Jean-Josaphat Gagnier | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Jean-Josaphat Gagnier

Jean-Josaphat Gagnier, conductor, composer, clarinetist, bassoonist, pianist, administrator, teacher (born 2 December 1885 in Montréal, QC; died 16 September 1949 in Montréal).

Jean-Josaphat Gagnier, conductor, composer, clarinetist, bassoonist, pianist, administrator, teacher (born 2 December 1885 in Montréal, QC; died 16 September 1949 in Montréal). The product of a large musical family, Jean-Josaphat Gagnier began playing professionally at age 14, and conducting various bands and choirs by 18. Soon thereafter he was the bassoonist in J.-J. Goulet's Montréal Symphony Orchestra (now the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal). He conducted numerous bands both in Canada and the US, worked in radio, taught extensively and compiled the first edition of the Catalogue of Canadian Composers (1947). He composed for orchestra and band as well as choir and keyboard works, some of which have been published in volumes 17 and 21 of The Canadian Musical Heritage (see Canadian Musical Heritage Society).

Early Years and Education

Gagnier studied clarinet with his father, professional clarinetist Joseph Gagnier, and then with Jacques Vanpoucke, Louis van Loocke, Léon Medaer and Oscar Arnold. He also learned bassoon with Émile Barbot and Carl Westermeier, took lessons in piano with Alexis Contant and Romain-Octave Pelletier, and studied theory with Romain Pelletier, Contant, Charles Tanguy and Orpha Deveaux. At age 14 he played in theatres and at Sohmer Park. At 18 he was conducting bands and choirs, and not much later he was a bassoonist in J.-J. Goulet's Montréal Symphony Orchestra (which evolved into the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal).

Music Career

In 1910, Gagnier organized and directed the Montréal Concert Band (also called the Concordia). Impressed by his work at the Montréal Opera Company, F.S. Meighen in 1913 placed him in charge of the Canadian Grenadier Guards Band, a position (with the rank of captain) that he held until 1947. He was music director of the Sohmer Park Concert Band (1917–19), and his reputation as a conductor extended to the United States, where he frequently conducted such groups as the famous Goldman Band.

In 1921, he conducted operas at the St-Denis and Français theatres. He founded, and directed (1920–31), the Montréal Little Symphony Orchestra and in December 1927 reorganized the Montréal Symphony Orchestra, which he kept going until 1929. He taught (1925–30) at Mont-St-Louis College and the Collège de Montréal; and also gave lessons at the Conservatoire national de musique, the McGill Conservatory (see Music at McGill University) and the Dominion College of Music.

Gagnier's activity as a composer was intense; he wrote in styles ranging from romanticism to impressionism and exploited orchestral timbres with skill and taste. He located several of Calixa Lavallée's compositions and organized their presentation at a public concert in the Lafontaine Gardens in the summer of 1933, when Lavallée's remains were moved from Boston to Montréal.

In 1934, Gagnier earned a doctorate in music from the Université de Montréal. He gave numerous lectures and published critical articles, essays, poems and memoirs, notably in Le Passe-Temps. Following A List of Canadian Music, prepared by Lyell Gustin for The Canadian Federation of Music Teachers Associations in 1946, Gagnier compiled the first complete catalogue of works by Canadian composers, issued in mimeographed form by the CBC in 1947 as Catalogue of Canadian Composers. It was followed in 1952 by a second edition edited by Helmut Kallmann.

Gagnier was a member of the Canadian Band Association and of the American Conductor's Association. According to his brother, Réal Gagnier, and contradicting what is said in Le Passe-Temps (August–September 1947), it was in 1942 that he founded the Gagnier Woodwind Quintet. He directed this quintet — which was exceptional in that all five of its members were professional musicians from one family (four of J.-J'.s brothers and his son, Roland) — until 1949, when bad health obliged him to curtail his activities.

Radio Career

Gagnier was interested in radio and in 1931, conducted 26 concerts of the Canadian Grenadier Guards Band, which were relayed to the US by CBS. In 1934, he joined the CRBC and became regional director of music at the CBC, a post he held until his death, directing numerous concerts and operas.


Montréal gave his name to a park in 1959 and to a street in the north of the city in 1963. Gagnier's papers are held at the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec.

See also:Guillaume Gagnier, René Gagnier, Armand Gagnier, Ernest Gagnier, Lucien Gagnier, Réal Gagnier, Roland Gagnier, Claire Gagnier, Gérald Gagnier and Ève Gagnier, (all members of the same musical family).

A version of this entry originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada.

Selected Compositions

Orchestra and Band

Here's to Tommy, band (ca. 1915). Ms. HMV 216007 (with Canadian Grenadier Guards).

Toronto Bay, orchestra, band (1921). Fischer, 1937 (band).

Le Vent dans l'érable effeuillé/The Wind in the Leafless Maple, orchestra, band (1927). Ms. RCI 1 (J.-M. Beaudet).

Têtes d'enfants, string orchestra (1930). Parnasse, 1947.

Pan aux pieds de chèvre/The Goatfooted Pan, orchestra, band (1931). Ms.

La Dame de coeur/Queen of Hearts, orchestra, band (1934). Fischer (band).

Hands across the Border, band (ca. 1935). Remick Music Corp., 1938.

Skip Along, band (ca. 1935). Fischer, 1937.

Pyrame et Thisbé, soloists, choir, orchestra, conducted by Jean-Josaphat Gagnier (1942). Parnasse.

Journey, orchestra (1944). Ms. RCI 233/Cap ST-6261 (with CBC Winnipeg Orchestra).

Suite, harp, orchestra (1945). Sam Fox, 1945.

Reflets, orchestra, strings (1946). Parnasse, 1947.

Also other works for orchestra, band, strings, choir and orchestra, or choir, soloists and orchestra. Most in manuscript.


“Peintres, sculpteurs, comédiens et musiciens: parents pauvres de chez nous,” Action universitaire vol. 15 (October 1948).

Choir or Voice

“Hymne à la patrie,” voice, words by Albert Lozeau. P-T (June 1905).

“Le Canada,” voice, words by Octave Crémazie (1915). Arch, 1935.

“Le Chant de l'A.C.J.C.,” soloists, soprano, alto, tenor, bass, words by Hermas Lalande. Association catholique de la jeunesse canadienne (1925).

“Quicumque,” voice, Frères des Écoles chrétiennes (1925).

“Kyrie,” voice, Frères des Écoles chrétiennes (1941).

“Hamac dans les voiles,” soprano, soprano, alto, alto (Jean-Josaphat Gagnier). Parnasse.

“Os-Ke-Non-Don” (chant Iroquois), soprano, alto, tenor, bass. Parnasse.

“Ressemblances,” voice, words by René-François Sully-Prudhomme. Parnasse.

Several other unpublished works.


Ten Studies in Concert Form, piano (ca. 1939). Arch, 1939.

Prélude [arrangement of Trois préludes à l'Éternelle Comédie for small orchestra], organ (ca. 1945). Parnasse, 1947.

Also three works for piano, two for organ; incidental music; a work for harp; all manuscript; and many arrangements.

Further Reading

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