Jean-Baptiste Lafrenière

June 23, 1874 - January 4, 1912

Jean-Baptiste Lafrenière Jean-Baptiste Lafrenière, often considered the "national Strauss" of Canada for his beautiful waltzes, was also, the first known resident to compose and perform ragtime in Montreal. Born June 23, 1874 in the village of Maskinongé, Lafrenière spent most of his youth in Montreal and Louiseville where he studied piano, organ, violin, cornet, and music theory at the College St-Joseph de Berthier (1887-1892). After a year at Laval University in Quebec City, 19-year-old Lafrenière returned home to pursue a frenetic career composing, directing choirs and small orchestras, teaching classical violin and piano, and serving as a church organist and chapel master, first in Louiseville (1893-1895), then in Joliette. In 1898 a rival ousted him from his position as chapel-master at St. Charles Borromée Church (Joliette Cathedral) so Lafrenière headed for Montréal where he worked as the pianist for the Eldorado Café-Concert Orchestra from 1899 to 1901. In 1901 an old bylaw was reenacted that closed all of Montréal's Café-concert halls and changed the direction of Lafrenière's musical pursuits. Finding work as a piano accompanist for several Montreal theaters, he developed an interest in the popular music of the day and began to compose lively marches, two-steps, and Lancers, gorgeous hesitation waltzes and salon pieces, and his pioneering compositions representative of the new American music that was all the rage - ragtime! J. E. Belair published most of Lafrenière's works in his revue Le Passe-Temps. In March 1909 Lafrenière became the accompanist for Montreal's first silent movie theater, La Quimetoscope. He also accompanied the music hall singers at the Théâtre des Nouveautés and continued teaching piano and violin at his home on 329 Sanguinet Street in Montreal. In 1911 he contracted tuberculosis and was forced to subsist on the slender income earned from his music publications. He died January 4, 1912 at the age of 37 leaving behind a widow (Victoria Danis) and two young children. He is buried in the Côte-des-Neiges cemetary in Montreal.

Text by Clément Plante, adapted in English by Nan Bostick.

A music folio titled Jean-Baptiste Lafrenière: Rags & Two-Steps has
been compiled by Clément Plante, and published in 1994 by Foundation
Ragtime du Québec. The music of Lafrenière has also been recorded by
Canadian female pianist, Mimi Blais on the CD entitled Made in Québec.

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