Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Caron, Leon Francis Victor (1850–1905)

by Kenneth Hince

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

Leon Francis Victor Caron (1850-1905), by unknown engraver

Leon Francis Victor Caron (1850-1905), by unknown engraver

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, IAN09/10/80/188

Leon Francis Victor Caron (1850-1905), musical director, was born on 13 January 1850 at Boulogne-sur-Mer, France, son of Louis Victor Abel Caron, contractor, and his wife Louise Josephine, née Rimez. He studied music at Boulogne as a young man with the organist Alexandre Guilmant (1837-1911), and remained his lifetime correspondent. The Boulogne Municipal Council sent him to the Paris Conservatoire in the late 1860s, but his studies were interrupted by the Franco-Prussian war, unfortunately for Caron, who in 1870 was short-listed for the Prix de Rome which was not awarded in that year of national crisis. To escape the Paris commune, Caron moved on to London where he was engaged as a violinist in the orchestra of Jules Prudence Rivière (1819-1879) at the Alhambra Theatre. After a year he joined the famous concert orchestra of Theodore Thomas (1835-1905) in America and remained with it until it was disbanded in 1876.

In that year Caron went to Melbourne and made his first appearance as conductor at the Melbourne Opera House. He then accepted the position of conductor with the Lyster Grand Italian Opera Company. In 1880 he won the prize of a hundred guineas offered by the commissioners for an original oratorio or cantata to mark the opening of the Melbourne International Exhibition. The cantata, Victoria, to a poor text by the prohibitionist poet, J. W. Meaden, was first performed under Caron's direction at the start of the exhibition, by a choir of 1000 voices and an orchestra of 125.

In the next decade, for part of which he organized his own company under the title of the Caron Opera Company, he concentrated on performing opera in English, and gave local premières in English of a great many operas, including Bizet's Carmen, Ambroise Thomas's Mignon, Massé's Paul et Virginie and Auber's Fra Diavolo. In April 1889 he joined the Royal Comic Opera Company, directing as its first work the Australian première of The Yeomen of the Guard. In 1887 he was a founder of the Orpheus Club in Sydney, where he was also permitted to give a Sunday concert, one of the first under amended regulations.

Under contract to J. C. Williamson in a Gilbert and Sullivan season which ended in Sydney in February 1905, Caron suffered the first of several heart attacks and against his physician's advice moved with the company to New Zealand. There he resumed work after further illness but left the company and returned to Sydney in May. He died at the Gresham Hotel on the 29th. He was buried in the Anglican section of the Waverley cemetery, after a spectacular procession through the city, and one of the most fatuous funeral orations that can ever have been mouthed. 'It was all very beautiful', the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

His first wife Leonora, whom he had married in America about 1870, predeceased him. He was survived by his second wife Eliza, née Sherwin, a relation of Amy Sherwin, the 'Tasmanian Nightingale', and by their daughter Irma, who made her stage debut in H.M.S. Pinafore in 1905.

In addition to his work as a professional performer Caron published in Australia a substantial quantity of his own music, mostly slight and ephemeral, but an examination of the full score of Victoria, which was published in a fairly accurate vocal score by Allan & Novello in 1880, shows him as a composer of real if minor talent and of polished craftsmanship.

Select Bibliography

  • H. M. Humphreys (ed), Men of the Time in Australia: Victorian series, 2nd ed (Melb, 1882)
  • W. A. Orchard, Music in Australia (Melb, 1952)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 30, 31 May 1905
  • Parkes letters (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Kenneth Hince, 'Caron, Leon Francis Victor (1850–1905)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/caron-leon-francis-victor-3167/text4741, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 29 September 2016.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

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