During an extensive solo career Helmer appeared with major Canadian orchestras and on radio and TV, performing in the Canadian premieres of Messiaen's Turangalîla-Symphonie (1964) and Boulez' Structures for Piano, Book II (1966, with Bruce Mather), and in the premieres of John Weinzweig's Piano Concerto (1966) and Istvan Anhalt's La Tourangelle (1975). In 1977 he gave the North American premiere of Ivan Wyschnegradsky's Premier Fragment Symphonique, Étude sur les mouvements rotatoires.
As a chamber musician, Paul Helmer appeared with the Orford String Quartet, the Tudor Singers of Montreal, the Elmer Iseler Singers, and the Festival Wind Soloists. Helmer appeared frequently as accompanist to such artists as Cathy Berberian, Victor Braun, Angèle Dubeau, Rivka Golani, and Moshe Hammer. He was the official accompanist for the 1975 and 1991 Montreal International Music Competitions and for the 1988 National Youth Choir. In 1981 he performed the complete works for solo piano by Maurice Ravel in Montreal and Toronto, a series of concerts that was subsequently broadcast on CBC radio. In later years he continued to perform occasionally as soloist or accompanist, his repertoire ranging from Beethoven's piano sonatas to electroacoustic works. He also contributed to recordings of works by Wyschnegradsky (1994) and John Winiarz (1995). In 1995 Helmer performed the 32 Beethoven piano sonatas at McGill University to overflow audiences. He also toured Japan with cellist Vladimir Orlov.
As a musicologist, Paul Helmer was a respected authority on Western liturgical chant but also pursued interests in the piano music of Ravel and 19th-century salon music. He mounted dramatic and musical productions to display the results of his academic work, including a performance of The Mass of St James of Compostela as a liturgical service, presented with incense, costumes, and slides. The production was broadcast by the CBC on Palm Sunday, 1987. His edition of the work was published in 1988, and issued on CD in 1992 as Missa Sancti Iacobi. His additional research topics and publications included the emigration of European musicians to Canada 1937-55, and a 1997 edition of Le Premier et Le Secont Livre de Fauvel.
Paul Helmer is the brother of violist Terence Helmer, a member 1965-86 of the Orford String Quartet.
Author Stephen C. Willis
Beethoven Seven Bagatelles; Alla Ungharese Quasi Un Capriccio; 11 Bagatelles. 1970. CBC SM-120
Brahms Piano Pieces, Opus. 76; Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel. 1971. CBC SM-183
Charles - Lambert - Whyte - R. Strauss - Debussy (songs). Lynne Cantlon soprano. 1972. CBC SM-184
Jan Jarvlepp - John Winiarz. Chronogrammes. Various performers. nd. JW 861
The Diabelli Variations. 1968. CBC SM-49 Homage to Wyschnegradsky. P. Helmer et al piano, Ensemble d'Ondes de Montréal. 1994. SNE 589-CD
Missa Sancti Iacobi - Solemn Mass for the Feast of the Passion of Saint James of Compostela. 1992. McGill University 75003702
Music for Three Pianos: in Sixth of Tones Wyschnegradsky - Mather Poème du délire - Behrens Aspects. L.-P. Pelletier piano, F. Couture piano, Mather conductor. 1984. McGill University Records 83017
Musique en quarts et seizièmes de ton. Bruce Mather et al. 2005. CMM
Romantic Flute Music: Schubert - Franck. Baxtresser fl. (1977). McGill University Records 77005
Somers Sonata No. 2. 1976. RCI 450
Weinzweig Piano Concerto. Toronto Symphony, Feldbrill conductor. 1969. CBC SM-104
Weinzweig Wine of Peace - Piano Concerto. Toronto Symphony, Feldbrill conductor. (1998). FMDC 4602-2
Winiarz Le Parcours du jour. L-P. Pelletier piano, Couture piano, Mather conductor. (1986). J&W JW-861 (cass)
Winiarz Terra Nova. Various performers. 1995. JW CD 951
See also Saint-Cyr and Discographies for Donald Bell; John Boyden; Victor Braun; Lawrence Cherney; Patricia Rideout; Bernard Turgeon; Tudor Singers of Montreal.
Mulliette, Maida. 'Paul Helmer, commuting pianist,' Toronto Globe and Mail, 8 Mar 1958
Helmer, Paul, ed. Le premier et le secont livre de Fauvel (Ottawa 1997)