Rosario Bourdon was a multi-talented musician who had a significant influence on the formative years of the Victor Talking Machine Co. He was born into a musical family in Longueuil, Quebec, near Montréal on March 6, 1885. His father was an amateur singer and his mother, Caroline Derome, began to teach him the cello when he was seven. Later, Bourdon studied the instrument with Jean-Baptiste Dubois, a celebrated cellist in Montréal, whom Bourdon's mother later married. Bourdon also learned to play the piano. His half-brother, Louis-Honoré Bourdon, became a well-known impresario in Canada.
Rosario, a child prodigy, was admitted to the Gand (Ghent) Conservatory in Belgium in 1897, at age 12, where he studied cello with Joseph Jacob. After only eight months of study, Bourdon won a first prize "with great distinction." Shortly after this, "Rosario," as he was known on stage, toured Europe and returned to Canada by 1899, where he enjoyed some popularity in Montréal and the city of Québec.
Seeking better career opportunities, Bourdon went to the United States where he played in the orchestras of Cincinatti (1902-1904), Philadelphia (1904-1908) and Saint Paul, Minnesota (1908-1911). He was also the assistant conductor in Saint Paul. During this period he studied conducting in Europe. He eventually became a naturalized American.
Rosario's first recordings for the Victor Talking Machine Co. were made in 1905 to replace some earlier cello recordings made by Victor Sorlin. By 1909 the company had retained him as house cellist and he rose to the position of musical co-director with Joseph Pasternak in 1920. Bourdon was kept very busy at Victor, serving in many additional capacities: arranging music, providing piano accompaniments for other Victor artists, and conducting the Victor Concert Orchestra, the Victor Symphony Orchestra, the Victor Salon Orchestra and, at times, Sousa's Band. He performed the cello on recordings of such Red Seal artists as Alma Gluck and Enrico Caruso (1917, Fauré's Sancta Maria). While Bourdon is known to have performed or conducted at least 141 titles for Victor, his role as an arranger for many recordings makes his contribution to Victor even greater. A partial discography can be found in Roll Back the Years.
The year 1931 marked the end of Bourdon's career at Victor. He subsequently worked in directorial capacities at NBC radio, Muzak, Brunswick Records, and Thesaurus Records, a label that transcribed broadcasts. His best-known credit at NBC was a series of programs called "Cities Service Concerts" (1927-1938). In the latter years of his career Bourdon often conducted l'Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, beginning with their first concert in 1935.
Also of interest is Bourdon's role as a musical pioneer in the film industry. He directed the musical scores for some of Laurel and Hardy's films and for some of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse cartoons.
Rosario Bourdon died in New York on April 24, 1961. In all of his work his greatest goal was not to achieve fame, but rather to "make the voices of the composers heard." Only compliments came from the musicians he worked with. The critic, Marcel Valois, said in praise of Bourdon that his principal quality lay in the relation, or balance, between the cultivation and the gift.
One of Bourdon's most noted works as a composer is his Poème élégiaque for cello and orchestra. Noted among his conducting credits are La Symphonie No 3 "avec orgue" (Saint-Säens), le Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune (Debussy), and Tchaikovsky's Symphonies No. 4, 5, and 6. You may hear him performing the cello in Victor recording 4845 of Schumann's Träumerei, op. 15, No. 7.
Source: Unpublished research notes by Robert Thérien, music researcher, Montréal
Selected recordings available
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- "Bourdon, Rosario". Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. Edited by Helmut Kallmann et al. 2nd ed. Toronto : University of Toronto Press, c1992. xxxii, 1524 p. AMICUS 12048560
- Moogk, Edward B. Roll Back the Years : history of Canadian recorded sound and its legacy : genesis to 1930. Ottawa : National Library of Canada, 1975. xii, 443 p. AMICUS 80154. Also published in French, under the title: En remontant les années : l'histoire et l'héritage de l'enregistrement sonore au Canada, des débuts à 1930
- Potvin, Gilles. "Rosario Bourdon, 1885-1961". Aria. (Spring 1985). P. 13-14. AMICUS 2862457
- "Rosario Bourdon" [vertical file]. Library and Archives Canada, Music Collection