The New Generation of Composers in Quebec

By Belkin, Alan | Canadian University Music Review, January 1, 1989 | Go to article overview
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The New Generation of Composers in Quebec

Belkin, Alan, Canadian University Music Review


Who are the new composers of serious music1 in Quebec today? What do they think about their art and their musical environment? Following an idea originally proposed by Carolyn Jones, Marie-Thérèse Lefebvre (professor of musicology at the Université de Montréal), Mireille Gagné (director of the Montreal branch of the Canadian Music Centre) and I attempted to answer these questions. With financial help from our respective institutions, we interviewed 25 of the younger composers in Quebec.

We originally hoped to publish the interviews together in a book. However, it became apparent that they could only be homogenized to a consistent format with great difficulty: there were too many important differences in style, tone, degree of detail, and quality of expression. Since this material is a treasure of first-hand documentation about the state of music in Quebec today, coming from the people at the centre of it, we hope that, in the future, someone wiU undertake a lengthier study of it. For the moment, this article summarizes the main findings so as to bring the material to the notice of the musical community. Some quotations will convey a little of the flavour of the interviews.2

The interviews were conducted according to a questionnaire, a copy of which is appended to this article. We divided this questionnaire into five areas: musical background; the process of composition; aesthetic attitudes; "professional" matters, having to do with money; and finally, extra-musical, cultural issues. Each area was explored in a series of questions, and the interviewee was left free to expand as necessary within this framework. No interview lasted more than one hour, and all were taped. The language of the interview was chosen by the composer.

The following composers responded.3

Raynald Arsenault

Gilles Bellemare

Alan Belkin

Richard Boucher

Michelle Boudreau

Walter Boudreau

Michel-Georges Brégent

Brian Cherney

José Evangeüsta

Claude Frenette

Michel Gonneville

Denis Gougeon

Robert Jones

Andre Lamarche

Alain Lalonde

Anne Lauber

Michel Longtin

Robin Minard

Antoine Padilla

John Rea

Donald Steven

Keith Tedman

Paul Theberge

Pierre Trochu

John Winiarz

Our first criterion for selection was simply age: no composer could be older than his/her forties at the time of the interviews in 1984. We set this limit so as to exclude more established composers whose opinions were already well documented elsewhere. In the case of the younger composers, we excluded those still in school at any level lower than doctoral studies. Another criterion was residence: the composer had to have lived for a substantial time in Quebec and had to be currently making his/her career there.


The first part of the questionnaire addressed the composer's musical background. In trying to pinpoint their first musical interests, a few composers said they "just knew young" that they were going to compose. Some composers, Uke Michel Gonneville who came from a musical family, cited an older person who acted as a catalyst. Some, like Michel-Georges Brégent, began by playing classical repertoire on an instrument. Many composers mentioned the influence of the popular music they heard around them. Since this popular music came largely from records and the radio, and since the instrumental repertoire they came to know as children consisted largely of European classical music, it is perhaps not surprising that most of these composers have come to see themselves more as "world composers" than as "Quebec composers."

It is striking that only three of the 25 composers mentioned their school as being musically significant (and one of these, Robert Jones, was American-schooled). Unlike many places in the U.S., Quebec does not have an elaborate music program in its schools.

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