PELTIER (Pelletier), ORPHIR (baptized Jean-Baptiste-Eustache-Orphire), poet, composer, lawyer, and organist; b. 1 Sept. 1825 in Sainte-Geneviève (Sainte-Geneviève and Pierrefonds), Lower Canada, son of Jean-Baptiste-Généreux Peltier, a notary, and Marie-Scholastique Masson, sister of businessman Marc-Damase Masson*; d. 26 May 1854 in Montreal.
Orphir Peltier, the eldest of four surviving children in a family of 22, received his classical education at the Petit Séminaire de Montréal from 1834 to 1844. He then undertook legal training and was called to the Bar of Lower Canada on 6 May 1850. He practised in Montreal, but since he was in poor health and had been disabled as a result of an operation in early childhood, he turned particularly to literature and music. He had studied harmony and the organ; his nephew Romain Pelletier claimed that he was “the first Canadian to study harmony,” but did not name his teachers. For an undetermined period Orphir held the post of organist at St Patrick’s Church in Montreal. He is thought to have introduced the principles of harmony to his young brother Romain-Octave, who, preferring music to his profession of notary, was organist at the cathedral of Saint-Jacques for many years. Romain Pelletier further describes his uncle as “a kind of universal genius: a lawyer, physicist, poet, painter, and musician.” He also states that he probably painted the picture La mort de Saint Joseph, which hangs above the right side-altar in St Patrick’s Church. He makes no mention of his work as a physicist.
It is difficult even to speculate about the extent of Peltier’s poetic work, for only a few of his poems have been published. “Sans son Dieu sur la terre, il n’est point de bonheur,” written in 1842, appeared in the second volume of James Huston’s Répertoire national, with a portrait of the poet. The poem is in nine quatrains. Another poem, “La vertu,” signed O. P., was printed in the March 1846 issue of L’Album littéraire et musical de la Revue canadienne. A long allegorical poem, “Travail et paresse,” was published in La Ruche littéraire of December 1853. Although Peltier handled the alexandrine with a certain dexterity, his poetry was somewhat ponderous and not very original in its inspiration.
As a composer, Peltier left only one piece, for four mixed voices with organ accompaniment, “O salutaris hostia!” This brief composition of 16 bars was published in L’Album littéraire et musical de la Revue canadienne in February 1846. Instead of naming his voices soprano, alto, tenor, and bass, Peltier used the old French designations of dessus (treble), haute-contre (counter-tenor), taille (tenor), and basse-taille (low tenor), rarely employed in Europe after the 17th century. A work of very conventional construction, it is rather like a music student’s effort. Yet the summary in L’Album notes: “We thank M. Peltier of this city for his piece of sacred music. Such a composition is something new in the land. Honour to the young artist!”
Orphir Peltier died prematurely on 26 May 1854 in Montreal from the effects of his childhood operation. He was 28 years old. The foreword of La littérature canadienne de 1850 à 1860, the second volume of which came out in 1864 and included his poem “Travail et paresse,” notes: “Another young poet, M. Orphir Peltier, has died, his classical studies but lately concluded. Although the sample verse of his that we give is far from perfect, it does however reveal a poetic talent that age and study would have developed.”
Orphir Peltier is the author of a number of poems, some of which have been published in books and newspapers. They include “Sans son Dieu sur la terre, il n’est point de bonheur,” written in 1842 and included in Le répertoire national (Huston; 1848–50), 2: 232–33, and (1893), 2: 260–61; “La vertu,” published in L’Album littéraire et musical de la Rev. canadienne (Montréal), March 1846; and “Travail et paresse,” published in La Ruche littéraire (Montréal), December 1853, and reprinted in La littérature canadienne de 1850 à 1860 (2v., Québec, 1863–64), 2: 272–80. Peltier also composed a piece of sacred music, “O salutaris hostia!,” published in L’Album littéraire et musical de la Rev. canadienne, February 1846. His nephew Romain Pelletier attributes to him “La mort de saint Joseph,” a painting hanging above the right side altar of St Patrick’s Church, Montreal.
ANQ-M, CE1-28, 1er sept. 1825; CE1-51, 29 mai 1854. PAC, MG 30, D1, 24: 412–14. Encyclopedia of music in Canada (Kallmann et al.). Le Jeune, Dictionnaire, 1: 420. Morgan, Bibliotheca Canadensis, 305. Edmond Lareau, Mélanges historiques et littéraires (Montréal, 1877), 13–15. Maurault, Le collège de Montréal (Dansereau; 1967). Maréchal Nantel, “Les avocats admis au Barreau de 1849 à 1868,” BRH, 42 (1936): 686. Romain Pelletier, “Octave Pelletier, organiste et pédagogue (1843–1927),” Qui? (Montréal), 4 (1952–53): 3–24.