Saint Benoît, proclaimed the patron saint of Europe by Pope Paul VI in 1964, was born circa 480 in Norcia, Italy. Along with his disciples, he founded the abbeys of Subacio and Mount Cassin, and wrote the monastic rules for the monks who became known as Benedictine. Benedictine monks seek God in the liturgical offices, in prayer inspired by meditation on Scripture, and in daily work; they live in a community, under the paternal direction of an abbot. The Abbey of Saint-Benoît-du-Lac was founded in 1912 on the western shore of Lake Memphrémagog, 150 kilometres south of Montréal, by monks from the abbey of Saint-Wandrille de Fontenelle, in Normandy.
Religious music, especially Gregorian chant, has been an integral part of religious offices at the Abbey of Saint-Benoît-du-Lac since its founding. Over the years, this community has included a number of talented musicians.
Georges Mercure (1905-1993)
Georges Mercure was born in Drummondville, Quebec, on June 19, 1905. He showed musical talent from a very young age. Following piano studies with Arthur Letondal, he entered the community of Saint-Benoît-du-Lac in 1923. He later continued his studies at the Schola Cantorum in Paris, and at the abbeys of Solesmes and Saint-Wandrille, where he developed an affinity for Gregorian chant. Upon his return, he published Rythmique grégorienne (1937) and formed a choir, which recorded two 78-rpm records, Une messe grégorienne and Rythmique grégorienne.
In 1944, Dom Georges Mercure was elected prior and became the first Canadian to head the community. In the early 1950s, he traveled once again to Paris, where he worked on counterpoint with Nadia Boulanger. Upon his return to Canada, he published Polyphonie grégorienne (1958) and recorded albums with the monks of Saint-Benoît-du-Lac.
In 1967, Dom Georges Mercure began to compose music for the entire Divine Office. He headed the abbey choir until 1970. Dom Georges Mercure died on August 24, 1993.
André Saint-Cyr (194?- )
Born in Québec in the 1940s into a family of musicians, André Saint-Cyr studied piano and organ in Québec and did further music studies at Saint-Benoît-du-Lac, Paris and Rome. He earned a master's degree in sacred music and a bachelor's degree in sacred composition, and specialized in Gregorian paleography, semiology, and conducting and interpreting Gregorian chant. In 1970, he succeeded Dom Georges Mercure as choirmaster and vocal technique teacher at the Abbey of Saint-Benoît-du-Lac.
Dom André Saint-Cyr was choirmaster for several Société Radio-Canada programs and over 20 recordings of Gregorian chant both in Canada and abroad. As a teacher, he was invited to take part in Gregorian sessions held by the National Association of Pastoral Musicians, in Washington, DC. Since 1989, he has held the post of director of the Gregorian choir of Saint-Jean-Baptiste church, in Montréal, where a Gregorian mass is held once a month.
Dom André Saint-Cyr recorded the album Chant grégorien (Radio-Québec/SBL-1880) with his brother, cellist Marcel Saint-Cyr, and organist Dom André Laberge. In the early 1980s, he joined his sisters Hélène (soprano) and Claire (alto) and his brother Bernard (baritone) in forming the Quatuor Saint-Cyr.
André Laberge (1940- )
André Laberge was born in Beauharnois on August 23, 1940, and studied in Montréal before entering the Abbey of Saint-Benoît-du-Lac in 1960, where, nine years later, he was ordained a priest. During his studies at the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal, his teachers included Bernard Lagacé (organ), Kenneth Gilbert (harpsichord), Françoise Aubut (counterpoint), and Gilles Tremblay (analysis). In the summer of 1971, he traveled to Holland to study organ at the Haarlem Academy with Piet Kee and Luigi Ferdinando Tagliavini. He spent the next two summers teaching organ for Canadian Amateur Musicians (CAMMAC), and later became a teacher at the Orford Art Centre (1974-1977, 1980).
Through a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts, Dom André Laberge studied at the Toulouse Conservatory, in France, under Xavier Darasse (1977-1979) and under Gustav Leonhardt in Amsterdam. He has given concerts in France, at Saint-Thomas-d'Aquin church in Paris, and at the Carmelites chapel in Toulouse. He has performed numerous times in Canada, for Société Radio-Canada, Télé-Québec, the Canadian Institute of Music, the Festival international de Lanaudière, and various other bodies, including Pro Organo, Les Amis de l'orgue de Québec, and Ars Organi.
Since 1975, Dom André Laberge has recorded several albums as a harpsichordist and organist. The pipe organ in the abbey church at Saint-Benoît-du-Lac was built by organ builder Karl Wilhelm and set up in the church in the summer of 1999.
Oscar O'Brien was born in Ottawa on September 7, 1892. He devoted his life's work to promoting folk songs and in the 1920s worked alongside Charles Marchand. He was music director of the Quatuor Alouette and a long-term participant in the Bonne Chanson movement. He entered the monastery of Saint-Benoît-du-Lac in 1945 and was ordained a priest seven years later. Oscar O'Brien died on September 20, 1958.
For more information on the recordings made by the monks of the Abbey of Saint-Benoît-du-Lac, please consult the Virtual Gramophone database.
Robert Thérien, music researcher, Montréal
Thérien, Robert. -- Unpublished research notes