Transcript of podcast episode 61
Josée Arnold (JA): Welcome to “Discover Library and Archives Canada: Your History, Your Documentary Heritage.” I'm your host, Josée Arnold. Join us as we showcase treasures from our vaults; guide you through our many services; and introduce you to the people who acquire, safeguard and make known Canada's documentary heritage.
Éva Gauthier's musical career took her from Ottawa, Canada, to the four corners of the world. Often considered ahead of her time because of her unique style and approach, Gauthier never let the critics stop her from expressing her true artistic self. Influenced by her journeys abroad, she did not stick to traditions and her inimitable flair, expressive singing style, talent and boldness allowed her to shape modern music in North America.
Although this Canadian singer is best known for her own accomplishments as a leading interpreter of modern song, she is also remembered for introducing George Gershwin to the world when they gave the first-ever performance of jazz-inspired songs in a concert hall. Acting not only as a performer but also as a teacher and mentor later in life, Éva Gauthier occupies an important place in twentieth-century music history.
Throughout this episode, you'll be hearing the names of Canadian musicians and singers, including of course, Éva Gauthier. If you'd like to listen to songs from these artists, during or after the episode, you're welcome to head over to LAC's
Virtual Gramophone website. There, you will find thousands of songs to listen to from the early days of Canadian recorded sound, as well as foreign recordings featuring Canadian artists or compositions. In addition, each database entry provides information about the recording, its title and performer, relevant dates, and details about the label and disc. It's an incredible resource available to music lovers and researchers. Simply search for “virtual gramophone” in your favorite search engine to find it.
Actor quoting Éva Gauthier (EG): “If I look back on what they now call ‘the Roaring Twenties,' it is like looking at a rich tapestry of almost blinding colour. So much happened in those years, which were marked by abundant prosperity in America and a cultural liveliness which was breathtaking. Music of our time all of a sudden became a matter of interest, and everybody felt like jumping on the bandwagon.”
JA: A quote from Éva Gauthier.
Normand Cazelais (NC): My name is Normand Cazelais, and I'm originally from Montréal. I have a background in geography, but like many people my age who generally love music, I'm not a musicographer, but a music lover who enjoys listening to all sorts of music, including singing and classical music.
JA: That was Normand Cazelais. He has written over thirty books, including
Vivre l'hiver au Québec, which earned him the Marcel Couture Award in 2010 at the Salon du livre de Montréal, and also, his book on Éva Gauthier, entitled Éva Gauthier, la voix de l'audace, published in 2016. He spoke to us from his home in Montréal, where he told us how he became interested in Éva Gauthier…
NC: My interest in Éva Gauthier came about by chance. I was initially interested in the meeting in New York between Ravel and Gershwin, the composer of
Rhapsody in Blue. As I was researching their encounter, this meeting between two musicians who didn't know each other but who respected each other, I found out that they met for the first time thanks to a singer named Éva Gauthier.
And that's how one thing led to another, and I became interested in Éva Gauthier. I saw her as a truly fascinating individual considering her unique path in life. To pursue this kind of career alone, without an impresario, in a musical genre that was considered “contemporary” at the time; one that specialized in song recitals and often featured musicians who were considered avant-garde.
JA: Can you tell us about Éva Gauthier? What was her early life like?
NC: Éva Gauthier was born a Francophone neighbourhood of Ottawa—on September 20, 1885. She was a talented young girl. It didn't take long before her beautiful voice attracted attention. She actually began her “professional” career, so to speak, fairly early on, in 1902, at the Ottawa basilica, singing contralto during a ceremony commemorating the passing of Queen Victoria. And then, she took singing lessons—singing lessons, which weren't free—and were a little challenging for her family; they were not rich. The expense was somewhat of a burden for them. She paid for a significant portion of her singing lessons by singing at the St. Patrick's Church in Ottawa.
One of her teachers in Ottawa at the time was a man named Mr. Birch. He was an Englishman who had left his homeland in 1895, and who was an organist, a conductor and a choirmaster. She also studied voice from age 13 with a man named Frank Buels, who truly let her explore her singing talents. She eventually made something of a name for herself as a soloist at St. Patrick's Church.
JA: As Normand mentions, Éva took piano, harmony and voice lessons and was a soloist at Ottawa's St. Patrick and Notre Dame basilicas. In those days, Canadian musicians normally sought training under European teachers. How was Éva going to get to Europe to continue her formal training? Turns out, she had some “family” connections.
NC: Her career really took off thanks to one of her aunts, Zoé Lafontaine, who was married to Sir Wilfrid Laurier. As the wife of the Prime Minister of Canada, she was granted the title of “lady.” She met her future husband, Wilfrid Laurier, while he was studying law in Montréal at McGill University. They met at the Montréal home of Dr. Gauthier, Éva Gauthier's grandfather. Zoé Lafontaine gave piano lessons to Dr. Gauthier's children, and that was how they met.
Since she was also a musician, Aunt Zoé was very interested in the talents of Éva and her sister Juliette, who also sang and played violin. So, very early on, she told Éva's parents: “Your daughter has an extraordinarily talent! You really need to help her along in this field, you need to support her.” At one point, she told them bluntly: “It's all well and good that she take singing lessons in Ottawa and give recitals, but she needs to go further. And further means studying in Paris.”
You could imagine her parents' reaction: “Paris! Our 17-year-old daughter—send her to Paris!?” “Yes,” Aunt Zoé said: “She's going to study at the Conservatoire de Paris.” “But,” her parents reacted, “she'd be a child all alone there... it's far away, it's a big city!” And back then, Paris already had a reputation, an image…
So her parents said: “But it costs money!” And Aunt Zoé said: “We'll find the money!” In just a few weeks, Aunt Zoé raised $3,000 among her many friends and acquaintances. So, in April of 1902, Éva was able to leave for Europe, with Aunt Zoé accompanying her. They boarded a ship in New York and set sail. All of this was instigated by Aunt Zoé, who believed in Éva Gauthier's talent and in a future that seemed bright.
JA: So in 1902, at the age of 17, with the assistance of Sir Wilfrid and Lady Laurier, Éva left for France.
NC: When she arrived in Paris, she took singing lessons. Her first singing teacher was Mathilde Marchesi—considered the best voice teacher of the day in Paris. She had given lessons to Nellie Melba (a great opera singer who sang at Convent Garden and elsewhere) and opera singers like Mary Garden, Sigrid Arnoldson and many other prominent figures.
You can tell that Aunt Zoé aimed high: to her, nothing was too much to help her niece achieve her goals—the ones she had set for herself and with others. Even when she performed for Ms. Marchesi, Aunt Zoé played piano for the audition. This first meeting did not go as well as they had hoped, because from the outset, the grand lady predicted: “This young girl is going to have serious voice problems.” In fact, this proved true because several times (given her broad range), she had to pick her roles, either as a contralto or soprano.
JA: After auditioning with Mathilde Marchesi, Éva Gauthier started studying voice privately with Auguste-Jean Dubulle of the Paris Conservatory. Dubulle was the teacher of the famous Canadian baritone and choirmaster Joseph Saucier, who was the first French-Canadian artist to make a recording in Canada in 1904. Check him out on the
Virtual Gramophone site!
Éva took the advice of Mme. Marchesi and underwent surgery to correct nodules on her vocal cords. Subsequently, she studied with Jacques Bouhy, whom she credited for her vocal technique.
In Europe, Gauthier learned the standard vocal repertoire. Originally, she performed as a contralto, but she expanded her range to include the soprano and even coloratura registers, though she became known primarily as a mezzo. Throughout her career, she used her wide vocal range to her advantage.
By 1905, Gauthier had been hired by the pre-eminent Canadian singer Dame Emma Albani for a concert tour of the United Kingdom and for Albani's 1906 Canadian farewell tour. We asked Normand: How did Éva and Emma Albani meet?
