The idea for Montréal Musica—a recording project showcasing Montréal creativity—came to me at the beginning of the pandemic when concerts and recitals were suspended. The prospect of adding works to my repertoire and recording them gave me something on which to focus, and in devising the programme, I quickly turned to contrasting pieces by one female and eight male composers with ties to Montréal, each of whom, in his or her own way, has left his or her mark on the musical landscape of Québec, and even Canada.
Since I favour diversity, the works selected cover a century of composition (1918-2017) and encompass writing styles in which melody predominates, from post-romanticism to jazz, via minimalism and postmodernism.
Below, you will find brief comments about the composers and the pieces on the album. By clicking on the name of each composer, a detailed biography will open in a new tab.
Short films & music videos
From a simple album project, Montréal Musica has grown, over the months, to include eight short films and music videos by award-winning filmmakers—a first in Canada. Always with an eye to diversity, the genres include fiction, dance, experimental animation, experimental mini-documentary and, of course, music.
Adding images to the music will increase the scope of the album by reaching a wider audience, highlighting not only the piano pieces, but also the artistic work of directors Moïa Jobin-Paré, Lou-Théa Papaloïzos, Caio Amon, and Yann-Manuel Hernandez.
Enjoy your listening and viewing experience!
Marc Bourdeau, 2023
Claude Champagne (1891-1965)
A leading figure in the history of music in Québec and Canada, Montréal composer Claude Champagne wrote over 40 works. Through his extensive activities as a pedagogue and administrator—notably at the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal, the École de musique Vincent d’Indy, the École normale de musique, and the McGill Conservatory—he laid the foundations, in Québec, of a modern pedagogical approach to training young musicians. The list of composers he taught includes Pierre Mercure, Violet Archer, Clermont Pépin, Micheline Coulombe Saint-Marcoux, François Morel, Gilles Tremblay, and Serge Garant.
He received several awards and honours, including the Canada Council Medal, honorary doctorates from the Université de Montréal and the Chicago Conservatory College, and the Bene merenti de patria Medal from the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste. An avenue and a concert hall in Montréal are named after him.
Claude Champagne composed the diptych Prélude et filigrane in 1918, prior to his studies in Paris from 1921 to 1928. The work is dedicated to Léo-Pol Morin, who premièred it in Montréal on 3 December 1918.
Apart from a style reminiscent of the French school of the second half of the 19th century, the main characteristic of the Prélude is that none of the musical phrases ends conclusively, each suspensive ending opens the way for the next phrase. As its title suggests, Filigrane is made up of short motives, alternately ascending and descending, delicately assembled, all set to a three-beat rhythmic pulse.
An unpublished work composed on 2 February 1944 and dedicated to his daughters Monique and Jacqueline, the Prélude “À mes filles” is a simple piece in two parts. The theme of the opening section is first played in the middle register and then in a lower one. The melody of the livelier second part gradually builds to a climax which, in turn, yields to the abbreviated and quiet return of the first theme.
Oscar Peterson (1925-2007)
A native of Montréal and widely regarded as one of the greatest pianists in the history of jazz, Oscar Peterson enjoyed an outstanding international career for 60 years, performing on countless prestigious stages around the world. He made more than 200 recordings, both in solo and with his trio, his quartet, and artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Stan Getz, and Nat King Cole.
In addition to his induction into the International Jazz Hall of Fame and the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, Oscar Peterson’s long list of awards and honours includes eight Grammy Awards, the Praemium Imperiale, the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award, the Glenn Gould Prize, the UNESCO International Music Council Award, the BBC Lifetime Achievement Award, the Order of Canada, the Ordre national du Québec, the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (France), the Order of Ontario, and 15 honorary degrees.
Canada Post issued a stamp in his honour in 2005, and the Royal Canadian Mint issued a coin in 2022. An avenue and a concert hall in Mississauga are named after him, as well as a concert hall, a park and a square (planned for 2025) in Montréal.
Hymn To Freedom is one of Oscar Peterson’s first major compositions. His impresario Norman Granz encouraged him to write a piece that brought to mind the beginnings of blues, using jazz, so to speak, as a means of promoting social justice. Peterson drew his inspiration from the Spirituals he had heard as a child in Montréal churches, seeking to retain the moving, unadorned beauty of traditional religious hymns.
He recorded Hymn To Freedom in December 1962 in Los Angeles with bassist Ray Brown and drummer Ed Thigben. The piece was released in 1963 on Verve Records’ Night Train LP, becoming one of the biggest commercial successes and most important compositions of Oscar Peterson’s career. It was quickly adopted around the world as the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement.
Peterson defined jazz as “instant composition” and he would sometimes invent a piece during a concert. Love Ballade is one such piece, composed spontaneously in May 1984 during a performance at a Washington DC nightclub. Imbued with tender lyricism and timeless melancholy, this piece, dedicated to his wife Kelly Green-Peterson, illustrates Peterson’s refined palette of harmonic colours.
He recorded Love Ballade in November 1986 during concerts at the Westwood Playhouse in Los Angeles, which is the version that appears on the Time After Time album released by Pablo Records. His partners are guitarist Joe Pass, bassist David Young, and drummer Martin Drew.
