Fortier, Achille (baptized Antonio-Achille), teacher, composer, tenor, and civil servant; b. 23 Oct. 1864 in Saint-Clet, Lower Canada, son of Léonard-Agapit Fortier, a physician, and Émérante Bonin; m. first 2 Dec. 1893 Marie-Louise Lefebvre (d. 24 May 1909) in Montreal; m. secondly 6 June 1910 Marie-Jeanne Lavoie in Aylmer (Gatineau), Que., and they had two children; d. 19 Aug. 1939 in Montreal.
Achille Fortier began studying music with Abbé Stanislas-Alfred Sauvé, a teacher at the Petit Séminaire de Sainte-Thérèse northwest of Montreal. From 1883 to 1885, in Montreal, he took singing and harmony courses from Guillaume Couture* and piano lessons from Dominique Ducharme. He went to France in the autumn of 1885 and participated in André Gédalge’s composition classes, which prepared him for the Conservatoire de Paris. In 1887 he entered the music competition of the town of Senlis, at which he won the jury prize. In November 1889 he became the first Canadian to be admitted as a regular student to the Conservatoire de Paris in Ernest Guiraud’s fugue and composition class, where his classmates included the future composers Alfred Bachelet and Victor Staub. Despite indications in some Canadian works that Fortier was also enrolled at the Conservatoire de Paris in a harmony class with Théodore Dubois and a singing class with Romain Bussine, there is no documentary evidence to corroborate such a claim. For family reasons, Fortier had to return to Canada before the end of his first academic year.
Back in Montreal in 1890, Fortier taught singing, harmony, and counterpoint at the Asile Nazareth until 1906, work he would take up again from 1920 to 1923. He offered singing and composition lessons at the convent of the Religious of the Sacred Heart. From 1895 to 1901 he assumed responsibility for the singing and harmony classes at the conservatory of the Canadian Artistic Society. His students included Édouard LeBel and Joseph Saucier*, who would become singers, and Frédéric Pelletier, a future music critic.
Fortier made his first appearance as a tenor on 29 March 1891 at Notre-Dame church in Montreal, when, with Couture conducting, he sang the Messe solennelle … by Ambroise Thomas. Until 1901 he would occasionally give recitals or take part in concerts. In 1892, for less than a year, he was choirmaster at Notre-Dame church. On 29 Nov. 1893, under Couture’s baton, Association Hall presented a vocal and instrumental concert devoted to 16 of Fortier’s works. A few days later Fortier married his singing pupil Marie-Louise Lefebvre. On 22 Dec. 1896 he conducted at Notre-Dame church a mass for organ, orchestra, and four male voices that he had composed, part of which appeared in the December issue of the Montreal periodical L’Art musical.
Around 1893 Fortier published the arrangements of 20 chansons populaires du Canada (Montréal). Moreover, he was one of the first, along with Alfred Laliberté, to harmonize traditional songs. Seven years later, in the same city and in Toronto, he released Hæc dies: chœur pascal pour trois voix égales …. Between 1890 and 1900 he also composed “Marche solennelle” and “Valse” for orchestra, as well as “Méditation” for cello and piano. It seems that he may have set fire to part of his work in 1901.
Relations between Fortier and Couture were sometimes stormy. In Montreal, in Le Monde of 10 and 31 March 1894 and L’Art musical of May 1897, Fortier (who signed as Cinq-Sens in the former and Dulciane in the latter) protested against one of Couture’s practices that involved putting his signature beside those of composers of Latin vocal works whose lyrics he had altered. Once Couture had unmasked the person hiding behind the pseudonyms, he did all he could to undermine Fortier.
Fortier had become a freemason in 1896 by entering Cœurs Unis Lodge No.45 as a member. In April of the same year he joined the committee that was seeking to create L’Émancipation lodge [see Godfroy Langlois*].
From 1900 to 1924 Fortier worked as a Hansard translator for the federal government in Ottawa. He divided his time between the activities of the House of Commons, the music lessons he gave in Montreal during parliamentary recesses, and composition, which occupied his leisure. On 6 June 1910 he married Marie-Jeanne Lavoie, with whom he had two children.
Fortier was a member of the jury for the Prix d’Europe in 1925 in Montreal, and for the Canadian Folk Song and Handicraft Festival from 24 to 28 May 1928 in Quebec City. The Université de Montréal awarded him an honorary d.mus. in 1926. Two years later Fortier harmonized the patriotic song “Ô Canada, mon pays, mes amours,” written by Sir George-Étienne Cartier*. On 29 April 1937 his cottage in Sainte-Scholastique (Mirabel) was engulfed by fire: along with some of his works, Fortier lost the manuscript of the bilingual legal dictionary on which he was labouring.
Achille Fortier died on 19 Aug. 1939 as a result of the cancer from which he had been suffering for several years. In his honour a street was named after him in the Pointe-aux-Trembles district of Montreal in 1983. Three years later a vocal and instrumental ensemble with an interest in the Quebec repertoire of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th took his name. On 22 Aug. 1939 Frédéric Pelletier wrote in Le Devoir: “I had the privilege of being Achille Fortier’s student for a number of years and, if I amount to anything, I owe it to his keen educational discernment and his very high standard for what constitutes the art of music.”
More than 30 of Achille Fortier’s original scores are held at the BANQ-CAM, in the Claude Champagne fonds (MSS345). In 1989 Liette Turner (Juneau), Erik Oland, and Réjean Coallier interpreted ten of Fortier’s melodies, which are included on the CD The romanticism in Canada, released in Montreal that year. In 1994 Coallier published the sheet-music collection Douze mélodies pour voix et piano (Saint-Nicolas [Lévis, Québec]), which includes among others Mon bouquet (1892), based on the poem of Louis Fréchette*; Impromptu (Ottawa, 1915); and Orgueil (Ottawa, 1915), based on the poems of Charles Gill*.
BANQ-CAM, CE601-S1, 2 déc. 1893; CE601-S17, 23 oct. 1864; CE606-S22, 18 août 1834, 8 janv. 1859. FD, Saint-Paul (Aylmer [Gatineau, Québec]), 6 juin 1910, 25 août 1912, 14 juill. 1915. Le Devoir, 21, 22 août 1939, 24 févr. 1990. Le Monde (Montréal), 17 mars 1894. Lucie Boulianne, “Achille Fortier (1864–1939): espoirs et désillusions d’un compositeur au tournant du siècle,” ARMuQ, Cahiers (Québec), no.12 (avril 1990): 54–61. Historica Canada, “The Canadian Encyclopedia”: www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca (consulted 18 Aug. 2015). Roger Le Moine, Deux loges montréalaises du Grand Orient de France (Ottawa, 1991). L.‑P. Morin, Papiers de musique (Montréal, 1930).