NC: One day, Éva Gauthier was introduced to Emma Albani. Emma Albani was a unique character: born in Chambly in 1847, she rose to become an international opera celebrity and Queen Victoria's friend and confidant—a truly impressive feat that few ever achieved in life. Emma Albani gave recitals around the world and, of course, returned to Canada and Quebec regularly; she truly was a person of note, deeply admired and valued.
One day, toward the end of Emma Albani's career, Éva Gauthier was introduced to the star. Emma Albani recognized the young girl's beautiful voice and clear talent, and she took her into her circle and under her protection.
She also became her mentor, which meant that thanks to her, Éva Gauthier could attend Emma Albani's concerts at the Royal Opera House, the Coliseum Theater and the Royal Albert Hall in London. She could also accompany Emma Albani to performances, chamber music concerts, ballets and operas. These were also valuable and important formative experiences for Éva.
She even accompanied Emma Albani on her last tour before she retired. Éva Gauthier always said this was a very important time in her life and that she was deeply indebted to Emma Albani for everything she passed on to her.
JA: Gauthier was paid $70 per week to perform in the thirty concerts of Emma Albani's 1906 Canadian farewell tour. At the performance in Ottawa, Gauthier's hometown, Albani recognized her protégée's obvious talents by stating, “As an artistic legacy to my country, I leave you Éva Gauthier.” Albani took a special interest in Gauthier's singing career, giving her advice on care of the voice and similar matters.
Through her connections with the Lauriers and Albani, Éva obtained assistance from many high-placed individuals. In 1906 Lord Strathcona, Canada's High Commissioner in London, provided her with a scholarship that enabled her to study and perform in London and Europe. Despite making numerous concert appearances, Gauthier did not make her opera debut until 1909 in Pavia, Italy, when she successfully sang the role of Micaela in
Carmen. Afterwards, Gauthier returned to singing in recitals with various European orchestras. She did attempt a second grand opera role, but gave up on opera altogether after suffering a significant disappointment in June 1910.
She had prepared for the role of Mallika in Léo Delibes'
Lakmé at London's Covent Garden. However, she received a shock on opening night when the director informed her that she was being replaced at the demand of the prima donna soprano Luisa Tetrazzini, who feared Gauthier's voice would overpower her own. Here is how Gauthier later described it in an article published in Opera News on January 31, 1955.
Actor quoting EG: “When I came to rehearse, nobody noticed me until, after the famous duet with Tetrazzini, the conductor, Italo Campanini, turned to me and said, 'Che bella voce!' Tetrazzini gave me a withering look. I was young, and my mezzo voice was beautiful and strong in the middle register, so that I could not help covering the soprano, since her middle register was always her weak point. After that she always complained that I sang too loud.
“June 18 was to be the ‘Lakmé premiere and my friends had come to applaud my debut. Albani was in the audience, as excited as I was. I was ready to go on when Mr. Higgins, the Manager of Covent Garden, came to my dressing-room—to wish me well, I thought. 'I have had to do many disagreeable things in my life,' he began, 'but never anything like this to a young artist making her debut. Tetrazzini refuses to go on if you sing. No arguments can change her mind. She is the star and draws the audience. I'll give you other roles till we are ready with [Pelléas et Melisande].'
“I answered that they could consider me out of the company.” (Quoted in
Éva Gauthier—Mezzo Soprano by Herbert H. Sills.)
JA: Despite being offered attractive compensating roles, Gauthier quit the company altogether and never sang opera again.
After her disappointment with the London Covent Garden Opera Company, Gauthier left Europe for Java, Indonesia, where her fiancé, Frans Knoote, was a Dutch importer and plantation manager. They married there on May 22, 1911, and Gauthier became engrossed in the music of Java over the next four years. The strange melodies and harmonies fascinated her and she resolved to investigate the Javanese music.
