Serge Provost | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Serge Provost

Provost, Serge.

Provost, Serge

Provost, Serge. Composer, organist, teacher, b St-Timothée de Beauharnois, near Montreal, 29 Aug 1952; premier prix harmony (Conservatoire de musique du Québec à Montréal) (CMM) 1973, premier prix analysis (CMM) 1978, premier prix composition (CMM) 1979, premier prix organ (Rouen Conservatory) 1980, premier prix analysis (Paris Conservatory) 1981. Provost studied at the CMM 1970-9, with Bernard Lagacé (organ), Gilles Tremblay (analysis and composition), Jeannine Bégin (counterpoint), Jean-Louis Martinet (fugue) and Micheline Coulombe Saint-Marcoux (electroacoustic music). He resided in France 1979-81, where he studied composition and analysis at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris with Claude Ballif and organ at the Rouen Conservatory. Assisted by a grant from the Ministère des Affaires culturelles du Québec, he resided 1986-7 in Paris where he worked on his opera Phaedra, took part in an analysis seminar at l'Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM), and took courses with Pierre Boulez at the Collège de France. He also participated in IRCAM's Cursus de Composition 1995-6.

While in France, Provost produced such works as Crêtes (1980) for two harpsichords and Clama (1980) for brass trio and organ. In 1982, back in Quebec, he composed Prélude et chant de nuit for clarinet solo, mezzo-soprano, ondes Martenot and piano and Anagramme for piano (commissioned by the Société de musique contemporaine du Québec). In 1986 he composed Salut! étoile de la mer for organ and ondes Martenot (commissioned by Michelle Quintal), a work conceived as an echo or continuation of Vêpres de la Vierge by Gilles Tremblay. Provost's work Les Jardins suspendus was recorded by the Quatuor d'ondes Martenot de Montréal (see Discography of Jean Laurendeau).

Provost received a special distinction award from the Italia Prize in 1993 for L'Adorable verrotière, on a text by Quebec poet Claude Gauvreau. He later set the entire text while a resident at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris 1995-6. The result, Le Vampire et la Nymphomane, was premiered 24 Sept 1996 by the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne in co-production with Chants Libres and Radio-Canada, and won the 1996 Prix Opus for composition of the year. Ventis-Arboris-Vocis (for string quartet) was premiered by the Arditti Quartet in Paris 30 Jan 1999. In 2001 the Fibonacci Trio premiered La Pietra Che Canta, a piece written for violin, cello, piano and live electronics, and based on the atmosphere Provost encountered at the tomb of Monteverdi. Le stelle (les étoiles), for string quartet and four vocal soloists, on Petrarch's essential love poems from the Canzoniere, was premiered by the Hilliard Ensemble and the Quatuor Bozzini at Festival international Montréal/Nouvelles Musiques 2005.

Provost's Style

One of the more active Quebec composers, Serge Provost has cultivated a style that has been described as an "exploration of the relationships between sensibility and intelligence" (Festival MNM). His music is informed especially by literature and architecture, such as the case of Les ruines du paradis (which derives its name from an exhibit he attended at an architecture exposition in Venice), but there is always a human element; the piece is a meditation on the building of paradise and its inevitable destruction. Provost's music crosses boundaries among the avant-garde trends of the late 20th century. O Magnum Mysterium, for instance, combines Gregorian chant with oriental quarter-tone modes, while his other music has been variously described as "spectral," "microtonal," "post-Feldman," having "new complexity," or even "IRCAM-sounding."

Provost taught analysis at the Conservatoire de Hull, the Conservatoire de Trois-Rivières (1981-6) and the CMM (1987-8, and from 1990 to the present). He also broadcast the CBC radio program 'Musique actuelle' and has contributed to Circuit and the Encyclopédie de la Musique Einaudi. Provost is a member of the Canadian League of Composers and an associate of the Canadian Music Centre.

Selected Works

L'Adorable verrotière, for soprano and instrumental ensemble, text by Claude Gauvreau, 1992

Étale-surgissement, solo piano, 1993

La cloche du temple, solo piano, 1996

Le vampire et la nymphomane, opera for soloists and chamber orchestra, 1996

Ventis-Arboris-Vocis, string quartet, 1999

La Pietra Che Canta, for violin, cello, piano and live electronics, 2001. With film by Ruben Guzman, 2002

Les ruines du paradis, chamber orchestra, 2004

Le stelle (les étoiles), vocal quartet and string quartet, 2004


"Le mot, le son, le sens," Circuit, vol 3, no. 2, 1992

"Espace Xenakis," (ed.), Circuit, vol 5, no. 2, 1994

"L'écriture... plus actuelle que jamais!" Circuit, vol 6, no. 2, 1995

"Francis Dhomont: Risks calculated for a mutation," 1990, revised 1994. Published at