Jacques Hétu | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Jacques Hétu

On his return to Quebec in 1963, he taught 1963-77 at Laval University, giving classes in music literature and analysis, introducing an orchestration course, and establishing a composition class.

Hétu, Jacques

 Jacques (Joseph Robert) Hétu. Composer, teacher, b Trois-Rivières, Que, 8 Aug 1938, d St-Hippolyte, Que, 9 Feb 2010; premier prix composition (CMM) 1961. Becoming aware of his musical talent at the age of 15, Hétu began studying piano, harmony, and Gregorian chant 1955-6 at the University of Ottawa with Father Jules Martel. He then attended the Conservatoire de musique du Québec à Montréal 1956-61 and worked with Clermont Pépin (composition and counterpoint), Isabelle Delorme (harmony), and Jean Papineau-Couture (fugue). A Toccata for piano, some chamber music, and two symphonies were written during his apprenticeship years. He also studied piano with Georges Savaria and oboe with Melvin Berman. In the summer of 1959 he studied composition with Lukas Foss at the Berkshire Music Center in Tanglewood, Mass. Hétu went to Paris in 1961, the year in which he won the Prix d'Europe (the first time this award had been given to a composer since Henri Mercure in 1927), the prize of the Quebec Music Festivals, and a Canada Council grant (1961-2). He studied composition 1961-3 with Henri Dutilleux at the École normale (obtaining a diploma of excellence) and analysis 1962-3 with Olivier Messiaen at the Paris Conservatory. At the same time he sketched an oratorio which emerged in 1967 as the symphonic fresco L'Apocalypse.

On his return to Quebec in 1963, he taught 1963-77 at Laval University, giving classes in music literature and analysis, introducing an orchestration course, and establishing a composition class. Hétu also taught composition 1972-3 and 1978-9 at the University of Montreal and taught at the Université du Québec à Montréal 1979-2000, where he was director of the Music Department 1980-2 and 1986-8.


Hétu's catalogue includes some 70 works, 60 of which were commissioned by such well-known artists or ensembles as James Campbell, the Chamber Players of Toronto, Ginette Duplessis, the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Alvaro Pierri, Joseph Rouleau, Robert Silverman, and the Tudor Singers of Montreal. This versatile repertoire, conceived for traditional and practical ensembles (string quartet, wind quintet, symphony orchestra, etc) resulted in Hétu being one of the most frequently performed Canadian composers.

In 1963 the duettists Victor Bouchard and Renée Morisset premiered his Sonata for two pianos, Opus 6 at Carnegie Recital Hall in New York. Hétu's career truly gained momentum with Glenn Gould's recording of his Variations, Opus 8 for piano in 1967. It has since been recorded by Dale Bartlett, André-Sébastien Savoie, and William Tritt, in addition to being presented at the International Rostrum of Composers in 1968. In 1976, Hétu's Fantasy, Opus 21 for piano and orchestra was the set Canadian piece at the Montreal International Music Competition. Three of his works (Concerto for Piano No. 1, Opus 15; Quintette, Opus 13; and Symphony No. 3) were performed in London and Paris as part of the Musicanada tour. On that occasion the critic for the London Daily Telegraph (5 Nov 1977) stressed the concerto's dazzling virtuoso solo part (played by Silverman) and described it as "an epic, post-Bergian work."

Following these early successes there were several important works, among which are the Concerto pour clarinette (1983), which incorporates music from the haunting Nocturne pour clarinette et piano (1977); the Missa Pro Trecenteismo Anno (1985), a mass honouring the 300th anniversary of Bach's birth; and the Concerto pour trompette, premiered by Guy Few in 1987. In 1990, Hétu's Images de la Révolution (commissioned by the Montreal Symphony Orchestra) was performed by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Charles Dutoit, while Antinomie, Opus 23 and his Symphony No. 3 - judged by Eric McLean as "one of the most worthwhile creations of a Canadian composer in more than a decade" (Montreal Star, 26 Oct 1977) - appeared on the program of the National Arts Centre Orchestra's European tour. Kurt Mazur conducted the New York Philharmonic in the US premiere of Hétu's Trumpet Concerto in May 1992. His opera, Le Prix, a commission by Joseph Rouleau to a libretto by Yves Beauchemin, was premiered the same year by I Musici under Miklos Takacs.

