André Gagnon

André Gagnon. Pianist, composer, conductor, arranger, actor, b St-Pacôme-de-Kamouraska, Que, 2 Aug 1936; premier prix harmony (CMM) 1961. André Gagnon played the piano as a child and began writing short pieces at six.

André Gagnon. Pianist, composer, conductor, arranger, actor, b St-Pacôme-de-Kamouraska, Que, 2 Aug 1936; premier prix harmony (CMM) 1961. André Gagnon played the piano as a child and began writing short pieces at six. He took theory lessons 1952-3 and 1957 with Léon Destroismaisons in Ste-Anne-de-la-Pocatière and studied 1957-61 at the Conservatoire de musique à Montréal with Germaine Malépart (piano), Clermont Pépin (composition), and Gilberte Martin (solfège). At the same time he developed an interest in popular music. In 1961, on a grant from the Quebec government, he studied in Paris with Yvonne Loriod and took courses in accompanying and conducting.

On his return to Canada in 1962 Gagnon became the accompanist for Claude Léveillée. He was music director, arranger, and pianist for most of Léveillée's recordings until 1969. He also accompanied Jacques Blanchet, Pierre Calvé, Renée Claude, Claude Gauthier, Pauline Julien, Pierre Létourneau, and Monique Leyrac, among others. For Leyrac he arranged several songs. In 1967 he was the soloist in a Mozart concert conducted by Raymond Dessaints at Place des Arts (PDA).

In 1969 André Gagnon gave up accompanying to devote himself to a career as soloist, composer, and arranger. In London he recorded Mes Quatre Saisons in the style of Vivaldi, based on themes drawn from the songs of Jean-Pierre Ferland, Félix Leclerc, Claude Léveillée, and Gilles Vigneault. Gagnon was among the artists chosen to represent Canada at Expo 70 in Osaka and the same year he toured Quebec with the Quebec Symphony Orchestra. In 1972, he gave a concert of his works at the PDA with the McGill Chamber Orchestra. He performed in France in 1975 and 1976 and Mexico in 1976, and his name appeared on many hit charts. In 1978 he presented a show at Massey Hall in Toronto and at the PDA. Subsequently he toured Quebec and other provinces and 10 US cities (1979). In the spring of 1981, Gagnon participated in a series of concerts with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. In the next few years, he performed in Venezuela, Mexico, Rumania and Greece. In 1983, he recorded Impressions with the National Philharmonic Orchestra of London, and performed Mozart's Concerto No. 22 with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra under Charles Dutoit. He joined Claude Léveillée at the PDA in a show of their classic hits.

In 1986, after touring Australia, Gagnon performed at the Spectrum in Montreal, then took part in a symphonic concert at Ontario Place in Toronto. There followed concerts in Ottawa and Quebec City. In 1989 he played in Tokyo with the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra under Kazuyoshi Akiyama. Gagnon developed a large following in Japan and recorded and re-released many albums for the Japanese market under the RCA Victor label, during the next 15 years. He first toured that country in 1991, returning seven times 1996-2003. He recorded his Noël album with the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra in 1992, and collaborated again in 1994 with the National Philharmonic Orchestra, recording Romantique.

Gagnon's Compositions and Television Work

Many of André Gagnon's works have been performed by renowned ensembles. Tango was recorded by the Orford String Quartet (Fanfare DFL-7008). 'Rencontre est-ouest' on poems by Albert Lozeau, commissioned by the Tudor Singers of Montreal, was premiered by the latter in 1984. His romantic opera Nelligan (libretto by Michel Tremblay) was performed at the Opéra de Montréal in 1990 and recorded on CD (2-Star AS-CD-1700). Gilles Ouellet later completed a symphonic orchestration, and Nelligan was performed again in 1995 by the MSO under Jacques Lacombe at Place des Arts.

