Joseph Edmond Gilles Potvin, CM, MSRC, critic, editor, producer, administrator, consultant, impresario (born 23 October 1923 in Montréal, QC; died 4 September 2000 in Montréal). One of Canada’s leading music authorities, Gilles Potvin was once deemed “the guardian and champion of Québec's musical legacy." He worked throughout his life as a writer and editor on the subject of music, most notably for the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada and its French-language edition. He also enjoyed a 42-year-career at the CBC, where he was a record librarian, producer, special consultant and the head of music production for Radio-Canada International. He was a Member of the Order of Canada and the Royal Society of Canada, and received the Prix de Musique Calixa-Lavallée and the Canadian Music Council Medal.
Music and Writing
From 1940 to 1948, Potvin studied music in Montréal with Armand Renaud (theory, solfège), Agostino Salvetti, Jules Dubois, Jean Belland (cello), Oscar O'Brien (harmony) and Rodolphe Mathieu (analysis). In 1946, Potvin began writing reviews for newspapers and periodicals such as Le Quartier latin, Notre Temps, Le Passe-Temps and L'Autorité. He also worked as a journalist with the daily Le Canada (1946–48), and as a publicist for the Casavant Society and the Georges-Armand Robert concert agency (1947–48).
In 1949, he began contributing to the MontréalGazette. He was the Montréal correspondent for Musical America, Opera Canada and Opera (London); he also contributed to Châtelaine and the Journal musical canadien of the Jeunesses Musicales du Canada (JMC), among other publications. After working in 1961 as a critic for the daily Le Nouveau Journal, he served as regular music critic for the Montréal dailies Le Devoir (1961–66; 1973–85) and La Presse (1966–70). He was managing editor of The Canada Music Book (1970–76) and wrote numerous program notes for the Montréal Symphony Orchestra (MSO), the Pro Musica Society and the Opéra du Québec. He also published a history of the MSO for its 50th anniversary in 1984.
Potvin was managing editor of the Canada Music Book (1970–76). He contributed as a writer to Thirty-four Biographies, Contemporary Canadian Composers, Sohlmans Musiklexikon and The New Grove. In 1970, he began conducting research into the life and career of Emma Albani. He became a leading authority on her work and published an annotated translation of her autobiography, Forty Years of Song, under the title Mémoires d'Emma Albani (1972).
Potvin is perhaps best remembered for his work as co-editor (with Helmut Kallmann and Kenneth Winters) of the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada (1981 and 1992 eds.); he wrote or co-wrote close to 300 articles for the encyclopedia and was specifically in charge of the French-language edition, Encyclopédie de la musique au Canada (1983 and 1993 eds.).
In 1948, Potvin joined the CBC and over the years worked as a record librarian (1948–50), a public relations officer and editor of La Semaine à Radio-Canada (1950–53), a producer, most notably of the radio program Premières (1954–57) and the TV program Concerts pour la jeunesse (1957–58), and director of the auditions and casting department (1962–65).
He worked for the Canada Council briefly as head of the music section in early 1966, but in June that year he was appointed head of music production with CBC International Services (renamed Radio-Canada International in 1972; see Music at the CBC). From 1971 to 1990 he served as special consultant for recorded music programs at the CBC. He initiated numerous RCI projects, including the LPs Colas et Colinette (1967) and The MSO (1967), the series Jeunesses musicales 20 Canada (1969) and the complete works of François Couperin performed by Kenneth Gilbert (1970–71). Potvin also produced two LPs — Chantal Juillet (1977) and Harry Somers: Piano Music (1978) — that earned the Canadian Music Council's Grand prix du disque award in 1978 and 1979 respectively.
From 1966 to 1972, Potvin was the CBC delegate to the sessions of the International Rostrum of Composers at the UNESCO Centre in Paris. He was also the chief editor of the RCI’s Anthology of Canadian Music (1978–90).