Actor quoting EG: “From there I went to the other cities on the island. Often on the roads, I would see groups of natives playing queer instruments, and hear them singing songs of many peculiar harmonies. I immediately became curious. Here was a music of which I had never heard! I, who had made music my life study! I inquired about these strange melodies. All my friends shook their heads, and said it would be impossible for me to understand the native music, no white people did, and as for singing it—!” (Strakosch, 1915)
JA: Eventually she began to incorporate the traditional Javanese music known as Gamelan into her repertoire. She even obtained permission from the Javanese court to perform and study with a Javanese gamelan (an instrumental ensemble of gongs and chimes), making her the first Western woman with classical musical training to do so.
During this period, Gauthier toured Japan, China, Singapore and Malaysia, giving recitals in Hong Kong, Canton, Shanghai and Peking [Beijing] at a time when Western classical music was rarely performed there. Her concerts received extraordinary reviews, with most reviewers reporting them to be the best vocal concerts they had ever heard. If you'd like to read some of these reviews from her tour, check out our
Flickr gallery for this episode. There, you'll find a six-page booklet of newspaper reviews for her performances while touring China in 1911. Here's an example from the
South China Morning Post:
Mlle. Gauthier came, saw and conquered; her concert scored such a musical success, that it is doubtful, whether any previous one held in the colony, has equaled. The storm of applause, evidently made the artist feel the sympathies of the house, for she sang to perfection, with precision of enunciation and delicacy of feeling.
Mlle. Gauthier has a fresh powerful voice, an exquisite mezzo soprano, clear in the high notes and of rich tone in its lower registers; she showed perfect technique, has a capacity for musical sentiment and proved great flexibility. All through the colorature work her voice was touched with a quality and warmth of feeling, that gave beautiful interpretation to the fragments.
And from the
Hong Kong Telegraph:
This dainty Canadian singer has a voice of great flexibility, power and range. The entire evening was a musical treat; the applause was loud, long and well deserved.
Gauthier also undertook a tour of Australia and New Zealand, leaving Java for Sydney on May 28, 1914. The First World War broke out while she was in Australia so Éva left for the security of North America, arriving in New York City in the fall of 1914, at the age of 29. Her husband Frans did not join her. The couple eventually divorced in 1918.
Upon arriving in New York, Gauthier followed in the footsteps of Canadian singer Pauline Donalda and, in the fall of 1915, briefly tried vaudeville. Gauthier's act, entitled “Songmotion,” brought her Javanese act to the stage. With the collaboration of a classical dancer who was professionally known as Nila Devi and the assistance of four other young women, Gauthier devised a singing and dancing program that was staged with a Javanese temple as background.
“Songmotion” toured at least 16 cities over a five-month period. For most of these cities, it was the first time a staged representation of Java had been seen and was thus a novelty in both form and content.
Normand tells us more about her career back in North America…
NC: Vaudeville at the time had none of its later-day connotations (striptease shows or anything else). These performances travelled from venue to venue and city to city or played for the troops. They included knife throwers, flamenco dancers and performers of magic tricks, who took turns on stage. And Éva and a dancer friend gave a singing tour largely inspired by Javanese and Eastern music.
So we see that Éva Gauthier was a person who drew on multiple sources, thanks to the friendships she made and her endearing personality. She was a daring individual who was truly bold and open to all genres. If she thought the music was good, she would dive into it, despite any risk of harsh or negative backlash—from the public, yes, but especially from persons of influence, specifically critics.
When I wrote my book about her, I read reviews by people writing for New York or Boston newspapers. And among them, there was one well-known, respected critic who said: “Luckily, this music and these songs are being performed by Éva Gauthier and have the backing of a magnificently talented woman; otherwise, we would have left the venue.” This shows just how highly she was regarded, and her considerable talent.
JA : It seemed that Gauthier's performances of Javanese songs were ahead of their time. It was only in the 1930s that Asian music from any region became better known in North America.
Gauthier began giving annual recitals at Aeolian Hall in New York City in November 1917, singing songs by the pre-eminent French composer Maurice Ravel, as well as by the Russian composer, pianist and conductor Igor Stravinsky.
The singer's flair for modern harmonies and neoclassical melodies led to invitations to sing at the premieres of hundreds of new works by contemporary composers. After the 1917 concert, Stravinsky chose Gauthier to premiere all of his vocal concert compositions. Her reputation earned her the nickname "The High Priestess of Modern Song."
