René André Rodolphe Mathieu was one of Canada's greatest musical prodigies. Born at Montreal on 18 Feb 1929, his extraordinary gifts for both piano and composition were evident from early childhood: Mathieu was composing by age four and began performing in public by age six. The reputation of the "Canadian Mozart" quickly spread to Europe, where by age seven Mathieu had performed at the prestigious Salle Chopin-Pleyel in Paris. Just weeks before his eleventh birthday, he made his New York Town Hall debut, and the following year appeared at Carnegie Hall in a performance of his own award-winning Concertino No. 2.
His education interrupted by World War II, Mathieu was back in Paris to study with Arthur Honegger in 1947. Unable, however, to adjust to life in the French capital, the young composer returned shortly thereafter to his homeland. By the late 1940s his prospects began to wane. Although he continued to compose, adopting a late-romantic idiom reminiscent of Rachmaninoff, showmanship took increasing precedence over substance in his public appearances as a pianist. Mathieu managed to earn some income by teaching piano and composition, but withdrew increasingly from public life. His future seemed to take a turn for the better in 1960 at the time of his marriage to Marie-Ange Massicotte, but in 1962 Mathieu was shattered by the death of his father, Rodolphe, who had contracted a severe case of bronchial pneumonia. Chronic alcoholism finally took its toll, and Mathieu's life was cut short at just thirty-nine years of age in 1968.
Today Mathieu is perhaps best known as the composer of the official theme music of the 1976 Montreal Olympics, an ironic posthumous tribute to a composer whose genius, had circumstances been more favorable, would almost certainly have been admired today in the great concert halls of the world. Nevertheless, his musical legacy is considerable, and includes not only a substantial number of pieces for piano solo in various genres, but also piano concertinos and concertos; symphonic poems and other works for orchestra; chamber music; and vocal works. The "Quebec" Concerto, an abridged version of Mathieu's Third Piano Concerto, was featured in the 1947 Canadian motion picture, La Forteresse (Whispering City).
In recent years his work has been successfully revived by the brilliant young Canadian pianist Alain Lefèvre. In 1978 the Salle André Mathieu at Laval, Quebec, was dedicated to his memory.
For further information: