Andrée Desautels | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Andrée Desautels

(Marie) Andrée (Carmen) Desautels, CM, instrumentalist, musicologist, teacher (born 9 October 1923 in Montreal, QC). Andrée Desautels taught the history of music and musicology at the Connservatoire de musique du Quebec (CMM) from 1949 to 1988. She also taught at the Université de Montréal, the École Vincent-d’Indy, and the international Sessions of the Château d’Argenteuil in Brussels, Belgium, and is credited with introducing the ondes Martenot to Canada. She was also active in Youth and Music Canada (JMC) and was responsible for programming the organization’s performances at Expo 67. She was made a Member of the Order of Canada for being “the first Francophone to write about music in Canada” and for “pav[ing] the way for many researchers in this field.”

Early Years and Education

The daughter of Victor Desautels and Cédia Brault, Andrée Desautels studied piano with Isabelle Delorme and later attended the École supérieure de musique d'Outremont (École Vincent-d'Indy). From 1944 to 1947, she studied at the Connservatoire de musique du Quebec (CMM) under the teachers Germaine Malépart (piano), Isabelle Delorme (harmony and counterpoint) and Claude Champagne (composition and orchestration). Also, from 1945 to 1947, she studied the history of art and literature at the Université de Montréal.

Admitted to the Paris Conservatory, Desautels took courses in the history of music with Norbert Dufourcq and aesthetics with Marcel Beaufils and Alexis Roland-Manuel. She studied composition and orchestration privately with Andrée Vaurabourg-Honegger, analysis with Nadia Boulanger (Desautels was a member of her vocal ensemble in 1948–49), and ondes Martenot (an early electronic instrument with a sound similar to a theremin) with the instrument’s inventor, Maurice Martenot. 

Three of Desautels’s works, “Bois amical,” “Accalmie,” and “Hymne aux étoiles,” were sung at the École normale de musique in Paris on 1 July 1947 at a concert of French and Canadian music in which La Cantoria took part. Desautels received a premiers prix in history of music and aesthetics from the Paris Conservatory in 1949.

Career as Musicologist

On her return from Paris in 1949 and until her retirement in 1988, Desautels taught the history of music and musicology at the CMM. She was an examiner for the Paris Conservatory in 1952. From 1961 to 1964, she taught the history of music at the Université de Montréal and the École Vincent-d’Indy. She was a visiting professor for three summers (1963–65) at the international Sessions of the Château d’Argenteuil in Brussels, Belgium. Her pupils have included the musicologists Richard Boulanger, Jacques-André Houle, Nicole Labelle and Liette Yergeau.

Work with Youth and Music Canada (JMC)

She was active in Youth and Music Canada (JMC) as a commentator (more than 500 concerts) from 1949–66, and from 1951–56 as managing editor of the Journal des JMC, which in 1954 became Le Journal musical canadien. She was appointed associate commissioner of the JMC pavilion at Expo 67, where she was responsible for both the basic concept (Man and Music) and the programming. At the JMC Orford Arts Centre from 1964 to 1968, she was host to several conferences and offered public courses (1975–78) on the work of various composers, including Bach and Ravel.

Work with Radio-Canada

She both wrote and introduced numerous series for Radio-Canada, including La Chanson de France (1956), Connaissance de la musique (1957), Musique nouvelle d'autrefois (1958), Chronique de la vie musicale au Canada (in collaboration with James Bannerman and Helmut Kallmann, 1965), and Reflets des sources (1972–73). She also contributed to such programs as La Revue des arts et des lettres.


In 1946, Desautels wrote the incidental music for Carl Dubuc’s play La Fille du soleil. In 1950, she brought to Canada Ginette Martenot, a virtuoso performer on the electronic instrument invented by her brother. Desautels wrote a background score for that instrument for a 1954 Théâtre du Nouveau-Monde production of Molière's Dom Juan, which she performed herself. She also composed the incidental music for a Radio-Canada performance of Jean Anouilh’s Antigone in 1952.

Other Activities

In 1951, Desautels was elected a member of the Société française de musicologie. She was the founder and president of the Association des professeurs of the Conservatoire de musique du Québec from 1960 to 1968, and was a member of the Canada Council for the Arts from 1967 to 1970. She collaborated in drawing up numerous briefs, including the one submitted to the Ministre des affaires culturelles du Québec by the Association des professeurs in 1962. She also wrote several articles and reviews for newspapers (notably Le Devoir, 1962–63), as well as Canadian and European periodicals. She gave lectures on Canadian music in Boston, Paris and Toronto, and contributed to the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada and The New Grove Dictionary.


Desautels received a medal from the Quebec National Assembly in 1988, and in 1995 she was made an Member of the Order of Canada. She received the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal from the Government of Canada in 2002, and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012.


  • “Saint-Denys Garneau et la musique,” Jmc, vol. 1, June 1954, repr. in Saint-Denys Garneau, ed. Jacques Blais (Montreal, 1971).
  • “Les trois âges de la musique au Canada,” La Musique, vol. 2, ed. Norbert Dufourcq (Paris, 1965).
  • Six formes audio-visuelles, drawings by Norman McLaren, texts by Marthe Blackburn, music by Maurice Blackburn, concept and preface by Andrée Desautels (Montreal, 1967).
  • “La musique” in “Canada 4: Vie culturelle,” Encyclopaedia universalis, vol. 3 (Paris, 1968).
  • “The history of Canadian composition 1610-1967/Histoire de la composition musicale au Canada de 1610 à 1967,” Aspects of Music in Canada / Aspects de la musique au Canada
  • “Certain aesthetic considerations on musical creation in Canada,” Arts and Culture (Montreal, 1976).
  • “La création et la vie musicale au Québec,” Dossier-Québec, ed. Claude Glayman (Paris, 1979).
  • “Un manuscrit autographe de Marc-Antoine Charpentier à Québec,” Recherches sur la musique française classique, vol. 21 (1983).
  • “Claude Champagne,” notes and documentary accompanying the 4-record set ACM 30 (1988).
  • “La mémoire musicale de Norbert Dufourcq,” Montreal Le Devoir, 9 Apr 1991.