Jacques Hétu - Concerto for ondes Martenot and Orchestra (1990)

Jacques Hétu ranks as one of Canada's most respected and successful composers, but he never regarded his music as distinctly "Canadian". Instead, its most striking features (at least in the later works) are balanced but dramatic gestural exchanges between soloists and the orchestra (the concerto being his favoured form), contrapuntally-generated chromatic quartal and quintal harmonies which are adventurous but seldom dissonant, and a reliance on traditional forms in spite of modernity. "His music sounds modern without rejecting the tradition from which it emerged – although his refusal to write what he called "du Boulez" cost him the support of the modern-music establishment. Instead, his music has something of the angularity of Bartók and the astringent lyricism of Honegger; a keen sense of drama and colour gives it immediacy; and his readiness to invoke extra-musical images – as in the arresting and moving five-movement suite Images de la Révolution of 1989 – allowed audiences ready points of contact." (Canadian Encyclopedia) The pianist Glenn Gould was among Hétu's champions, recording his piano variations in 1967.

A radio recording of Jean Laurendeau's performance of this work can be accessed via the website of Canadian Music Centre, along with a number of other pieces by the same composer:

Recording (free registration required)


Further info from the Canadian Encyclopedia:


"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."

Charlie Draper