On CBC TV Gagnon was host and accompanist 1962-4 for the program "Cri-Cri" and music director 1966-70 for "Moi et l'autre"; he composed the music for several series, including "Vivre en ce pays" 1967-71, "La Souris verte" 1967-76, Les "Forges du St-Maurice" 1972-5, "Techno-Flash" 1973-7, "Des dames en de coeur" 1987, and "Un Signe de feu", 1989. He composed the music for the ballets Mad Shadows (based on La Belle Bête, a novel by Marie-Claire Blais), which was premiered by the National Ballet of Canada at the O'Keefe Centre in Toronto in 1977, and Adage, performed at the PDA by the Compagnie de danse Eddy Toussaint that year. As a guest Gagnon appeared on several TV variety programs, including "Zoom", "Vedettes en direct", and "Dimanshowsoir". He also composed the music for the 1983 television version of the Claude Jutra film Kamouraska (1973).


Gagnon composed scores for the National Film Board's Games of the XXI Olympiad Montreal 1976 (1977), and CBS-TV's documentary Night Flight (1977). A number of feature films followed as he composed music for Running (1979), Phobia (1980), Hot Touch (1981), Tell Me That You Love Me (1982), The Pianist (1991), Naran (1995), Pour l'amour de Thomas (1994), and Le boulard (1995).

Musical Style; Awards

André Gagnon's music is not easy to classify. It ranges widely and makes audacious combinations of elements from both sides of the barrier between classical and pop music. The Baroque pastiches Les Turluteries and Mes Quatre Saisons borrow forms and styles from Vivaldi and Bach but are given fresh significance by their incorporation of melodic materials from the popular cultures of Quebec. And Petit Concerto pour Carignan et orchestre (1976; performed by violoneux Jean Carignan and Yehudi Menuhin on CBC TV's The Music of Man in 1979) draws a witty analogy between the violin writing of the Baroque masters and Carignan's fiddling style. Other Gagnon works visit composers of other eras - Mozart in Cher Amadeus, Chopin in Pour endormir ma mère. With a light hand, a tidy craft, an apparently warm heart (the pastiches are not satires), and no undue pretension, Gagnon in these works has created entertainments based on the reconciliation of musical idioms that too often have been frozen into postures of mutual exclusion. At the same time, such compositions as Neiges, Smash, Chevauchée, Surprise, Donna, and Mouvements have established Gagnon in the disco and pop fields.

In 1978 Gagnon was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. He received the Félix award for instrumental album of the year 10 times 1978-2003 for Le Saint-Laurent, Virage à gauche, Impressions, Comme dans un film, Des dames de coeur, Noël, Romantique, Éden, Histoires rêvées, and Piano solitude. Other Félix awards recognized Nelligan as show of the year in 1990, Juliette Pomerleau as best original score in 1999, and honoured Gagnon as the most famous Quebec artist outside Quebec in 1977 and 1989. He won a Juno for Neiges, the best-selling record in Canada in 1977, and two more for Le Saint-Laurent, in 1978, and Romantique, in 1997, as instrumental artist of the year. Gagnon was the recipient of a Gemini award for original score for Des dames de coeur in 1988. He has been honoured by SOCAN with the William Harold Moon Award (1993), an airplay award for Wow (1999), a SOCAN Classic award for Dans ma Camaro (2004), and the Hagood Hardy Instrumental Award (2004).

See also The Canadian Encyclopedia.

Further Reading

  • Champagne, Jane. 'André Gagnon: writing with a baroque flavour,' Canadian Composer, 64, Nov 1971

    Rowcliffe, Katherine. 'A choreographer gambles with a composer,' Fugue, Feb 1977

    Champagne, Jane. 'Musical discipline: writing for the ballet,' Canadian Composer, 120, Apr 1977

    Beaulieu, Pierre. 'André Gagnon: un spectacle qu'on écoute,' Montreal La Presse, 14 Oct 1978

    Rozon, Lucie. André Gagnon (Montreal 1978)

    Laurier, Andrée. "The turns and trends of a pianist's change in style," Canadian Composer, Feb 1985

    Filion, Sylvain-Claude. "Moonstruck: SOCAN recognizes impressive international achievements of pianist/composer Andre Gagnon with the 1993 Wm Harold Moon Award," Words & Music, vol 1/1, Jan 1994

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