Romain-Octave Pelletier

Romain-Octave I (Jean) (Octave) Pelletier (Peltier). Organist, pianist, composer, educator, writer on music, b Montreal 9 Sep 1843, d there 4 Mar 1927; honorary D MUS (Montreal) 1919. While very young he displayed a quick ear, correcting the errors of his two sisters who were studying piano.

Pelletier, Romain-Octave I

Romain-Octave I (Jean) (Octave) Pelletier (Peltier). Organist, pianist, composer, educator, writer on music, b Montreal 9 Sep 1843, d there 4 Mar 1927; honorary D MUS (Montreal) 1919. While very young he displayed a quick ear, correcting the errors of his two sisters who were studying piano. At 11 he was placed in the Collège de Montréal, where he played the organ without previous musical training. When he one day found he could not read a score that was put before him, he decided to study music. He was mainly self-taught, although he did have some lessons from his elder brother Orphir (b Montreal 7 Sep 1825, d there 1855), organist at St-Patrick's Church and composer of an O salutaris hostia published in L'Album littéraire et musical de la Revue canadienne (Feb 1846). Pelletier was organist 1857-67 of St James Cathedral, succeeding J.-C. Brauneis II at the age of 15. At the same time he studied law and at 21 qualified as a notary, though he practised this profession very infrequently. One of the few contracts he did draw up was for the marriage in 1866 of the singer Rosita del Vecchio and the violinist Frantz Jehin-Prume. He had met the latter on his arrival in Montreal the previous year and had accompanied him in recitals. Pelletier spent some time ca 1866-7 in Hartford, Conn, where he met the organist Samuel P. Warren. On his return, he was organist 1867-75 at the Church of St James-the-Less on St-Denis St. He surprised and even shocked the clergy and congregation by performing works by Bach and Mendelssohn, who as 'Protestant' composers were deemed unsuitable and - Bach in particular - too austere. After Pelletier's marriage in 1869 he eked out a meagre living giving piano and organ lessons. During a trip to Europe 1871-2 he took lessons in London with George Cooper, William Thomas Best, and John Baptiste Calkin. In Paris he obtained advice from a certain Lebel, organist at St-Étienne-du-Mont, and at St-Sulpice he played works by Bach in the presence of Widor. He took a few piano lessons with Antoine-François Marmontel and later worked in Brussels with the organist Lemmens. On his return to Montreal he resumed teaching; from 1876 to 1907 he taught solfège at the École normale Jacques-Cartier. In the ensuing years Pelletier was invited to inaugurate many organs installed by Casavant in Canada and the USA. He resumed organ duties at St James Cathedral in 1887 (at the St-Joseph Chapel until the inauguration of the new cathedral on Dominion Square in 1894) and remained the organist there until 1923. Visiting Europe again in 1900, this time in the company of the Casavant brothers, he met Guilmant and Gigout in Paris. When the McGill Conservatory opened in 1904 he was appointed teacher of piano.

Pelletier was president of the AMQ 1884-5, 1894-5, 1902-4, 1909-10, and 1915-16, and taught in numerous institutions, including the Institut pédagogique, the convents of Mont Ste-Anne and of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, and the Institut Nazareth. The list of his pupils is noteworthy and includes Alcibiade Béique, Victoria Cartier, Claude Champagne, Édouard Clarke, Alexandre-M. Clerk, Jean Dansereau, Joseph-Daniel Dussault, Nicholas Eichorn, Septimus Fraser, J.-J. Gagnier, Alfred La Liberté, Alfred Lamoureux, Alphonse Lavallée-Smith, Émery and Ernest Lavigne, Antonio Létourneau, Clarence Lucas, Albertine Morin-Labrecque, Joseph Piché, William Reed, Léon Ringuet, and Amédée Tremblay.

Pelletier was essentially an improviser and composed relatively little. Two masses and some motets for St James have been lost. Among his chief works may be noted Dix Petits Morceaux pour l'orgue, Opus 3 (G. Schirmer 1870; CMH, vol 4a); Six Pièces d'orgue (possibly published by G. Schirmer but untraceable); Accompagnement du nouveau manuel de chants liturgiques de l'abbé [Cléophas] Borduas for organ (Eusèbe Sénécal 1889, Imprimerie moderne 1903), a work highly praised by Guillaume Couture; Quatre Noëls anciens for choir and organ (1890); for piano, Mécanisme du piano ou Nouvelles études techniques (Lavigne, after 1876), a Valse-caprice 'in memory of Chopin' (Boucher), and a Scherzo (Écho du cabinet de lecture paroissial, l Apr 1862; CMH, vol 1); a patriotic song 'Les Couleurs du Canada,' (John Lovell 1860; CMH, vol 7); the march Prince Arthur for piano or concert band and another piece for concert band, both of which were played at Sohmer Park under the direction of Ernest Lavigne; and various other songs and pieces for piano and for organ.

During his career as an educator, Pelletier gave many lectures, several of which appeared in published collections, namely Le Toucher du pianiste (Montreal 1916), L'Étude de la littérature du piano (Montreal 1920), L'Art pianistique (Montreal 1922) after Boileau's L'Art poétique, and Guide du professeur de piano (Montreal 1925). He also wrote many articles, including a series of discussions on organ building and playing, published in La Revue canadienne (1881-2).

Pelletier enjoyed the esteem and admiration of his contemporaries and must be regarded as one of the most dedicated craftsmen of Canadian music during a difficult period, a man of true initiative who, according to Eugène Lapierre, 'took it upon himself to be serious at a time when the music in vogue most certainly was not.' The avenue Octave-Pelletier in Montreal was named after him, and a vocal quartet bearing his name, conducted by Guillaume Dupuis, made recordings ca 1918 for Columbia.

See also Frédéric Pelletier and Romain Pelletier (his sons), and Romain-Octave Pelletier II (his grandson).


Further Reading

  • Lapierre, Eugène. 'Les musiciens du passé, Romain-Octave Pelletier,' Entre-Nous, vol 1, Jan 1930

    Laurendeau, Arthur. 'Musiciens d'autrefois: Romain-Octave Pelletier,' Action nationale, vol 35, Jun 1950

    Pelletier, Romain. 'Octave Pelletier, organiste et pédagogue (1843-1927),' Qui? vol 4, Sep 1952; repr in Courtes Biographies canadiennes, ed Romain Gour (Montreal 1952)

    Catalogue of Canadian Composers

    Musical Red Book

    Musiciens canadiens