Back up to Canada this week for a performance of La Rite du Soleil Noir by Pierre Mercure. This is a broadcast session originally aired in 1957, featuring the CBC Symphony, led by Jean Beaudet.
Pierre Mercure (21 February 1927 – 29 January 1966) was a Québécois composer, TV producer, bassoonist, and administrator.
PIERRE MERCURE, who was born in 1927 and died tragically on January 29, 1966, initially studied piano and later cello, […] organ and bassoon. In addition to his musical activities, he took demanding programmes in mathematics and philosophy in a French college classique. While still at college, he enrolled at the Montréal Conservatory and concentrated mainly on bassoon with the idea of playing in an orchestra. In 1946, he was hired by Wilfrid Pelletier as a bassoonist for the Montréal Symphony Orchestra. He played there for about four years, also studying composition at the Conservatory with Claude Champagne.
His first important work was a “symphonic fantasy” entitled Kaléidoscope, which has become, since 1948, one of the most frequently played works in the Canadian repertoire. In 1948, Mercure completed another work, Pantomime, which is the best illustration of the composer’s intention to develop a personal, independent style while remaining musically “objective”, that is, by the study of contrasts in the lines, and the examination of form and new sonorities. What one finds here as well is an outside influence, and a very strong one, that of the painter Paul-Emile Borduas.
In 1949, a Québec government grant enabled him to pursue his studies in Paris with Nadia Boulanger. In 1952, Mercure was asked to produce music programmes for the CBC French television network, and he created the very successful television series “L’heure du concert”.
The central core around which Mercure’s work has developed is an ongoing search for new forms and the need to leave behind the bounds of the conventional so as to discover new worlds of sonorities, such as electronic and musique concrète. This has been his approach from the time of his earliest compositions. For Mercure, “the artist, the composer must be sincere in his presentation of our new era. He must play his role in this continually developing world (… ) The artist must choose: make that world his or escape from it.”
Not all that familiar down here, but nonetheless a musical voice that would benefit from a re-discovery. I ran another one of Mercure’s pieces a few months ago, via our Sunday Gramophone feature. More is undoubtedly going to be showing up over the coming months so stick around.
In the meantime, have a listen to La Rite du Soleil Noir by Pierre Mercure as performed by the CBC Symphony conducted by Jean Beaudet.