callihou), b Cap St-Ignace, near Quebec City, 13 Jul 1892, d in an accident near Lac Marois, north of Montreal, 29 May 1941. In Quebec City he studied with Gustave Gagnon (solfège, dictation, piano) and Henri Gagnon (piano, organ), making his debut in 1909 before the Club musical de Québec. In Montreal he studied piano with Arthur Letondal and harmony with Guillaume Couture, winning the Prix d'Europe in 1912.

He studied piano in Paris 1912-14 with Isidor Philipp, Raoul Pugno, and, on the latter's death, Ricardo Viñes, the pianist who premiered many works by Debussy and Ravel. He was present in 1913 at the premiere of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. He also studied harmony, counterpoint, and fugue with Jules Mouquet.

In Paris Morin gave his first recital (ca 1912) in the salon of Mme Charles de Pomairols, playing works of Franck and Ravel which, according to his friend the poet Marcel Dugas in the preface to Morin's Musique, 'he articulated with finesse, communicating all the music's melancholic tenderness. His playing had the fluidity of the play of light in crystal. Rarely has he performed so well.' Returning in 1914 from Europe because of the outbreak of World War I, Morin devoted himself to teaching and concerts. In 1918 he was one of the founders of an audacious arts periodical, Le Nigog.

Back in Paris after the war Morin participated 1919-25 in the city's musical life alongside Viñes, Ravel, and Alexis Roland-Manuel. In 1921 at Salle Pleyel he played Rodolphe Mathieu'sTrois Préludes, which were dedicated to him, and the first Paris performance of Alban Berg's Sonata Opus. 1, among other works. He performed also in England, Belgium, and Holland to raise funds for a monument to Debussy. He toured the same countries with Ravel in 1923. After a Paris recital, 15 Jan 1923 at the Salle Gaveau, in which Morin played music of Bartók, Debussy, Ravel, Roussel, Scriabin, and others, the critic Paul Le Flem (Comoedia, 18 Jan 1923) wrote: 'Much praise is due the initiative of this intelligent musician who in a single evening was able to present so effectively music of such diversity. Evincing the subtlest grasp of idiom this artist passed easily from one composer's music to another's, finding the appropriate expression and the right emphasis for each one's thought. He brought to bear brilliant technical accomplishment as well, yet only to demonstrate how a vibrant touch and a sure instinct for sonority could remain submissive to the control of the spirit of the music.'

Morin returned periodically to give concerts in Canada, but it was not until the autumn of 1925 that he settled again in Montreal. In 1926 he became secretary of the newly formed Montreal chapter of the Pro-Musica Society of New York, and through his concerts and writings he instigated various movements on behalf of the new French music, which he succeeded in imposing on Quebec, though not always without challenge from his peers. In 1926, he was made a member of the Comité d'honneur of the Cons international de Paris alongside such composers as Dukas, Pierné, Ravel, Roussel, Honegger, de Falla, and Villa Lobos, and such performers as Arthur Rubinstein, José Iturbi, Yves Nat, and Ricardo Viñes.

In December 1927 in Montreal Morin and Victor Brault organized the first North American festival of music by Debussy, with the participation of the mezzo-soprano Cédia Brault and the violinist Robert Imandt. Writing in La Patrie (12 Dec 1927), Jean Dufresne (Marcel Valois) called Morin 'always the incomparable interpreter of Debussy, and all who heard, in Montreal or Paris, his performance of the Cathédrale engloutie, retain a keepsake of this beautiful work carved in memory.'

In 1927 Morin was heard playing the works of James Callihou (his pseudonym as a composer) for the first time. In 1928 he participated in a concert given by Ravel in Montreal. The following year he began teaching at the Conservatoire national in Montreal.

Morin wrote on music 1926-9 for La Patrie and began weekly contributions 1929-31 to La Presse. Some of his articles about Canadian music were published (1929) in Paris in Le Monde nouveau and La Revue musicale. From 1931 until the mid-1930s Morin lived mostly in Paris and wrote for various publications while continuing to give concerts and lectures.

In 1933, during a visit to Canada, Morin gave a concert of contemporary French music at the Stella Theatre in Montreal. For the first concert of the SCSM (MSO), 14 Jan 1935, he played Mendelssohn's Capriccio brilliant, and during the following season, Poulenc's Concert champêtre. He continued his travels - visiting the USA in 1934 and Spain and Morocco in 1936 - and taught 1936-41 at the École supérieure de musique d'Outremont (École Vincent-d'Indy). His last trip to Europe, in the summer of 1939, was interrupted by the outbreak of World War II.

For the CBC Morin gave many concerts and lectures at this time, all the while continuing to teach. He participated regularly on the CBC weekly quiz show 'S.V.P.,' and it was with other regular members of this series that he died in an automobile accident in the Laurentians.

As James Callihou he composed Suite canadienne (Archambault 1945, repr CMH, vol 6) and Three Eskimos for piano. He harmonized French-Canadian folksongs for voice and piano and composed Chants de sacrifice (inspired by Indian and Inuit folklore), which were transcribed for choir and two pianos by Victor Brault.

Morin was one of the principal propagandists of the French music of his time, giving premieres in Canada of works by Ravel, Debussy, Fauré, Satie, Milhaud, Poulenc, Roussel, and others. His writings reflect both a lively interest in Canadian music and a particular attention to different folkloric sources and their integration in composition.

Both his writings and his concerts showed Morin to be ahead of his time. A caustic spirit, an original, a personality compounded of intelligence and sensibility, he influenced two generations of musicians in Quebec. His pupils included Paule-Aimée Bailly, François Brassard, and Jean Papineau-Couture. Rodolphe Mathieu dedicated to Morin his Sonata (1927), a work - along with others by Brassard, Champagne, Gagnon, Renaud, Léo Roy, and Tanguay - which the pianist performed in France and Canada.

See also Criticism.

Writings

Papiers de musique (Montreal 1930)

Musique (Montreal 1944)

La Patrie (Montreal 1926-9, 206 articles)

La Presse (Montreal 1929-31, 95 articles)

Le Canada (Montreal, 1933-41, 380 articles)

Various articles in Le Nigog (1918), Canadian Forum (Jul 1928), Vie canadienne (Apr, May, Sep 1928), Opinions (Apr 1929), etc


Further Reading

  • Paradis, J.G. 'Léo-Pol Morin,' La Musique, vol 1, Feb 1919

    Brassard, François. 'Léo-Pol Morin et la composition canadienne,' Canada francais, Mar 1942

    Éthier-Blais, Jean. 'Léo-Pol Morin,' Jmc, Feb 1963

    Valois, Marcel. 'L'esprit étincelait chez Léo-Pol Morin,' Au carrefour des souvenirs (Montreal 1965)

    Villeneuve, Claire. 'Léo-Pol Morin, musicographe,' CAUSM J, vol 4, Autumn 1974

    - 'Léo-Pol Morin (1892-1941), musicographe,' M MUS thesis, University of Montreal 1975

    Catalogue of Canadian Composers

    Musiciens canadiens