Gustave Smith | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Gustave Smith

(Charles) Gustave Smith. Teacher, organist, composer, writer, painter, draftsman, b London 14 Feb 1826, d Ottawa 6 Feb 1896.

Smith, Gustave

(Charles) Gustave Smith. Teacher, organist, composer, writer, painter, draftsman, b London 14 Feb 1826, d Ottawa 6 Feb 1896. His grandfather, a well-to-do English manufacturer of metal goods traded with Napoleon and settled in France in 1806; his father, educated at Oxford University, and his Swiss mother, a fine amateur musician, lived in Paris, but Gustave was born on a visit to England. At eight he became a pupil of his mother's teacher, P.J.G. Zimmermann, at the Paris Cons. He continued his studies until 1844, though presumably not as a regular student but as an 'observer.' Health problems necessitated a sojourn in Marseilles, and in the next dozen years he also studied painting, fought as a corporal in the 1848 revolution (on the republican side), travelled in Germany and India, and in 1856 obtained from Auber, the director of the conservatory, a testimonial letter stating that he had completed the courses in harmony and 'haute composition.' For an act of bravery (rescuing a wounded comrade in 1848) he was appointed a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour in 1860.

Smith moved to Canada in March 1856 and worked at first for a German painter in Montreal, Ruther. He married Hermine Leprohon, daughter of the wood sculptor Louis-Xavier Leprohon, in 1857, became a convert to Roman Catholicism, and served ca 1860 as organist-choirmaster at St Patrick's Church, Montreal. He taught at the Sacré-Coeur Convent at Sault-au-Recollet - where Emma Lajeunesse (Albani) was among his pupils - and wrote an Abécédaire musical which remained in print for some 60 years. He contributed a series of articles on music teaching to Le Pays in 1858 and wrote eight articles on 'Musique et musiciens' (under the name Diérix) for L'Écho du cabinet de lecture paroissial in 1862. With his father-(or brother-)in-law, Leprohon, he established a small printshop in 1863. They took over the young magazine Les Beaux-Arts at the beginning of 1864, turning it into 'une revue des sciences, des lettres, de l'industrie.' The magazine had few subscribers and ceased publication in May.

After a year in New York, and two in New Orleans (ca 1866-8) as music teacher and organist at St Patrick's Church, Smith settled in Ottawa. For the departments of Agriculture, Railways and Canals, and Public Works in turn, he worked 1870-92 as a draftsman and cartographer. He was organist 1868-92 (possibly with a brief interruption ca 1882) at Notre-Dame Basilica, taught music at the Grey Nuns' convent and the Collège d'Ottawa, and established a music school at the corner of Rideau and King Edward streets. In 1868 he served for 10 months as co-editor of Le Courrier d'Ottawa/The Ottawa Courier and in 1869 he delivered a lecture on 'Les Beaux-arts' before the Institut canadien-francais. The Montreal periodical L'Album musical printed Smith's series 'Du mouvement musical en Canada,' covering 25 years of music, the first critical survey to be written. He also wrote for other periodicals and newspapers - eg, L'Ordre in Montreal and Le Foyer domestique in Ottawa (later Album des familles) - and painted in water-colour. He suffered a stroke in 1894.

Although his life story is insufficiently known, Smith appears to be one of the most versatile and interesting pioneers of the second half of the 19th century. He was a product of both the British and the French civilizations, and his activities encompassed music, the visual arts, and journalism. Most of his compositions were occasional pieces, but his musical instruction books won a great measure of popularity. The National Library of Canada preserves some of his papers and scores in manuscript.

Smith was the great-grandfather of the composer André Prévost. See also Charles Écuyer.

Selected Compositions

L'Aragonaise. Les Beaux-Arts, vol 1, Sep 1863

La Comète. S.T. Pearce no date

Dolly's Quadrilles. S.T. Pearce ca 1858

Doux Souvenirs. 1886. Ms

En Avant !!! Pre-1864. Ms?

Souvenirs de la Savoie. F. Boucher 1884

Valse. Le Foyer domestique, vol 3, 1 Dec 1878


8 articles on music teaching, Montreal Le Pays, 2 Feb-27 May 1858

Le Parfait Musicien ou Grammaire musicale (Montreal 1859)

Abécédaire musical (Montreal 1861); 38th edn (Montreal 1901); 78th edn (Montreal 1920)

Compte-rendu de la réception de l'orgue de la chapelle Wesleyenne, le 5 février 1861 (Montreal 1861)

Diérix. 'Musique et musiciens,' L'Écho du cabinet de lecture paroissial, 8 instalments, 16 Jan-15 Oct 1862

'Du mouvement musical en Canada,' Album musical, 13 instalments, Dec 1881-Dec 1882

Le Guide de l'organiste, 2nd edn (Montreal 1874), 3rd edn (Montreal 1879)

'Études sur les beaux-arts,' Le Foyer domestique, 1 Mar 1876-1 Dec 1878

Le Gamma musical (Ottawa 1887)

Le Claviste (Ottawa 1890)

'Souvenirs et relations de voyages (1824-1856),' unpublished fragment manuscript (1895). Copy at NL of C

Articles for newspapers, periodicals


'Ave Maria.' A. Lavigne 1874

Cantate à l'occasion du 50ème anniversaire de la fondation du Petit Séminaire de Sainte-Thérèse (A. B. Routhier). 1875. Ms?

'O salutaris.' L'Écho du cabinet de lecture paroissial, vol 4, 1 Mar 1862

'Le Pape-Roy ou l'Univers catholique' (G. Smith). L.J. Pregen 1860

'Prosternez-vous' (?). Le Foyer domestique 1877

Several masses. All manuscript

Further Reading