Throughout the 1990s Hétu exerted much of his efforts on writing concertos, composing works for flute in 1991 for Robert Cram; guitar in 1994 for Alvaro Pierri; trombone in 1995 for Alain Trudel; marimba and vibraphone in 1997 for Marie-Josée Simard; and piano in 1999 for André Laplante. His Triple Concerto for violin, cello, piano, and orchestra was premiered by the Trio Hochelaga and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra under Jacques Lacombe at the Lanaudière Festival in July 2003 and, in September 2005, his Concerto for Oboe and English Horn - his fifteenth concerto - was premiered by Philippe Magnant and the Quebec Symphony Orchestra. Hétu's concerto writing did not stop him from expanding his symphonic repertoire, with works such as Symphony No. 4, premiered in 1994 by the CBC Vancouver Orchestra under Mario Bernardi; Sérénade Héroique in 2001 by John Zirbel, horn, and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra under Vassily Sinaiski; and Variations Concertantes, premiered in 2006 by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra under Peter Oundjian. Hétu also continued to write choral and chamber music, notably Passage (premiered by the Phoenix Chamber Choir in August 1999), and Trio pour clarinette, violoncelle et piano (premiered by the Amici Trio in March 2006).


Hétu described his music as incorporating "neo-classical forms and neo-romantic effects in a musical language using 20th-century techniques." Indeed, with a solid background in classical forms, as the titles and the often traditional stamp of his works suggest, Hétu constructed his works around cyclically repeated and skilfully varied motivic units, and liked to contrast vigorous movements with adagios steeped in expressive chromaticism. He also had a great love of the theatrical, which led to his prolific concerto writing. He conceived these works as kinds of mise en scène of the soloist and his or her physical and psychological surroundings. As a result of his stylistic preferences, Hétu often exacerbated proponents of the various trends that have laid claim to the title of "avant-garde" since the 1950s. Because many contemporary music ensembles have an aesthetic agenda tied to one or more of these trends, Hétu needed to look to mainstream classical musicians for performances. This was not difficult for the composer, given his preference for traditional ensembles; it ultimately led to the dissemination of his works among a broader concert-going public.

His early compositions, influenced by Bartók, Hindemith, and various leading French composers, display a marked polytonality and are rich in percussive rhythms and harmonic tension. With the Petite Suite, Opus 7 for piano (1962) he adopted a serial style and the conciseness of the techniques of Webern. With his Passacaglia (1970) and his Symphony No. 3 (1971), the second work being one he considered a watershed piece in his development, he returned to developmental ideas emphasizing polyphony and melodic profusion derived from his admiration for the lyricism of Berg and Mahler, all the while maintaining Classical balance, transparency, and orchestral forces. He exhibited a marked preference for expressive writing, as in his Lied, Opus 29 for horn, Ballade, Opus 30 for piano, and Suite, Opus 41 for guitar. Having shown as early as his Apocalypse, Opus 14 that he was a master of iridescent orchestration, Hétu later became equally fascinated by the voice, either as it is treated within large ensembles (eg Missa pro trecentesimo anno) or as a soloist: his song cycles, Opus 20 and 36, each inspired by Émile Nelligan's poems, reveal his dramatic potential. Hétu possessed imagination and sensitivity, and his musical idiom strives to be at once expressive and forceful.

Hétu garnered many honours, winning (among others) SOCAN's Jan V. Matejcek prize seven times, as well as both a Western Music Award and a Juno for the 2004 recording of Jacques Hétu: Concertos. In 1989 he was made a member of the Royal Society of Canada and in 2001 he was named an Officer of the Order of Canada. He has also had a school in Trois-Rivières named for him. He was a member of the Canadian League of Composers and an associate of the Canadian Music Centre.

Selected Compositions

See also Selected Discography

Le Prix. 1992. Opera. Ms

Symphony, Opus 2. 1959. Str orch. Ber 1973. RCI 293/4-ACM 31 (Beaudry)

Symphony No. 2, Opus 4. 1961. Orch. Ms

L'Apocalypse 'Fresque symphonique d'après saint Jean,' Opus 14. 1967 (version with speaker 1973). Orch. Ms. Bell 1988 (Conservatoire de musique du Québec O)

Passacaglia, Opus 17. 1970. Orch. Ms

Symphony No. 3, Opus 18. 1971. Med orch. Ber 1978. RCI 436 (P. Hétu)/Centrediscs CMC-2987/4-ACM 31 (NACO)

Fantasy, Opus 21. 1973. Pf, orch. Ms

Antinomie, Opus 23. 1977. Chamb orch. Dob-Yppan 1986. RCI 597/4-ACM 31 (Orch métropolitain)

