One of Quebec’s leading acts of the 1970s, the folk-rock band Harmonium bridged Canada’s two solitudes by achieving commercial and artistic success in French and English Canada alike.
Harmonium’s founders Serge Fiori, Michel Normandeau and Louis Valois began performing as a trio in Montreal in 1973, seeking to carve a niche between the intimacy of the chansonniers and the bolder sounds of Franco-American rock. Little did they know that their innovative blend of folk, rock and jazz would rapidly take Harmonium all the way to the top.
Harmonium was signed to Quality’s Celebration Records label, recording their self-titled debut album at Tempo Studios in Montreal in January 1974. This first effort comprised songs written by Fiori or co-written with Normandeau; this highly successful writing partnership was to endure throughout the group’s lifespan.
In mere months the “Harmonium” album sold 100,000 copies and topped the Quebec charts. Radio stations did the unheard of, playing the sought-after album in its entirety, along with its hit single, Pour un instant.
Harmonium rapidly went from playing Montreal’s clubs, campuses and schools – both French and English – to selling out Place des Arts and playing to packed outdoor crowds of over 300,000 fans in Quebec. They also performed, in French, throughout English Canada to delighted audiences including Toronto (at Massey Hall) and Vancouver.
Their second album, “Si on avait besoin d’un cinquième saison,” was released in 1975. This Juno-nominated offering began to chart while their first album had not yet faded from the charts. The album featured Fiori’s Dixie, plus songs by the Fiori-Normandeau partnership, and the keyboard work of Serge Locat. “Les cinq saisons” has been deservedly named by “Rolling Stone” as one of that magazine’s top progressive-rock album choices.
Harmonium’s final studio album (and its first gold album), the hypnotic and sophisticated double album “L’Heptade,” was launched in the autumn of 1976. Noteworthy for its masterful blending of rock, folk and jazz with classical orchestral interludes written by Neil Chotem, “L’Heptade” showcased songwriting contributions from Fiori, Normandeau, Locat, and Valois.
This period saw Harmonium receive a Juno nomination for group of the year and tour to London, England and Europe with Supertramp. The following autumn found Harmonium in California, promoting Quebec music and culture.
In 1980 Harmonium released their only live album, “Harmonium en tournée.” Twenty-six years later, the remixed “Heptade XL” was received enthusiastically, reaching No. 3 on Billboard’s Canadian album chart.
Having achieved iconic status in their home province of Quebec, Harmonium has forged an impact far exceeding their modest output. Their “L’heptade” album has reached quadruple platinum sales, “Harmonium” double platinum, and “Les cinq saisons” platinum. The band has received several SOCAN Classic awards, and an honorary Félix award, and their songs have been covered by top Quebec acts including Les Respectables, Sylvain Cossette, Eleanor McCain, Boom Desjardins, the cellist Jorane, and Lawrence Gowan.
From delicate guitar work reminiscent of the best of The Beatles and The Byrds, to elaborate jazz stylings, to classical interludes reminiscent of Debussy and Philip Glass, the music of Harmonium continues to transcend linguistic and cultural boundaries.