In 1920, the Music League of America sent Gauthier to Paris to offer Ravel a concert tour of the United States. She and Ravel began a long friendship, and she established valuable contacts with such luminaries in the French music world as Erik Satie and
Les Six, a group of modern French composers.
These composers and many others sent Gauthier new compositions in the hope that she would perform them in concert.
Normand tells us more about her emerging fame and her relationship with these now famous composers and artists.
NC: As astonishing as it might seem, Éva Gauthier won over a relatively diverse audience fairly quickly. I think you see it in every era: when performers, singers or creators chase after original voices, there are always people who become loyal fans.
And Éva Gauthier was like that, she stood out fairly quickly. Because when she decided to give recitals at Aeolian Hall in New York, she was taking a bold risk! To fill a venue with a few thousand people, by yourself or with a few other musicians, and to combine serious or classical music with music that was more or less associated with the world of jazz.
One of the shows she put on, part of Aeolian Hall history, was performed with Gershwin, the young musician who hadn't yet composed
Rhapsody in Blue or
An American in Paris, but who had already composed pieces that heralded his future fame, but were marked by the influence of jazz and popular American music. Gershwin was a man schooled by Tin Pan Alley; his music is what would later become known as Broadway Music. So he, too, had a very eclectic background.
Éva also presented a few imported pieces and others from her days in Indonesia, where she learned Javanese music. It was a totally different musical approach that had other musical scales and was played on instruments considered very exotic at the time.
We should also mention the whole Orientalist period at the turn of the century, focused mainly on China and Japan, that aroused Western interest in Eastern art and music. Javanese music was much less familiar, but it followed the same trend.
So people saw Éva Gauthier as a mixture of novelty and boldness—performing pieces created by often less well-known composers of her time— Stravinsky is a well-known composer today, but did not have the same following at that time. The same goes for Satie. Ravel was better known, but there were also many American composers of “serious” contemporary music who were less well known.
Éva developed other friendships too; for example, she became friends with Griffes (an American composer) and Stravinsky. Stravinsky demanded that every vocal piece he composed be performed first by Éva Gauthier. Ravel said that Éva Gauthier was a magnificent singer and, most importantly, a magnificent friend.
She also formed quite a close relationship with Erik Satie, whose personality made him eccentric in his own right. He was a musician who also made a mark in the world of painting and sculpture. He was also highly respected musically, but he lived a rather unusual life. Satie was a highly skilled classical musician who could also play honky-tonk. He expressed a kind of irony in his music and in the titles he gave to his musical pieces. Among Éva Gauthier's documents and archives, there are copies of the letters he wrote to her—including one in which he paid her beautiful compliments, but also drew some kind of caricature of himself (because Satie was also gifted at drawing).
JA: When Éva Gauthier returned to America in the late summer of 1920, she brought back a trunkful of new vocal compositions. In one of her frequent interviews in the musical press, she emphatically referred to one of the artistic principles that she defended throughout her life.
Actor quoting EG: “People who are dead do not need our help any longer. If a composer cannot hear his work produced, he loses the incentive to write. It is futile, anyway, to repeat forever the Schubert, Schumann and Brahms songs, lovely as they may be. Our present-day musicians must be encouraged to give us what they have, so that our own period shall not be sterile—so that music shall not stand still.”
JA: Gauthier returned to Europe in 1922 and again in 1923 to continue studying voice and seek out new works to perform, but it was the blues elements and innovative rhythms of American jazz that next attracted her attention.
Many concert musicians were interested in the new phenomenon of jazz. However, many music critics and large segments of the public were opposed. Jazz was considered a “low” form of popular music that was suitable for dancing but not serious enough to be presented in concert.
In our last segment with Normand, you may have heard him mention a particularly memorable concert given by Éva Gauthier at Aeolian Hall in New York. This took place on November 1, 1923.
