Belgian Music in Canada | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Belgian Music in Canada

European country whose musicians have made a significant contribution to the musical life of Canada, especially in the field of instrumental music.

European country whose musicians have made a significant contribution to the musical life of Canada, especially in the field of instrumental music. The Belgian conservatories were turning out large numbers of highly trained young players around 1890 when Ernest Lavigne, the dynamic leader of the Sohmer Park band and orchestra, visited Europe seeking instrumentalists to play in those ensembles. As a result, numerous Belgian musicians settled in Canada, especially in Montreal, in the late 19th century. Their teaching of string instruments brought to Canada the great traditions of the Franco-Belgian school. They also demonstrated a mastery of wind instruments.

Guillaume Mechtler, who arrived in Quebec City in 1787 and in Montreal in 1789, probably was the first Belgian musician to settle in Canada. Jules Hone (deuxième prix violin, Liège Cons, and one of the first qualified violin teachers in Montreal) arrived from New York ca 1865. Another violinist already famous in Europe, Frantz Jehin-Prume, was an important figure in Quebec music from 1870 until his death in 1899 and worked effectively to raise the level of performance and teaching. In 1871 he formed Montreal's first professional string quartet. At the invitation of Lavigne, Jean-Baptiste Dubois was appointed principal cello and assistant conductor of the Sohmer Park Orchestra in 1891 and was joined by two compatriots, the violinists J.-J. Goulet and Jean-Julien Clossey and by some thirty other instrumentalists, the majority of them graduates of the Cons royal of Liège. After 1894 Clossey served in the first violins of the Couture MSO and then of the Goulet MSO. (His son Émile, a cellist, conducted the Montreal Municipal Orchestra ca 1935-45.)

Lavigne brought other gifted instrumentalists from Belgium to teach young Canadians. Jacques Vanpoucke (b Ghent 25 Oct 1865, d Montreal?), Lavigne's principal clarinet, also directed the Collège St-Louis Band and taught at the Collège Ste-Marie. Oscar Arnold (b Liège 1 Nov 1862, medal winner, clarinet and saxophone, Liège Cons, and a member of the Spa Brass Band in 1881) joined his compatriot in the woodwinds in 1892, along with Léon Medaer, clarinet (b Tournemont 1864) and Charles Dom, oboe (b Brussels 3 May 1863). In 1893 Louis Vanpoucke (b Ypres 1873, d Montreal?, a former principal trumpet with the Rotterdamsche Schuttery) arrived in Montreal.

For his own orchestra J.-J. Goulet brought to Canada his brother Jean and other Belgian musicians, eg, the clarinetists Georges Haseneier and Émile Quiquemberg, the trumpeter C. Van Camp, the cellist Peter Van der Meerschen, and the bassist Léon Wathieu. Charles Goulet, Jean's son, founded the Disciples de Massenet in 1928 and the Variétés Lyriques in 1936.

Other Belgians arrived in Montreal early in the 20th century: François Héraly, the bandmaster, whose wife taught piano to the young Wilfrid Pelletier; Léon Kaster, the oboist, and his son Jean, a cellist (Prix d'Europe 1918); Auguste Liessens, the organist and composer, who settled in Sorel in 1913; Louis Michiels, the french hornist and theoretician who founded the publishing house Édition Belgo-Canadienne in 1925; Charles Tanguy, the teacher and composer; Benoît Verdickt, the organist and choirmaster; and the brothers Joseph and Henri Vermandere (Brother Placide and Brother Séverin), a composer and a choirmaster respectively. In Toronto Frederic Nicolai (b Liège) was active as a cellist 1903-14 and as a member of the Toronto String Quartette 1906-14. César Borré (conductor, composer, and authority on Gregorian chant, b Belgium 1880, d Toronto 1950) founded the London Ladies' Choir and the London Philharmonic Union and the Toronto Opera Company. After emigrating to Canada in 1921, the harpist Frank J. Simons was a member of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and taught in Winnipeg. The violinist Maurice Onderet arrived in Montreal in 1927.

Désiré Defauw (conductor, violinist, composer, b Ghent 5 Oct 1885, d Gary, Ind, 25 Jul 1960) began conducting the CSM orchestra in 1940 and remained its artistic director until 1948. A conductor of international reputation, he had been acquainted with the composers Richard Strauss and Ravel and ardently promoted their works and those of his fellow countrymen Peter Benoît, César Franck, and Théodore Ysaÿe. He conducted the premieres of several Canadian works, eg, Vallerand'sLe Diable dans le beffroi, Blackburn'sSymphony in One Movement, Pépin'sVariations symphoniques, Alexander Brott'sWar and Peace, and Jean Papineau-Couture'sPoème.

