Albert Viau was born in Montréal on November 6, 1910. After studying piano (1918-1926) with Arthur Caron, whose daughter he married in 1936, he turned to vocal music. He studied voice with Victor Brault and Arthur Laurendeau, prosody with Conrad Letendre, Gregorian chant with Dom Georges Mercure and harmony with Oscar O'Brien, Roland Van de Goor and Michel Perrault.
Albert Viau made his professional debut in 1931 at Loew's theatre, in the opera Roméo et Juliette, whose cast also included Edward Johnson, Léon Rothier, and Lionel Daunais. Throughout the 1930s, the young Albert was also teaching tailoring along with his father. After his father's accidental death in 1935, Albert took over the classes on his own. In 1934, he replaced Léopold Fortin at the heart of Paul-Émile Corbeil's barbershop quartet, Les Grenadiers impériaux, and joined Thérèse Laurendeau and Paul Demeules as part of the trio Les Masques.
Albert Viau could be heard on French-language radio programs such as "La petite histoire" and "Le chanteur de lied" (1934), broadcast by what is now the Société Radio-Canada (SRC). He was a familiar voice for 21 years on the French-language program "Le réveil rural" (SRC 1937-1967) and, for 15 years, on "Le quart d'heure de la Bonne Chanson" (SRC and CKAC, 1939-1953). Viau also participated in other French-language radio programs, including "Sur les boulevards" (SRC, 1938-1941), "L'heure des vedettes" (CKAC, 1938-1941), and "Chansons de chez-nous" (CKAC, 1944). He performed on occasion at Georges Dufresne's Théâtre de l'opérette, notably in a March 1944 production of Les dragons de Villars (Maillard), in which he shared the stage with Caro Lamoureux and Raymond Cardin.
Over the same period, Albert Viau gave several recitals in Canada and the United States. As well, during the 1940s, he recorded, on the RCA Victor label, over 80 songs from Abbé Charles-Émile Gadbois' Bonne Chanson songbooks. Memorably, Viau sang "Reine du rosaire," the theme song for the radio program "Le chapelet en famille" (CKAC, 1951-1969?), a series that marked an entire generation. During these years, Albert Viau wrote over 200 songs, hymns, and masses for the dead. Joining David Rochette, François Brunet and Omer Durenceau, he also sang tenor in the folk quartet Les Troubadours du Québec, which appeared Tuesdays and Thursdays on the French-language program "V'là l'bon vent," on the SRC, from 1949 to 1951. On "La route enchantée," he was a member of another quartet, along with Paul-Émile Corbeil, François Brunet, and Raymond Cardin, known as the Quatuor B.A.
In February 1952, Albert Viau joined David Rochette, Raymond Cardin, and Thérèse Davy in founding the Quatuor 1900, which was featured at the cabaret Le Montmartre (previously called the Faisan doré), as well as on the radio network of the SRC, in "Variétés 1900," until 1954. All the time he was pursuing his singing career, Albert Viau also translated, arranged, and composed some 1,500 radio and television ads, from 1948 to 1971, and directed a number of choirs for both men and women, including the Chanteurs modernes and the Ménestrels laurentiens.
In 1953-1954, Albert Viau became a producer for the radio station CJMS (in Montréal), where Abbé Gadbois was director that year. In addition, Viau was director and arranger for a number of vocal groups, such as Boute-en-train (with Louis Bourdon and Omer Duranceau) and held the post of choirmaster at Saint-Sixte church, in Saint-Laurent, from 1950 to 1983. Albert Viau also gave voice, piano, guitar, and recorder lessons in his two music studios (one located in his home, at 31 Cardinal Street, in Saint-Laurent, and the other on Sainte-Catherine Street, in Montréal). As well, from 1965 to 1986, he taught music for the Montréal Catholic School Commission. Albert Viau died on June 27, 2001.
During his career, Albert Viau recorded a number of songs under the pseudonym Jacques Dupont and composed under the pseudonyms Paul Marcil and Bill Caron. His company, Éditions Albert-Viau, published two songbooks: Six chansonnettes pour bambins et bambines (1954) and Six chansons enfantines (1958). Viau teamed up with Camille Andréa to compose a series of songs for the students of Studio Brasseur, the album Premier pas (Éditions Brasseur, MG-161-162, 1960). As well, he played a small role in the Quebec film Le père Chopin (1945).
The archives of Albert Viau, which are held by the Société d'histoire de la Haute-Yamaska, include the following documents: the complete recordings, sheet music, and arrangements from Viau's treatment of the Cahiers de la Bonne Chanson; unpublished recordings of works interpreted for the program "Le réveil rural"; most of the sheet music used at concerts and on radio programs; concert and tour programs; newspaper clippings; a collection of the works of Théodore Botrel; and arrangements for sacred choir music. The Bibliothèque nationale du Québec, in Montréal, holds additional archives, in the form of sheet music and photographs.
For more information on Albert Viau's recordings, please consult the Virtual Gramophone database.
Robert Thérien, music researcher, Montréal
Thérien, Robert. -- Unpublished research notes