Gauthier's concert, which was entitled a "Recital of Ancient and Modern Music for Voice," is now recognized as a historic moment. In attendance at Aeolian Hall were many notable musicians, including contralto Ernestine Schumann-Heink, composer Virgil Thomson and jazz bandleader Paul Whiteman. Gauthier's program featured “serious” music in the first half, including traditional opera selections by Vincenzo Bellini, art songs by Henry Purcell, and songs by twentieth-century modernist and neoclassical composers, Arnold Schönberg, Darius Milhaud, Béla Bartók and Paul Hindemith. If the first half was not already interesting enough, the second half of the recital broke protocol by featuring American popular songs, beginning with Irving Berlin's “Alexander's Ragtime Band.” Gauthier continued with music by Jerome Kern and Walter Donaldson, and finished with three George Gershwin compositions: “I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise,” “Innocent Ingenue Baby” and “Swanee.” The young George Gershwin, in his first appearance in such a venue, accompanied Gauthier on the piano.
Éva Gauthier became the first classical musician to present the songs of George Gershwin in concert. She upset the musical establishment.
Gauthier later recalled:
Actor quoting EG: “The audience was so grave and so serious… I knew very definitely what I meant when I put those songs on my program, but I didn't know how my audience would respond. I rather expected… rotten eggs.”
JA: Together, Gauthier and Gershwin showed conservative audiences that jazz-influenced music could be a serious artistic experience. In the aftermath of this historic event, the big-band leader Paul Whiteman, who had attended the concert, commissioned Gershwin to write what became
Rhapsody in Blue. This work quickly became a staple in the repertoire of American orchestras and a favourite with the public.
Gauthier had become a celebrity by this point and circulated among the brightest inner circles of New York society. She corresponded, performed and socialized with the luminaries of early twentieth-century music—Debussy, Gershwin and Stravinsky, among others—and she enjoyed a close association with Ravel. She was instrumental in bringing Ravel and Gershwin together at a party she hosted for Ravel's birthday on March 7, 1928.
Normand gives us more details…
NC: As a musician, Éva Gauthier had very eclectic tastes. Her personality led her to form close relationships with musicians from various backgrounds and very different walks of life.
As such, she was responsible for introducing Ravel and Gershwin at her New York apartment, at a party to celebrate Ravel's 52nd birthday. Ravel and Gershwin knew of each other, and we know that Ravel was also inspired by jazz rhythms, a kind of music that interested him. Jazz, at that time, was not seen in the same light as it is today. For many musicologists and musicians, it was considered second-rate music.
Ravel was interested in this type of music and interested in Gershwin, a musician who regularly drew from jazz music. And Gershwin knew Ravel because he was a great pianist and composer; a man at the forefront of an obvious revival of the so-called classical music. Ravel was associated with Debussy, with a progressive movement in contemporary music.
JA: Here is how Éva Gauthier remembered the dinner party for Ravel….
Actor quoting EG: “Gershwin played the Rhapsody [in Blue] and his entire repertoire, and fairly outdid himself… Gershwin was very anxious to work with Ravel but his answer was that it would probably cause him to write “bad Ravel” and lose his great gift of melody. I had to act as interpreter in their conversation, a most interesting task.”
NC: We know that when Gershwin and Ravel met thanks to her, they went to Harlem to listen to jazz music at the Cotton Club and at other places. They listened to music by Duke Ellington and they weren't the only ones interested in this. Darius Milhaud, we know, was another French composer who took a great interest in jazz music, diving deep into its universe for inspiration and to compose pieces. Ravel did it and so did many others.
This is how it was for composers and performers, but also for listeners. People wanted to explore other avenues and listen to music other than what the big companies were selling, or what they were usually given to hear or watch. And in that regard, Éva Gauthier always represented something original and of high quality.
JA: Although Éva Gauthier's musical career was centred mainly in the United States, she occasionally returned to perform in her homeland. Her Canadian performances included concerts in Montréal in December 1918; in Lachine, Quebec, in 1921; and in Montréal and Ottawa in January 1924. She sang in 1926 at the invitation of the Women's Musical Club of Toronto, receiving an excellent review from the
Globe and Mail on November 26: “Even more remarkable than her vocal gifts, however, is her brilliant originality in choosing her program… nothing trite, hackneyed, banal, but everything fresh, alive, intensely interesting and immensely worthwhile—a typical Gauthier program.”(Globe and Mail, November 26, 1926).
