Clermont Pépin

Born in St-Georges-de-Beauce, Quebec, May 15, 1926;
died in Montreal, September 2, 2006

Audiences have been exposed to the music of Clermont Pépin since 1937, when the eleven-year-old boy was presented as both composer (his orchestration of a minuet) and conductor at a matinee concert of the Montreal Symphony.

Educational background

Pépin’s early musical training took place with Claude Champagne, among others. He later went to the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia (1942-1945). In 1949 Pépin won the Prix d’Europe and for the next five years lived in Paris where his teachers included Olivier Messiaen, Arthur Honegger and André Jolivet. Upon his return to Montreal in 1955, Pépin began teaching at the Conservatoire de musique, where he remained almost continuously until 1987. Among his most famous students have been Jacques Hétu, André Prévost and François Dompierre. Hétu is especially laudatory about Pépin’s talent as a teacher: “He really opened my eyes and ears to the fundamental thing … and that is structure or form. Knowing how to develop an idea, whether short or long, and giving unity to a work – that is what I learned and that is still what interests me.”

A kaleidoscope of styles

Pépin’s style went through several sea changes in the course of his career. His earliest works, which include his first string quartet, first piano concerto and first symphony, were written in the late 1940s in a post-romantic style. Another work of this period is the Variations symphoniuqes, which won an award at the 1948 centennial competition at Collège Ste-Marie in Montreal. In Paris Pépin was much influenced by one of his teachers, Arthur Honegger, an influence that can be easily heard in Symphony No. 2 (in the Timeline). His symphonic works Guernica (1952), inspired by the famous Picasso painting, and La Rite du soleil noir (1955), after a poem by Antonin Artaud, both won prizes. In Paris Pépin began experimenting with serial techniques, and after returning to Montreal in 1955 wrote his first completely serial composition, the String Quartet No. 2 (1957). With Nombres (1962) for two pianos and orchestra, Pépin employed mathematical formulas and surround sound with speakers arranged around the auditorium. Then there were jazz elements introduced into the ballet scores L’Oiseau-phénix (1956) and music inspired by his interest in astronomy and space: Quasars commissioned by the Montreal Symphony in 1967 and Interactions (1977) for percussion and two pianos. Pépin was chosen by the Montreal Symphony to write a new work for the orchestra for its landmark 50th anniversary season. This was his Fifth Symphony (Implosion), the first piece on the first program of the 1983-1984 season.

Honors and distinctions

Among Pépin’s many honors, he served as national president of the Jeunesses musicales of Canada (1969-1972), he was inducted into the Order of Canada as an Officer in 1981, and into the Ordre national du Québec (also as an Officer) in 1990. In 1980 he founded his own publishing company, Les Éditions Clermont Pépin to publish his compositions. Pépin’s second wife was the noted violinist Mildred Goodman, a member of the Montreal Symphony for many years.