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Henri (Enrique) Miro, composer, conductor and critic (1879-1950)

Henri Miro  

Spanish-born musician Henri Miro was an active participant in the musical scene in Montréal from the turn of the twentieth century. Miro enjoyed moderate local and national success as a composer and director of concert music and musical theatre, and was featured on radio broadcasts and popular recordings.

Henri Miro was raised and educated in Spain. (His given name was Enrique; it is not clear when he adopted the name Henri.) His father, a music director with the Spanish army, was his first music instructor. At eight years of age, Henri sang as a choirboy at the Montserrat Basilica, an important Spanish music school. He moved to the Barcelona Conservatory of Music at age sixteen to study under professor Benvenido Socias. There, Miro studied violin, piano and organ, as well as composition and harmony. During this early stage in his career he wrote songs, operettas and religious music.

As with many a young musician at the beginning of his or her career, Miro gained experience in short-term positions in Europe. He was a rehearsal pianist and coach with a theatre in Milan, Italy in 1894 and then with the Barcelona Opera Company. In 1898 he toured France as director of an opera company. He then travelled from Europe to North America, finding a brief engagement with the orchestra of the Hotel Criterion in New York. By early 1901 (possibly as early as 1899), Miro settled in Montréal, where he was offered the post of orchestral director of the Eldorado café (Le Passe-Temps, March 30, 1901). He was to spend the remainder of his career in Montréal, which was a centre of Canadian cultural activity.

  Henri Miro, circa 1901

Miro's Canadian debut as a composer of concert music occurred at Montréal's Monument-National. The occasion was the premiere of his Messe Solennelle, which was performed with two choirs, soloists and full orchestra. This event established Miro as a composer. An ad in the music magazine Le Passe-Temps called the work a masterpiece, and admired his attention to detail in both the orchestration and the vocal parts (Le Passe-Temps, November 21, 1903). His skill in orchestration became a feature for which Miro's later works were also noted.

Advertisement for Miro's "Messe solennelle en ré" in the magazine Le Passe-Temps, November 21, 1903  

Following this successful debut, however, Miro does not seem to have composed a major classical composition until the symphonic poem Luxor, which was not performed until March 1927. Comments on Luxor included appreciation of its "superb" harmonic, rhythmic and colouristic effects (C. Huot, p. 194-5).

On November 6, 1928, Miro's cantata Vox Populi was performed at the Monument-National by the Association des chanteurs de Montréal. An example of the musical nationalism emerging in Canada in the 1920s, this suite quotes from 14 French-Canadian folk songs, including "À la claire fontaine" and "Isabeau s'y promène" (both of which were recorded separately by Éva Gauthier and can be found in the Virtual Gramophone database). Vox Populi was next performed on April 19, 1929 by the Musical Circle of Holyoke, Massachusetts, under the baton of the composer; in June 1929, it was again performed at the stadium in Montréal.

The public did not have to wait as long for the composer's next major concert work. Miro conducted the premiere of Symphonie canadienne (which also contains three popular themes) on October 27, 1931, also in Montréal. In addition to the above works, Miro wrote symphonies, cello concerti, piano pieces and vocal and choral works.

  Conductor Wilfrid Pelletier, circa 1934

Miro achieved national stature in Canada as a composer when his concert work Scènes mauresques won the first Prix Jean-Lallemand in 1936. This national contest, which carried a cash prize of $500, was established by the Montreal Symphony Orchestra to encourage Canadian composers and musical nationalism. Manuscripts were submitted to judges in each province, in addition to five in Montréal. The semi-finalist compositions were performed on national radio and judges' votes were sent in by telegram. Subsequent to this award, Scènes mauresques was conducted in Montréal by Canadian Wilfrid Pelletier (of New York's Metropolitan Opera).