Gauthier was also given the honour of singing in Ottawa on July 1, 1927, for the 60th anniversary of Canada's Confederation. This event was also broadcast coast to coast, in the first Canadian transcontinental radio broadcast.
Although she did attend concerts of Canadian music in New York, she seemed to have a negative opinion of her homeland's treatment of its musicians, stating “Canadians… would rather listen to foreigners than their own people.” (Globe and Mail, October 15, 1937)
We asked Normand to elaborate on what she thought of the treatment of Canadian musicians and artists at home in Canada.
NC: While Éva Gauthier was fairly reserved in her judgments about the people who worked with her, she was quite harsh when it came to the Government of Canada and the prime minister at the time, Mackenzie King. She had met with him at one point to solicit support for herself and musicians like her in Canada. But he found a way to avoid the issue. For her, the situation was truly regrettable. She said that it was a pity, but realized it might have been a passing fad.
It was a time when encouraging artists depended heavily on private patronage. Government policies in support of artists were in the early stages or non-existent. While this was the case in Europe, in the United States and in Canada, each country faced its own special circumstances.
In the United States, like in Europe, the number of wealthy families capable of supporting the arts, comparatively speaking, was higher than in Canada. Canada was a much more sparsely populated country and did not have a highly developed tradition of encouraging the arts officially or through government policy. When it came to people truly interested in supporting artists, there were more in European countries and the United States, proportionately speaking.
So she did suffer, yes. She had to deal with this situation, which largely explains why she stayed in the United States and spent her life there. She performed recitals here, in Quebec and Canada, with her sister Juliette, who was also a singer, as well as a violinist specializing in folk music. They collaborated together. There are folk music recordings in the Éva Gauthier archives, but recordings of Éva Gauthier and her classical pieces are very rare.
She and her sister complained during interviews that public support, meaning government support, was limited or non-existent. Nevertheless, we can still listen to Éva Gauthier sing “Un Canadien errant,” solo or with her sister. But that was a different world.
JA: During the summer and fall of 1928, Éva made one last European tour, singing her classic and modern repertoire in ten major cities, including Amsterdam, Paris, London, Vienna, Prague and Budapest.
As Éva Gauthier's stage appearances became less frequent, she took up teaching, in part because it was lucrative. In this, Gauthier shared Emma Albani's experience, being impoverished in later life and having to rely on patrons and teaching to earn a living.
By the mid-1930s, Gauthier's career as a recitalist was winding down. Through 1936 and 1937, she let it be known that after 22 years of singing modern music in the United States, she was retiring. She gave three farewell concerts in New York, including one devoted to the music of early and modern French composers.
In a letter to her parents, dated March 17, 1938, Éva seemed resigned to giving up her stage career:
Actor quoting EG: “I haven't prepared any concerts for this season, and I'm starting to get more and more used to the idea of retiring from my active career, since there's not much left but repetition. The public isn't interested in anything new outside of opera and orchestral concerts, and there's a major revival happening in chamber music.”
JA: Although officially retired, Gauthier remained active in the music scene. She maintained a studio on West 51st Street in New York and proved herself a skilled voice teacher. She gave master classes and served on performance juries. Many of her students distinguished themselves and through some of them, her influence extended to other fields. One example is James Lipton, who became vice-president of the Actors Studio and helped found the Actors Studio Master of Fine Arts program.
In her later years, Éva Gauthier continued to support the New York art and music scene, attending recitals given by her students and others, and taking part in fundraising efforts. She published articles on her experiences and wrote for radio. During her last years, however, she became quite ill and suffered further financially. She passed away on December 20, 1958.
We asked Normand how Éva Gauthier left her mark on the Canadian music industry.
