In 1939 Leclerc joined Radio-Canada in Montreal as a radio scriptwriter. Several of his series were extremely popular, including 'Le Restaurant d'en face' (on which he broadcast his song 'Notre sentier'); 'Je me souviens,' (for which Hector Gratton composed the incidental music); 'L'Encan des rêves'; and 'Théâtre dans ma guitare.' At the same time, Leclerc acted on air in the Radio-Canada drama series 'Un Homme et son péché' by Claude-Henri Grignon and 'Vie de famille' by Henry Deyglun and on stage 1942-5 with Émile Legault's Compagnons de Saint-Laurent.
Félix Leclerc's radio scripts attracted the attention of writer and filmmaker Albert Tessier, who encouraged their publication. They were collected under the titles Adagio (stories), Allegro (fables) and Andante (poems), which sold well. In 1948 Leclerc and two friends, Guy Mauffette (b Montreal, 8 Jan 1915, d 30 June 2005) and Yves Vien, founded the troupe VLM, which presented his plays Le P'tit Bonheur and La P'tite Misère in Montreal and elsewhere in Quebec. That year his play La Caverne des splendeurs won first prize in a one-act-play competition organized by the Amis de l'art. Some of his songs, including 'Le P'tit Bonheur,' served as interludes between scenes. A number of his other songs - 'Hymne au printemps,' 'Le Train du Nord,' 'Bozo' - became popular in Quebec in the late 1940s, especially through his own Radio-Canada (SRC) program, 'Félix Leclerc et ses chansons.' Before making his career in France, Leclerc benefited from his success in Quebec as an author, playwright, radio host and chansonnier.
Success in Paris; Recordings
In 1950 Félix Leclerc's career as a chansonnier became international. An influential impresario from Paris, Jacques Canetti, artistic director of Philips records, heard Leclerc perform in Montreal and immediately offered him an engagement in Paris. Thus Leclerc made his debut there in December 1950 in a large Paris music hall, the ABC, sharing the bill with the Compagnons de la chanson and Édith Piaf. The success of his debut was followed by his first recordings and by tours of France, Belgium and Switzerland. Dressed in a checkered lumberjack shirt and accompanying himself on the guitar, he delivered his earthy songs in a robust baritone and soon became a top-ranking star. In February 1951 he was awarded the Grand prix du disque de l'Académie Charles-Cros in Paris for his song 'Moi, mes souliers.' Beneath his name, printed in large letters on the billboards, was 'le Canadien.'
Félix Leclerc subsequently divided his time between Europe and Canada. In France, his participation in major radio programs, his appearances in the leading variety theatres and boîtes à chansons (eg, the Trois-Baudets and Bobino), and his numerous tours made him a superstar.
Félix Leclerc's singular qualities had a revitalizing effect on the chanson in France and are said to have provided a catalyst for the careers of Georges Brassens, Guy Béart, Jacques Brel and others. Thus Christian Larsen wrote: 'Félix Leclerc is to the Canadian chanson what Trenet was to the French chanson: a revolutionary, a turning point, and a leader. Because of him, fortune-hunters, poets and shopkeepers set out in search of a new Klondike... although he did not create the Canadian chanson, Leclerc produced its public and its market and to some extent was responsible for the present generation of young chansonniers' (Chansonniers du Québec 1964).
When he returned to Montreal in 1953 to take part in the Montreal Festivals, Félix Leclerc was given a hero's welcome. His career later obliged him to spend long periods of time in Europe, but he frequently appeared in Canada; of special note were his western tour in 1965 and his appearances at Montreal's Place des Arts in 1967 and Le Patriote in 1966, 1970, 1972, 1975 and 1976; and in Ottawa at the National Arts Centre in 1971. He made a major tour of France, Belgium and Switzerland in 1973 and of France again in 1975 and 1977. He had received another Grand Prix du disque in 1958 for Félix Leclerc et sa guitare (No. 1), and in 1973 he received the same award for his work in general. Perhaps his greatest triumph in Quebec was his appearance in 1974 with Gilles Vigneault and Robert Charlebois at the Superfrancofête in Quebec City.
