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MECHTLER, GUILLAUME-JOSEPH (William), musician, music teacher, militia officer, and office holder; baptized 24 July 1764 in Brussels, son of Pierre-Paul Mechtler and Marie-Madeleine Moreau; m. 17 June 1793 Marie-Anne-Angélique Landriève in Montreal; d. there 13 Feb. 1833.

Guillaume-Joseph Mechtler may have appeared first in the province of Quebec with a theatre company. In April 1787 he was obliged to defer payment of an overdue debt to Montreal businessman and composer Joseph Quesnel* because his meagre income of about £2 a week with a troupe of actors was seized as soon as he received it in order to pay other debts. In July Mechtler advertised in the Quebec Gazette that, “having entirely quitted the business of the Theatre, he intends settling in this town, where he means to teach the violin and harpsichord.” By November his financial situation had not improved.

Perhaps it was his inability to make a decent living at Quebec that prompted Mechtler in September 1789 to announce in the Montreal Gazette that he had settled in Montreal as a music master and intended to take pupils in “Forte Piano, Harpsichord and Violin.” In 1790 he taught violin to Frederick William Ermatinger for 15 shillings a month in February and 20 shillings a month thereafter. It was probably he who taught music to Rachel-Charlotte Frobisher, daughter of Montreal businessman Joseph Frobisher*; her manuscript music-book reveals that “Mr. M.” had begun his lessons on 3 April 1793.

In July 1791 Mechtler had been appointed organist at Christ Church with a salary of £20 per annum, and one year later he had become co-organist with Jean-Louis Foureur, dit Champagne, at Notre-Dame church for about £20 a year; in 1800 he would apply to Notre-Dame for an increase of £10. A Mr Mechtler played a piano concerto by Leopold Antonín Koželuh at Philadelphia in January 1795 and performed there on the harp in April. It is doubtful whether a Montreal organist could have absented himself from his post for such a long period, and the Philadelphia musician may have been a relative. As well, the Mrs Mechtler who sang in Halifax, New York (“lately from England”), and Boston in the early 1790s is unlikely to have been the wife of Guillaume-Joseph. On the other hand, it is reasonable to assume that the Mr Mechtler who performed a piano concerto in Montreal on 14 Sept. 1796 was Guillaume-Joseph. In addition to performing, Mechtler composed; in 1811 he received £48 for works of his own composition, presumably written for Notre-Dame church.

Mechtler’s income as organist at Notre-Dame, music teacher, performer, and composer was evidently insufficient to live on, and he supplemented it with at least one other function, that of inspector of the hay market and stamper of weights and measures, a position he held from at least 1809 until his death. He had apparently joined the Montreal militia shortly after his arrival in the city and by 1813 he was quartermaster of the 5th Battalion of the Select Embodied Militia, which was reorganized in 1814 as the Chasseurs Canadiens.

Mechtler absented himself as organist of Notre-Dame for a time beginning in the summer of 1814, probably to perform military duty. When the fabrique of Notre-Dame could find no Catholic capable of replacing him, Bishop Joseph-Octave Plessis authorized hiring a Protestant (S. Brewer) on the ground that music on the organ during the mass was important to the Canadians, some of whom might otherwise attend Protestant services to hear the instrument played. His decision was strongly contested by the Sulpicians, who had the charge of the parish, and in September the case was sent to the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda in Rome for decision; it found in favour of Plessis in 1820. Meanwhile, Mechtler had resigned from the Chasseurs Canadiens in February 1815 and had received a new contract as organist in July at a salary of £60 a year (including the organ-blower’s fee).

Mechtler returned to the sedentary militia in 1815 as a captain in the 2nd Battalion of Montreal’s militia, a Canadian unit. About 1821 he rose to the rank of major, where he remained until, no longer qualifying as an officer under a new militia act in 1830, he offered to resign with a lieutenant-colonelcy. Although he may not have been continually dogged by financial worries, he had at least fallen on hard times again by late 1820 when 200 acres of land belonging to him in Hinchinbrook Township were seized by the sheriff of Montreal at the suit of a Montreal firm, J. J. and L. Henshaw. Many of Mechtler’s business and professional activities as a musician would seem to have been conducted with the British population. His advertisements of 1787 and 1789 were in English only, although both the Quebec Gazette and the Montreal Gazette were bilingual newspapers. He called himself Guillaume-Joseph until at least the early 1800s, but in 1799 he signed William in an English context and by 1813 he was signing thus even to letters he wrote in French. Yet he maintained strong social ties with the Canadian community through the militia and Notre-Dame, where he remained organist until shortly before his death.

Helmut Kallmann

ANQ-M, CN1-121, 23 juill. 1792. AP, Notre-Dame de Montréal, Reg. des baptêmes, mariages et sépultures, 17 juin 1793, 15 févr. 1833; Reg. des délibérations du conseil de la fabrique, 22 juill. 1792. Arch. de l’Hôpital Général de Québec, R.-C. Frobisher, “Chants, textes anglais ou français.” Arch. municipales, Bruxelles (Belgique), État civil, Sainte-Gudule, 24 juill. 1764. AUM, P 58, U, Mechtler à Quesnel, 24 avril, 22 nov. 1787; Mechtler à Guy, 4, 16 oct., 16 nov. 1813; 1er juin 1830. PAC, MG 19, A2, ser.3, 31: 71. Montreal Gazette, 3 Sept. 1789. Quebec Gazette, 12 July 1787, 25 July 1799, 16 Feb. 1815, 16 Nov. 1820, 22 Feb. 1821. Encyclopedia of music in Canada, ed. Helmut Kallmann et al. (Toronto, 1981). Quebec almanac, 1810–27. Willy Amtmann, La musique au Québec, 1600–1875, Michelle Pharand, trad. (Montréal, 1976), 296–97, 300–1. Helmut Kallmann, A history of music in Canada, 1534–1914 (Toronto and London, 1960), 84. O. G. [T.] Sonneck, Early concert-life in America (1731–1800) (Leipzig, [German Democratic Republic], 1907), 141–42, 190, 292. “An account of Christ’s Church in the city of Montreal, province of Lower-Canada,” Canadian Magazine and Literary Repository (Montreal), 4 (January–June 1825): 217–24. Cécile Huot, “Musiciens belges au Québec,” Les Cahiers canadiens de musique (Montréal), 8 (1974): 69–71. Helmut Kallmann, “From the archives: the Montreal Gazette on music from 1786 to 1797,” Canadian Music Journal (Toronto), 6, no.3 (summer 1962): 7–8. O [-M.-H.] Lapalice, “Les organistes et maîtres de musique à Notre-Dame de Montréal,” BRH, 25 (1919): 245–46. “Souvenirs artistiques de Notre-Dame de Montréal,” Le Canada musical (Montréal), 7 (1880): 135.

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Cite This Article

Helmut Kallmann, “MECHTLER, GUILLAUME-JOSEPH,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 15, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mechtler_guillaume_joseph_6E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mechtler_guillaume_joseph_6E.html
Author of Article:   Helmut Kallmann
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1987
Year of revision:   1987
Access Date:   April 15, 2024