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Featured work

À l’aventure ! (1990)


April 11, 12 and 13, 2017

Prolific and acclaimed around the world, Denis Gougeon is one of the few Canadian composers who can claim to live off his creations alone. Coming to music as a self-taught guitarist, he began his training at Collège Vincent-d’Indy and came to take private classes with composer André Prévost. A few years later he enrolled at Université de Montréal, where he completed a master’s degree under the supervision of composer Serge Garant, one of his models.

Denis Gougeon’s career is punctuated by successful and lasting collaborations. In addition to his position as professor, which he has occupied since 2001 at Université de Montréal, he has been part of close to a dozen collaborations with well-known director Denis Marleau, founder of the company Théâtre UBU, along with some of the most important ensembles in Québec and Canada, among them Nouvel Ensemble Moderne (NEM), Esprit Orchestra in Toronto and Société de musique contemporaine du Québec (SMCQ), who made him the focus of their 2013-2014 Homage Series. And a number of ensembles regularly perform Denis Gougeon’s music outside the country as well. In 2010 his work Toy (Music Box) earned him first prize at the Presences Festival International Composition in Shanghai, a crowning moment for a career already recognized by numerous rewards and distinctions. Between 1989 and 1992, Gougeon was the very first musician to fill the role of composer in residence with the OSM.

Denis Gougeon’s catalogue today numbers over 150 works, intended both for full orchestra and small instrumental ensembles. Eminently narrative, his music invites the listener on a journey. In his huge canvases of sound, Gougeon paints with a range of sounds that incorporates certain instruments rarely heard in our traditional orchestras, as witness his use of the dizi, a traditional Chinese bamboo flute, in Toy (Music Box).

Gougeon had already written more than 30 works by the time he composed À l’aventure! (Off We Go!, 1990), taking a dozen days at most to do so. Premiered on November 1, 1990, by the Orchestre métropolitain under Walter Boudreau, the work was then performed to open the New Music America Festival / Montréal Musique Actuelle. Charles Dutoit and the OSM next played it on their South American tour in the spring of 1991. With this piece, the composer won first prize at the very first composition competition organized by SOCAN.

À l’aventure! is close to rhapsodic in shape, in the manner of Liszt’s symphonic poems. Its free form comprises a succession of varied scenes, sometimes gripping, with their frenzied rhythms, sometimes mysterious thanks to skillfully combined harmonics and orchestral colors. Each tableau contrasts with the preceding one, serving up a world of varied atmospheres. The work thus becomes, ultimately, a vehicle that the music lover boards for a wonderful journey around the world of Denis Gougeon.

Gougeon’s notes on À l’aventure!:

À l’aventure! is written for full orchestra in a single movement but with highly contrasting sections. Adventures are voyages of discovery. And the shape an adventure takes evolves as and when it becomes conscious of itself. So it is with this piece, where what happens is based on the idea of departure, without being confined in any way by a predetermined shape. As a result, surprise and the unexpected are structural elements essential to the work’s personality. Even the ending isn’t one, because there too I wanted to leave the listener in a position of expectation, off balance.

“The idea of À l’aventure! is to present an odyssey through interior spaces, where I seek to take the listener on a voyage; because all emotion is movement, all movement is life and all life entails risks, which arouse emotions.”

– Notes by Denis Gougeon, taken from the work’s score.


In the framework of the homage year it devoted to Denis Gougeon in 2013, the SMCQ produced this short documentary in which the composer recounts his career and talks about his approach.


– Bouliane, Gougeon, Rea. Montréal, ATMA Classique, 2012. (ACD 22395)

– Gougeon : Musique pour le Théâtre UBU. Montréal, Analekta, 2000. (AN 29805)

– La cigale et les violons : Les plus belles fables de Jean de la Fontaine. Montréal, ATMA Classique, 2014. (ACD 22693)

– Music of Denis Gougeon: À l’aventure!. Toronto, Centrediscs, 2006. (CMC-CD 11506)


– DÉCARY, Marie, et Élisabeth Eudes-Pascal. À l’aventure… avec Denis Gougeon ! Montréal, Société de musique contemporaine du Québec, 2013.

– GOLDMAN, Jonathan (dir.). Circuit, musiques contemporaines, “Denis Gougeon en six thèmes,” Vol. 24, No. 1, 2014.

– GOUGEON, Denis, et Gilles Vigneault. Le piano muet. Montréal, Fides, 2002. Contains an audio disc.