Labelle, Jean-Baptiste

Jean-Baptiste Labelle. Organist, pianist, composer, conductor, b Burlington,Vt, of Canadian parents, September 1825, baptized Montreal 13 Nov 1825, d Montreal 9 Sep 1898. He is thought to have first trained under Joseph Bossu dit Lyonnais of Quebec. In 1843 he became a church organist in Boucherville, near Montreal. In about 1846 he took a similar post in Chambly, Que. It was at this period that he received lessons from the Austrian pianist Leopold von Meyer, who was touring North America 1845-7.

On his return to Montreal, Labelle became the organist at Notre-Dame Church in 1849, remaining in the position for over 40 years while teaching at the Collège de Montréal, the Collège Ste-Marie, the Collège Mont-St-Louis, the École normale, and the convents of Villa-Maria, Mont-Ste-Marie, and Ste-Anne in Lachine. He studied piano with Sigismund Thalberg in Boston between December 1856 and January 1857.

Labelle also was an importer of pianos and a music dealer starting in 1855. In 1857 he toured the USA and South America, and in November of the same year he organized a 'Grand Operatic Concert' at Mechanics' Hall in Montreal in which he presented excerpts from works by Bellini, Donizetti, Adam, Schubert, and Meyerbeer. In 1863 he conducted the Société philharmonique canadienne of Montreal.

In 1891 Labelle was succeeded at Notre-Dame by Alcibiade Béique. In December 1896 he was struck by an illness which left him paralysed.

Labelle left compositions in several genres, from the popular ballad or piano piece to larger forms: the cantata and the operetta.

Notable among his songs were 'Ô Canada! mon pays! mes amours!' (words 1834, music before 1868) and 'Avant tout je suis Canadien' (Chansonnier des Collèges 1860), both to words by Sir George-Étienne Cartier, and 'Chant des Zouaves canadiens' (L'Album musical, Dec 1881). Three of his songs have been published in CMH, vol 7. His piano pieces included the popular Marche canadienne, with cornet cues (Album littéraire et musical de la Revue canadienne, Aug 1846), and Quadrille national canadien (Montreal no date). His Cantate: La Confédération, a setting of a text by Auguste Achintre, was premiered in 1868 as was his operetta La Conversion d'un pêcheur de la Nouvelle-Écosse (Boucher ca 1868), words by Elzéar Labelle. He also composed La Croisade canadienne, a 'Cantate aux Zouaves pontificaux,' in 1886 to words by Alphonse Bellemare.

Labelle compiled and edited or composed a number of collections, including Le Répertoire de l'organiste, a Gregorian anthology with accompaniments by Labelle (at least 10 editions have been issued, the first in 1851); Les Chansons les plus populaires, a compilation of popular songs of the day; and Échos de Notre-Dame, a collection of his own choral pieces (published 1887) of which the French critic Oscar Comettant wrote: 'In these unpretentious pieces, written in an out-and-out polyphonic style, I find a very fine religious sentiment and much melodic charm... I will just mention O Gloria Virginum, which is truly inspired, perfectly developed, skilful in its modulation and piercing in its grace' (Paris Le Siècle, 20 Feb 1888).