On January 29, 1966, Canada lost one of its most promising young composers when Pierre Mercure, just 38 years old, died in a car crash near Avallon, between Paris and Dijon in central France. In his short career, he had risen to the front rank of contemporary Canadian composers and had shown a remarkable propensity for growth while retaining his artistic integrity. Mercure’s Cantate pour une joie (1955) for soprano, choir, and orchestra has remained one of his most frequently performed works. The Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, and the National Arts Centre Orchestra, among others, have performed it. Alexander Brott led a performance of the work in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II at the Olympics in Montréal in 1976. In 2015, Boris Brott imaginatively paired Cantate pour une joie with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in a concert by the McGill Chamber Orchestra.
One of the four component parts of the cantata is Dissidence, three short songs set to poems by Gabriel Charpentier in 1955 when the composer was just 28. Charpentier (b. 1925) wore several hats besides that of poet. He was also a prominent composer, a theatre producer, and worked alongside Mercure as coordinator and consultant for music programs at Radio-Canada. Mercure’s settings of Charpentier’s songs appropriately capture the tone of each, respectively assertive and commanding, soothing and comforting, exuberant and joyful. In reflecting on his arrangement of Dissidence for Le NEM, composer Jonathan Monro said, “I set out to honour Mercure’s vocal and instrumental intentions while creating even more specific, intimate colours that I know this outstanding ensemble can produce. From the controlled fury of Les lions jaune to the loneliness of Psaume and the ecstasy of Le cri de joie, each song is a personal journey; and it is my hope that every detail of my orchestrations feels just as personal.”