Among Quebec’s contemporary music composers, Denis Gougeon is noticeable for his music that is both demanding and accessible, dynamic, energetic, and that contains rich and moving melodic cells.
Critics and public in America, Europe and Japan, have demonstrated their interest in this music. Denis Gougeon, who accepts no labels save that of ‘knitter of sounds’, considers that ‘communication is the true essence of creation’ and therefore ‘the purpose of every work should be to move somebody’. After having written more then seventy works for ensemble and soloist—nearly fifteen of which have been recorded—Denis Gougeon is now one of the few composers in Quebec that can devote his time entirely to his creative work.
He was born in Granby, east of Montreal, in 1951. He taught himself to play guitar when he was adolescent, and later studied musicology at the École de musique Vincent-d’Indy in Montreal. Later still, he completes a bachelor and master’s degree in composition at the Université de Montréal, studying, among others, with André Prévost and the influential Serge Garant. During the 80s, he composes, develops his musical language, all the while involving himself energetically in Montreal’s musical environment: he teaches at l’Université de Montréal and at McGill University, reports on the music scene for Radio-Canada’s radio show Musiques actuelles, and becomes part of the Événements du neuf, an organism that helped open contemporary music to the public between 1982 and 1990.
He also sets up a network of performers associated with his creative work, and that will become his precious ambassadors. In 1988, while many of his works have been performed in Canada, the US and Europe, Radio-Canada chooses his piece Heureux qui comme… to be featured at the Tribune internationale de l’Unesco in Paris; the same year, the Société de Musique Contemporaine du Québec (SMCQ) performs the work during an important European tour. From then on, Denis Gougeon’s career begins to soar: the following year, the Montreal Symphony Orchestra asks him to become its first composer in residence. When, in 1992, Montreal celebrated its 350th anniversary, it was Gougeon who was asked to compose an important commemorative work: Un fleuve, une île, une ville. That same year, the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne (NEM) devoted an entire concert to his music, entitled Autour de Denis Gougeon, at which was premiered his ‘astronomic cycle’ Six thèmes solaires. In 1993, Les Percussions de Strasbourg and the NEM premiered Un train pour l’enfer at the prestigious festival Musica 93 in the Alsatian capital. Among his most recent composition, we may mention Primus Tempus, the Piano muet, and a concerto for piccolo and orchestra created in 1997 by Lise Daoust.
At present, Denis Gougeon is working on a piano concerto for Richard Raymond and a guitar concerto for Alvaro Pierri. He has recently written the stage music for the Théâtre de Quat-Sous’ production of Eric Bogosian’s Sex, Drugs and Rock ’n’ Roll. As for the beginnings of his association with the Théâtre UBU, it was in 1993 that director Denis Marleau asked Denis Gougeon to write for the stage: his original music of Bernard-Marie Koltès’ Roberto Suzzo was rewarded by l’Association québécoise des critiques de théâtre, and won the “Masque 1994” offered by l’Académie québécoise du théâtre. For Denis Marleau and the Théâtre UBU, Denis Gougeon also wrote the stage music for Maîtres anciens, after Thomas Bernhard (1995), for Normand Chaurette’s Passage de l’Indiana (1996) and for Lessing’s Nathan le Sage that opened the Festival d’Avignon 1997 in the celebrated Cour d’honneur of the Papal palace. [Translation: Alex Benjamin]