CALIXA LAVALLEE (1842 - 1891)
Calixa Lavallée was born into a family of musicians on December 28, 1842 near Verchères, Québec. His father was an instrument maker, his brother Charles, a cornetist and conductor, another brother Joseph, a trombonist, while his sister Cordelia was a singer and pianist. Lavallée’s first music lessons came from his father. Later, in 1855, he travelled to Montréal to study piano with Paul Letondal and Charles Wugk Sabatier. In 1859, he joined a touring minstrel show as musical director and set off for a decade of touring the continent. In 1861 he took one-year break from the road to join the Union Army during Civil War. Late in 1863 he returned to Montréal, performing there as a pianist, violinist and cornettist for the next two years. He then resumed his career as a minstrel show musician, performing on the road, then settling in New York and later Boston.
After a return trip to Montréal in 1873, Lavallée’s patron Léon Derome raised funds to allow him to go to Paris, where he studied with Marmontel and others, and published several compositions.
Upon his return to Montréal, he performed, taught, directed church choirs, and organised opera performances. He published several minor works and composed a large cantata to celebrate the arrival of the new governor general and the anthem, O Canada. He left Canada again in 1880 due to mounting personal debts and to his frustration over the government’s refusal to fund a conservatory. He settled in Boston, earning his living mostly by teaching but publishing many compositions for piano and concert band. He spent much of his time promoting the music of American composers, especially through the Music Teachers’ National Association.
At the age of 48, Lavallée died from tubercular laryngitis and was buried in Boston’s Mount Benedict Cemetery. On July 13, 1933, in a grandiose ceremony, his remains were
returned to Montréal.