Jean Lesage: Modern-age composer-philosopher

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This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)

The Société de musique contemporaine du Québec, as part of its series of portraits of composers, focused on Jean Lesage in a presentation scheduled for the Salle Pierre-Mercure last month (March 27). The composer’s  world, at once musical and philosophical, is at the intersection of several arts, as he himself has claimed: “I believe a composer should be open to all the great trends which characterize an epoch’s culture. They need feelers to sense the signs of the time, the zeitgeist, whether it’s through philosophy, literature, painting or the visual arts.”

Many stylistic influences

Surrealism continues to feed Jean Lesage’s artistic method, readily accepting a postmodern approach. Just as in the paintings by Giorgio de Chirico, where everyday life objects are found, Lesage enjoys depicting in his works “musical personae” whose style and texture make them familiar to us.

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“In Le livre des mélancolies (1999), I was thinking of Renaissance music for the accompanying violas da gamba. There’s a certain aura to this string music, I find, and I alluded to it very subtly. The presence of these musical personae is, therefore, quite strong.”

Earlier in his career, Lesage drew on another musical style, the stilo fantastico, found in the first baroque composers, notably Girolamo Frescobaldi in the 17th century.  

Having had training as a harpsichordist before turning to composing, Jean Lesage was no stranger to this style “full of contrasts, very theatrical, with rapid changes of characters” which he used in Sensations confuses (1993).

Trois méditations sur la vie céleste de Charles G. (2007) returns to a not-too-distant past. Here, the composer offers three variations of Charles Gounod’s Ave Maria, which in turn, reprises Bach’s Prelude in C major. “The philosopher Jacques Derrida would call this project a deconstruction: you take a piece from the repertoire and try to find cracks in it, and to bring to light its hidden potential.”

With Saturnales (2015), Lesage takes inspiration from beyond musical history. In particular, he explores the sense of interior monologue as idealized by James Joyce in his novel Ulysses and tries to apply this to musical terms.

Lesage’s latest creation is fourth in a cycle of four quartets for strings composed in 2018 for Quatuor Bozzini. “The first three were each dedicated to a member of the group. Being part of a cycle, some elements of this work refer to the other cycle quartets, as well as to elements of palimpsest with the various memory layers,” he noted.

Translation by Karine Poznanski

Free webcast of the concert will be available for the next 6 months.

This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)


About Author

Justin Bernard est détenteur d’un doctorat en musique de l’Université de Montréal. Ses recherches portent sur la médiation musicale, notamment par le biais des nouveaux outils numériques, ainsi que sur la relation entre opéra et cinéma. Membre de l’Observatoire interdisciplinaire de création et de recherche en musique (OICRM), il a réalisé une série de capsules vidéo éducatives pour l’Orchestre symphonique de Montréal. Justin Bernard est également l’auteur de notes de programme pour le compte de la salle Bourgie du Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal et chargé de cours à l’Université de Sherbrooke. Par ailleurs, il anime une émission d’opéra et une chronique musicale à Radio VM (91,3 FM).

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