Miro's stage works were welcomed in similar manner, since Canadian musical theatre was rarely staged. His Le Roman de Suzon, an operetta in three acts with lyrics by Henri Letondal, premiered as an amateur production at Montréal's Princess Theatre in 1914. (It was mistakenly called the first operetta composed in Canada, but this honour must go to Joseph Quesnel's Colas et Colinette, 1790.) Miro's opera A Million Dollar Girl (libretto by W. M. Beatty) was produced in April 1915; reviews noted it was a Canadian work and predictions were made for the composer's success. (One of the violinists in this performance was Howard Fogg, who later became associated with the Dumbells.) Le Passe-Temps gave A Million Dollar Girl a favourable review: "Mr. Miro has really surpassed himself, and we heard a composition in all respects interesting and well written, that did not lack for beautiful melodies" (Le Passe-Temps, May 8, 1915). In addition to writing original operettas, Miro directed, in the fall of 1917, Monument-National's opera troupe in various French operettas.

Miro working on a new composition  

Despite the challenges in getting his works staged professionally, Miro essayed a third piece of musical theatre, the operetta Lolita (book by Armand Robi). This was first performed in 1922 by an amateur troupe, and was eventually broadcast on CBC radio on January 9, 1944. Over a decade after Le Roman de Suzon's premiere, Honoré Vaillancourt and the Canadian Operetta Society restaged it on November 25, 1925, at the Monument-National. Again, reviewers praised Miro's melodies and his treatment of the vocal parts (La Lyre, November 1925).

The advent of radio brought new opportunities for Miro's music to be heard by the public without the expense of staging it. In this new medium, he directed a series of broadcasts on operetta and opera in which he included his own works. His other broadcast engagements included directing the Concerts lyriques Frontenac in the fall of 1928; conducting CBC radio programs entitled "Sevilliana" and "Mexicana"; and directing CN (Canadian National Railway) radio's orchestra in 1930-31.

Although his popular and serious music included Canadian thematic content, the music of Miro's homeland naturally remained of interest to him. Miro maintained membership in a society of Spanish orchestra directors. During a trip to Europe that lasted 14 months, he played piano and conducted at the Grand Hotel Ritz in Barcelona during the winter of 1924-5, after which he returned to Canada in June 1925. Some of his short pieces are Latin-American dances that were known in his native Spain, such as paso dobles, habañeras, and tangos.

  Cover of sheet music of "La marche des pompiers de Montréal"

Just as Miro demonstrated expertise in lighter music for the stage, he also wrote many songs for voice and piano, and other light repertoire intended for amateur performance in the home or salon. Le Passe-Temps and La Lyre published dozens of these compositions and arrangements, some written for amateur musicians of moderate abilities; others, like the "Barcarolle impromptue", were more difficult. His romances, waltzes, songs and lullabies appeared over the course of two decades, beginning soon after his arrival in Montréal. He also had songs published in sheet music, such as "La Marche des pompiers de Montréal", 1916, a march of local interest, dedicated to Montréal's fire chief.

Lucio Agostini, circa 1940  

In addition to contributing compositions, as a co-director of La Lyre, Miro reviewed Montréal musical productions and concerts, and wrote essays on instrumentation and other technical topics. He also published a correspondence course on harmony, in which readers were invited to mail completed lessons to the composer for correcting, free of charge (presumably the magazine paid Miro's fees). Advertisements from this period show that his normal fee for harmony lessons was 75 cents. He taught composition both privately and through McGill University; among his most noteworthy students were the award-winning composer-conductor Lucio Agostini, and clarinetist and composer Fleurette Beauchamp.

  Advertisement for recordings by Henri's Orchestra, La Presse, December 1, 1919, p. 16

Like many other Canadian musicians of this period, Miro ventured into the recording studio to record popular songs, departing from his usual repertoire. From 1916 to 1921, he was musical director for the Berliner Gram-o-phone Company; he also worked at Compo, the recording company established by Herbert Berliner in 1919.

