DUBOIS, JEAN-BAPTISTE (baptized Joannes Baptista Alphonse), cellist, professor, and conductor; b. 19 Jan. 1870 in Ghent, Belgium, son of Alphonsus Josephus Dubois, a musician, and Anna Catharina Laevaert; m. 2 Oct. 1923 Caroline Derome (Derome-Descarreaux), widow of Joseph-Rosario Bourdon, in Montreal, and they had a son and a daughter; d. there during the night of 2–3 July 1938, and was buried on 5 July in the cemetery of the Montreal parish of La Visitation-de-la-Bienheureuse-Vierge-Marie.
At the age of 13 Jean-Baptiste Dubois was hired as cellist in a variety-theatre orchestra in his native city; his virtuosity amazed audiences. After attending classes in solfège (the teaching of music theory, notation, and ear training) at the Royal Conservatory of Ghent, he took cello lessons there with well-known teachers Jean-Baptiste Rappé (1887–89) and Jules De Swert (1889–91). From 1886 to 1890 he also held a position as an instructor in solfège at the conservatory. He won a second prize in the chamber-music competition in 1889 and a first prize for cello in the advanced class the following year.
Dubois was only 21 when he arrived in Montreal on 7 May 1891 with 18 other Belgian musicians, including his brother Adolphe. The death of his teacher De Swert on 24 Feb. 1891 is thought to have influenced his decision to go to Quebec. Another likely motivation was the lure of North America and the opportunities provided by recruiting agents to participate in Montreal’s expanding musical life. Ernest Lavigne*, the owner and musical director of the Parc Sohmer, regularly hired graduates of Belgian conservatories for his Montreal City Band, but at this time the strings greatly outnumbered the brass and woodwind instruments, since Lavigne wanted to incorporate a conservatory and a symphony orchestra into the life of the park. It was not long before he appointed Dubois as cello soloist and assistant conductor of the Orchestre du Conservatoire. The symphony concerts, however, did not attract many of the park’s habitués and, after a few performances, Lavigne reluctantly disbanded his orchestra. In 1892 Dubois became the cellist in the Association Artistique de Montréal, an ensemble founded by his fellow-countryman Frantz Jehin-Prume*. From 1893 he played frequently at the Cercle Ville-Marie.
Dubois had a very important career as a musician. In the fall of 1895 he became a cellist in the orchestra of the Opéra Français in Montreal. He returned for several months to his native Belgium in 1896, and took the opportunity to fulfil a commitment to perform in the Dutch theatre in Amsterdam. He subsequently settled in Montreal, advertising himself as a music teacher on Rue Craig (Rue Saint-Antoine) while, at the same time, working as principal cellist in the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal under the direction of Guillaume Couture*. Joseph-Jean Goulet* also engaged him to play in the orchestra he established in 1898. After the dissolution of the Association Artistique de Montréal in 1896, Dubois joined, in succession, a series of six short-lived chamber ensembles. Then in 1910 he founded the Dubois Quartet, which was renamed the Dubois String Quartet on 20 Nov. 1912. He would be its only cellist for 28 years. For the most part the ensemble consisted of musicians from Montreal, including violinists Albert Chamberland and Eugène Chartier, violist Joseph Mastrocola, and pianists George MacKenzie Brewer and Marie-Thérèse Paquin. The quartet did not outlast its founder, but it would be remembered as a fine ensemble that had introduced contemporary works to the public, notably those of Claude Debussy, César Cui, and Vincent D’Indy, in addition to several pieces by local composers such as Guillaume Couture, Alexis Contant*, and Georges-Émile Tanguay, while playing classic repertoire as well. Dubois made his mark, besides, as a conductor. Among the groups he directed were the Montreal Amateur Orchestral Society (1904–5), the Association Symphonique de Montréal (1914), and the Orchestre à Cordes (or Symphonie) Dubois (1916–17).
Dubois also devoted his energies to teaching music. Apart from giving private lessons, he was a professor of cello at the McGill Conservatorium of Music in 1905 and 1906, at the Conservatoire National de Musique et d’Élocution in Montreal from 1906 or 1907, and at the Canadian Academy of Music of Montreal in 1914. His thorough grounding in solfège made him an ideal exponent of this subject, which he first taught at the Petit Séminaire de Montréal from 1896 to 1899. In October 1899 the Council of Arts and Manufactures of the Province of Quebec put him in charge of public classes in solfège, held at the Monument National. However, he left this position, which he was the first to hold, to become principal cellist with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra for the 1903–4 season. In October 1929 the provincial secretary, Louis-Athanase David*, appointed him director of solfège teaching for the province of Quebec, a post Dubois would retain for the rest of his life. Through the initiative of the Council of Arts and Manufactures, the provincial government, and Dubois himself, instruction in solfège, hitherto offered exclusively by schools and the studios of private music teachers, was made available to every Quebecer. The courses, which lasted three years, gave a wider public the opportunity to learn the rudiments of music. The first graduating class in 1899 had only 69 graduates, all in Montreal. Four years before the death of their founder, free classes in solfège were being offered in 18 towns and 26 schools, while 900 candidates sat for the final exam.
