Jean Lesage

Academic title(s): 

Associate Professor

Jean Lesage
Music Research
Music Composition
Contact Information

555 Sherbrooke St. West

Email address: 
jean.lesage [at]
Areas of expertise: 



Areas of interest: 

Intertextuality and Music, Postmodernism, Composed interpretation/Re-composition, Canadian Music, The music of Claude Vivier

Current research: 

In my composition, I like to use material charged with semantic and multi-shaped referential values that I breathe into my material. I like to bring into play typical structures, “characters in sound”, which carry “meaning” and are evocative of certain icons and idiosyncrasies of musical history. Then, through their playful handling, I use these evocations and their perceptual ambiguities to re-interpret certain historical codes by perverting and dismantling stylistic allusions—all the time with an awareness of and a sensibility to our time. 

Using a parodic treatment fuelled by intensification, distanciation, and hidden meanings (second-degree contextualization), I divert the semantic charge of historical codes and icons by engaging in extended games of hide-and-seek which lead the listener through layers of ambiguities and misleading references. So I want to address, within the medium of music, what several theoreticians of literature call intertextuality: creating a connection—whether it be symbolic, cultural, esthetical or technical, between a given material and other earlier materials—in order to create a vast referential network that enriches, by way of multiplication, the listener’s perceptual experience.

In my works, the collision, the friction, the crossbreeding and the process of contextualization invigorate the musical discourse, as much as the traditional manipulations of purely musical parameters. Here it is a question of composing not only with sounds, but also with “meanings”. I strive for an art of metaphor using over-coding, artifice, generalized ambiguity and complex dialogue with the history of music to create a music about music.

Memory is at the core of my artistic research. In my works, I try to create a fertile exchange between the present-timeness of the work and the remoteness of previous art. A playful relationship with the history of music takes place on a number of simultaneous levels; movements involving recollection and forgetfulness, and moments that manipulate memory by reconstructing the past. Here the aim is to expose, through the unfolding of the work, the process by which memory assembles, dismantles and constructs its own past, through a constant re-evaluation of history’s shifting grounds and their relentless projection into our visions of the future. This, because memory is not objective, it is intrinsically biased and charged with meaning.

This approach does not originate from a feeling of nostalgia. There is no desire here to regain music’s paradise lost. But rather I try to substantiate the utopian idea of a bringing together of all times into the fleeting moment. Have all eras: past and future, connect through a present-day intuition of musical time.


Jean Lesage pursued his musical training with Gilles Tremblay for composition and analysis, Micheline Coulombe St-Marcoux and Yves Daoust for electronic music, Clermont Pépin for orchestration, and with Mireille Lagacé for harpsichord.

Jean Lesage is very active on the Montréal music scene : he has been an advisory member of the Association pour la Création et la Recherche Électroacoustique du Québec, a program coordinator for the Société des Concerts Alternatifs du Québec, and between 1990 and 2011, a member of the artistic committee of the Société de Musique Contemporaine du Québec.

From 1987 to 1995, he was also a reporter for the program Musique actuelle, broadcast on Radio-Canada’s FM radio. For the same network, in the summer of 1996, he produced and hosted Musique du Québec, a series of 12 programs on Québec’s musical modernism. He has been on the editorial board of Circuit, Contemporary Music Journal from 2005 to 2013.

From 1995 to 2009 Jean Lesage has been regularly invited as a composer and a teacher at the Rencontre internationale de musique nouvelle at Domaine Forget.

He has been teaching at the Orford Summer Academy since 2013.

In 1997 and in 2008, he has been guest editorial director for Circuit, for special issues on Montreal composers and on the music of Claude Vivier.

Since 1999, Jean Lesage has been teaching composition, music analysis and orchestration at the Schulich School of Music of McGill University.

To be noted among the 50-odd works he has composed so far are: —Mare Fecunditatis (1986), for piano , CAPAC Prize 1987 —Trois apparitions au désert (1988), for mixed choir and large orchestra, Robert Flemming Prize from the Canadian Music Council 1988. —Le sentiment océanique (1989), for eight instruments, commissioned by the Ensemble contemporain de Montréal (ECM), presented at UNESCO’s 1995 Rostrum of Composers, in Paris —Les sensations confuses (1993), for chamber orchestra, commissioned by the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, premiered in Strasbourg at the Musica1993 Festival —Masques et chimères (1996) for eleven instruments, commissioned by the ECM. —Les représentations surannées (1998) for orchestra, commissioned by l’Orchestre symphonique de Québec premiered in Québec at the Musique au présent Festival 1999. —Le livre des mélancolies (1999) for clarinet and string quartet commissioned by the Société de musique contemporaine du Québec. —Portrait of a Sentimental Musician in a Distorting Mirror (2000) for violin and piano, commissioned by the CBC for Duo Concertante. —String Quartet I (2001), —String Quartet II (2002), —String Quartet III (2005) commissioned by the Quatuor Bozzini —Les mécanismes multiples de l’ivresse et de la nostalgie (2004) for large orchestra, commissioned by Radio-France et Radio-Canada, —Le projet Mozart (2006) commissioned by Trio Fibonacci, —Plaisirs anciens (2008); for a capella choir commissioned by Viva Voce and —Beatitudines (2011) commissioned by the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.