Mirages, Opus 34. 1981. Med orch. Ms

Interlude (excerpt from Les Abîmes du rêve). 1982. Orch. Ms

Images de la Révolution, Opus 44. 1988. Orch. Ms

Poème, Opus 47. 1989. Str orch. Ms

Symphonie No. 4 Op. 55. 1993. Orchestra. Ms

Variations concertantes Op. 74. 2005. Orchestra. Éditions Doberman-Yppan

Symphony No. 5 Op. 81. 2009. Orchestra


"Pour un style composite," Vie Musicale, 11, Mar 1969

"Le compositeur est là pour composer...," Canada Music Book, 11-12, Autumn-Winter 1975, Spring-Summer 1976

'"Itinéraires interdisciplinaires," Présentation à la Société royale du Canada, 43 (1989-90)

"Un musicien et son poète," Émile Nelligan, Cinquante ans après sa mort (Saint-Laurent, Que, 1993)

Beaucage, Réjean, and Hétu, Jacques. "Variations et variantes," Circuit, vol 15, no 1, 2004

Soloist(s) with Orchestra

Double concerto, Opus 12. 1967. Vn, piano, chamber orch. Ms

Concerto, Opus 15. 1969. Pf, orch. Ber 1976. RCI 477 (Silverman)/Louisville LS-76-9/4-ACM 31 (P. Hétu)

Concerto, Opus 31. 1979. Bn, medium orch. Ms

Au pays de Zom, Film music (G. Groulx). 1980. Bass, SATB, 3 winds, string orch. Ms

Les Abîmes du rêve, Opus 36 (Nelligan). 1982. Bass, orch. Ms. SNE 5255/4-ACM 31 (Rouleau)

Concerto, Opus 37. 1983. Cl, medium orch. Dob-Yppan 1987 (clarinet piano)

Missa pro trecentesimo anno, Opus 38. 1985. SATB, medium orch. Ms. 4-ACM 31 (Orch métropolitain)

Symphonie concertante, Opus 40. 1986. Wind quintet, string orch. Ms

Concerto, Opus 43. 1987. Tpt, chamber orch. Dob-Yppan 1990

Concerto, Opus 49. 1990. Ondes M, full orch. Ms

Concerto pour guitare Op. 56. 1993. Guitar and string orchestra. Éditions Doberman-Yppan

Concerto pour trombone Op. 57. 1995. Trombone and orchestra. Éditions Doberman-Yppan

Concerto pour marimba et vibraphone Op. 61. 1997. Percussion solo, vibraphone, marimba, string orchestra. Éditions Doberman-Yppan

Sérénade Héroïque Op. 62. 1998. French horn and orchestra. Éditions Doberman-Yppan

Concerto pour piano No. 2 Op. 64. 1999. Piano and orchestra. Éditions Doberman-Yppan

Concerto pour orgue Op. 68. 2000. Organ and orchestra. Éditions Doberman-Yppan

Triple Concerto Op. 69. 2001. Violin, cello, piano, orchestra. Éditions Doberman-Yppan

Concerto pour hautbois et cor anglais Op. 72. 2004. Soloist on oboe and English horn, and orchestra. Éditions Doberman-Yppan

Chamber Music

Adagio and Rondo, Opus 3, No. 1a. 1960. Str quartet. Dob-Yppan 1990

Four Pieces, Opus 10. 1965. Fl, piano. Édn Billaudot 1969. Madrigal MAS-402 (A.-S. Savoie)

Variations, Opus 11. 1967. Vn (viola or violoncello). Dob-Yppan 1984.

Quintet, Opus 13. 1967. Ww. Dob-Yppan 1984. RCI 364/4-ACM 31 (Ayorama Wind Quintet)/CBC Expo-28 (Quebec Ww Quin)

Cycle, Opus 16. 1969. Pf, winds. Ms. RCI 301/4-ACM 31 (SMCQ)

String Quartet, Opus 19. 1972. Ms. RCI 550/4-ACM 31 (Orford String Quartet)

Aria, Opus 27. 1977. Fl, piano. Dob-Yppan 1983. RCI 535/4-ACM 31 (L. Daoust)

Nocturne, Opus 26. 1977. Cl, piano. Dob-Yppan 1983

Rondo varié, Opus 25. 1977. Vn. Dob-Yppan 1984

Incantation, Opus 28. 1978. Ob, piano. Ms. McGill University Records 85026 (L. Cherney)

Lied, Opus 29. 1978. Horn, piano. Ms

Elegy, Opus 31a (excerpt from Concerto, Opus 31). 1979. Bn, piano. Ms

Suite, Opus 41. 1986. Guit. Dob-Yppan 1987. Amplitude CLCD-2010 (Pierri)