Advertisement for Christmas recordings by Miro's Orchestra, La Presse, November 30, 1918, p. 26  

At that time, the public demand for dance music was considerable, as the fad of social dancing was in full swing. As conductor of his own studio orchestras, named variously Henri's Orchestra or Miro's Band, Miro arranged and recorded instrumental music to satisfy the need for dance records. The band's recordings on His Master's Voice, from 1918 to 1922, and on Apex, in 1922, are mostly dance arrangements of sentimental ballads and popular songs from New York's Tin Pan Alley, such as "Sweet and Low", "Ja-Da", and "When My Baby Smiles At Me".

Miro also conducted HMV's cover version of "In a Monastery Garden", a hit which sold over 100 000 records in Canada. Some of Miro's own popular songs were recorded by French artists such as Hector Pellerin, who recorded "L'Aventure". At that time, 78-rpm records usually played only three to four minutes; had the technology lent itself to longer pieces, perhaps Miro would have recorded his concert compositions.

After winning the Prix Jean-Lallemand at age 57, Miro seems to have written little of note. He passed away in 1950. Twelve years after his death, Montréal named Miro Avenue after him to honour his contribution to the cultural life of his adopted home.

For more information on Henri Miro's recordings, please consult the Virtual Gramophone database.

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Huot, Cécile. -- "Évolution de la vie musicale au Québec sous l'influence de Wilfrid Pelletier". -- Dissertation, Université de Toulouse, 1973

La Lyre. -- Vol. 1, no 2 (nov. 1922). -- P. 8-14. -- AMICUS No. 8605789

_____. -- Vol. 3, no 31 (juin/juillet 1925). -- P. 4. -- AMICUS No. 8605789

_____. -- Vol. 3, no 34 (nov. 1925). -- P. 10, 11, 16-19. -- AMICUS No. 8605789

"Miro, Henri". -- Encyclopedia of music in Canada. -- Edited by Helmut Kallmann et al. -- 2nd ed. -- Toronto : University of Toronto Press, c1992. -- xxxii, 1524 p. -- AMICUS No. 12048560

"Miro, Henry (Enrique)". -- Catalogue of Canadian composers. -- Edited by Helmut Kallmann. -- Rev. and enl. ed. -- [Toronto] : Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, [1952] ; St. Clair Shores, Mich. : Scholarly Press, 1972. -- P. 174. -- AMICUS No. 60294

"Musical theatre". -- Encyclopedia of music in Canada. -- Edited by Helmut Kallmann et al. -- 2nd ed. -- Toronto : University of Toronto Press, c1992. -- xxxii, 1524 p. -- AMICUS No. 12048560

"La musique canadienne et la musique contemporaine de l'OSM: parti I - 1935-84". -- La scena musicale. -- (juillet/août 1997). -- AMICUS No. 18220531

Le Passe-temps. -- Vol. 7, no. 157 (30 mars 1901). -- P. 97. -- AMICUS No. 139381

_____. -- Vol. 9, no. 226 (21 novembre 1903). -- P. 170. -- AMICUS No. 139381

_____. -- Vol. 20, no. 507 (29 août 1914). -- P. 326-327. -- AMICUS No. 139381

_____. -- Vol. 21, no. 525 (8 mai 1915). -- P. 162, 168-170. -- AMICUS No. 139381

Proctor, George A. -- Canadian music of the twentieth century. -- Toronto : University of Toronto Press, 1980. -- xxvi, 297 p. -- AMICUS No. 11668874

Soeurs de Sainte-Anne. -- Dictionnaire biographique des musiciens canadiens. -- Lachine, Q[uébec] : Mont-Sainte-Anne, 1935. -- 299, [3] p. -- AMICUS No. 8664525

"Vox Populi". -- Encyclopedia of music in Canada. -- Edited by Helmut Kallmann et al. -- -- Toronto : University of Toronto Press, 1981. -- xxix, 1076 p. -- AMICUS No. 2486128

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