Charles Marchand

Charles Marchand. Baritone, folklorist, b St-Paul-L'Ermite, near Montreal, 10 Jun 1890, d Montreal 1 May 1930. He was educated at L'Assomption and Rigaud colleges prior to settling in Hull in 1910 as a federal civil servant.

Marchand, Charles

Charles Marchand. Baritone, folklorist, b St-Paul-L'Ermite, near Montreal, 10 Jun 1890, d Montreal 1 May 1930. He was educated at L'Assomption and Rigaud colleges prior to settling in Hull in 1910 as a federal civil servant. Captivated by French song, he studied voice in Montreal with Jean Riddez and Max Pantaleieff. He made an unheralded debut in Ottawa with a song by the bard from Brittany, Théodore Botrel, wearing a sailor's costume he had designed himself. To his surprise the debut was a success and led to several engagements in the Ottawa area, mainly benefit performances. With the same repertoire he made his Montreal debut in March 1919 at the Salle Lafontaine. Shortly afterwards, he was entranced by Lorraine Wyman's performance of French-Canadian folksongs at the Veillées du bon vieux temps. He decided to concentrate on Canadian folk music, and his first recital, in May 1920 at the Monument national, was a brilliant success.

Abandoning the security of a career as a civil servant, Marchand settled in Montreal. He renewed his association with Oscar O'Brien, who had accompanied him as early as 1915 and who went on to harmonize some 150 songs for him; with the poet Maurice Morisset, O'Brien also wrote for Marchand some original songs in popular style. In 1922 Marchand founded a vocal quartet, Le Carillon canadien, which became the basis of a movement dedicated to promoting Canadian songs. A monthly publication, Le Carillon or 'the voice of song,' was launched in 1926 but was absorbed soon by LaLyre. During this period Marchand performed throughout Quebec, in Ontario, elsewhere in Canada, in Franco-American centres in New England, and in New York City.

When he was put in charge of the music for the celebration of Ottawa's centenary in 1927, Marchand joined the tenor Émile Boucher and the basses Miville Belleau and Fortunat Champagne to form the Bytown Troubadours, a vocal quartet which thereafter enjoyed considerable success. Pierre Gautier prepared numerous folksong arrangements for the group. In May 1927 Marchand and his group were a hit at the first CPR Festival in Quebec City. Marchand was responsible for part of the artistic direction of the 1928 and 1930 festivals in Quebec City. In the intervening year he went to Europe. His sudden death caused the 1930 festival to be postponed until October, at which time Lionel Daunais sang in Marchand's place. Shortly afterwards the quartet ceased to exist.

Charles Marchand's career was short but brilliant. The first important advocate of French-Canadian song, he also was appreciated by English-speaking audiences, for whom he sang in translations by John Murray Gibbon. A man of high ideals, he had made it his objective, as Frédéric Pelletier explained (Entre-Nous, May 1930), to 'understand and to love the soul of man as revealed in his naive yet profound music... He could make his naturally harsh voice respond to the slightest nuance of expression and his lively features adapted themselves to the mood of the song, whether it was a gentle ballad, a trapper's simple lament, or a tongue-in-cheek commentary.' Pionniers du disque folklorique lists his recordings and those of the Bytown Troubadours on the Columbia, Brunswick, Edison, Diamond, Victor, and Starr labels.


Further Reading

  • Morisset, Maurice. 'Après le triomphe,' La Lyre, 52, May 1927

    Pelletier, Frédéric. 'Charles Marchand,' Entre-Nous, vol 1, May 1930

    D'Aragon, Alexandre. 'Charles Marchand,' Action musicale, littéraire et artistique, vol 1, 14 May 1932