Caïn

Caïn, W39. Oratorio by Alexis Contant on a text by Brother Symphorien (Christian Brothers), inspired by the biblical story of Cain and Abel. Composed 1904-5, the work was premiered by a 250-voice choir and a 45-piece orchestra conducted by J.-J. Goulet 12 Nov 1905 at the Monument national in Montreal, in the presence of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, prime minister of Canada. The soloists were Ellsworth Duquette, bass (Caïn), Édouard LeBel, tenor (Abel), Joseph Saucier, baritone (Adam), Antoinette Landry, mezzo-soprano (Ève), and Mme A. Desmarais (Messager céleste). Part of the work was repeated at the Monument national 25 Oct 1906. Selections have been performed on CBC radio, notably in 1958 and 1977, but the complete work was not revived until 27 Sep 1980 in Victoria, BC, by the Victoria Symphony Orchestra, the Amity Singers, and soloists, under the direction of Paul Freeman. Another complete performance was given 13 Nov 1988 at the St-Jean-Baptiste Church in Montreal, with the Choeur de Montréal, the University of Montreal Faculty of Music Choir, the OJQ and soloists from the Atelier lyrique de l'Opéra de Montréal, conducted by Jean-François Sénart.

The work is in three parts: La Haine (the Hatred), Le Sang (the Blood), and La Promesse (the Promise), preceded by an overture. According to Romain Gour, 'the work shows striking polyphonic contrasts in the manner of Verdi or Berlioz... A certain influence of Wagner can be found, too, and a very strong predisposition toward opera' (Qui?, December 1953). The original 300-page manuscript is deposited at the National Library of Canada. See also Oratorios, Canadian 4.