tudes is widely regarded as the only important piece of music or anything else to emerge from Quebec during the 20th century. That LaGruyère received critical acclaim is even more startling when one considers that Etudes was his first and only attempt at composition and that he had split personalities, one of which was trying to bathe the other. So disturbed was he that following his debut in 1960, LaGruyère placed himself under the watch of the renowned phlebotomist Dr. Weltschmerz, and has not been seen since.
In an effort to better appreciate this Quebecois’ chef d’oeuvre, musical historians have documented LaGruyère’s two personalities. The first, Georges, was an antiestablishment newspaperman who criticized big business, politics, and the powerful stenographer unions of his day. As a result, he was often the target of mob violence, and on more than one occasion was caused to read shorthand poetry at gunpoint. Georges easily dismissed social customs and bragged that he was not a sheep; for instance he regularly attended the theater wearing a nightshirt and was not ashamed of asking the waiter to box up his leftovers. Marcel, on the other hand, earned his living as a feltmonger, and besides trying to bathe George, was most interested in Arab women. Although Marcel listed himself as the sole author of Etudes, his claim is incredible—it is impossible that such an epic score could have been written by just one person, and the work bears the distinct prints of both personalities. We can safely assume, for instance, that the nude Jordanian at the glockenspiel was Marcel’s creation; but when she dons a pajama top and places the hammers in a doggie bag, we smile as we imagine Georges wresting control of the pen, if only for a brief moment.
Moreover, given that Etudes is primarily an exploration of death and that Georges was in constant fear of losing his life at the hands of mobsters, it is possible that Georges not only collaborated with Marcel on the composition, but was in fact the more important of the two authors. Like most French-Canadians, Georges viewed life as a meaningless existence, but did not share his contemporaries’ optimism that death constituted the extinguishing of the soul. Rather, Georges’s terrible vision was that death was the gateway to a world even more miserable than this one, a world something like Buffalo, but without prostitutes. For his part, Marcel took comfort in the thought of an afterlife because the eternities would certainly provide him plenty of opportunities to strangle Georges if he failed to do so on Earth. As you listen to Etudes, see if you can divine which portions were composed by Georges and which were composed by Marcel. Such an exercise can only enrich your enjoyment of this piece!