In 1953 in Montreal Pierre Mercure, Gabriel Charpentier, and Noël Gauvin formed a CBC-TV musical production team whose main activity was 'L'Heure du concert'. They were joined by Françoys Bernier at the end of 1954. From 1954 to 1966 the CBC presented 207 programs in this series, for which a grand total of 13,957 contracts were drawn up, 533 for foreign artists and 13,424 for Canadians. Over a period of 13 seasons, 133 operas, either complete or as excerpts, and 133 ballets were presented. The number and frequency of productions varied from one season to another. From 1954 to 1957 the program was broadcast weekly; the 1957-8, 1963-4, and 1964-5 seasons offered one program every two weeks, including one complete opera (occasionally an operatic scene) each month; from 1958 to 1963 one large production, opera or ballet, was scheduled each month; the 1965-6 season saw a return to a rate of one program a week. The majority of productions were in black and white and were produced live. It was only towards the end of the series that pre-recording on videotape was employed.
The chief architect of this distinguished CBC-TV French network series was Pierre Mercure, a dynamic producer who was acutely aware of the demands of TV production. Mercure engaged as artistic consultant Gabriel Charpentier, whose multi-disciplinary knowledge, imagination and invention also contributed largely to the success of the series. Mercure ultimately gathered around him such talented producers as Jean-Yves Landry, Pierre Morin, and Guy Parent; the scenic artists Claude Jasmin, Robert Prévost, and Jean-Claude Rinfret; the costume designers Solange Legendre, Richard Lorain, Claudette Picard, and André Vaillancourt; and a graphic artist, Frédérick Back - all regular CBC staff members. Mercure and his colleagues also called on the services of stage producers, notably Paul Buissonneau, Jan Doat, Jean Gascon, Irving Guttman, and Maurice Sarrazin; the choreographers Ludmilla Chiriaeff, Eric Hyrst, Jeanne Renaud and Françoise Riopelle; and the conductors Ernesto Barbini, Jean-Marie Beaudet, Françoys Bernier, Alexander Brott, Jean Deslauriers, Pierre Hétu, Roland Leduc, Igor Markevitch, Ettore Mazzoleni, Otto-Werner Mueller, Wilfrid Pelletier, Heinz Unger, and Geoffrey Waddington.
The series was educative in that it presented masterpieces from the broad repertoire of classical music that were rarely produced in Canada. A few titles will suffice to show the range of works presented: Mozart's Così fan tutte (26 Jan and 2 Feb 1956); de Falla's Il Retablo de Maese Pedro (22 Nov 1956); Honegger's Jeanne d'Arc au bûcher (20 Nov 1958); L'Histoire de Daniel, an anonymous 13th-century mystery play (24 Dec 1959); Massenet's Manon (11 Feb 1960); Gluck's Orphée et Eurydice (9 Mar 1961); Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle (1 Feb 1962); Offenbach's La Vie parisienne (6 Jan 1963); Rameau's Les Fêtes d'Hébé (20 Sep 1964); and Rossini's The Barber of Seville (7 Mar 1965), a program that earned the producer Pierre Morin and his team an Emmy Award for exceptional quality in a TV program produced outside the USA.
Mercure's personality focused both on multi-disciplinary presentations and on the avant garde, and thus 'L'Heure du concert' accorded significant television exposure to 20th-century art in the widest sense - music, dance, painting, sculpture, and poetry. In 1960 he began engaging noted guest choreographers, such as Alwin Nikolais and Merce Cunningham. George Balanchine and the New York City Ballet appeared on the program in 1956 and returned several times. Among other programs worthy of mention are excerpts from Berg's Wozzeck (21 Feb 1956); Stravinsky's Les Noces (8 Mar 1956) and Oedipus Rex (29 Nov 1956); Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande (24 Nov 1960); the Pro Musica Antiqua ensemble from Brussels (9 Nov 1961); Webern's Four Pieces, Opus 7 and the Quartet, Opus 22, and Stockhausen's Refrain (6 Feb 1964); and a recital by the pianist Claudio Arrau (5 Nov 1964). In 1963 Pierre Boulez made his Canadian debut, conducting Stravinsky's Rite of Spring and his own Deuxième Improvisation sur Mallarmé: Une dentelle s'abolit.
As early as 1954 Mercure had engaged two young Canadian musicians recently graduated from the RCMT: Glenn Gould and Jon Vickers. 'L'Heure du concert' thus began its policy of providing a showcase for the greatest possible number of talented Canadians. Some productions had entirely Canadian casts, eg, Ravel's L'Enfant et les sortilèges (27 Dec 1956), 'Opera on television' (1957, a special program presented in Salzburg at a meeting of the International Music Council and notable for its live production and its simultaneous transmission of sound and picture), Offenbach's La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein (9 Oct 1958), and Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmélites (15 Apr 1960, the cast Canadian except for the great Greek mezzo-soprano Elena Nikolaidi).
Canadian music, already well represented during the first two seasons, was heard more and more in the ensuing years, occasionally taking the form of special programs: 'Hommage à Claude Champagne' (16 Jan 1964); 'Un Compositeur canadien: Roger Matton' (21 Feb 1965); and the opera Loving, with English text and music by R. Murray Schafer and French words by Gabriel Charpentier. Loving, Pierre Mercure's last production, was presented 3 Feb 1966, five days after his accidental death. This audio-visual poem, especially conceived for television, with choreography by Françoise Riopelle and under the musical direction of Serge Garant, marks an important date in Canadian television. It was the culmination of this remarkable series, whose productions were distinguished by high artistic standards and aimed for the highest level of fusion of sound and image. 'L'Heure du concert' in fact created an ideal climate for aural and visual creation in all forms.
In the months following Mercure's death the program underwent various changes. Beginning on 18 Sep 1966, 'L'Heure du concert' became integrated with the series 'Les Beaux Dimanches'..
Author France Malouin
Bernier, Françoys. 'Le visuel au service de la musique,' Compositeurs au Québec: Pierre Mercure, CMCentre (Montreal 1976)
Aspects of Music in Canada
CBC Times (1954-70)
La Semaine à Radio-Canada (1954-66)