Magazine article Opera Canada

Grand Tradition: Joseph Saucier 1869-1941

Magazine article Opera Canada

Grand Tradition: Joseph Saucier 1869-1941

Article excerpt

I HAVE ALWAYS FOUND IT MORE THAN CURIous that throughout history, members of the same family have often played crucial roles in a country's musical development. This second part of the 20th century, for instance, has produced a wide variety of world-class Canadian operatic families. One has only to think of, among others, the Brauns, the Relyeas and the Quilicos to realize that music has always been, and continues to be, a family affair.

In Quebec, one of the leading musical families were the Sauciers. In the second half of the 19th century, Moise Saucier was one of the most highly regarded organists, pianists and teachers in the country, but it was his son, Joseph, who was to leave a lasting imprint on Canadian musical history.

What is particularly striking about Joseph Saucier is the range of his musical activities. A noted pianist and organist, he was primarily known as a choirmaster and especially as a baritone soloist. Born in 1869, he studied piano with his father before opting for singing. A pupil of Achille Fortier in his native Montreal, he pursued his vocal studies in Paris. On returning to Montreal, he embarked upon his two complementary careers: the first, an almost 40-year stint as a choirmaster and a second, equally impressive career as a baritone soloist.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Saucier's main sphere of influence was not opera. He was primarily identified with oratorio and the concert platform. He championed a genre that is, alas, almost forgotten today--the French oratorio. Gounod, Massenet and Berlioz figured prominently in his repertoire, especially the latter's La Damnation de Faust. According to the critic Marcel Valois, "he brought [to his interpretation] a sense of drama and authority not only to the text but to the music of this Berlioz masterpiece." He was also closely associated with the works of Theodore Dubois, specifically Les Sept Paroles du Christ and Le Paradis Perdu, in which he sang Satan most memorably at the 50th anniversary of Laval University. He created Alexis Constant's oratorio Les Deux Ames in 1913, and appeared frequently with various orchestras and local choral associations.

Saucier was as highly regarded as a recitalist. He was a famed interpreter of French melodie. Once again, he performed the works of Dubois and Massenet, but it was especially in the songs of Faure that, according to one critic, "he held his audience spell-bound. …

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