Jacques Hétu, born in Trois-Rivières, Quebec, in 1938, is one of the most performed Canadian composers both at home and abroad. From 1956 to 1961, he studied composition with Clermont Pépin at the Conservatoire in Montreal, and from 1961 to 1963 with Henri Dutilleux at the École Normale de Musique in Paris as well as analysis with Olivier Messiaen at the Paris Conservatory. From 1963 to 1977, he taught composition and analysis at the Université Laval in Quebec, then from 1979 to 2000 served as professor of analysis at the Université du Québec à Montréal.
Hétu’s catalogue includes five symphonies, concertos for viola, flute, oboe/English horn, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, trombone, piano, organ, ondes Martenot, guitar, marimba/vibraphone and a triple concerto for violin, cello and piano. Other orchestral works include Images de la Révolution, Le Tombeau de Nelligan, Variations concertantes and Légendes. Then there are compositions for voice and orchestra like Les Abîmes du rêve, the Missa pro trecentesimo anno (written for the tercentenary of the birth of J.S. Bach) and the opera Le Prix. There are also a number of chamber works.
In 1990, Pinchas Zukerman invited the composer to travel with the Ottawa-based National Arts Centre Orchestra on its tour of Germany, Denmark and England. The tour repertory included two works by Hétu, the Third Symphony and Antinomie. In November of that year, Charles Dutoit conducted the New York Philharmonic in Images de la Révolution, which the Montreal Symphony had commissioned on the occasion of the bicentenary of the French Revolution. In May of 1992, Kurt Masur and the New York Philharmonic gave the American premiere of the Trumpet Concerto with Philip Smith as soloist. Le Tombeau de Nelligan, premiered in Paris by the Orchestra of Radio France, went on tours by both the Montreal and Toronto Symphonies. A recording on the CBC label of music entirely by Jacques Hétu was awarded a Juno for Best Classical Recording of the Year in 2004. This release contains four concertos (for flute, clarinet, bassoon and the second for piano) and features some of Canada’s most renowned musicians as soloists, including André Laplante, dedicatee of the Second Piano Concerto.
Lyricism, poetry, emotion and coherent discourse are all important elements in Hétu’s writing. He is also sensitive to various aspects of sonority and to the structural rigor of contemporary composition. Within traditional forms, he arranges elements in a cyclical manner based on the affirmative force of thematic material, rigorous writing and the need for unity. In later years, he tended to simplify his language through a broadening of his framework and through developing ever-more lyrical means of expression. His style can best be described as one using neoclassical forms and neo-romantic expression within a musical language of twentieth-century techniques.
Jacques Hétu became a member of the Canadian Royal Society in 1989, an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2001 and Officier de l’Ordre national du Québec in 2007. In 2008, he was inducted into the Panthéon de la musique classique de Trois-Rivières, where a music school bears his name. In January 2010, the Conseil québécois de la musique awarded him the Prix Hommage at the Opus Awards ceremony.
On February 9, 2010, following a battle with cancer, Jacques Hétu passed away at his home in Saint-Hippolyte, near Montreal, surrounded by his family.
Canadian Music Center