NC: Éva Gauthier left a mark on people's memories, more in English-speaking than French-speaking Canada. I once watched a two-hour program about her on CBC. But I haven't found a single trace of something similar in Francophone Canada. People have written about her, including a doctoral thesis by [Nadia] Turbide about Éva Gauthier's career. She is known among a certain music-loving circle, but mainly, I would say, by professionals.
And there are people who recognize that she played a role that influenced the course of events because she opened doors and blazed trails. She showed that it was possible to build a career, to break into a world that was still, originally or initially, closed off as far as she was concerned, and that it was worth the effort to persevere.
But I'm not sure that Éva Gauthier's name resonates—or resonates very strongly—with opera or vocal music fans or with current fans of this kind of music. I think that her memory lingered longer in the United States, where she is remembered more than she is here, in Canada.
I think what you are currently doing at [Library and] Archives Canada will be important in helping to preserve her memory. Personally, when I wrote my book, I clearly stated that I'm not a musicologist: I'm a lover of beautiful music, good music and music in general. But I'm also fascinated by this figure named Éva Gauthier. So I subtitled my fictionalized biography “the voice of audacity,” because she was a woman who never feared exploring new paths, or trusting in new composers and new music. And in that regard, she made an important contribution.
I also think that she left a stronger mark in the United States due to her work as a voice teacher there. When she felt her voice could no longer perform as well as she wanted, she stopped (unlike some people who never retire or withdraw from the stage). She decided rather early on that she needed to move on to other things. And she gave singing lessons, which were highly valued.
She was a good teacher who helped train many musicians and opera singers. And I think that her wide and varied wealth of experience helped, too. She already had a name as a stage artist, singer, opera singer, recital performer. But the fact that she could draw on a wide range of musical influences and all of the technique she developed meant that her lessons were followed and truly respected. She managed to leave a kind of legacy through her teaching.
JA: Few recordings of Éva Gauthier's voice are available, in part because as a recital specialist she simply did not make many recordings. However, some recordings do remain, in particular the traditional French-Canadian songs she made on the Victor label in 1917 and 1918. Among her surviving recordings is the folk song that was played in this episode, “Un Canadien errant.” She also recorded arias and songs by French composers, and “Nina Boboh,” the Javanese slumber song that you heard.
To hear more songs from Éva Gauthier, head over to LAC's
Virtual Gramophone website and search for Éva Gauthier. More than 35 of her recordings are in our collection, available to play and even download.
LAC has over 200 items in the Éva Gauthier fonds, including letters, concert programmes, photographs and even some films. LAC also has her unfinished, unpublished autobiography, which she started writing in 1953. You can also go to LAC's Collection Search tool and type in “Éva Gauthier” to see some of the other items we have in the collection on her, including books, biographical studies and dissertations.
NC: One of her personality traits offers insight into her approach: she promoted her career all by herself. She never had an impresario. She represented herself and succeeded in building her career and her approach. And the musicians who, gradually, came to her, they offered her songs, trusted her and wanted her to perform the work they brought to her.
And I consider it entirely to her credit—a young Francophone girl from Ottawa who set out on her own to study for four years in Europe, at the end of her teenage years; who spent four years in Asia; who built a solo career in the United States where she settled permanently, sometimes returning to Quebec or Canada, but who managed her career by herself.
And that, I think, is a personality trait—beyond or alongside her own qualities as a performer or artist—that helped secure her a very loyal following.
JA: Éva Gauthier distinguished herself as a musical artist ahead of her time, who personally shaped the status of modern vocal music in North America. Her musical technique and her inspirational strength in her beliefs have secured her a place among great Canadian musicians.
If you're interested in learning more about Éva Gauthier here at Library and Archives Canada, please visit us online at
Thank you for joining us. I'm your host, Josée Arnold. You've been listening to “Discover Library and Archives Canada—Where Canadian history, literature and culture await you.” A special thank you to our guest today: Normand Cazelais. Thanks also to Isabel Larocque, Sylvain Salvas and Karine Brisson for their contributions to this episode.
This episode was produced and engineered by David Knox.
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