Léo Roy

Léo Roy. Composer, writer on music, pianist, organist, teacher, b Quebec City 27 Nov 1887, d there 1 Sep 1974. As a child he studied harmonica, xylophone, piano, organ, trumpet, trombone, horn, and double-bass with his father, Philéas.

Roy, Léo

Léo Roy. Composer, writer on music, pianist, organist, teacher, b Quebec City 27 Nov 1887, d there 1 Sep 1974. As a child he studied harmonica, xylophone, piano, organ, trumpet, trombone, horn, and double-bass with his father, Philéas. In New York in 1899 he studied harmony and composition with Homer N. Bartlett. He composed his Opus 1, Berceuse for piano, in 1903. Eleven years later he had reached Opus 47. He took a position as choirmaster at Trois-Rivières in 1912, but returned to New York before finally settling in 1920 in Quebec City, where he pursued a career as a writer and teacher.

He became co-editor of the periodical La Lyre of Montreal and was music critic 1926-32 for the Quebec City daily Le Soleil and commentator 1928-31 for the radio concerts of the TSO. Luigi von Kunits, director of the orchestra at that time, presented several of his works in the 1930-1 season. His overture Hail to the Exhibition was performed in Toronto in 1930. He also contributed to the fifth edition of Grove's Dictionary

A somewhat eccentric and controversial figure, Roy curtailed his activities after 1930, although he continued to write and compose. His friends attributed his voluntary retirement to the opposition he aroused in music circles. A fervent admirer of Chopin, Roy founded the Société Frédéric Chopin au Canada in 1926 and in 1949 he was named representative and correspondent of the Chopin Institute of Warsaw to commemorate the Chopin year. During his travels Roy made the acquaintance of Fauré, Medtner, Paderewski, Rachmaninoff, and Saint-Saëns.

Between 1903 and 1958 Roy appears to have composed about 350 original works and made 800 harmonizations and 400 free-style transcriptions of folksongs, including 160 Bohemian, Czech, and Slovak and 47 Iroquois. He also set to music 62 poems by Émile Nelligan. By far the majority of these works remained in manuscript form. Among his compositions for piano are Hommage à Chopin, 'Polonaise héroïque' (1908), Sérénade, Opus 42 (1912, CMH, vol 6), two highly unusual works: Prélude No. 20 (1919), with the notes G, A, and B to be played as flats and indicated thus as a 'key-signature,' and Prélude No. 25 'on two notes' (1930), and two satirical pieces dating from 1914. A Prélude (1907) for organ was published in the CMH (vol 4a).

In addition to numerous artices on music, in which he advanced his own ideas, Roy produced more than 2000 pieces on subjects as varied as anthropology, ethnology, zoology, philosophy, and aesthetics.

In 1966, Guy Marcoux, one of Roy's small circle of friends and disciples, established the Léo-Roy Foundation for the purpose of conserving his documents and manuscripts and of making his works known. In 1983, the Fondation du Cercle d'études Léo-Roy was founded to draw attention to the 100th anniversary of his birth. The founding members, joining Marcoux, intended to classify his works and writings, to promote his music by concerts and recordings, to publish works for this purpose, and to collect and administer the necessary funds to complete this project. Following Roy's death, all his property was bequeathed to Marcoux. In 1989, the latter donated the collection of musical compositions and writings to the Laval University archives. Following the publication of the Catalogue des oeuvres musicales du fonds Léo-Roy (1987), several of his works were performed in concert and occasionally broadcast on the CBC. In a speech 20 Sep 1979 at a service commemorating the fifth anniversary of Roy's death, Marcoux stressed that Roy 'was not a man of compromise; he never abandoned his convictions in order to obtain success. In the first fifty years of his life I believe he attempted, unsuccessfully, to communicate with his fellow citizens.'

See also Berthe Roy (his sister).


'Quebec composers,' MCan, Nov 1930

'La vérité sur Sabatier,' Action nationale, vol 57, Apr 1968

Further Reading

  • LeVasseur, Nazaire. 'Le pic et la plume. Travailleurs. L'un d'eux,' P-T, 2 Apr 1921

    Asselin, P.-A. 'Léo Roy: une figure de proue,' L'Information médicale et paramédicale, vol 32, 7 Oct 1980

    Vézina-Demers, Micheline and Claire Grégoire-Reid. Catalogue des oeuvres musicales du fonds Léo-Roy. (Quebec 1987)

    Wyczynski, Émile Nelligan 1879-1941 (Montreal 1987)

    Brisson, Irène. 'La Correspondance de Léo Roy,' Cahiers de l'ARMuQ, 10 Jun 1988

    Marcoux, Guy. 'Léo Roy vu par un ami,' 'Les Origines de la Fondation Léo-Roy,' ibid.

    Vézina-Demers, Micheline and Claire Grégoire-Reid. 'Catalogue des oeuvres musicales du fonds Léo-Roy,' ibid

    Émond, Viviane. 'Fédéric Pelletier et la critique musicale à Montréal dans la première moitié du XXe siècle,' ibid, 12 Apr 1990

    Laforest, Aline. 'Soixante mélodies de Léo Roy sur des poèmes d'Émile Nelligan : analyse littéraire et mélodique,' M MUS thesis, Laval University

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