While pursuing the same objectives - ie, to promote the organ as an instrument in its own right, not necessarily associated with religious services; to make known its rich repertoire from all periods by means of performances of the highest calibre; and, to grant bursaries to young organists - the Montreal and Toronto societies were autonomous in their administrations. They collaborated, however, in the engagement of foreign organists, chiefly through Bernard R. Laberge.
The Casavant Society/Société Casavant was founded in 1936 by Mme Roger Maillet (b Corinne Dupuis) with the help of francophone and anglophone organists. The French and English chapters each had an honorary president and regular president, while George M. Brewer acted as joint secretary. The French chapter contained such organists as Eugène Lapierre, Arthur Letondal, Raoul Paquet, and Benoît Poirier. The English chapter counted among its members Frederick H. Blair and Alfred Whitehead. Mme Maillet handled the administration in an office provided free of charge by the Archambault music firm.
Marcel Dupré inaugurated the first season, 1936-7, of seven recitals before 750 season-ticket holders at Notre-Dame Church. Later, Joseph Bonnet and André Marchal were heard, as well as Canadians including Sir Ernest MacMillan. The second season took place in the Church of St Andrew and St Paul, but the number of recitals was reduced by half and the number of season-ticket holders fell to 350. Activities were suspended after a third season because of the war and the death of Blair, who had been one of the mainstays as well as president of the English section.
Through the initiative of Georges-Armand Robert (organist, b St-Alexis, Maskinongé, Que, ca 1910, d Montreal 20 Sep 1950) the Casavant Society was reorganized in 1942; while retaining its bilingual name, it now had a single board of directors. Robert was administrator until his death. Under his direction, recitals were given by many distinguished foreign virtuosi, including E. Power Biggs, Claire Coci, Charles Courboin, Dupré, Rolande Falcinelli, Virgil Fox, Fernando Germani, Hugh Giles, Alexander McCurdy, Flor Peeters, Alexander Schreiner, Clarence Watters, and Carl Weinrich and many of the foremost Canadians including Françoise Aubut, Maurice Beaulieu, Félix-R. Bertrand (administrator after the death of Robert), Jean-Marie Bussières, Gérard Caron, Raymond Daveluy, Arthur Egerton, Claude Lavoie, Georges Lindsay, Sir Ernest MacMillan, Marcelle Martin, Kenneth Meek, Phillips Motley, and Charles Peaker. The recitals were held in churches such as Notre-Dame, St Andrew and St Paul, and St James, and in St James Cathedral (renamed Marie-Reine-du-monde).
Winners of the Casavant Prize, a competition instituted in 1949 but not continued, were André Mérineau (first), Jeanne Vanier (second) and Gaston Arel (third), who performed at the end of the 1948-9 season. In 1948 the society added chamber music concerts to its program (including the cycle of 17 Beethoven quartets performed by the Loewenguth Quartet). After Robert's death, the society was unable to recover from its precarious financial situation. It ceased its activities after the 1952-3 season.
Archer, Thomas. 'George A. Robert,' Montreal Gazette, 23 Sep 1950
Lapierre, Eugène. 'Feu Georges-Armand Robert, organiste et impresario,' Montreal Le Devoir, 25 Sep 1950
After playing in Montreal as a guest of the society Sir Ernest MacMillan conceived the idea of establishing a similar endeavour in Toronto. In the spring of 1938 with several colleagues, including Charles Peaker who became president, he formed a Casavant Society with Mrs V.A. Hooper as secretary. An opening season, 1938-9 at Eaton Auditorium where the society subsequently was to present all of its recitals, featured in succession, André Marchal, Sir Ernest, Maitland Farmer, Virgil Fox, Frederick Silvester, Arthur Egerton, D'Alton McLaughlin, and Charlotte Lockwood. Dupré inaugurated the 1939-40 season. McLaughlin became president of the committee in 1940-1, a season inaugurated by Ernest White. McLaughlin was succeeded by David Ouchterlony in the 1941-2 season, of which the opening recital was given by Virgil Fox. In addition, special opportunities for young organists to be heard in recital were arranged by the society. In 1942-3 five concerts were presented with the participation of choirs; also heard in succession were Claire Coci, McLaughlin, Farmer, Schreiner, and Muriel Gidley. McLaughlin was president until the 1945-6 season (during which, 12 Dec 1945, Glenn Gould made his debut as an organist). Later presidents were Muriel Gidley 1946-8, John J. Weatherseed 1948-50, and Frederick Silvester 1950-2. A marked drop in the number of subscribers brought about the society's dissolution after a final concert, 16 Jan 1952, with Peaker and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir.
See also Organ playing and teaching
T. Eaton Co, Toronto. Archives
Author Cécile Huot, Hélène Plouffe, Patricia Wardrop
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Watch the Joseph Casavant Heritage Minute from the Historica-Dominion Institute. See also related online learning resources.