André Mathieu | The Canadian Encyclopedia


André Mathieu

(René) André (Rodolphe) Mathieu. Pianist, composer, b Montreal 18 Feb 1929, d there 2 Jun 1968.

André Mathieu

(René) André (Rodolphe) Mathieu. Pianist, composer, b Montreal 18 Feb 1929, d there 2 Jun 1968.

Child Prodigy

As a very young child he revealed an exceptional talent for the piano and for composition, which encouraged his father, Rodolphe, to give him his first lessons. He composed Trois Études for piano at four and gave a recital of his works 25 Feb 1935 at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, creating a sensation. Early in 1936 he was soloist in his Concertino No. 1 on CBC radio with an orchestra under J.-J. Gagnier. He was given a grant by the Quebec government to go to Paris to study piano with Yves Nat and Mme Giraud-Latarse and harmony and composition with Jacques de la Presle. In December 1936 his recital at the Salle Chopin-Pleyel was received enthusiastically by Parisian critics. He again performed his works 26 Mar 1939 at the Salle Gaveau, and the critic Émile Vuillermoz wrote, "If the word 'genius' has a meaning, it is surely here that we will be able to find it." Mathieu was only ten years old, and Vuillermoz added..." I declare that at the same age Mozart had written nothing comparable."

Mathieu returned to Montreal the following summer only for a holiday, but the war compelled him to remain in North America. He gave a series of recitals in Canada and made a remarkable debut 3 Feb 1940 at New York's Town Hall. Settling in New York with his family, he continued his studies in composition with Harold Morris, at the same time fulfilling numerous concert and radio engagements. In 1941 he premiered his Concertino No. 2 in Montreal with the Concerts symphoniques de Montréal (Montreal Symphony Orchestra). The same year, the work won first prize ($200) in a young composers' competition organized by the New York Philharmonic to mark its centenary. Mathieu performed it 21 Feb 1942 at Carnegie Hall and again shortly thereafter with the National Orchestral Association, New York City. He also played his compositions at a concert of the League of Composers.

Mathieu returned to Montreal in 1943 and gave numerous recitals, performing Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, Liszt, and Ravel, as well as his own works. On 18 Nov 1945 he presented his most recent compositions, including a Sonata for violin and piano, at the Windsor Hotel. In the autumn of 1946 he returned to Paris for a year to study composition with Arthur Honegger and piano with Jules Gentil. In 1947 he wrote a third "romantic" concerto for piano and orchestra; an abridged version, titled the Quebec Concerto, was played by Neil Chotem in the Canadian film La Forteresse (in English, Whispering City).

Unfulfilled Promise

In the years that followed, Mathieu's career declined, although he continued to compose - Piano Trio (1947) and Piano Quintet, among other works. Although he did some teaching, he began in his performances to lapse into musical exhibitionism, taking part in "pianothons" which received much gaudy publicity but which deeply disappointed those who had seen in him an exceptional talent.

Considering the promise of his youth, the fact that his gifts did not develop further was unfortunate. He possessed undeniable qualities as a pianist, to which the Canadian and foreign press almost unanimously attest, as do his few recordings. As a composer he leaned in his maturity to the late-romantic school of Rachmaninoff. The works of his youth, however, revealed a freshness and originality that he did not always recapture later.

Mathieu, who has been referred to as "the Canadian Mozart" died impoverished and in obscurity before his 40th birthday. His works gained broad public recognition only after his death.

Compositions/Posthumous Recognition

In 1976 both the welcoming song and official theme-music of the Montreal Olympics (recorded on Polydor 2424-124; see Petits chanteurs du Mont-Royal) were arranged from excerpts of works by André Mathieu. The same year the André Mathieu Foundation was established to promote his works and to prepare a definitive edition of them. His Concerto No. 3 ("Romantic"), which he performed in 1948 with a CBC Montreal orchestra under Jean-Marie Beaudet, was presented in 1977 in Tunisia by the pianist André-Sébastien Savoie and the Tunis Orchestra conducted by Raymond Dessaints. The Quebec Concerto was published in 1948 by Southern Music and was recorded in London and released on 78s by Parlophone.

Mathieu composed a fourth concerto, which aside from his own recordings of two of the movements remained almost unknown and unpublished for many years. In 2005, after a concert in Québec City, pianist Alain Lefèvre was given some acetate tapes of Mathieu's work by a woman who had known the composer - among them for the 4th piano concerto. Composer Gilles Bellemare reconstructed the score and did the orchestration and the complete work was premiered and recorded live for CD by Lefèvre and the Tuscon Symphony Orchestra under George Hanson (Analekta 2008).

For piano and violin Mathieu composed Fantaisie brésilienne (published in Le Parnasse musical), a Sonata, a Berceuse, and Complainte. Among his vocal works, "Le ciel est si bleu" was published in Le Passe-Temps (907, Feb 1947). He also wrote "Hymne du Bloc Populaire," "Les Chères Mains" (1946?), and Quatre Mélodies (1948) and made arrangements of a few French-Canadian folksongs.

Mathieu wrote many works for the piano. Among the compositions of his youth, the Trois Études (1933) and Les Gros Chars (1934) were published by Southern. Procession d'éléphants (1934), Trois Pièces pittoresques (1936), Hommage à Mozart enfant (1937), and Les Mouettes (1938) appeared in Paris (Maurice Sénart) and a few others in Montreal (Canadian Institute of Music). In 1939 he wrote a Suite for two pianos, Les Vagues, and Saisons canadiennes, and recorded on 78s his Trois Études, Dans la nuit, Les Abeilles piquantes, and Danse sauvage for the French Boîte à musique label (BAM-26). His Fantaisie was written in 1945.

Salle André Mathieu

The André-Mathieu Club, founded in 1942 at Trois-Rivières by Mme Anaïs Allard-Rousseau to promote an interest in music among the young, later became part of the Jeunesses musicales of Canada (Youth and Music Canada).

On 17 Oct 1979 the Salle André-Mathieu was dedicated at the Cégep Montmorency, Laval, Que, which soon came under the management of the Corporation de la salle André Mathieu, with the mission of developing socio-cultural activities in Laval. Between Jun 1999 and Mar 2000 the hall, with help from the Québec government, effected $ 6.8 million of renovations to fully upgrade the stage, backstage, acoustics and foyer, and make it a major performance hall in the region. By 2012, the Corporation André Mathieu has continued to manage this and other venues and offer high quality artistic programmes, including some specifically for youth.

In 1987 a street was named after him in the Pointe-aux-Trembles district in Montreal, and other streets have since been named after him in Boucherville, Mont St Hilaire and in Joliette (2006).

A major biography about Mathieu was written by George Nicholson (published by Québec Amérique, 2010) with a preface by Canadian pianist Alain Lefèvre, who had long championed the composer by collecting information about him and recording his works. That same year, the film L'enfant prodige: L'incroyable destinée d'André Mathieu (The Child Prodigy; Luc Dionne, director) was released. The accompanying soundtrack for the film, which features Mathieu's works, was recorded for Analekta (AN 29284-5) by Lefèvre, who was also its music director.

Further Reading

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