Dubois always pursued the goal of making music accessible to as many people as possible; for example, as soon as he got a provincial-government grant, he stopped charging for his concerts. One might speculate that there was some connection between these democratic ideals and his association with two Montreal masonic lodges of the Grand Orient of France, L’Émancipation and Force et Courage, which he joined, respectively, in 1909 and 1913. In 1924, however, he left the order “through lack of interest,” according to lodge reports.
Music was very much part of Dubois’s personal and family life. His wife, Caroline, ten years his senior, was the daughter of Léon Derome, the patron of Calixa Lavallée*, with whom she studied piano. At the time they were married, their son Jules, who would also teach cello and serve as director of instruction in solfège, was 21. For many years, Caroline had been living apart from her first husband, with whom she had had two sons, Louis-Honoré and Rosario* Bourdon, both of whom would have brilliant careers in the Quebec musical world. In October 1923, several months after she became a widow, Caroline and Jean-Baptiste were married.
On 3 July 1938 a student with whom Dubois was to meet found his lifeless body in his home at 1666 Avenue Lincoln. The newspaper accounts unanimously mourned the loss of a musician “whose advice and example have been of benefit to so many people,” according to La Presse (4 July 1938). He established in the province of Quebec the Franco-Belgian tradition of cello playing that would be characteristic of a younger generation of instrumentalists such as Gustave Labelle, Roland Leduc*, Suzette Forgues, and Brahm Sand. In the 1980s studies by Susan Spier confirmed his key role, notably in securing the place of chamber music.
The author wishes to thank André Jardon and his wife, Denise, of Quebec City, who deciphered and translated the birth registration record of Jean-Baptiste Dubois.
The son and the stepsons of Dubois have left archival collections that contain some information about his career, but little about his personal life; this is especially the case for the Louis-Honoré Bourdon fonds (R5997-0-7) at LAC. The Jules-Dubois fonds (MSS367) at BANQ-CAM chiefly consists of documents relating to the career of Dubois’s son and a copy of Élégie pour violoncelle (violon ou cor) avec accompagnement de piano (Montréal, 1925) by Jean-Baptiste. There is also useful information in the Rosario Bourdon coll. (no.6471) at the American Heritage Center, Univ. of Wyo. (Laramie). Three recordings by Jean-Baptiste Dubois are part of LAC’s “Virtual gramophone: Canadian historical sound recordings”: www.collectionscanada.ca/gramophone (consulted 26 April 2013). The titles of these pieces can be found in E. B. Moogk, Roll back the years: history of Canadian recorded sound and its legacy, genesis to 1930 (Ottawa, 1975). The BANQ possesses three copies of Élégie pour violoncelle. Photographs of Dubois can be found in Le Passe-Temps (Montréal), 2 mai 1896, and in La Presse, 4 juill. 1938.
Arch. du Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice (Montréal), Fonds du collège de Montréal, boîte 12: 35. Arch. Générales du Royaume et Arch. de l’État dans les Prov. (Bruxelles), État civil, Gand, 21 janv. 1870. BANQ-CAM, MSS125/13. BANQ-Q, E4, 1960-01-483/436. FD, Saint-Jacques, cathédrale de Montréal [Saint-Jacques-le-Majeur], 2 oct. 1923. Le Devoir, 4 juill. 1938. L’Étendard (Montréal), juin–septembre 1891. Le Passe-Temps, 2 févr. 1895. La Presse, 9 juill. 1938, 9 sept. 1940. Mireille Barrière, “Les musiciens belges et la filière du parc Sohmer de Montréal (1889–1900)” (paper presented at the 17th conference of the International Musicological Soc., Univ. of Louvain, Belgium, typescript, 2002); L’Opéra français de Montréal: l’étonnante histoire d’un succès éphémère, 1893–1896 (Saint-Laurent, Québec, 2002), 285–86. Encyclopedia of music in Canada (Kallmann et al.), 146–47, 235, 384–85. Roger Le Moine, Deux loges montréalaises du Grand Orient de France (Ottawa, 1991), 113. François de Médicis, “La carrière de Rosario Bourdon, violoncelliste, chef d’orchestre et compositeur accompli,” Soc. d’Hist. de Longueuil, Cahier (Longueuil, Québec), no.20 (1990): 3–34. Gilles Potvin, OSM: the first fifty years, trans. Sheila Fischmann (Montreal, 1984), 22; “Rosario Bourdon, 1885–1961,” Aria (Montréal), 8 (1985), no.1: 13–14. Que., Treasury Dept., Statement of the public accounts, 1927–38; Provincial secretary, Report of the secretary and registrar, 1927–34. Pierre Quenneville, “Guillaume Couture (1851–1915): l’éducateur, le directeur artistique et le musicien d’église” (thèse de phd, univ. de Montréal, 1988), 154. Susan Spier, “The Dubois String Quartet, 1910–1938: its role in Montreal music history” (ma thesis, Univ. de Montréal, 1985); “Le Quatuor Dubois: sa place dans la musique de chambre à Montréal (1910–1938),” ARMuQ, Cahiers (Montréal), no.8 (mai 1987): 97–103. André Vermeirre, L’immigration des Belges au Québec (Sillery [Québec], 2001), 114–15.