Joseph Quesnel

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A painting of Joseph Quesnel, ca 1808 – 1809, by Gerritt Schipper. Collection du Musée régional de Vaudreuil-Soulanges

Joseph Quesnel (15 November 1746 – 2 or 3 July 1809) was a French Canadian composer, poet, and playwright. Among his works were two operas, Colas et Colinette and Lucas et Cécile; the former is considered to be the first Canadian opera.[1]

Quesnel was born in Saint-Malo, France, the third child of Isaac Quesnel de La Rivaudais (1712-1779), a prosperous merchant, and his wife Pélagie-Jeanne-Marguerite Duguen.[2] On completing his education at the Collège Saint-Louis (1766) he shipped on board a man-of-war, visiting Pondicherry and Madagascar, travelling in Africa, and after three years returned to France. After resting a few months, he set out for French Guiana, and afterward visited several islands of the Antilles and explored part of Brazil.[3] In 1779, he travelled to North America on a French vessel which was captured by the British. Quesnel was taken to Halifax, Nova Scotia and then Montreal, Quebec. He married Marie-Josephte Deslandes there and became partners in business with Maurice-Régis Blondeau, his mother-in-law's new husband.

He died of pleurisy at Montreal in 1809 several months after he had dived into the Saint Lawrence River to save a drowning child.[4]

Quesnel was the subject of the comic opera Le Père des amours, written by Eugène Lapierre in 1942.

Quesnel's son Jules Maurice Quesnel travelled with Simon Fraser on his journey to the Pacific Ocean; the town of Quesnel, British Columbia is named for him. Another son Frédéric-Auguste became a lawyer and politician; his daughter Mélanie married lawyer Côme-Séraphin Cherrier.


  • Colas et Colinette, a vaudeville (1788)
  • Lucas et Cecile, an operetta
  • L'Anglomanie, a comedy in verse
  • Républicans Français, a comedy in prose, afterward published in Paris

Besides several songs, he composed sacred music for the parish church of Montreal, and some motets, and wrote a short treatise on the dramatic art (1805)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Canadian Songs for Parlour and Stage". Carleton University. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
  2. ^ Famille Quesnel de Saint-Malo
  3. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg Wilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1900). "Quesnel, Joseph". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton.
  4. ^ Contemporary Canadian Composers ed. by Keith MacMillan and John Beckwith. Toronto : Oxford University Press, 1975

External links[edit]