Manchester, 14th-18th July 2004


Élisabeth Gallat-Morin (Montréal, Québec, Canada)

The presence of French Baroque music in new France

The generally accepted picture of New France (present-day Québec but also extending to Acadia and Louisiana) is that of peasants chopping down trees, clearing fields, defending themselves against Indian attacks, while singing folksongs they brought from several French provinces. However, this was not the only music present in New France, that was in many respects the mirror of the mother-country.

Religious music held the first place : at compulsory weekly Sunday Mass, numerous religious feasts and processions, Te Deum in honor of the king of France that helped maintain the loyalty of the population. Several important music books have survived, manuscript and print, some of them unica: polyphonic masses, organ music by Nivers, Lebègue and Marchand, petits motets by Bernier, Campra and Morin, as well as numerous books of plain chant that was the backbone of religious services. Liturgical works were translated into Indian tongues.

The study of estate inventories has shown that the society of New France enjoyed the same music as in the French provincial capitals, played on the same instruments: cantatas, airs and exerpts of operas by Debousset, Boismortier, Lully, Mion, Morin, Renier,  and instrumental music by Anet, Blavet, Rameau and others; numerous bals took place.

It is evident that this population of some 70 000 inhabitants at the end of the French Régime (1759) attempted to recreate on the banks of the Saint Lawrence River the society they had left behind, through the magnificence of church celebrations and musical performance in the salons.

Last updated on 10 May 2004