Other Belgians arrived after 1920, including Ria Lenssens (soprano), Arnold Becker (bass), Séverin Moisse (pianist and composer), Henri Weber (clarinetist), and Armand Weisbord (violinist). Several Belgian pianists made careers in Canada, notably Jenny Lerouge LeSaunier, a teacher 1922-71 in Edmonton, Frans Brouw, and Nadia Strycek, a teacher at the Cons de Trois-Rivières and at the JMC Orford Art Centre. The cellist Charles Houdret arrived in Canada in 1952 and, inspired by the Queen Elisabeth of Belgium International Music Competition, instigated the Montreal International Competition. René Thomas, the jazz guitarist, lived in Montreal 1958-63 and worked in collaboration with another Belgian, the saxophonist Bobby Jaspar. The Belgian composer Henri Pousseur visited Montreal to give some lectures, and his Icare apprenti was performed by the SMCQ in 1973. In 1979 the Centre lyrique de Wallonie presented a season of opera and ballet at the PDA, performing Carmen, Roméo et Juliette, Les Indes galantes (North American premiere), La Vie parisienne, and Swan Lake. The Canadian singers Céline Dussault, William Pirie, and Ronald Bermingham were part of the company.

The sterling example set by Belgian musicians in Canada prompted a number of Canadians, particularly string players, to complete their training in Belgium. The violinist Eugène Ysaÿe, who made his first Canadian appearance 22 Apr 1895 at the Monument national, taught, among others, Nora Clench in 1891, Flora Matheson Goulden 1927-8, Adolph Kodolfsky, Geza de Kresz, Maurice Solway 1926-8, and Émile Taranto. The violinists Noël Brunet, Alfred De Sève, Chambord Giguère, J.-Alexandre Gilbert, Oscar Martel, and Roland Poisson and the cellists Rosario Bourdon, Raoul Duquette, and Roland Leduc also trained at Belgian conservatories. Camille Couture, while enrolled for violin lessons at the Liège Cons, studied violin making with Émile Heynberg. Alcibiade Béique, Arthur Letondal, Marie-Thérèse Paquin and Joyce Sands and the singers Roger Filiatrault and Céline Marier also studied in Belgium. Émilien Allard, Robert Donnell, Percival Price and Leland Richardson attended the École royale de carillon de Malines (Beiaardschool te Mechelen).

Among the Canadian artists whose visits to Belgium attracted particular attention were Emma Albani and Pauline Donalda, who sang in Brussels at the Théâtre de la Monnaie and in other cities. The tenor Jacques Gérard studied in Brussels and made his debut in Liège in 1927, and Jacques Beaudry studied at the Brussels Cons. The impresario Bernard Laberge was decorated in 1951 with Belgium's Croix de chevalier de la Couronne for having presented numerous Belgian artists in North America, eg, the Musique royale des Guides, the Pro Musica Antiqua Ensemble, the Belgian Keyboard Quartet, and the organist and composer Flor Peeters, with whom Patrick Wedd studied. The pianists Glenn Gould, Marek Jablonski, and William Tritt, the Orford String Quartet, and the Hart House Orchestra have visited Belgium. Kenneth Gilbert was invited to teach 1971-4 at the Royal Flemish Cons in Antwerp. Winners in the Queen Elisabeth International Music Competition have included Frans Brouw (4th prize 1952), Ronald Turini (2nd prize 1960), Anton Kuerti (4th prize 1964), Hidetaro Suzuki (5th prize 1967) and Douglas Finch (5th prize 1978).

Several young Belgian musicians continue to come to Canada under the JMC exchange program, eg, the Doublebass Quartet in 1989, the pianists Patrick Crommelynck and Taeko Kuwataa and the Trio Amati in 1990. The 30th annual Festival de Liège held in the autumn of 1988 was largely devoted to Canada. There were performances of works by R. Murray Schafer (premiere of The Black Theatre of Hermes Trismegistos, a two-hour work with singers, dancers, actors and an instrumental ensemble), Walter Boudreau, Michel-Georges Brégent, Denis Gougeon, Michel Gonneville, Alain Lalonde and John Rea. The SMCQ Ensemble also played works by Serge Garant, Claude Vivier, José Evangelista and Michel Longtin, and the composer Bruce Mather performed some of his own works. The programme also included Toronto's Tafelmusik ensemble.

The annual Prix de musique contemporaine Flandre-Québec, created in 1988 and awarded to young musicians in Belgium and Quebec for their contribution to contemporary music, was won in its inaugural year by the Quebec flutist LiseDaoust and the Belgian composer Luc Brewaeys.

In the field of variety music, Renée Claude, Jean-Pierre Ferland, Stéphane Venne and others have distinguished themselves during competitions in Spa and in Brussels. Belgian musicians acclaimed in Canada include the late lamented Jacques Brel, Julot Beaucarne and Maurane.

Further Reading