Félix Leclerc also appeared in films, including Les Brûlés (1959); Félix Leclerc, troubadour (1958); La Vie (1967); C'est la première fois que j'la chante (1988); and Pieds nus dans l'aube (1994).
Leclerc's Output and Major Themes
Félix Leclerc's art and songs have been analyzed by numerous writers and critics. Benoît L'Herbier, in La Chanson québécoise (Montreal 1974), wrote: 'From the beginning Félix Leclerc's poetry has existed on a philosophic plane reminiscent of the finest and most illuminating works of La Fontaine. For, whether as writer or composer, Félix Leclerc is a moralist.' In his book Félix Leclerc, Luc Bérimont writes: 'Leclerc's character is rich, complex, beyond grasp. He's a singer, of course, and a composer and performer, but of a kind to which music-hall standards cannot be applied. Félix Leclerc is an exception in a world where the chanson, mass-produced, is purely a commercial matter.'
The lyrics of the songs, whether narrative or reflective, are written in verses that sometimes recall oral tradition chanson forms. He draws inspiration from the elements - water, earth, sun, fire, and wind - and his themes reflect a love of animals and nature. His songs embody a character who is either happy or sad according to whether or not he has relinquished his childhood. There is much in them of castles, kings and dancing festivities in a swirling picture of the tribulations and glories of human existence. His poetry, simple and direct, conveys a tragic vision of existence. To him the tragic character of humanity is rooted in nature. Human effort occasionally may lead to death under the yoke ('McPherson'), but at the same time it provides a link with the beyond and adds a spiritual dimension to everyday actions and indeed to life in general. Nature is omnipresent in Leclerc's songs. The seasons provide the backdrop to the recurring themes of escape, death, God, woman and country.
The Musical Dimension of Leclerc's Songs
In 160 songs (146 original songs and 14 covers), Félix Leclerc distinguishes himself from his French-speaking European and Quebec predecessors by his combination of carefully chosen verse and the unique style of musical setting for acoustic guitar. Among his characteristic traits are the guitar's lowered tuning (all strings one or one-and-a-half tones below standard) and the placement of the right hand over the high range of the fingerboard. In the right hand, the integration of artificial harmonics (as in 'Hymne au printemps'), the rapid strumming of the thumb on the strings ('La Drave'), the quick arpeggios executed with the thumb and index finger imitating the pick ('Les 100 000 façons de tuer un homme'), and the combination of arpeggios and classical tremolo ('Le tour de l'Île') are noteworthy. In the left hand, there are occasional thumb barrés in the bass as well as occurrences of diminished seventh chords and major chords with added sixths.
Overall, six major categories of influence can be traced in Leclerc's music. First, the chansonnier appears to have been mildly influenced by the classical repertoire, due especially to his pianist sister and possibly the teaching of Thomas-Wilfrid Gagnon. The second influence incorporates the standard traditional Québécois songs of Ovila Légaré, Madame Bolduc, La Bonne chanson de l'abbé Gadbois, etc.; songs of French oral tradition; and instrumental Celtic folklore (Scottish and Irish reels), which had an effect on the strophic and enumerative form of some titles ('Moi, mes souliers,' 'L'Alouette en colère,' etc.) and on the guitar accompaniment of alternating bass and chords ('L'héritage').
A further influence was the contact with popular early 20th-century songs from France (including those by Maurice Chevalier, Lucienne Boyer, Tino Rossi, etc.) as demonstrated by the musette ('Les Dimanches') and the numerous ballade passages in triple time with an unsteady pulse ('Demain si la mer,' 'La fille de l'Île,' etc.). Furthermore, there are traces of gypsy music and Russian folklore in the timbre of Leclerc's deep voice and the quick right-thumb strumming of the guitar strings.