The Gentle Waltz, another inspired and moving composition, was recorded in March 1990 at the Blue Note, the legendary New York jazz club and is included on the 1993 Telarc Jazz album Encore At The Blue Note. On this occasion, guitarist Herb Ellis, bassist Ray Brown and drummer Bobby Durham join Oscar Peterson in a soulful and imaginative performance.
François Morel (1926-2018)
Unlike many of his peers, Montréal composer François Morel received all of his musical training in Québec. Since Antiphonie—premièred in 1953 under the direction of Leopold Stokowski at Carnegie Hall and which marked the official start of Morel’s career as a composer—he has written some 50 works. As a freelance composer and conductor, he collaborated for over 25 years with Radio-Canada, leading him to write music for numerous series and programmes, in addition to more than 100 incidental music scores for plays broadcast on television. He taught at the Université Laval from 1979 to 1997 and was awarded the Ordre national du Québec in 1994, and the Prix Denise-Pelletier (Prix du Québec) in 1996.
François Morel composed his Deux études de sonorité in 1952-1953 while completing his studies at the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal. The work was published in 1954 and Morel himself gave the première that same year at a concert presented by Musique de notre temps, a musical society he founded in 1953 with his colleagues, composers Serge Garant and Gilles Tremblay.
One notices the influence of Olivier Messiaen and his modes of limited transposition in the way Morel organizes the melodic and harmonic elements. The rhythmic vitality, especially present in the second étude, is reminiscent of Béla Bartók’s writing.
Essentially lyrical in character, Étude de sonorité nº 1 spans nearly the entire keyboard and explores layering and contrasts of timbres, registers, and dynamics. The opening theme of the spirited Étude de sonorité nº 2 is punctuated by irregular rhythmic accents and rapidly descending passages. The expressive theme of the slower middle section gradually gains momentum; a transition leads to the return of the rhythmic energy of the beginning. After a swift run to the highest region of the piano, followed by a chord made of harmonic resonance, the piece ends with a vigorous plunge to the lowest register of the keyboard.
The Deux études de sonorité are a big hit with pianists and teachers in Québec and Canada.
André Mathieu (1929-1968)
Nicknamed the “Canadian Mozart”, Montréal pianist and composer André Mathieu revealed his exceptional talent at an early age: he composed at four, gave his first public recital at six, and made his orchestral début at seven. He studied in Paris and New York, performed at Salle Pleyel, Salle Gaveau, and three times at Carnegie Hall, among other venues, and toured Europe and North America. However, his popularity declined as he reached adulthood. A renewed appreciation of his output emerged in the 1990s, thanks in part to recordings by Montréal pianist Alain Lefèvre.
André Mathieu was nine years old, in May 1938, when he composed his Berceuse. Written during his first sojourn in Paris, it is one of the most accomplished pieces from the early period of the young musician’s development. It is dedicated to Jacques de La Presle, his composition teacher.
Composed in November 1951, the Prélude romantique is, along with the Concerto de Québec and Printemps canadien, among Mathieu’s best-known works. A finely chiselled piece, marked by suave nostalgia, the sinuous melodic contour and the harmonic fluidity of Prélude romantique’s musical ideas recall improvisation.
Jacques Hétu (1938-2010)
A professor at the Université du Québec à Montréal from 1979 to 2000, Jacques Hétu studied at the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal and then in Paris in the classes of Henri Dutilleux and Olivier Messiaen. One of Canada’s most frequently performed composers, both at home and abroad, Hétu has received commissions by numerous organizations, including the Montréal, Toronto and Québec City symphony orchestras, Radio-Canada, Vancouver New Music, and the Société de musique contemporaine du Québec (SMCQ). His catalogue includes over 80 works. A member of the Royal Society of Canada, the Order of Canada and the Ordre national du Québec, he has also won a Juno Award and seven SOCAN Awards.
Composed in 2003, Impromptu was commissioned by the Concours musical international de Montréal (CMIM) for its 2004 edition featuring the piano.
The work, dedicated to David Fray and premièred in May 2004, is made up of three linked sections: adagio, allegro, adagio. The initial slow section has a dreamy, delicately expressive atmosphere. The middle section has an impetuous character and is similar, in its musical form, to a rondo. After a climax of intensity, the abbreviated return of the slow section recalls the serene mood of the beginning.
On a pianistic level, Impromptu focuses on contrasts of nuance, tone and timbre, while on a harmonic level, the favoured colour is that of a perfect major chord with an added minor sixth. Overall, the work employs the language of extended tonality, derived from the use of modern modes.
John Rea (1944)
Born in Toronto, John Rea was a professor at the Schulich School of Music of McGill University (Montréal) from 1973 to 2019. He has composed some 50 works, including commissions from the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, CBC and Radio-Canada, the Arditti Quartet, Radio France, the Théâtre d’Aujourd’hui, the Ensemble Court-Circuit, Esprit Orchestra, the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, and the Musikkollegium Winterthur. He has twice received the Jules-Léger Prize for new chamber music, first in 1981 for Com Possession, then in 1992 for Objets perdus.
