Back to Canada this weekend for a performance of Altitude by French-Canadian composer Claude Champagne. Composed in 1960 and given this world-premier 1961 broadcast recording by the CBC Symphony Orchestra and chorus conducted by Charles Houdret.
Claude Champagne is well known in Canada, but not so much outside of either Canada or France. He studied in Paris in 1921 and, coming back to Canada he became heavily involved in establishing the Conservatoire de musique et d’art dramatique du Québec. Once it was established and running, Champagne was appointed Assistant Director of the Conservatory and devoted much of his time to teaching, but still had time to turn out a considerable amount of work. In addition, he also was Professor of Music at McGill University and was actively involved in promoting Canadian Composers. In 1949 he was given the honorary post of President of the Canadian Arts Council and continued working closely with young composers all the way until his death in 1965.
Altitudes was his last major work – composed for Orchestra with Chorus, it was given its premier on April 22, 1960 with the CBC Symphony conducted by Charles Houdret – the same lineup as this broadcast performance.
In 1964, the year before his death, he discussed Altitude during the Reception at the Délégation générale du Québec, in honour of Claude Champagne, following a concert at the Théatre national du Palais de Chaillot à Paris, February 23, 1964.
“… I wrote a symphony called Symphonie gaspésienne which expressed … Canada’s east, that is, the province of Quebec, and this work [Altitude] represents Canada’s west, that is, the Rocky Mountains. And [these are] the impressions that I received … upon seeing the Rocky Mountains, the mystery … and all those things that impress you profoundly and [that] I took in unconsciously, filtered through my consciousness and expressed [themselves] through music.
… I see the first part as the expression of Canada’s primitive life … less refined … in a language … such as the language of the Huron … I fused that to a centre that I call a meditation, in which you listen to … all the acoustic sensibilities in nature, the calm, and I returned to the modern world with the words of St. Francis of Assisi … and at the end I have echoes with the choirs … which again give you the immense thing that dominates you.”
Further evidence discovery of music from other countries, even neighboring ones, is essential. The music of Claude Champagne is adventuresome but not abstract. It deserves a closer listen.