Afro-American blues influences (of Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Blake, etc.) are apparent in the lowered tuning of the guitar and in the chosen fingerings of some left-hand guitar shapes. The eighth-note rhythm jazz swing accompaniments (of Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, etc.) - also seen in songs recorded by Italian-American crooners (eg, Frank Sinatra, Perry Como) - are another stock Afro-American element ('Bozo,' 'Le P'tit bonheur'). Finally, Leclerc translated the old-time country music style (of Jimmie Rodgers), bluegrass (of Bill Monroe) and western swing (eg, Bob Wills, Gene Autry) by inverting guitar chords (Dm/F; D/F#) and playing the occasional rapid rhythm accompaniment of an eighth note followed by two sixteenths ('Attends-moi, Ti-Gars').
Influence, Honours and Heritage
In the preface to the play L'Auberge des morts subites (1962), it is clear that Félix Leclerc espoused the ideals of French-Canadian patriotism even before the Quiet Revolution. From the mid-1950s to the end of the 1960s, several songs ('Tirelou,' 'Tu te lèveras tôt,' 'Les Rogations,' 'Le père,' 'Richesses,' etc.) predicted a radicalization of political positions.
In 1970 this eternal 'rough peasant' began turning his forthright qualities towards public comment and protest with caustic irony as his primary weapon. In the song 'L'Alouette en colère,' written after the 1970 October Crisis, Félix Leclerc presented his vision of a Quebec that had been plundered and dispossessed. Without being directly associated with any political party, he was deeply marked by a new commitment on behalf of Quebec independence, as evidenced by the songs in his last three albums (L'Alouette en colère, 1972; Le Tour de l'Île, 1975; and Mon fils, 1978).
Félix Leclerc made his farewell appearance on stage in 1979. At his retreat on the Île d'Orleans, he continued to publish; he also made rare appearances. He wrote two books: Rêves à vendre (1984) and Derniers calepins, released after his death (1988). In 1983, Leclerc was seen on the Radio-Québec TV program 'Station soleil.' In 1984 the Radio-Canada TV broadcast 'Rêves à vendre' (1984), hosted by Jean-Pierre Ferland, was done in his honour. Leclerc also appeared at the first ADISQ gala (1979) - which gave his name to the awards given each year to the best Quebec recording and performing artists (see Félix awards). Johanne Blouin's recording of about 10 of his songs on the album Merci Félix, a few months before his death, was highly successful. Leclerc's death came as a shock to Quebec. Despite a modest funeral on the Île d'Orléans, thousands of people gathered together in Quebec City and Montreal and messages were received from all over the world, including from the French government. Leclerc continues to have a broad following that spans more than three generations; he pointed the way for a generation of singer-poets.
A float was dedicated to Félix Leclerc at the 1966 St-Jean-Baptiste Society parade in Montreal. A theatre in Montreal was named after him 1983-91. He was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada (1968), a Grand Officier of the Ordre national du Québec (1985) and a Chevalier of the Légion d'honneur (1986). He received the 1976 Canadian Conference of the Arts Diplôme d'honneur and he won the 1975 Prix de musique Calixa-Lavallée. In 1977 the Prix Denise-Pelletier for the performing arts, conferred for the first time, was awarded to him by the Quebec government. The Montreal Symphony Orchestra performed a medley of his works at the 1978 St-Jean-Baptiste festivities. A sculpture was created in his honour in Lafontaine park in Montreal (1990). The Montreal Festival du disque granted a Prix Félix-Leclerc to Gilles Vigneault for 'Mon Pays' in 1965. In 2003 the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame honoured Leclerc as one of its inaugural inductees. After Leclerc's death, his heirs established the Fondation Félix-Leclerc to encourage the Quebec chanson. Many of Leclerc's songs have been published in the following collections: Les Chansons de Félix Leclerc - le Canadien (Paris 1950), Félix Leclerc, 12 chansons nouvelles (Archambault 1958), Les Chansons de Félix Leclerc (Paris 1969) and 24 Chansons de Félix Leclerc (Paris no date). His songs have been performed by the Séguins, Monique Leyrac, André Gagnon, Fabienne Thibeault, Groovy Aardvark, Daniel Boucher, Marie-Hélène Thibert and many others. According to the Commission de toponymie du Québec, Leclerc ranks fifth (after Samuel de Champlain, Jacques Cartier, Le frère Marie-Victorin and Jean Talon) among historical personalities whose names are most frequently attributed to streets, places and buildings in Quebec. There are three museums dedicated in whole or in part to his work: the Musée régional de Vaudreuil-Soulanges; the Centre Félix-Leclerc in La Tuque, in the Mauricie; and l'Espace Félix-Leclerc, on the Île d'Orléans.
