MOLT, THÉODORE-FRÉDÉRIC, teacher, author, organist, composer, inventor, and music dealer; b. c. 1795 in what is now the Federal Republic of Germany; d. 16 Nov. 1856 in Burlington, Vt.
Théodore-Frédéric Molt’s childhood and formative years are mentioned in an article written by historian John K. Converse for The Vermont historical gazetteer in 1868. According to Converse, who was associated with him for more than 20 years, Molt received a sound basic schooling in the humanities and mathematics. It is believed that, shortly after he entered university, he was conscripted into Napoleon’s army, serving as accountant and assistant paymaster in his regiment, and was a bystander at the slaughter on the day of the decisive battle at Waterloo. On his return to his native land he is said to have decided to devote himself to music; apparently he had learned the rudiments in his childhood from his father and an elder brother.
Having pursued the study of music with the most eminent German masters, Molt came to Quebec late in the spring of 1822. He immediately announced that he would be available as a teacher of piano and music at the residence of Fred Hund on Rue Saint-Jean. The concerts given at the Union Hotel on 4 March and 26 Aug. 1824 by some of the young girls studying with him were a measure of his success in teaching. Reporting on the first concert, the Quebec Gazette noted that he had founded the Juvenile Harmonic Society. On 13 March 1823 Molt had contracted a marriage with Henriette, the daughter of Frédéric-Henri Glackmeyer*, a prominent musician at Quebec. They were to have at least nine children, only four of whom survived to adulthood.
In June 1825 Molt auctioned off his musical instruments and furniture and returned to Europe. During his stay of about a year he met such musical figures as Ignaz Moscheles, Karl Czerny, and, more important, Ludwig van Beethoven, and possibly Franz Schubert. On his return to Lower Canada the following year Molt claimed to have been their pupil. That Molt could have received lessons from all these prestigious musicians in such a short period is open to doubt. Whatever the case, his connections with Beethoven were more those of an admirer of the master’s works than those of a pupil, and earned the “teacher of music at Quebec in America,” as Molt called himself, the few bars of a canon on the words “Freu Dich des Lebens,” written 16 Dec. 1825.
Molt returned to Quebec at the beginning of June 1826 and resumed work as a music teacher. Two years later he published at Quebec a pedagogical work entitled Elementary treatise on music, more particularly adapted to the piano forte and dedicated to his pupils. This bilingual theoretical work, the first of its kind printed in Lower Canada, showed his concern for imparting the latest knowledge and principles in an “absolutely simple and familiar” style. The originality of this teaching method stemmed from its approach, which was to engage the student in “joining theory to practice.”
In 1833, a year after inventing a teaching instrument called a chromatometer, which Helmut Kallmann describes as one of the first such devices to be patented in Lower Canada, Molt left Quebec for Burlington, Vt. After a difficult start he was hired in May 1835 as a music teacher at the Burlington Female Seminary, recently founded by Converse. According to Converse, Molt spent 10 to 12 hours daily at that institution on private lessons, but was still able to find time to compose music for publication. Thus it may well have been there that Molt wrote his works for piano, in particular Post horn waltz with variations, and his pieces for voice and piano, which were published at Philadelphia, undated, after 1833.
In the summer of 1837 Molt left Vermont for Montreal. Between August and November of that year he put an announcement in La Minerve informing “the ladies and gentlemen of Montreal that he has taken up residence in that city and that he most respectfully offers them his services as teacher of pianoforte, organ and violin, teacher of singing and teacher of thorough bass.” The announcement also says that “his plan of instruction on the pianoforte and on the organ is at once new and the result of several years’ close study of the needs of the pupil; Mr. Molt, through his courses of instruction, can complete in half the time that is generally presumed necessary the entire education of a pupil.”
