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François Morel: Biography

François Morel
1926 - 2018
Region: Québec

François Morel

François Morel, born in 1926 in Montreal, belongs to an important group of quebecois composers born out of Claude Champagne’s classes at the Montreal Conservatory of Music during the 50s. Unlike his colleagues, he chose not to continue his musical studies in Europe but instead decided to stay in Quebec: it was during this period that he met Varèse in New York. This decision did not affect his career on an  international level. In October 1953, Leopold Stokoswki premiered his Antiphonie in Carnegie Hall, a work still frequently performed to this day.  Ever since, his works have been performed in major European cites, in Russia, in Japan, in China as well as in the United-States and South America, under the direction of such reputable conductors as Monteux, Ozawa, Metha, Decker and Abbado. François Morel was also highly involved in the Quebec music scene in bringing about and producing events for the concert scene, recordings, theatre, radio and television. For over 25 years, he was a freelance composer and conductor for the Société Radio-Canada. He was one of the founding members of  the Société de Musique de Notre Temps, of the Éditions Québec-Musique as well as the founder and artistic director for the Ensemble Bois et Cuivres du Québec.


His work Aux couleurs du ciel for large wind ensemble was commissioned and premiered during the Montreal Symphony Orchestra 1987-1988 season under the direction of Charles Dutoit to whom it is dedicated.  François Morel, now a retired professor, taught, between 1979 and 1997, analyses, composition and orchestration at the Faculty of Music of Laval University. He also conducted the contemporary music ensemble which included an ensemble of 12 flutes, an ensemble of 15 brass and the Ensemble Contemporain Bois, Cuivres et Percussions. He received the prestigious “Chevalier de l’Ordre national du Québec” in 1994 and the “Prix Denise-Pelletier” awarded by the Prix du Québec 1996.

He began piano lessons at 9 years old with a neighborhood piano teacher and at 17 he entered the Montreal Conservatory of Music with a string quartet under his belt. Very soon, his curiosity brought him to listen to instrumental repertoire of all ages, above and beyond keyboard music, in concerts, on recordings and on the radio. Improvisation has always been a part of his musical activity which he considers a form of composition, however feeling this to be insufficient he therefore entered the Conservatory with the firm intention of developing his composition skills.

Morel speaks of these joyful years: “I was very fortunate to have worked with Claude Champagne, the first musician to produce orchestral works that exceeded the provincial climate of his era to which we must also not ignore the music of Rodolphe Mathieu. The masters of the XXe Century whom I studied the music are, to name a few, Scriabine; Debussy – Les Nocturnes, Les Images, La Mer, Jeux; Ravel; Stravinsky – works ranging from the Firebird Suite (1909) to the Wind Symphony (1920) known as the Russian period; Bartók – from the Piano Sonata (1926) to the Music for Strings and celesta (1936); Varèse; Messiaen; Boulez; Berio; Carter; Dutilleux; Takemitsu: their music have influenced me greatly throughout my career. Dare I suggest that this is the way in which we perpetuate tradition.”


“When an orchestral work is commissioned, a premiere performance with the production of the orchestral parts can cost up to two thousand five hundred dollars, it becomes obvious that the desire to write such a work without funding can appear costly for a composer. The commission does not necessarily change anything to the composer’s attitude, but the composer cannot always be his own commissioner! My approach to composing a work depends on the instrumentation for which it is destined, because I have always believed that the musical interest resides in the idiomatic writing for the instruments used. I have been using for quite some time complex sonorities (harmony) where the equivalent mirror chords work like characters that the ear identifies without having to ask for their identification papers. My musical language is made up of a blend of serialism, modal and a very evolved tonal-dissonant sentiment, supported by an incessant mirroring of timbers that contribute to render a sentiment of colorful space that the composer is searching for.”


“Among my Quebecois composer colleagues, I admire the late Serge Garant in particular for his works Quintette, Plages and ...chant d’amour; Gilles Tremblay for Vêpres de la Vierge, Aubes for flute and percussion et recently L’espace du Coeur for the Ensemble Pro-Coro; and finally Jacques Hétu for his magnificent Tombeau de Nelligan for symphony orchestra.”


“I waited many years before teaching for one specific reason: I needed to acquire sufficient life experiences so that my students may benefit from the knowledge gained from real musical life rather than theory! I believe that a music student who does not have a musical ear will not have his place in music! It’s the first thing he must acquire. Equally important, there has to be a curiosity without limit, an intelligent understanding of sounds, a knowledge of the history of our art. Finally, for those who wish to pursue a career in composition, he must perfect the fundamental studies of harmony, counterpoint, fugue, orchestration and the study of forms, in order to invent his own personal language and his own personal forms without originality being the ultimate goal at all cost: we are all always the child of someone.”

“The younger generation will evolve as it will and I have little advice to give, except to be at peace with one self regardless of the ups and downs of what the “trend” is, a word I detest! The life of a composer is to be lived intimately and not constantly explaining himself on the public forefront with the media circus like the star system of the American anti-art culture, that is to say “entertainment” which we must henceforth be subjected to like a disease, a cancer produced by our neighbors down south to whom we subscribe way to often.”

May 2001


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