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Joseph Quesnel: Biography

Joseph Quesnel
1746 - 1809
Region: Québec

Joseph Quesnel

JOSEPH QUESNEL was born in Saint-Malo (France) on November 15, 1746 and died in Montréal on July 4, 1809. His arrival in Canada in 1779 was more the result of an error than a decision on his part. A sailor by profession and an arms dealer, he captained the ship Espoir delivering arms and munitions to New York. Arrested by the British in Nova Scotia, he was forced to remain in Canada. But he married a Canadian girl in 1780 and went into business in Montréal.

An educated man raised in a well-to-do family, he knew both literature and music. Little is left of Quesnel's musical works whose primary goal it seems was not to edify but rather to amuse his fellow citizens because in Canada at that time, there was "no such thing as music".

Besides several literary works, all that remains is the vocal parts of two operas: Colas et Colinette and Lucas et Cécile as well as the second violin part and the libretto of the first opera. Inspired by French musical models, these works demonstrate an assurance in the writing and the presence of beautiful melodies. Colas et Colinette remains his most well-known work with the restagings of 1805 and 1807, the publication by John Nielson and reorchestration by Godfrey Ridout in 1963 testifying to the reputation which Quesnel had achieved. In 1942, Eugene Lapierre wrote a comic opera entitled Le Père des amours inspired by the life of Quesnel. The Province of British Columbia named the town "Quesnel" after his son, who travelled with Samuel Fraser on his overland trip to the Pacific in the early 1800's.



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