Calixa Lavallée

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Calixa Lavallée
Calixa Lavallée.png
An illustration of Lavallée from 1873
Calixte Paquet dit Lavallée

(1842-12-28)December 28, 1842
DiedJanuary 21, 1891(1891-01-21) (aged 48)
Resting placeNotre Dame des Neiges Cemetery, Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, Montreal
NationalityBritish Empire (Canadian)
OccupationMusician and composer
Known forcomposing the music of the Canadian national anthem "O Canada"
Josephine Gentilly
(m. 1867)
Military career
Allegiance United States
RankUnion army 2nd lt rank insignia.jpg Lieutenant
Unit 4th Rhode Island Volunteers
Battles/warsAmerican Civil War
Calixa Lavallée, 1967 art by Frédéric Back at Place-des-Arts metro station in Montreal.

Calixa Lavallée (December 28, 1842 – January 21, 1891) was a French-Canadian-American musician and Union Army band musician during the American Civil War. He is best known for composing the music for "O Canada," which officially became the national anthem of Canada in 1980, after a vote in the Senate and the House of Commons. The same 1980 Act of Parliament also changed some of the English lyrics. A slight alteration to the English lyrics was made again in 2018. The original French lyrics and the music, however, have remained unchanged since 1880.[1][2]

Early life and education[edit]

Lavallée was born Calixte Paquet dit Lavallée near Verchères, a village near present-day Montreal in the Province of Canada (now the Canadian province of Quebec). He was a descendant of Isaac Pasquier, from Poitou, France, who arrived in Nouvelle-France in 1665 as a soldier in the Carignan-Salières regiment. Lavallée's father Augustin Lavallée, worked as a blacksmith, logger, bandmaster, self-taught luthier[3] and bandleader, and also worked for the pipe organ builder Joseph Casavant. Calixa Lavallée's mother was Charlotte-Caroline Valentine, descendant of James Valentine, a soldier from Montrose, Scotland who married a Quebecer by the name of Louise Leclerc and then settled down in Verchères, Québec.

Lavallée began his musical education with his father (Eli Grande), who taught him organ by age 11. Lavallée also studied in Montréal with Paul Letondal and Charles Wugk Sabatier.[4]


At age 13, Lavallée performed a piano concert at the Théâtre royal de Montréal. In 1857, he moved to the U.S. and lived in Rhode Island. After performing as a musician in a number of countries, including in Brazil and Mexico, he returned to the U.S., where he enlisted in the 4th Rhode Island Volunteers of the Union Army as a cornet player during the American Civil War. He attained the rank of lieutenant.[2] He was wounded in the Battle of Antietam. During and after the war, he traveled between Canada and the United States building his career in music.

Lavallée returned to Montreal in 1863, and for two years performed concerts there.[4] In the 1860s he also resided briefly in Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York, but spent most of his time travelling with minstrel show companies. He founded the blackface New Orleans Minstrel Company.[5] In 1867, he married an American woman, Josephine Gentilly (or "Gently").

Lavallée worked as a pianist, organist and music teacher, and also conducted orchestral and operatic productions in concert halls, including the Montréal Academy of Music in Montréal, Quebec City and in many U.S. cities. Among his pupils was composer Alexis Contant.[6]

Lavallée returned to Montreal in the 1870s,[4] where he continued to perform and compose.[7] To celebrate St. Jean-Baptiste Day in 1880, the Lieutenant Governor of Québec, Théodore Robitaille, commissioned Lavallée to compose "O Canada" to a patriotic poem by Adolphe-Basile Routhier.[2] After some financial difficulties in Canada, Lavallée again moved to the United States.[8] In his later life he promoted the idea of union between Canada and the U.S.[8]

Later life and death[edit]

During the later years of his life, Lavallée was the choirmaster at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston, and he died penniless in that city in 1891.[9] As the result of the campaign by the Montréal-based music director of the Victoria's Rifles, Joseph-Laurent Gariépy, his remains were returned to Montréal and reinterred at Côte-des-Neiges Cemetery in 1933.[1]

Selected musical works[edit]

  • Peacocks in Difficulties/Loulou, comic opera
  • The Bridal Rose Overture, operetta
  • The King of Diamonds, overture
  • L'Absence, lyrics by Remi Tremblay, 1882–1885[10]
  • L'Oiseau Mouche, Bluette de Salon, Op.11, 1865?[10]
  • La Rose Nuptiale", brass quintet
  • Une Couronne de Lauriers, Caprice de Genre, Op.10, 1865[10]
  • Le Papillon (The Butterfly) Étude de Concert for piano, 1874/1884[10]
  • La Patrie (1874).[11]
  • Marche funèbre, 1878[10]
  • Violette, cantilène, lyrics by Napoleon Legendre and P.J. Curran, 1879[10]
  • "O Canada", 1880[10]
  • The Widow, 1881, comic opera (known in French as La veuve)
  • TIQ (The Indian Question), Settled at Last, 1882, comic opera


The village of Calixa-Lavallée, southeast of Montreal, is named after him. The professional training school Calixa-Lavallée in Quebec also bears his name. The following roads were named to honour Calixa Lavallée:

  • Avenue Calixa-Lavallée, located in Shawinigan, Quebec, Canada.
  • Avenue Calixa-Lavallée, located in Quebec, Quebec, Canada.
  • Rue Calixa-Lavallée, located in Magog, Quebec, Canada.
  • Rue Calixa-Lavallée, located in Boucherville, Quebec, Canada.
  • Rue Calixa-Lavallée, located in Repentigny, Quebec, Canada.
  • Rue Calixa-Lavallée, a dead-end street entering into Lafontaine Park, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
  • Calixa-Lavallée Privée (Calixa-Lavallée Pvt.) a small dead-end laneway on the University of Ottawa campus

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b "'O Canada'". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved April 22, 2008.
  2. ^ a b c Government of Canada (June 23, 2008). "Hymne national du Canada". Canadian Heritage. Government of Canada. Retrieved June 26, 2008.
  3. ^ "Lavallée, Augustin". The Canadian Encyclopedia. 2010. Retrieved June 30, 2010.
  4. ^ a b c Slemon, Peter, "Montreal's musical life under the Union". McMaster University, 1845. via Library and Archives Canada
  5. ^ El Mugammar, Laila (June 30, 2020). "The hidden racist history of 'O Canada'". Maclean's. Retrieved July 2, 2020.
  6. ^ The Canadian Encyclopedia, Alexis Contant
  7. ^ Thompson, Brian. "Calixa Lavallée (1842-1891): A Critical Biography". Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Hong Kong, 2001.
  8. ^ a b Francis & Jones 2011, p. 216
  9. ^ Kuitenbrouwer, Peter (June 27, 2017). "The Strange History of 'O Canada'". The Walrus. Retrieved July 7, 2017.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Petrucci Music Library IMSLP Forum, including public domain scores
  11. ^ "La Patrie - Our Canada | Canadian Music Centre | Centre de Musique Canadienne". Retrieved September 19, 2018.


External links[edit]