Las Meninas, the masterpiece painted by Diego Velázquez in 1656, is one of the most remarkable achievements in the history of Western painting because of the way its complex and enigmatic composition raises questions about reality and illusion, and the ambiguous relationship it creates between the viewer and the figures depicted. The multi-layered structure of this painting has intrigued many historians and artists, including Picasso who, in 1957, painted 44 variations of Velázquez’s masterpiece.
In the 21 “transformational” variations that make up his own Las Meninas (1990-1991), John Rea takes Robert Schumann’s 13 short pieces from Kinderszenen as a starting point, presenting them from the changing perspectives of several observers, the latter being mainly other composers. In other words, Rea varies Schumann as seen by Satie, Glass or Stravinsky.
It is not necessary to recognize the musical references and quotations ingeniously employed by John Rea to appreciate the six pieces excerpted from Las Meninas. But for the music lovers who might be interested in knowing, these include Debussy’s Pagodes (à Alexina Louie), Cityscapes and ragtime (à James Hartway), the minimalist writing of Einstein on the Beach (à Philip Glass), Voiles (à la mémoire de Claude Debussy), the First Gymnopédie (à la mémoire d’Erik Satie), and The Rite of Spring (à la mémoire d’Igor Stravinsky).
Las Meninas was commissioned by the Société de musique contemporaine du Québec (SMCQ) for pianist Yvar Mikhashoff and premièred in Montréal on 14 April 1991.
Denis Gougeon (1951)
A professor at the Université de Montréal until 2019, Denis Gougeon has received commissions by several ensembles and organizations, including the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, the Orchestre philharmonique de Radio France, Radio-Canada, the Bayerisches Staatsballett (Munich), the Théâtre UBU, the Percussions de Strasbourg, and the Canadian Opera Company. He has composed over 100 works, winning a Juno Award, two Prix Opus, and five SOCAN Awards.
Piano-Soleil (1990) was commissioned by the Canadian Music Competition for the International Stepping Stone. One of ten pieces grouped under the title Six Thèmes Solaires, Piano-Soleil is also the most important of these pieces since it generates the music of all the other planets.
Symbolizing raw energy, intense heat and radiation, the light-energy of the sun illuminates each planet in a different way; the other nine pieces in the group (Trompette-Mars, Voix-Vénus, Saxophone-Mercure, Violoncelle-Pluton, etc.) are variations on the light-music of the solar star.
In these ten pieces, Denis Gougeon deliberately challenges the usual concept of virtuosity. By playing with the musical structure and using recent instrumental techniques, he broadens the inventory of the mechanisms of expression and allows the performer to reveal a very personal sensitivity.
Piano-Soleil begins and ends with passages featuring torrential runs and tumultuous chords. The contrasting middle section—in which an expansive melody of repeated notes unfolds—is dreamier and more peaceful, almost suspended in time. Dedicated to Jacques Hétu, Piano-Soleil was premièred in June 1990 at the National Arts Centre (NAC) in Ottawa.
Rachel Laurin (1961-2023)
Born in the Montréal area, organist and composer Rachel Laurin immersed herself fully in composition and performance. Her catalogue includes more than 100 works, many of which won awards, including the Holtkamp-AGO Composition Award, the First Prize at the International OrgelKids Composition Competition, the Pogorzelski-Yankee Organ Composition Award, and the American Guild of Organists’ Distinguished Composer Award. She was “house composer” at Wayne Leupold publications from 2006 up until her passing in the summer of 2023.
Jour de pluie and Sieste caniculaire are part of the Esquisses d’été suite composed from 22 to 30 July 2017—a commission from the Canadian Music Centre in Québec for its Concours de musique québécoise for young pianists.
To quote Rachel Laurin: “It is in the spirit of spontaneity and of scenes sketched on the spot that I composed these seven short pieces based on the simple pleasures of the beautiful season of summer. I have always loved the visual aspect associated with music, the action and staging suggested by harmonic and aural colours, structure, rhythmic accentuation and melodic expression.”
In the guise of a lullaby, the calmly undulating melody of Sieste caniculaire is played in the lower register, like a cello. The music evokes the idleness of a beautiful summer day in the countryside.
A descriptive piece, Jour de pluie suggests, through a quiet and uninterrupted flow of sixteenth notes, the constant sound of drops. Here and there, brief melodic passages emerge, sometimes echoed by the left hand. Delightful harmonic sequences complete this tenderly nostalgic picture.
Marc-André Hamelin (1961)
Montréal-born pianist and composer Marc-André Hamelin has enjoyed a remarkable international career for over 30 years. His awards and honours include seven Juno Awards, 11 Grammy nominations, the Order of Canada, the Ordre national du Québec, and membership in the Royal Society of Canada.
He started composing in the 1980s, with a focus on miniatures, performing one or more of his short pieces himself, often as an encore.
He penned Music Box on 5 October 1986 during a train ride from Montréal to Philadelphia. Alluding to the ritornello produced by the delicate mechanism of a music box, the writing is reminiscent of minimalism.
Composed in London on 23 January 1997, the gentle and slow Berceuse (in tempore belli) unfurls a long, mostly descending melody which is supported by rich and tightly knit chords.