Hailed as a “hero” (Los Angeles Times), a “smashing” performer (The Washington Post), “a pianist who breaks the mold” (International Piano) and “who stands out from the typical trends and artifices [...]
L'enfant prodige: L'incroyable destinée d'André Mathieu (2CD)
They spoke about it
The music of André Mathieu on the big screen at last!
Discover the works of this pianist and post romantic-composer of genius, as they brilliantly fill the soundtrack of the movie L’Enfant prodige : l’incroyable destinée d’André Mathieu (The Child Prodigy), starring Patrick Drolet, directed by Luc Dionne and produced by Cinémaginaire. This is Alain Lefèvre‘s first motion picture as music director, composer and pianist, and a boxset of two albums presented by Analekta recreates this great musical
Starting at a very young age, André Mathieu won the hearts of his close ones and his public and filled music halls with enthusiasm. Admired, acclaimed and praised, the child prodigy seemed to have everything it takes to succeed. From the highest spheres of success to the very depths of his last tormented years, the life of the “Canadian Mozart” became one with his music. This box of two discs picks up the film soundtrack and includes pages by André Mathieu and Alain Lefèvre, performed by the latter.
André Mathieu was born on February 18, 1929, and very early on showed an exceptional talent for piano and composition. His father, Rodolphe, was a composer, and his mother, Wilhelmine Gagnon-Mathieu, was a violinist. At age four, he composed a series of pieces evocative of his daily life, which he first played for his mother, his earliest admirer, who would always fervently support the young prodigy. Among those pieces, one should mention Les Abeilles piquantes, Les Gros Chars (inspired by the evening train his father used to take to go home in Saint-Constant), Danse sauvage (written after an Amerindian dance performance) and Procession d’éléphants (composed after watching an American circus in Montreal).
On February 25, 1935, he gave the first public recital of his works at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. It was attended by Wilfrid Pelletier, the well-known conductor of the Metropolitan Opera of New York at that time, and it caused a sensation. “His technique was prodigious starting at a very young age,” Alain Lefèvre explained. “His hands were unusually large, almost as large as Rachmaninoff’s. He could cover an octave and a fifth. There is a video to prove it, where you see him play, and it makes you appreciate that he had the speed of a Horowitz.”
In 1936, on a scholarship from the government of Quebec, André Mathieu went to Paris to study piano with Yves Nat and Mrs. Giraud-Latarse, and composition with Jacques de la Presle. In December of that year, his recital at the Salle Chopin-Pleyel was received with enthusiasm. When Rachmaninoff, at the height of his popularity, heard him, he was bowled over. Immediately, he took the young prodigy under his wing. “You are the only one who can claim to be my successor,” he unreservedly affirmed. A few years later, the critic Émile Vuillermoz did not hesitate to write to him, “If the word genius has a meaning, it is here that we shall understand it.”
The Mathieu family came back to Montreal when war broke out in Europe. At that time the young composer gave a series of recitals in Montreal, Quebec City and Ottawa. In 1939, the day after a concert at the Salle du Plateau, Léo-Pol Morin summed up, “André Mathieu did not discover music – he had it in him.”
On February 3, 1940, Mathieu made his New York debuts at the Town Hall. Critics were ecstatic. The following year, he played hisConcertino no 2with the Orchestre des Concerts Symphoniques de Montréal (which was to become the OSM). This piece earned him the first prize at a competition for young composers organized by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra on the occasion of its centenary, beating Leonard Bernstein, who was eleven years older.
Wherever Mathieu played, he charmed. “I remember well a sort of friendly tournament that had placed us in competition in an elegant salon where the whole of the Montreal artistic world met regularly,” the pianist and composer André Asselin explained in a tribute to the composer. “This was sometime in the 1940s. The impression of musical power and piano performance that I then felt upon hearing some of his compositions has remained very vivid in my mind. The artistic shock his playing and his musical creative power produced have left with the audiences of that period a deep feeling of aesthetic richness.”
In 1946, André Mathieu went back to Paris, alone this time, to study composition with Arthur Honegger and piano with Jules Gentil. At loose ends and lost, he came back to Montreal the following year. Toward the end of the 1940s, his career declined and little by little he fell prey to alcohol. Ostracized by the musical and political milieux, having difficulty finding students, he participated in many “pianothons”, during which he played for hours on end in the hope of beating records and accumulating enough money to provide for his wife Marie-Ange and himself. Still, he managed to produce a trio for violin, cello and piano, a quintet, three symphonic poems, Mistassini, Hantise and Chant des Ténèbres, five ballet scenes and his Rhapsodie romantique.
He died suddenly at the age of 39, on June 2, 1968. “When a historian-musicographer surveys his work, he or she will provide a few surprises for those who had only a general idea of this musician,” concluded André Asselin. “I would like to inscribe to the memory of this musician, in memory of his Gift, of his 38 short years, the homage of my admiration and friendship and the feeling of having been present at the very birth of a legend: his, and that of music.”
© Lucie Renaud
Translation: Annie P. Prothin