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WUGK, CHARLES-DÉSIRÉ-JOSEPH (also known as Charles Sabatier), pianist and composer; b. 1 Dec. 1819 in Tourcoing, dept of Nord, France, son of Charles-Théophile Wugk, an immigrant from Saxony (German Democratic Republic), and Sophie-Joseph Vercambre of Tourcoing; d. 22 Aug. 1862 in Montreal, Canada East.

From 1838 to 1840 Charles-Désiré-Joseph Wugk was enrolled intermittently at the Conservatoire in Paris, studying elementary counterpoint and clarinet. The claims, made on the occasion of a Toronto appearance in 1856, that he had won a first prize in harmony and piano at the Conservatoire and been conductor at the grand opera in Brussels, cannot be confirmed. The assertion that he had been pianist to Marie-Louise de Bourbon, Duchesse de Montpensier, is more credible.

The young musician may have arrived in Quebec City as a sailor and gone to Montreal as early as 1848; it is certain only that he lived in Quebec from about 1854 and that his reputation as a virtuoso pianist had preceded him there. Sabatier, the surname he had now assumed, stayed in Quebec for four or five years, teaching, performing both in public and in private salons, and occasionally playing church organs. His guest appearance at St Lawrence Hall in Toronto in 1856 is evidence that his activity was not restricted to one city. From Quebec Sabatier moved to Saint-Jean-Chrysostôme not far from Lévis and for a brief time was church organist at Saint-Gervais-et-Protais (Saint-Gervais) where he joined a congenial circle of local élite who had gathered around the Abbé Paschal Pouliot. He then became music teacher at a convent in Chambly and finally settled in Montreal. Together with Paul Stevens* and Édouard Sempé he founded L’Artiste, “a journal of religion, criticism, literature, industrial arts and music,” of which only two issues appeared, both in May 1860. With Sempé as librettist, he composed a Cantate en l’honneur de Son Altesse royale le prince de Galles à l’occasion de son voyage au Canada. The work was performed at a gala concert on 24 Aug. 1860 in the presence of the Prince of Wales who was “loud and frequent” in his applause and who asked to see Sabatier’s score. The composer himself led the 250 singers of the Union musicale de Montréal, an orchestra, and a group of soloists, which included 16-year-old Adelina Patti who was to become internationally known. The libretto was published in the same year, and included an English translation by Rosanna Eleanora Leprohon [Mullins*], but of the ten musical numbers only a few appeared in print. A year or two later Sabatier went to the Hôtel-Dieu of Montreal to be cured of his drinking habits. He had a relapse and shortly after suffered a fatal stroke.

To his unsophisticated Canadian audience, Sabatier must have appeared as the incarnation of a romantic artist. It is more than likely that he was enough of a showman to cultivate this role deliberately. People admired his tall and handsome appearance and his pianistic prowess; they frowned on his bohemian life style and immoderate drinking; “A horrible example of a successful career wrecked for ever by a brutal and tyrannical passion,” moralized the obituary in the Journal de l’Instruction publique. His nervous temperament and his impetuousness are reflected in a typical story that when, during a welcoming reception at the Hôtel Blanchard in Quebec, Sabatier spotted a porcelain bust of Napoleon III, he hurled it out of the window onto the pavement of the square Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, cursing the tyrant. Indeed his coming to Canada may have had something to do with the events of 1848, but possibly also with a broken marriage (he left two daughters in France). But as a musician he won the sincere respect of his musical colleagues in Canada, both as a brilliant pianist and as a teacher; Calixa Lavallée* and Dominique Ducharme were briefly among his pupils.

Besides the Cantate, Sabatier wrote original piano pieces, fantasias on operatic tunes by other composers (also for the piano), band music, and songs. About 30 pieces are known by title, and 12 survive in print. Sabatier probably composed many more, since one of his works, a “Mazurka caprice,” bears the opus number 190. His music appears to be vivacious, brilliant, and superficial. A few typical titles are “Marche aux flambeaux,” “La prière des anges,” and “Mes derniers quadrilles” for piano, a “Grande marche canadienne” for band, and “L’Alouette” and “La Montréalaise” for voice. His special claim to fame rests on the patriotic song “Le drapeau de Carillon” to words by Octave Crémazie*, performed first by Édouard Gingras and the composer in Quebec on 15 May 1858, and later widely known among French Canadians.

Helmut Kallmann

Archives nationales (Paris), AJ37 352x 2, p.110. JIP, septembre 1862. Globe, 25 Sept. 1856. La Minerve, 9 Aug. 1860, 26 Aug. 1862. Catalogue of Canadian composers, ed. Helmut Kallmann (rev. ed., Toronto, 1952). Dictionnaire biographique des musiciens canadiens (2e éd., Lachine, Qué., 1935). Helmut Kallmann, A history of music in Canada, 1534–1914 (Toronto and London, 1960). D. J. Sale, “Toronto’s pre-confederation music societies, 1845–1867” (unpublished ma thesis, University of Toronto, 1968). N. A. Woods, The Prince of Wales in Canada and the United States (London, 1861). Arthur Letondal, “Un musicien oublié (Charles Waugk Sabatier),” L’Action nationale (Montréal), II (1933), 126–35. Nazaire Levasseur, “Musique et musiciens à Québec; souvenirs d’un amateur,” La Musique (Québec), 2 (1920), 172–73, 185–87, 202–3. Léo Roy, “La vérité sur Sabatier,” L’Action nationale, LVII (1967–68), 707–9. Henri Têtu, “Impressions musicales,” L’Action sociale catholique (Québec), 13 mars 1915.

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Cite This Article

Helmut Kallmann, “WUGK, CHARLES-DÉSIRÉ-JOSEPH,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 24, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/wugk_charles_desire_joseph_9E.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/wugk_charles_desire_joseph_9E.html
Author of Article:   Helmut Kallmann
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1976
Year of revision:   1976
Access Date:   September 24, 2023