It is not known how long Molt remained in Montreal, but he does not seem to have succeeded in making a name there. That he shortly returned to Burlington cannot be ruled out in the light of a letter written there on 6 July 1841 but unsigned, which was sent by Ludger Duvernay to Louis Perrault*. The writer of the letter had been invited by Molt to “go into partnership with him to publish a monthly musical journal, containing accompaniments to sacred music as sung in churches in the United States.” This project had evidently come to nothing, for in May 1841 Molt was back in Quebec.
In November, after six months’ satisfactory service, the fabrique of Notre-Dame engaged Molt on the basis of his offer “to play the organ and form a permanent choir . . . for an annual salary of 100 pounds current.” The contract further stipulated that he was responsible for tuning the reed-stops of the organ and “preparing and supplying at his own expense all the books, exercise books or sheets of music and song which he needs,” these to be subsequently given to the fabrique. During the following years Molt looked after arranging and copying pieces of music – he estimated in 1846 that he had done some “6,000 sheets.” Furthermore, in 1844 and 1845 he published two instalments of a work he had compiled and arranged, Lyre sainte: recueil de cantiques, hymnes, motets, &c. He also brought out at Quebec in 1845 Traité élémentaire de musique vocale, an 89-page manual dealing with fundamental concepts of music theory, sol-fa, and vocal technique.
Molt attracted public attention through his participation in the Saint-Jean-Baptiste celebrations, probably in 1847, as a choir director, and on this occasion received a silver snuff-box. The compilation of La lyre canadienne: répertoire des meilleures chansons et romances du jour, published anonymously that year, can also plausibly be attributed to him. It is known that as early as 1842 Molt had toyed with “publishing some time a collection of selected songs with music,” and in a desire to stress the Canadian aspect of his book had invited all and sundry to supply him with songs or “newly composed couplets of Canadian origin.” For the period 25 July 1847 to 25 March 1849 the Séminaire de Québec possesses various receipts which show that Molt was then teaching singing at the Petit Séminaire de Québec. Since the “lay choir” which he had contracted to direct in 1841 consisted largely of pupils from that institution, it is probable that he had begun to teach there that year.
A series of disappointments as well as manœuvres behind his back and a feeling of generally being misunderstood were, however, to prevent Molt from carrying on with his work. In July 1845 his creditors demanded that he transfer up to £84 of his earnings at the church. A week before the last payment was due, his wife and two of his sons, Frédéric-Félix and Adolphe-Alphonse, perished when the Théâtre Saint-Louis went up in flames on 12 June 1846. Finally, two years later, the churchwardens, who had in their possession a letter from Marie-Hippolyte-Antoine Dessane* with an offer to serve as organist, used what they described as Molt’s excessive “indifference in executing the duties of his office,” and the parishioners’ dissatisfaction with him, as an excuse to dismiss him from his post. In fact, his discharge may have been prompted more by his marriage with Harriett Cowan on 14 June 1848 in the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity at Quebec, which ran counter to the spirit of the churchwardens’ resolutions on the qualifications and duties of organist and chapel master as set out in a document dated 1837.
These events drove Molt away from Quebec, and around the middle of 1849 he moved back to Burlington with his family. During the last years of his life, as well as teaching at the Burlington Female Seminary he published a New and original method for the pianoforte, 51 progressive lessons, and The pupil’s guide and young teacher’s manual, or the elements of piano forte playing; an announcement that they were for sale by subscription appeared in 1854. However, Molt apparently did not break all ties with his first adopted city, since, according to the musician and journalist Nazaire Levasseur*, his name appeared in 1855 on the list of members of the Société Harmonique de Québec. Molt died at Burlington on 16 Nov. 1856, at the age of 61.
In his career, Théodore-Frédéric Molt concentrated on a professional standard of instruction in music that was marked especially by clarity, simplicity, and a methodical approach. This was the field of endeavour in which he most clearly distinguished himself, amongst such musicians as Frédéric-Henri Glackmeyer, John Chrisostomus Brauneis*, Jean-Chrysostome Brauneis*, and others with whom he maintained close relations during the first half of the 19th century in Lower Canada. Hence he himself liked to be thought of as a music teacher. At the end of his life, after more than 30 years of teaching in North America, Molt could take pride in his many pupils now dispersed throughout Lower Canada, some of whom had already assumed their master’s role.
