André Mathieu was born in Montreal on February 18, 1929. He received his first music lessons from his father Rodolphe Mathieu, and was already composing little piano pieces by the age of four. Noël Strauss of The New York Times wrote that even Mozart, the greatest musical prodigy of all time, [...]
They spoke about it
“If the word genius has any meaning, it is in this case that we will be able to make sense of it.” This sentence, heavy in meaning and event quite daring, on the part of a renowned and very experienced music critic like Émile Vuillermoz (1878-1960), was nevertheless what he wrote on March 1939 in the prestigious French Magazine Excelsior. It was the morning after a brilliant recital given in the Salle Gaveau before the Parisian musical elite by a 10-year-old pianist-composer: André Mathieu.
Vuillermoz elaborated by adding: “… I do not know if the young André Mathieu will become a great musician like Mozart, but I know that at the same age, Mozart had not yet written anything comparable to that which this young boy performed for us with such breathtaking brilliance.”
Having come to Québec for a vacation in 1939, André Mathieu was unable to return to France when the war broke out. He therefore pursued his studies and budding career in America, particularly in New York, where his 1940 recital at the Town Hall garnered the enthusiasm of the American critics. In 1942, his Concertino No 2 for piano and orchestra earned him the First Prize in the competition organized by the illustrious New York Philharmonic for its 100th anniversary. He premiered the work with the Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall.
As a young boy, André Mathieu was already successful and famous. He was a celebrity in Québec, across Canada and in the United States. Fate, however, dealt a cruel blow to what was a promising career. By the end of the war, he was a teenager and it became difficult to re-establish professional contacts in France, a country rebuilding in the aftermath of the war. He continued with his career on this side of the ocean, giving recitals and concerts, composing and recording. Although his career as a virtuoso performer slowly dwindled, he nonetheless continued to compose, writing many works for piano, large orchestra, choir and various ensembles. His Concerto No 3 for piano and orchestra, became very popular under the title Concerto de Québec. Mathieu developed a style of his own which he qualified as modern romanticism. Unfortunately, certain professional setbacks and failing health led to almost complete silence in the final years. When he died prematurely on June 2, 1968, at the age of 39, his name was almost completely forgotten. His legacy, however, is a substantial and rich body of work whose time has come for revival.
© Gilles Potvin
Recorded in May 1978 at the Claude Champagne Hall, Montréal.