Rehabilitating the memory and music of andré mathieu

André Mathieu, age 6 / © Family archives. All rights reserved.

Why André Mathieu?

“I opened the door and plunged into André Mathieu’s world – I wasn’t looking for him but he found me… Our encounter, I believe, was ruled by fate. Sadly, I was much too late for this meeting, about ten years too late. André Mathieu was already on the other side of the mirror when, through a closed studio door at Collège Marguerite-Bourgeoys where a piano teacher was working, I heard for the first time his Prélude romantique, a striking work with a strange and melancholic beauty. Overwhelmed, I opened the studio door to find out who the composer was. I was told, “André Mathieu”. I was fifteen years old and I knew then that, since I had missed our first meeting, I would never miss another one. Since then, André Mathieu was part of my musical memory. I would respond to his call, his distress and his wounds – those which leave a print on the tragic destinies of rejected geniuses, left to their sad fate and who sink into a sea of bitterness, where they are neither understood nor supported.”
Alain Lefèvre

Biography of André Mathieu by George Nicholson, preface by Alain Lefèvre
Release date: May 5, 2010
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Alain Lefèvre entrusted Georges Nicholson with the mission of writing about André Mathieu’s life. Georges Nicholson has worked for almost a quarter of century for Radio-Canada radio. He also wrote a biography on Charles Dutoit.
André Mathieu, age 12 / © Family archives. All rights reserved.

A few words from Georges Nicholson

“Through the years, Alain Lefèvre has assembled scores, recordings, letters, photos, programs, newspaper clippings, testimonies, stories and confidences, as his passions were metamorphosing into a mission. This full-fledged Québécois has made it his goal to etch into our collective conscience the work and the life of a completely forgotten mythical character. To our famous motto, “I remember,” one must add, much too often “Whom?” or “What?” when it comes to our own. Our selective memory has chosen to forget André Mathieu. Here are a few landmarks.

He was born in Montreal in February 1929, a few months before the Crash that was to propel us into the Crisis. He died in Montreal in June 1968, a few months before Michel Tremblay’s play, Les Belles-Sœurs (Sisters-in-law) was premiered and a few days before the election of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who had been his school companion at the Maison Canadienne in Paris.

He was a child prodigy, a pianist; one of 20th century’s greatest. He had the sense of rhythmic pulse and agogic accents of Rachmaninov – one of his idols – and the sound and imagination of Cortot – one of his teachers in Paris. He was a composer closely connected to music, to its generosity and boundless inspiration. In 1936, he was in Paris and Paris praises him to the skies. Three years later, he recorded his first disc. The War broke out, everything stopped.
© Family archives. All rights reserved.
André Mathieu, 1942.

Adieu Paris, he was back in Montreal. In 1940, he started all over again in New York. When he was 13, André Mathieu placed first at the New York Philharmonic’s Composition Competition. He performed not once, not twice, but three times at Carnegie Hall. He returned to Montreal at the end of 1943. A first, unhappy love. He left for Paris again in 1946 and worked with Honnegger. He came home in 1947, the year his Concerto de Québec was part of La Forteresse’s soundtrack.

Pierre Péladeau put on a grand tour of Quebec for him in 1949. Five years later, to regain his public, he performed in Pianothons and, for dozens of hours, played his own works and improvised endlessly. Then it was the fall of the Angel, hell on earth, alcohol, solitude, unfinished love stories. And death came to take its toll and all traces of his passing were erased. Thirty-nine years, like all the great romantics, for an artist who considered himself a “modern romantic”. A fabulous trajectory, a journey’s legends are made of, André Mathieu’s life has all the privileges of a myth, since it is an exemplary story that holds in its core all that we ourselves face, facing others.”

Georges Nicholson
Photo credits: © Alain Lefèvre / Private archives