Gabriel Charpentier | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Gabriel Charpentier

Gabriel (Moïse) Charpentier. Composer, poet, artistic consultant, teacher, b Richmond, near Sherbrooke, Que, 13 Sep 1925. He studied piano with Estelle Letarte in Richmond and J.

Charpentier, Gabriel

Gabriel (Moïse) Charpentier. Composer, poet, artistic consultant, teacher, b Richmond, near Sherbrooke, Que, 13 Sep 1925. He studied piano with Estelle Letarte in Richmond and J.-Antonio Thompson in Trois-Rivières, and 1940-5 with Hervé Cloutier and Fernand Graton at Jean-de-Brébeuf College in Montreal, and with Jean Papineau-Couture. While pursuing his academic studies he discovered the music of Berg, Debussy, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, and Webern, and during a stay 1945-7 with the Benedictines of St-Benoît-du-Lac he studied Gregorian chant with Dom Bergeron. He completed his studies in Paris 1947-53 with Andrée Bonneville, Nadia Boulanger (composition), Annette Dieudonné (solfège), and Norbert Dufourcq.

Charpentier served 1954-80 as programming co-ordinator and artistic consultant for the CBC's musical shows on French-language TV. In this dual capacity he collaborated with Françoys Bernier, Pierre Mercure, Pierre Morin, and other producers on the development and production of such series as 'Concerts pour la jeunesse,' 'L'Heure du concert,' 'Musiques folles des années sages,' and 'Les Beaux Dimanches'. The last-named series presented many contemporary works, and one of its programs - 'Loves,' featuring Serge Garant's... chant d'amours and the Brian Macdonald-Harry Freedman ballet The Shining People of Leonard Cohen - received honourable mention in the 1975 Prix Italia competition. During the summers of 1955 and 1956 Charpentier gave courses in the history of music at McGill University. He also taught that subject and also rhythm 1961-4 at the National Theatre School. He was the artistic director of the Pro Musica Society 1980-1. In 1983, he was awarded the Victor M. Lynch-Staunton scholarship by the Canada Council.

Charpentier's vocal and instrumental scores reveal his contrapuntal skills and his profound attachment to Gregorian melisma, a consequence of his time with the Benedictines of St-Benoît-du-Lac. He himself has said: 'This [Gregorian chant] is my folklore; this is the basis of all my work. Chant, for me, is a line. If an actor or a singer can trace a line that lives and is meaningful, it is perhaps the most beautiful thing that can happen to a man' (Montreal Star, 18 Jan 1969).

In Charpentier all of the performing arts converge. He divides his musical ability into three categories: vocal and instrumental music, musical theatre, and music for the theatre. Equally drawn to music and to poetry, he has written, among other verse, the words for Pierre Mercure's Cantate pour une joie and Dissidence and for Jocelyne Binet'sTrois Poèmes. His collection of poems Aire won the Prix de la poésie moderne (Paris 1948). He translated R. Murray Schafer's operas Loving (Toi) and Beauty and the Beast. His miniature operas An English Lesson or Clara-Teacher (premiered in Stratford in 1968), A Tea Symphony or The Perils of Clara (Banff 1972), Clara et les philosophes, (Quebec City 1976), Clarabelle-Clarimage, (Toronto 1979), and Claracello ou Répertoire (Kindersley, Sask 1985), reflect Charpentier's creative imagination, his sense of humour and of detail, and his mastery of composition; they also illumine his passionate love for the theatre. These works are part of a projected series of 10 short operas, for which he has written most of the libretti, under the title Clara 91 (see Compositions below). In Orphée I, commissioned for the inauguration of the NAC in 1969, and Orpheus II, an English-language adaptation for the 1972 Stratford Festival, Charpentier combined voices, instruments, and 12 actors. He understands actors; a one-time member of the theatrical troupe the Compagnons de St-Laurent, he defines himself as a 'theatre musician'. In more than 60 productions, mostly at the Théâtre du Nouveau-Monde (where he served 1959-72 as music director) and the Stratford Festival, he developed a personal concept of the role of music in theatre. He felt it should be not 'incidental' but integral to the production. He requires his actors to sing, beat out rhythms, and play instruments. For example, in Euripides' Electra and Shakespeare's Pericles or Molière's Le Malade imaginaire, he asked the actors to produce extremely complex rhythmic counterpoints that created a mood favourable to a better understanding of the profound nature of these works. On 14 Feb 1965 in Montreal's Orpheum Theatre, the Théâtre du Nouveau-Monde premiered Klondyke (book by Jacques Languirand, music by Charpentier, directed by Jean Gascon). It was presented in the same year in London's Old Vic for the Commonwealth Festival of the Arts.

Francean Campbell wrote of Charpentier: 'He has never embraced serialism or any other strict system but welcomes new sounds and techniques whether natural in origin, or electronic' (Canadian Composer, November 1970). In 1979 NMC presented three of his works in Toronto. Charpentier served on the administration council of the Canada Council 1965-75, COMUS Music Theatre 1975-88, and MUDRA 1975-8, a performing artists' improvement and research centre directed by Maurice Béjart in Brussels. Charpentier is an associate of the Canadian Music Centre and a member of the CLComp.