See also Félix Leclerc in The Canadian Encyclopedia.
Félix Leclerc chante ses derniers succès sur disque. 1951. Philips B-76-087-R/(reissued with additional songs as Félix Leclerc et sa guitare No. 2) Epic 2008/Philips B-77-898
Felix Leclerc chante. (1957). Philips Réalitiés V-5/(retitled La Drave) Philips 844-713/Poly 2424-159/(reissued with modifications as Félix Leclerc et sa guitare) Epic 2001/Philips B-77-897
Les Nouvelles Chansons de Félix Leclerc. (1959). Philips B-76-486-R/(retitled Félix Leclerc et sa guitarre No. 3) Epic 2012/(reissued with modifications as Félix Leclerc Vol 3) Philips B-77-899-L/(reissued with additional songs as L'Héritage) Philips 844-713/Poly 2424-150
Le Roi heureux. 1959-62. Philips B-77-389-L/Philips 84-714/Poly 2424-151
Félix Leclerc. (1964). Philips 840-552-BY/(retitled Le Jour qui s'appelle aujourd'hui) Philips 844-715/Poly 2424-152
Mes premières chansons. 1951-3 (1964). Philips 840-571/(retitled Moi mes souliers) Philips 844-711/Poly 2424-148
Moi mes chansons. 1966. Philips 70352/(retitled Mes longs voyages) Philips 844-716/Poly 2424-153
La Vie. 1967. Philips 844-717/Poly 2424-154
Cent Chansons. (1968). 6-Philips 653-001 (reissue of Philips 844-711 - 844-716)
Félix Leclerc dit pieds nus dans l'aube. 1969. 2-Poly 2675-134
J'inviterai l'enfance. 1969. Philips 849-491/Poly 2424-155
Félix Leclerc chante pour les enfants. (1970). Philips 6461-031
Pleins feux sur Félix Leclerc. (1971). 2-Philips 6499-061-062
Pleins feux sur Félix Leclerc Vol 2. (1971). 2-Philips 9286-396
L'Alouette en colère. 1972. Philips 6325-022/Poly 2424-145
Félix Leclerc. 1972. RCI F-701
Merci la France. 1975. 2-Poly 2675-133
Le Tour de l'île. 1975. Philips 6325-242/Poly 2424-146
Le Temps d'une saison. With Léveillée. 1976. 2 Poly 2675-144
Mon fils. With Vigneault, Ferland, Leyrac, et al. 1978. Poly 2424-187/Kébec-Disc KD-610/Amplitude CHCD-3004 (CD)
Le Bal (arr Dompierre). 1979. Poly 2912-032
Chansons dans la mémoire longtemps. 1979. 3-Poly 2675-194/(highlights reissued as Félix Leclerc Profil) Kébec-Disc KD-614/(Profil 2) Kébec-Disc KD-684/Amplitude CHCD-3001 (CD)
La Légende du petit ours gris/Le Journal d'un chien (extracts). With Léveillée. 1979. PolyGram 2424-195
Mouillures (arr Dompierre). 1979. Poly 2912-033
Prière bohémienne (arr Dompierre). 1979. Poly 2912-034
L'Ancêtre. (1989). 2-Kébec-Disc KD-2-3008/Amplitude CHCD-3008 (CD)
Heureux qui comme Félix. (1989). 4-Amplitude CHCD-4-3502 (CD)
Le P'tit bonheur. (1989). 6-Poly 838-459-2 (CD)
Chansons perdues, chansons retrouvées: les enregistrements de 1950 à 1954: 2005. XXI-21 Productions EXP 200 (2 CD)
Heureux qui comme Félix: une histoire de Félix Leclerc. 2000. GSI Musique GSIC-10-981 (10 CD)
See also Discography for Chansonniers.