Four Miniatures. 1987. Ob, clarinet, bassoon. Dob-Yppan 1988

Serenade, Opus 45. 1988. Fl, string quartet. Ms

Scherzo Op. 54. 1992. String quartet. Ms

Sonate pour violon et piano Op. 58. 1996. Violin and piano. Éditions Doberman-Yppan

Sonate pour treize instruments Op. 60. 1996. Chamber ensemble. Ms

Faintaisie sur le nom de Bach Op. 67. 2000. Solo flute. Éditions Doberman-Yppan

Trio pour clarinette, violoncelle et piano Op. 73. 2004. Clarinet, cello, and piano. Éditions Doberman-Yppan

Sextuor à cordes Op. 71. 2004. String sextet. Ms


Sonata, Opus 6. 1962. 2 piano. Ber 1962. RCI 227/RCA CCS-1021/4-ACM 31 (V. Bouchard)

Petite suite, Opus 7. 1962. Pf. Dob-Yppan 1985. RCI 252/4-ACM 31 (J. Dufresne)

Variations, Opus 8. 1964. Pf. Ber 1970. RCI 251/4-ACM 31 (A.-S. Savoie)/Col 32 11 0046 (Gould)/JMC 4 (Bartlett)/Concert Hall SMS-2937 (Tritt)/ CBC Expo-7 (Turini)

Prélude et danse, Opus 24. 1977. Pf. Dob-Yppan 1983. RCI 640/4-ACM 31 (Silverman)

Ballade, Opus 30. 1978. Pf. Dob-Yppan 1984. Centrediscs CMC-1684 (Foreman)/RCI 553/4-ACM 31 (Coop)

Sonata, Opus 35. 1984. Pf. Dob-Yppan 1988. RCI 640/4-ACM 31 (Silverman)

Four Interludes, Opus 38a (excerpts from Missa pro trecentesimo anno). 1985. Org. Ms

Variations, Opus 42. 1986. Org. Ms

Fantaisie Op. 59. 1996. Piano. Éditions Doberman-Yppan

Impromptu Op. 70. 2004. Piano. Éditions Doberman-Yppan

Choir or Voice

Les Clartés de la nuit, Opus 20 (Nelligan). 1972 (rev 1987). Sop, piano (orch). Dob-Yppan 1986. RCI 483 (Chornodolska)/4-ACM 31 (Boky)

Les Djinns, Opus 22 (Hugo). 1975. 2 SATB, percussion, piano. Ms

Les Illusions fanées, Opus 46 (Nelligan). 1988. SATB. Ms. CBC Musica Viva MVCD-1039 (Tudor Singers of Montreal)

Passage Op. 65. 1999. Mixed a capella choir. Éditions Doberman-Yppan

Hear My Prayer, O Lord Op. 66. 2000. Mixed a capella choir. Ms

Selected Discography

See also individual titles of compositions in List of Works, for additional discographic information.

Anthology of Canadian Music Vol. 31. Various artists. RCI 4-ACM-31

Canadian Music for Strings. I Musici de Montréal, Yuli Turowski conductor. 1993. CBC Records, SMCD 5131

Canadian Trumpet Concerti. James Thompson, Guy Few, Dan Warren trumpet, Raffi Armenian conductor, Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra. 1993. CBC Records SMCD 5130

Louise Bessette & Marc-André Hamelin. Bessette, Hamelin piano. 1993. Doberman-Yppan DO 137-CD

Canadian Music for Piano. Louise Bessette piano. 1993. CBC Records MVCD 1064

Quintettes. The Essex Winds. 1995. Centrediscs CMC-CD 5595

Louise Bessette and Martine Desroches. Bessette piano, Desroches violin. 1998. Doberman-Yppan DO 262-CD

Ovation Vol. 1. Various artists. 2002. CBC Records PSCD 2026-5

Portrait of Jacques Hétu. Various artists. 2002. Centrediscs CMCCD 8302

Amours. Jean-Guy Boisvert clarinet, Louise-Andrée Baril piano. 2003. SNE-652-CD

Jacques Hétu: Concertos. Christopher Millard bassoon, Joaquin Valdepenas clarinet, Robert Cram flute, André Laplante piano. 2003. CBC Records SMCD 5228

Premieres. Dimitri Illarionov guitar, The Seasons Orchestra, Vladislav Bulakhov conductor. 2003. Doberman-Yppan, DO 500

Oeuvres de Hétu et Prévost. Jean Saulner piano, Yegor Dyachkov violin, Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, Lorraine Vaillancourt conductor. 2005. Doberman-Yppan DO 505

Impressions Québécoises. Claude Régimbald flute, Jacinthe Riverin piano. 2005. TechniSonore SNE-665-CD


Jacques Hétu, musique contemporaine (Télé-Montage 1978)

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