Selected Compositions

Theatre and Film
Klondyke (J. Languirand). 1965. 21 singer-actors, 4 singer-dancers, 2 tenor, bar, bass, instr ensemble, tape. Ms

Orphée I/Orpheus II (Charpentier, trans M. Bawtree)). 1969, 1972. 12 actors, solos, chorus, crowd chorus, 7 perfs, tape. Ms

Clara 91, projected series of 10 miniature operas:

1. Clara on the Bridge (M. Bosco). In preparation. 2 soprano, contralto, actress, 2 harpsichord

2. Claracello ou Répertoire (Charpentier). 1985. Pf, clarinet, violoncello. Ms

3. Clara et les philosophes, 'opera cocktail' (B. Char). 1976. 2 soprano, contralto, bar, bass, fl, clarinet, piano. Ms

4. An English Lesson or Clara-Teacher, 'an opera-happening' (Charpentier). 1968. Spkr, actress, 2 tenor, bar, bass, instr ensemble. Ms

5. Clara, la nuit (M.-C. Blais, Charpentier). In preparation. Contralto, violoncello. Ms

6. A Tea Symphony or The Perils of Clara, ' a kitsch opera in nine drinks' (Charpentier). 1972 (Banff 1972). Sop, fl, piano. Ms

7. Clara, un masque (Charpentier). In preparation. Mezzo, fl, clarinet, violin, violoncello, piano, percussion. Ms

8. Clarabelle-Clarimage, 'an operation' (B. Char, transl N. Côté). 1979. 2 soprano, bar, 2 fl, clarinet, 2 piano. Ms

9. Clara-Committee, 'a charivari' (M. Tremblay). In preparation. 2 soprano, mezzo, contralto, 2 tenor, bar, bass, actress, instr ensemble, tape. Ms

10. Ballade du Fils de l'homme (Charpentier). In preparation. 2 soprano, mezzo, contralto, bar, actress, violoncello, organ, elec percussion, tape. Ms

Music for some 60 theatre productions, including Lebesque's Venise sauvée, Aeschylus' Choephoroe, Shakespeare's Richard II, The Comedy of Errors, The Merchant of Venice, Cymbeline, The Taming of the Shrew, Pericles, Titus Andronicus and Coriolanus, Motokiyo's Kagekiyo, Molière's Tartuffe (recorded on Caedmon TRS-332), Webster's The Duchess of Malfi, Brecht's Galileo Galilei, Euripides' Electra, Molière's Le Malade Imaginaire, Tremblay's Damnée Manon, sacrée Sandra, Racine's Phèdre.

Music for the films Lumières, 1953, La Chute de la maison Usher, 1955, Histoires extraordinaires, 1961-2 and La Courte Échelle, 1964

Writings (Poetry)

Aire (Paris 1948)

Les Amitiés errantes (Paris 1950)

Le Dit de l'enfant mort (Paris 1952)

Cantate pour une joie (Montreal 1955, Ric 1960)

'Labyrinthe 4,' CMB, 11-12, Autumn-Winter 1975/Spring-Summer 1976

'Labyrinth 8,' Fanfare (Stratford Festival), vol 24, no. 2, 1990

Also poem published in Canada, a production of the NFB Photography Service.

Also several other unpublished poems.

Choir or Voice

Messe I. 1952. 3 voices. Ms. (Gloria, Credo) RCI 189 (Montreal Bach Choir)/Poly 2917009 (Festival Singers)/Centrediscs CMC-2285 (Tor Children's Chorus)/CBC Musica Viva MVCD-1039 (Tudor Singers of Montreal)

Sept Chansons d'enfants (M. Jacob, R. Radiguet, et al). 1952. 4 voices. Ms

Trois Poèmes de saint Jean de la Croix (transl A. Godoy). 1954. Contralto, violin, violoncello. Québec-Musique 1981

Debout Joseph! (A. Césaire). 1955. V, guitar. Ms

'L'Avenir' (H. Michaux). 1962. Speech chorus. Ms

Permutation 1 2 3 4. 1962. 1, 2, 3, or 4 chorus. Ms

'Jamais' (Charpentier). 1963. 3 voice. Alliance des chorales du Québec 1980

Trois Oraisons. 1971. Sop, harpsichord, piano, harp, vibraphone. Ms

'Veni creator spiritus'. 1973. 2 voices. Ms

Processionnal (Charpentier). 1974. Spkr, speech chorus, men's chorus, brass, harpsichord, harp, glockenspiel, bells, organ. Ms

Artère (Charpentier). 1976. Bar. Ms

Mass of the 17th Sunday after Pentecost. 1982. Ten, bar, SATB, crowd chorus, bells, harp, 2 organ. Ms


Suite d'après la musique pour 'Le Bourgeois gentilhomme'. 1964. Ms

Grande Chaconne d'après la musique de 'Galileo Galilei'. 1971. Ms

Suite d'après la musique for 'Le Malade imaginaire'. 1974. Ms

Also Trois Ricercars for oboe and harpsichord (1966, Ms)

Further Reading