Théodore-Frédéric Molt is the author of several works on teaching methods in music, the principal ones being Elementary treatise on music, more particularly adapted to the piano forte (Quebec, 1828); Traité élémentaire de musique vocale (Québec, 1845); New and original method for the pianoforte (Burlington, Vt., n.d.); 51 progressive lessons (Burlington, n.d.); The pupil’s guide and young teacher’s manual, or the elements of the pianoforte playing (Burlington, 1854). He also compiled and arranged two instalments of Lyre sainte: recueil de cantiques, hymnes, motets, &c. (Québec, 1844–45). He composed a number of works for the piano, principally songs and dances, and did more than 6,000 arrangements and harmonizations of sacred music; of these there remain fewer than 200 organ accompaniments for various liturgical pieces, inscribed in two manuscript notebooks at the National Library of Canada, and the 19 canticles, hymns, and motets included in Lyre sainte. The compilation of La lyre canadienne: répertoire des meilleures chansons et romances du jour, published anonymously at Quebec in 1847, can also be attributed to him.
ANQ-Q, CE1-1, 4 juin 1824, 16 juill. 1833; CE1-61, 14 juin 1848; CE1-66, 13 mars 1823; CN1-265, 5 nov. 1841, 11 juill. 1845, 14 avril 1846; P-68, no.510. AP, Notre-Dame de Québec, Livres des délibérations de la fabrique, 1837–48. ASQ, Fonds Plante, no.22; Polygraphie, XXVI: 21, 50; Séminaire, 218, nos.603–4. Journal de l’Instruction publique (Québec et Montréal), 3 (1859): 17. Piano music I, ed. Elaine Keillor (Ottawa, 1983). Le Canadien, 3, 24 mars 1845; 15 juin 1846. Mélanges religieux, feuilleton, 4 févr. 1842. La Minerve, 21 août 1837, 3 déc. 1856. Quebec Gazette, 21 April 1823; 18 March, 15 July, 2 Sept., 9 Dec. 1824; 13 June 1825. Quebec Mercury, 21 June 1822. Catalogue of Canadian composers, ed. Helmut Kallmann (2nd ed., Toronto, 1952; repr. St Clair Shores, Mich., 1972), 176. Encyclopedia of music in Canada (Kallmann et al.). The Vermont historical gazetteer: a magazine, embracing a history of each town, civil, ecclesiastical, biographical and military, ed. A. M. Hemenway (3v., Burlington, 1868), 1: 531–34. Willy Amtmann, La musique au Quebec, 1600–1875, Michelle Pharand, trad. (Montréal, 1976), 294, 376–81. H.-J.-J.-B. Chouinard, Fête nationale des Canadiens-Français célébrée à Québec en 1880: histoire, discours, rapports . . . (4v., Québec, 1881–1903), 4: 521–22. Helmut Kallmann, A history of music in Canada, 1534–1914 (Toronto and London, 1960), 79–82, 138. Thayer’s life of Beethoven, ed. Elliot Forbes (2nd ed., 2v., Princeton, N.J., 1964), 2: 969–71. Helmut Kallmann, “Beethoven and Canada: a miscellany,” Les Cahiers canadiens de musique (Montréal), 2 (1971): 107. Nazaire LeVasseur, “Musique et musiciens à Québec: souvenirs d’un amateur,” La Musique (Québec), 1 (1919): 26, 52, 98, 110, 126. “Le recueil de cantiques de Molt,” BRH, 46 (1940): 168. P.-G. Roy, “Le théâtre Saint-Louis, à Québec,” BRH, 42 (1936): 174–88.