Potvin was active as an impresario for more than two decades. He presented a Québec tour by André Mathieu in 1944–45 and was associated with the Musical Arts Series (1951–53). He presented recitals by Walter Gieseking in Canada and New York (1952–55) and, together with Froncoys Bernier, recitals by Wilhelm Kempff (1961–64). He also presented the pianists Solomon and Ross Pratt, the organist Fernando Germani and the Montréal String Quartet.
Potvin was one of the founders of Minute Opera and its administrator from 1949 to 1953. He spent the 1953–54 season in Europe, having received a scholarship from the Québec government; he worked in various theatres and festivals including in Aix-en-Provence, and was a correspondent for the Montréal Gazette. On his return he was appointed instructor for the McGill Opera Studio (now Opera McGill), where he staged Purcell's Dido and Aeneas in 1957.
At the request of the Canada Council, Potvin acted as consultant for the study entitled An Assessment of the Impact of Selected Large Performing Companies upon the Canadian Economy (1974). Also in 1974, he was a member of the task force headed by Jean-Paul Jeannotte on the state of symphonic music, opera and dance in Québec. He was a member of the task force on the National Arts Centre and contributed to its report in 1986, as well as a member of the jury for the first Glenn Gould Prize in 1986. In 1990, he was appointed member of the consulting committee on the Performing Arts Museum created by the Ministry of Communications Canada.
Organizations and Honours
Potvin was a member of the board of the Canadian Music Council (1968–77) and national president of the JMC (1976–80). In 1982, the Canadian Music Council awarded him a special prize for the publication of the first edition of the EMC, and in 1987 it conferred on him its medal. He was a founding member of the Canadian Musical Heritage Society and was named an honorary member of the Canadian Music Centre in 1990.
His work as editor of EMC earned him much recognition, including the 1998 Award of Merit from the Association for Canadian Studies. Following Potvin’s death, his fellow EMC editor Kenneth Winters wrote in the Globe and Mail that Potvin "was, first and foremost, the guardian and champion of Québec's musical legacy."
In 1960, Potvin married the soprano Micheline Tessier. Renowned organist Hubert Bédard was his first cousin. Potvin donated his papers to the Université de Montréal in 1997.
Grand prix du disque (Chantal Juillet), Canadian Music Council (1978)
Grand prix du disque (Harry Somers: Piano Music), Canadian Music Council (1979)
Prix de Musique Calixa-Lavallée, St-Jean-Baptiste Society of Montréal(1983)
Member, Order of Canada (1984)
Member, Royal Society of Canada (1984)
Canadian Music Council Medal, Canadian Music Council (1987)
Award of Merit, Association for Canadian Studies (1998)
Writings by Gilles Potvin
"Clermont Pépin fait honneur à la jeune musique canadienne," Passe-Temps (June 1946).
"La jeune musique canadienne: Jean Papineau-Couture, compositeur," P-T (November 1946).
"Alexander Brott compositeur," P-T (May 1947).
Gilles Potvin and Maryvonne Kendergi, eds., Aspects de la musique au Canada (1970).
"Emma Albani," Opera (April 1972).
"Albani," Perspectives, 15 April 1972.
"Albani — ma vie," Maclean’s, December 1972.
"Éviola Gauthier: il y a 50 ans, elle fit découvrir Gershwin aux Américains," Perspectives, 27 October 1973.
"Symphony Orchestras and Opera in Canada" and "Jeunesses musicales du Canada," Arts and Culture (1976).
"A Short History of Opera in Canada," Mcan 44 (Fall 1980).
OSM: The First Fifty Years (1984).
"La Musica italiana in Canada," trans. A. Teodorani, Il Veltro, Rivista della civiltà italiana vol. 29 (May–August 1985).
"Les Canadiens au secours d'Emma Albani," Présentation à la Société royale du Canada 40 (1985–86).
"Radio-Canada International: The Voice of Canada After Forty Years," Hello Out There!, eds. John Beckwith and Dorith R. Cooper (1988).
A version of this entry originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada.