Jean le Précurseur

Jean le Précurseur. 'Religious lyric poem' in three parts, the text a free-verse adaptation by Albert Lozeau of the prose of Father Antonio LeBel, the music by Guillaume Couture, the orchestration by Paul Puget. Composed at the request of Mgr Paul Bruchési, archbishop of Montreal (to whom it was dedicated), the oratorio was written over a period of three years, beginning in 1907. Its three sections are The Nativity, The Sermon, and The Martyrdom. The work was inspired by the biblical story of John the Baptist. The score calls for 12 solo voices, a mixed choir, and orchestra.

Though a vocal score was published in Paris in 1914 by C. Joubert, the oratorio was not performed until 6 Feb 1923 at the St-Denis Theatre in Montreal under the aegis of the St-Jean-Baptiste Society. Jean Goulet conducted the Assn des chanteurs de Montréal with the famous French bass Léon Rothier in the role of John and the tenor Henri Prieur in that of the Narrator. 'Undoubtedly the best that has been written in its genre in Canada,' wrote Gustave Comte in La Patrie, the day after the performance.

Owing to its success, the work was presented again in the same theatre 5 April, with the same performers except for Rothier, who was replaced by Louis Verschelden. A third performance was given 29 Apr 1924 at the St-Denis Theatre, again with Goulet, Prieur, and Verschelden. The work was given another performance, this time in the open air at the Montreal Stadium 23 Jun 1928 by the same performers and an orchestra of 100.

According to Léo-Pol Morin (Papiers de musique, Montreal 1930), 'a work like Jean le Précurseur teems with fine harmonic achievements, [and] one finds beautifully balanced choral sections, particularly the one which concludes the first part and which is in the form of a fugue. The second part is fairly successful with its themes borrowed from the liturgy, but it is in the third part, the so-called secular part, that the author falls down. The Banquet, the Dances of Salomé and the aria of Antipas: 'Délices! Voluptés!' - these are failures. No, Couture was not in his element here. He was more at ease in the earlier parts, with their religious nature. He was at his best, perhaps, in his religious music, especially the Requiem'.

On 22 Jun 1964 the St-Jean-Baptiste Society's Commission for the Festivities of French Canada presented another performance of the work at the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier (PDA) with the MSO and the choirs of the JMC and the University of Montreal under the direction of Wilfrid Pelletier, with Robert Savoie as John and Léopold Simoneau as the Narrator. On 8 Apr 1988 the first two parts of the work were performed by the Orchestre métropolitain and the University of Montreal Faculty of Music Choir, with Erik Oland and Yves Cantin in the principal roles, conducted by Jean-François Sénart. The performance was given at St-Jean-Baptiste Church in Montreal and broadcast by the CBC.