Martel, Oscar. Violinist, teacher, b L'Assomption, near Montreal, February 1848, d Chicago 1924; premiers prix violin, string quartet (Liège Royal Cons) 1870. Starting at five he studied violin with his grandfather, Pierre Martel, a violin teacher at the Collège de L'Assomption 1837-42 and a violin maker (see DCB, vol 12). Oscar received his first lessons in solfège from an itinerant musician named Lumsden. He left the Collège de L'Assomption in 1865 to continue his violin studies in Montreal with Jules Hone. While preparing for a concert career he taught violin 1865-9 at the Collège de Montréal where Alfred De Sève was among his pupils. In 1869 he studied for several months at the Liège Royal Cons with Désiré Heynberg, Ysaÿe's first teacher, as well as with Ovide Musin and César Thomson; in the evenings he played in the orchestra of the Théâtre Royal. Returning to Canada in 1870 he gave recitals and resumed his position at the Collège de Montréal. He also taught at the Ste-Marie and Mont-St-Louis colleges.
In 1875 Martel again left for Paris and Brussels, where he took lessons from Alard, Vieuxtemps, and Hubert Léonard. Back in Canada in 1876, he married Hortense Leduc-Fortin, a voice teacher at the Villa-Maria Convent in Montreal. He spent three years in Montreal and then returned again to Paris in 1878 as member of the first violins at the Théâtre lyrique. He also performed at the Salle Érard and the Immaculée-Conception Church. After 18 months' study, he went back to Montreal in 1879 and gave numerous concerts; critics compared him to the greatest violinists of the day - Wilhelmj, Urso, and Kaiser. Declining offers to teach at the conservatories of Liège and Paris, he concentrated instead on writing a series of articles on the art of music which appeared June 1879-May 1880 in Le Courrier of Montreal, and he also made a concert tour of Canada and New England. In 1896 Edmond Hardy organized the Cons of the Canadian Artistic Society, and Martel joined its staff as a violin teacher; his pupils included Henri Arnoldi and Chambord Giguère. In Passe-Temps 19 Dec 1896 Gustave Comte wrote that Martel especially excelled 'in those broad gestures through which passion, great sorrow or boundless enthusiasm may be conveyed more easily.' He continued, 'Modern music, which has succeeded in probing the deepest feelings of the human heart, gives him the chance to make his violin sing or weep desperately.'
In 1905 Martel took a position at a conservatory in Chicago. He obtained the coveted position of director of violin teaching and spent his last years in that city. He died tragically, asphyxiated by a gas leak in his apartment.
Other information about Martel (some of which, including the year of birth, cannot be verified) was provided by Georges Dorval of Chambly, Que, and published in the Passe-Temps of April 1947. According to Dorval, Martel 'was the son of Amédée Martel and the brother of the notary Zébédé Martel, whom I knew. His father was a painter and violin maker who also had made a small organ for the local college. He made good violins which Oscar sold at good prices in Montreal. Oscar Martel was born in 1847; he attended the college for three years. After his studies in Belgium, he became a violin teacher at the New England Conservatory of Boston where his portrait in oils may be seen.'
Martel left several unpublished compositions for violin, including a Fantaisie de concert, some Variations sur 'Vive la Canadienne,' a Concerto in A, a Berceuse and a Mazurka in memory of Wieniawski, some Improvisations sur 'Old Folks at Home,' and a Fantaisie sur des airs écossais, as well as several songs. None of these works had been traced in 1990, but the BN du Qholds a copy of his Airs canadiens variés, Opus 2 for violin and piano (Gevaert et fils, Liège, no date).