Selected publications: 


-Trois apparitions au désert, 1988; [chorus and orch. 4333- 4331, 3 percs. 2 harps. o. Mart. pn. cél. Strings] (17')

-Leçons de ténèbres, 1990; [2222-2221, timp. perc. strings]. (8')

-Cinq miniatures, 1991; [2121-2210, timp. Strings] (5')

-Les sensations confuses I, 1993; [1111/1110/pno., perc/11111]  (15')

-Les sensations confuses II, 1994; [2232-2220, pno. timb. 2 percs. Strings] (15')

-Les représentations surannées, 1998; [2222/4221/pno, timb 1perc/strings 12 10 8 6 4]  (17 ')

-La symphonie du millénaire , 2000; for multiple ensembles [collective work] (45’)

-Vanitas, 2004; [1111/1110/pno. perc/11111] (18 ')

-Les mécanismes multiples de l'ivresse et de la nostalgie, 2004; [3333/4231/harp, cel., timb 2 perc/strings] (19 ')

-Beatitudines, 2010; [3333/4231/harp, 2 perc/strings] (17 ')


-Gagaku, 1985; [fl. ob. cl. vn. db. hp. 2 percs] (12')

-Fanfare « ... und was ist denn Musik ?  », 1988; [3 horns, 4 tpts. 3 tbs. 1 tuba] (10')

-Le sentiment océanique, 1989; [fl. ob. cl. bn. tpt. horns, tb. db] (11')

-Masques et chimères, 1996; [woodwind quintet, strings quintet and piano] (14')


-Un jeu de songes, 1985; clarinet (10')

-Les mystères de la clarté, 1987; flute and ondes Martenot (9')

-...le soir au fond des bois…, 1987; horn and piano.(8')

-Fête de nuit, 1991; flute, ondes Martenot, 1 perc. (10')

-Ivresses songes sourdes nuits, 1994; violin (6')

-Canto d’amore, 1995; cello (7')

-La mémoire équivoque, 1996; violin and piano. (11')

-Orient, 1997; violin or viola (5')

-Élégie harmonique sur la mort de Marie-Antoinette, 1998; solo violin, strings and harpsichord (14')

-John Baldwin’s dream, 1998; violin and cello (4 min.)

-Eine kleine kitschige Musik, 1999; trio with piano (16')

-Le livre des mélancolies, 1999; quintet with clarinet (18')

-Portrait of a Sentimental Musician in a Distorting Mirror, 2000; violin and piano (10')

-String Quartet I, 2001; (16')

-String Quartet II, 2002; (18')

-String Quartet III, 2005; (15')

-Le projet Mozart, 2006; trio with piano (13')

-Mythologies, 2009; flute and piano. (10')

-Musique de salon, 2010; cello and piano. (8')

-Les heures nocturnes, 2012; violin and piano. (9')

-Rhapsodie, 2013; violin and piano. (9')

-String Quartet IV, 2014; (20')

- Saturnales, 2015; violin, clarinet, cello and piano (12’)


-Thanatopsis, 1981; harpsichord (8')

-La tentation d’Arlequin, 1984; harpsichord (13')

-Mare fecunditatis, 1986; piano (12')

-Les unités discrètes, 1987; two harpsichords (10')

-Dischordia, 1990; piano (9')

-Babylone–la porte du Dieu, 1991; organ (17')

-La chaotique, 1994 ; harpsichord (5')

-Les cadavres exquis, 1995; harpsichord (4')

-Désuétude, 1997; harpsichord (5')

-Le palimpseste de Lübeck, 1997; organ (7')

-Fantasia stravagante, 1997; piano (15')

-Chaconne aux nombres triangulaires, 2000; organ (9')

-Preludio quasi una fantasia, 2009; organ (5’)


-Deux poèmes d’Anne Hébert, 1994; mezzo-soprano and piano (6')

-Souvenirs posthumes, 2002; soprano and piano (11')

-Exercices de style, 2006; soprano, clarinet and piano (13')

-Trois méditations sur la vie céleste de Charles G. 2007; soprano and chamber orchestra (12')

-Plaisirs anciens, 2008; a capella choir (13')


-2011 Dischordia for piano, Jeremy Thompson, McGill Records

-2010 Le projet Mozart for trio with piano, Trio Fibonacci, Centerdiscs CMCCD 15710

-2008 Le livre des mélancolies for clarinet and String Quartet, Quatuor Bozzini and Jean Guy Boisvert, ATMA classique ACD2 2552

-2004 Quatuor à cordes II for String Quartet, Quatuor Bozzini, QB CQB 040

-2004 Vanitas for chamber orchestra, Nouvel ensemble moderne, conductor Lorraine Vaillancourt, ATMA ACD2 2242

-2004 Portrait  of a sentimental Musician  in a Distorting Mirror for  violin and piano, Duo Concertante, ATMA ACD2 2335

-2000 Masques et chimères for eleven instruments, ECM conductor Véronique Lacroix, ATMA ACD 2 2229

-2000 Fantasia stravagante, for piano, Marc Couroux, ATMA ACD2 2180

-1999 La mémoire équivoque, for violin and piano, Julie-Anne Derome Violon, Marc Couroux Piano, SNE-639 CD

-1997 Ivresses songes sourdes nuits, for violin, Julie-Anne Derome, ATMA ACD 2 2117

-1996 Babylone la porte du Dieu, for organ, Giséle Guibord,, Fonovox 7884-2

-1996 Les sensations confuses, for chamber orchestra, Nouvel ensemble moderne, conductor Lorraine Vaillancourt, Ummus UMM1

-1994 Le sentiment océanique, for Octet, ECM conductor Véronique Lacroix, SNE-590

-1992 Les mystères de la clarté, for flute and ondes Martenot, L'ensemble d’ondes de Montréal SNE-574

Curriculum vitae: 
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