Descarries, Auguste

(Joseph Ernest) Auguste Descarries. Pianist, organist, teacher, composer, b Lachine, near Montreal, 26 Nov 1896, d there 4 Mar 1958; laureat (AMQ), D MUS (Montreal) 1949. He studied piano with Arthur Letondal, Alfred La Liberté, and Jean Dansereau and harmony with Rodolphe Mathieu in Montreal, and at 11 began playing the organ in the Gesù Church. After studying law, he decided on a musical career and succeeded Alexis Contant as organist of St-Jean-Baptiste Church.

In 1921 Descarries won the Prix d'Europe for piano but, before departing for Paris, where he was to remain for the ensuing nine years, he accompanied the tenor Edmond Clément on tour in Quebec and the USA. In 1923, assisted by a special scholarship in composition from the AMQ, he attended the interpretation classes of Alfred Cortot and Marcel Dupré at the École normale and studied harmony and counterpoint with Alice Pelliot, piano with Léon Conus, composition with Georges Catoire, and violin with Jules Conus. He became known as a gifted improviser. In his development as a composer he benefited from contacts with Glazunov and Nicholas Medtner. With the latter he concentrated particularly on the study of rhythm. After giving a series of six well-received Paris recitals in 1929, Descarries returned to Montreal in 1930 and presented several recitals there. He also undertook numerous other assignments, serving as organist-choirmaster at the churches of St-Germain and St-Viateur and teaching piano in several institutions, notably the Conservatoire national de musique. He joined the teaching staff at the CMM in 1944 and remained there until his death. His pupils included Gaston Allaire, André Asselin, Jean Deslauriers, Monique Gusset, Pierre Leduc, and Samuel Levitan. At the University of Montreal, he taught music history and in 1951 became assistant dean of the Faculty of Music. On his retirement from the university he was named professor emeritus.

Descarries founded (and directed 1933-5) the Société de musique de chambre Euterpe, served 1938-41 as president of the AMQ, and was a vice-president of the Commission diocésaine de chant liturgique He gave series of lectures at his studio, and wrote articles for Le Devoir, La Lyre, La Presse, and other publications. In 1945 he founded the Entraide de l'École Auguste-Descarries, which for 10 years assisted in establishing careers for his most gifted pupils. He gave a farewell recital at Plateau Hall in 1956.

Descarries gained recognition as a composer with his Rhapsodie canadienne for piano and orchestra, premiered in 1936 by Helmut Baerwald and the orchestra of the CSM and subsequently repeated in New York and in Montreal. He also wrote a Petite Symphonie, a string Octet, numerous works for piano including a Toccata (BMI Canada) and a Sonata, a Magnificat (BMI Canada), some masses for mixed choir and some art songs. He also left numerous harmonizations of carols and Canadian folksongs, and some church music. Classical in form and romantic in content, his works did not establish themselves in the repertoire despite sound craftmanship, often genuine inspiration, and sophisticated harmony.