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  • La vie musicale en Nouvelle-France
  • Hélène Paul
    Translated by David Gilbert
La vie musicale en Nouvelle-France. By Élisabeth Gallat-Morin and Jean-Pierre Pinson, with the collaboration of Paul-André Dubois, Conrad Laforte and Eric Schwandt. Rédaction des encarts et recherche iconographique: François Filiatrault. Montréal: Septentrion, Cahiers des Amériques, 2003. (Collection “Musique.”) [578 p. ISBN 2-89448-350-3. $42.95 Can.] Music examples, illustrations, tables, bibliography, discography, index, appendices.

The publication of La vie musicale en Nouvelle France marks an important date for musicology in Québec. In fact, this substantial book fills a serious lacuna in the history of music in Canada and in Québec. If the specialized work of the explorers in this area such as Helmut Kallmann, A History of Music in Canada, 1534–1914 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1960); Andrée Desautels, "Les trois âges de la musique au Canada—le premier âge: la Nouvelle-France au XVIIe et au XVIIIe siècle" (in La musique, les homes, les instruments, les œuvres ..., 2 vols. ed. Norbert Dufourcq [Paris: Larousse, 1965]: 2:314–22); Willy Amtmann, La musique au Québec, 1600–1875 (Montréal: Les Éditions de l'homme, 1976), and an enlarged version of Music in Canada, 1600–1800 (Montréal: Habitex Books, 1975); Helmut Kallmann, Gilles Potvin, eds. Encyclopedia of Music in Canada, 2d ed. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993), as much as that of ethnologists and folklorists Ernest Gagnon, Chansons populaires du Canada (Québec: Bureaux du "Foyer canadien," 1865); and Edouard-Zotique Massicotte and Marius Barbeau, "Chants populaires du Canada" (Journal of American Folklore 32, no. 123 [January–March 1919]: 1–89) have contributed to revealing the existence of a musical life in New France, no exhaustive research encompassing historical, sociological, ideological, institutional, and musicological aspects of the period between the founding of Québec (1608) and the Treaty of Paris (1763) has been undertaken, much less completed. The result of almost twenty years of research, the present study answers many questions and from now on will serve as a reference on the subject, putting an end to the long held belief in the absence of significant musical activities in New France. The area under French rule was large, and the authors have chosen to limit their work to "the ecclesiastical, civil, and military center of New France, that is the Saint Lawrence valley, what is today Rimouski, up to Montreal and through to Québec and Trois-Rivières" (pp. 17–18). Even Acadia, Louisiana, and New England receive coverage.

The present work, written with erudition and great scholarly rigor, is distinguished as much by the number and diversity of the sources used—French and local, printed and manuscript—as by the way the materials are collated, scrutinized, analyzed, and discussed. The process has permitted the [End Page 374] establishment of facts and the correction of errors and legends, but has also given birth to additional questions due to the greater perspective on both religious and secular music. Quantitatively and qualitatively, the critical apparatus shows the honesty, weight, and quality of the musicological approach. Ninety-seven illustrations and music examples, and biographical side bars relating to the life of French composers with any influence or link to New France (edited by François Filiatrault), along with an ample number of tables are inserted into the dense and detailed text, regularly relieved by picturesque descriptions of events of contemporary life. The epistolary remarks of Élisabeth Bégon, "a sort of Montreal Madame de Sévigné" (p. 295) are the most lively. In December of 1748 she writes, for example, "today the news is that everyone is learning to dance" (p. 296), to the great despair of the members of the clergy who strongly denounced such gatherings, dances, and parties and "all of these lustful songs that only lead to shameful pleasures ... quarrels and disgraceful illnesses" (p. 298).

The variety of musical life in France serves as a backdrop to the book, which is divided into two parts dedicated respectively to religious music (seven chapters) and music in society (five chapters). The first part is almost entirely by Jean...


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