Author Denise Ménard, Christian Rioux, Bruno Roy Revised: Luc Bellemare
Bérimont, Luc. Félix Leclerc (Paris 1964)
Renaud, Benoît. 'Félix Leclerc et ses chansons,' Incidences, 6, Oct 1964
Gabriel-de-l'Addolorata, Sister [Colette Bergeron]. 'L'univers poétique de Félix Leclerc,' MA thesis, University of Montreal 1964
Charland, Roland-M., and Samson, Jean-Noël. Félix Leclerc, in the series Dossiers de documentation sur la littérature canadienne-francaise (Montreal 1967)
Despins, Carmel. 'Les thèmes de Félix Leclerc,' MA thesis, Laval University 1967
Le Pennec, Jean-Claude. L'Univers poétique de Félix Leclerc (Montreal, Paris 1967)
Sylvain, Jean-Paul. Félix Leclerc tel que raconté par sa femme (Montreal 1968)
Chauvin, Marie-Josée, and Dufour, Jean. 100 Chansons (Montreal 1970, 1974)
Champagne, Jane. 'Félix Leclerc: returning home to Canada,' Canadian Composer, 86, Dec 1973
'Un pays avec des mots,' interview with Pierre Beaulieu, Montreal La Presse, 30 Dec 1978
"Leclerc, Félix,"The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. S. Sadie (London 1980)
Bertin, Jacques. Félix Leclerc, le roi heureux (Montreal 1988)
Brouillard, Marcel. Félix Leclerc: L'homme derrière la légende (Montreal 1994)
Leclerc, Félix; Chamberland, Roger; Gaulin, André; and Boivin, Aurélien. Tout Félix en chansons (Quebec 1996)
Leblanc, Geneviève. 'Félix Leclerc en tant que figure rassembleuse d'une communauté mémorielle: incursion au cœur de l'identitaire québécois,' MA thesis, Université Laval 1998
Paulin, Marguerite. Félix Leclerc: Filou, le troubadour (Montreal 1998)
Zimmermann, Éric. Félix Leclerc: La raison du futur (Montreal 1999)
Naud, Pierre. 'Félix Leclerc et le mouvement indépendantiste québécois: un mariage basé sur les valeurs communes (analyse de la relation art-politique a l'aide du modèle de Neil Smelser sur les caractéristiques structurelles de la société,' MA thesis, University of Ottawa 2002
Bellemare, Luc. 'Le style dans les chansons enregistrées de Félix Leclerc: une analyse des relations texte-guitare,' MA thesis, Université Laval 2007
Links to Other Sites
CBC: Félix Leclerct
A CBC Radio interview with acclaimed Québec folksinger Félix Leclerc.
Félix L’homme de paroles
A concert performed in tribute to legendary Québec musician Félix Leclerc. From the website for the FrancoFolies de Montréal.
A postage stamp featuring an image of Félix Leclerc, a Québec musician, writer, and actor helped revive the Québecois folk song.
No excuse to ignore music of Félix Leclerc now
A review of a new compilation of recordings featuring acclaimed Québec singer Félix Leclerc. From the canada.com website.