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Composed by composer Alexis Contant in 1904-5, inspired by the biblical story, Cain is regarded as the first Canadian oratorio. It was premiered by a 250-voice choir and a 45-piece orchestra conducted by J.J. Goulet on November 12, 1905 at the Monument national in Montreal, in the presence of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Prime Minister of Canada.

The work, which displays a definite operatic influence, is in three parts: La Haine (the Hatred), Le Sang (the Blood), and La Promesse (the Promise), preceded by an overture. The original 300-page manuscript is deposited at the National Library of Canada.

Selections have been performed on CBC radio, notably in 1958 and 1977, but the complete work was not revived until September 27, 1980 in Victoria, BC, by the Victoria Symphony Orchestra, the Amity Singers, and soloists, under the direction of Paul Freeman. It is a recording of this 1980 performance that can be found in the CMC audio archive.


Alexis Constant (1858-1918) was born and spent his entire life in Montreal. After abandoning public concert activity because of stage fright, Contant devoted himself to composition, teaching music, and playing the organ at St. Jean-Baptiste Church, a position he held from 1885 until his death. He numbered among his students Claude Champagne and Rodolphe Mathieu.

Contant was the first Canadian composer of note to receive all of his training in Canada, though he did spend six months in Boston, studying with his mentor Calixa Lavallée. Largely self-taught, by necessity rather than choice, he worked at his craft by studying the scores of the masters he admired. This training kept him isolated from new ideas. In form and aesthetic, his works resemble those of Gounod, Dubois, and Saint-Saëns, while the elegance of his melodic line is reminiscent of Fauré.

Rose Latulippe Colas et Colinette Centre Elan Atlantic Suite Cain

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