SAUVAGEAU (Savageau), CHARLES (Michel-Charles), musician, conductor, teacher, composer, author, and music dealer; b. probably in October 1807 at Quebec, son of Michel Sauvageau and Marie-Angélique Corbin; m. there 20 April 1830 Marie-Angélique Lévêque, and they had at least 12 children, most of whom died in infancy; d. there 16 June 1849 and was buried 19 June in the Cimetière Saint-Louis.
Charles Sauvageau was born of Michel Sauvageau’s first marriage, which took place in 1799 at Quebec; after the death of his wife, Michel married Marie-Anne Atkin, the widow of Pierre Racine, in 1827. Charles probably spent his infancy and childhood at Quebec, where his father was a notary. Nothing is known of the formative period of his life other than that in 1820 he studied for a year at the Petit Séminaire de Québec. Contemporaries attributed his superior musicianship to “constant application and innate talent, for he was self-taught,” as a journalist with L’Abeille observed.
One of the first times that Sauvageau was referred to as a musician was in 1832, perhaps because he was hired as music teacher for a group of at least 12 boys who had been recruited that winter by John Chrisostomus Brauneis* “with the aim of qualifying them to be musicians in the military band of the Quebec artillery.” The following year Sauvageau announced on 15 November that a “Quadrille Band” was being established. In 1834 and 1835, according to notices in the Quebec Mercury, it was assimilated into the Band of the Quebec Militia Artillery. Sauvageau became more closely linked with this group of 18 performers for, if Philéas Gagnon* is right, he took over conducting it in 1836. His close relations seem to have been maintained, since in 1847 the band of the Canadian militia apparently was still supplying the personnel for the Bande de la Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste, of which Sauvageau had been conductor since 1842. In the absence of written records, nothing is known about the members of “Mr C. Sauvageau’s regular orchestra,” which played during the interludes in the amateur musical evening at the École des Glacis on 25 June 1840. The Quebec Philharmonic Union, which he conducted in 1848 and 1849, is, however, known to have consisted of amateurs.
Sauvageau not only served as a conductor but also performed in public with equal success as a violinist, from at least 1833, in musical and dramatic evenings usually organized by himself. The editor of Le Fantasque, his brother-in-law Napoléon Aubin*, noted in 1842 that these came to resemble “what might almost be called family parties.” He demonstrated his virtuosity by playing variations, imitations on the violin of different instruments, and themes with variations on a single string. The few pieces he composed and published between 1840 and 1844 give only a hint of his talents as a composer and virtuoso.
In the course of his career Sauvageau also devoted himself zealously to teaching music. In 1840 he dedicated to his pupils the two waltzes that were his earliest compositions. His plans to open an academy of music for amateurs in 1841 having fallen through, he apparently gave private lessons before being hired by the Petit Séminaire de Québec as a music teacher for the period 1846–49. According to L’Abeille he was “the first Canadian artist at Quebec to teach music in all its branches,” in particular singing and stringed instruments such as the violin and guitar. In 1841 he stimulated a spirit of competition in his young pupils by instituting musical evenings in the town which were hailed as a novelty. Like his contemporary and rival Théodore-Frédéric Molt*, Sauvageau wrote a work on theory, published by Aubin, that was directed at a broad audience – his pupils, school principals, and the general public. The manual’s title, Notions élémentaires de musique, tirées des meilleurs auteurs, contents, and price were all changed substantially between the initial offer for its sale by public subscription in February 1844 and the announcement of its publication in May 1845. For his pupils and the public Sauvageau kept a shop in his home. An advertisement that he put in Le Castor in May 1845 indicated that he “continues to take it upon himself to supply orchestras with the requisites. His store carries new music, ruled paper, all kinds of instruments, strings, etc.; he will also sell on commission valuable instruments and in general everything relating to his art.” Sauvageau’s success as a teacher is clear from the accounts of the musical evenings presented by his pupils, and even more from the exceptional accomplishments of his eldest son Flavien. At age 10 Flavien had already played the violin in public, accompanied by his father on the cello, but he met a tragic death at 15 in the fire at the Théâtre Saint-Louis on 12 June 1846. Quebec musician Joseph Lyonnais, a maker of stringed instruments, is also said to have been taught by Sauvageau.
That Charles Sauvageau’s accomplishments in the course of a life that was full but not long – he died “aged 41 years and 8 months” – were modest does not diminish the place he holds as a musician in the history of Quebec culture in the second quarter of the 19th century. He in fact carried out a program that had been outlined by the intellectuals of the time, among them Napoléon Aubin. Aubin, who was truly his mentor, at every turn singled out the social significance of Sauvageau’s many-sided activities. In 1841 he suggested in various articles that Sauvageau “form a public class at Quebec for teaching popular song,” an idea the musician quickly took up. He countered the view of those tempted to compare Sauvageau with a foreign violinist named Nagel, who stayed at Quebec in 1842, and made an analysis at that time of “Mr Sauvageau’s efforts to introduce, cultivate and bring to fruition, particularly among his working-class compatriots, a taste for an art that seeks its adepts and finds its leading lights in all ranks . . . , an art that releases the rich man from his idleness and the poor man from his work.” In the three marches composed by Sauvageau he found “the cheerful, pastoral, naïve style that characterizes Canadian music,” and he believed that these airs should therefore be handed down to posterity along with other, older ones. Moving from words to action, Aubin put his press at Sauvageau’s service. Sauvageau’s musical career unfolded, in this early period of Canadian nationalism, under a political banner which had some success. In August 1844 when Le Ménestrel invited the Quebec “dilettanti” to attend one of his concerts, it noted: “Their presence in large numbers will demonstrate the popularity that our national musician so rightly enjoys.”
In the years 1840–44 Charles Sauvageau wrote music for voice, violin, piano, and guitar, and compiled Notions élémentaires de musique, tirées des meilleurs auteurs et mises en ordre par Charles Sauvageau (Québec, 1844), a “work dedicated especially to his students.” His published pieces include a piano accompaniment for Aubin’s Le dépit amoureux, which appears in L’Album artistique et lyrique (Québec), no.1 (1840); Deux valses, for piano, announced in Le Fantasque (Québec), 27 avril 1840 and published in the Literary Garland, 3 (1840–41): 476–77, in an arrangement by W. H. Warren of Montreal; and the music for Chant canadien (Québec, 1843), with words by François-Réal Angers*, and for Trois marches canadiennes: marche de Josephte, marche de Jean-Baptiste, marche de Pierrot (Québec, 1843). He also published the following pieces in 1844 in the music section of Ménestrel (Québec), vol.1: Chant national . . . , with words by François-Magloire Derome*; Valse du ménestrel; Solo de violon composé sur le motif d’ “Auld Robin Gray”; Gallopade du ménestrel for the piano; arrangements of Pierre Petitclair*’s Valse de Sophie and Valse de Caroline for the piano; and Valse for the guitar. The Chant national also appears in L’Artisan (Québec), 9 juill. 1844. No text of the variations on Long, long, ago that he wrote and played on 20 Feb. 1849, survives. Only Chant canadien was particularly successful, being reprinted in various works including the Journal de l’Instruction publique (Québec et Montréal), 3 (1859): 109–11 (under the name “Chant national”); Le Soleil (Québec), 5 oct. 1901: 6; the 3rd edition of Chansonnier des colléges mis en musique (Québec, 1860), 15–17; La lyre canadienne . . . (Québec, 1847), 84, and (4e éd., 1886), 52 (with the annotation “music by N. Aubin”); and La nouvelle lyre canadienne . . . (nouv. éd., Montréal, ), 58 (without any mention of the composer).
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