Last term at the Royal College of Music, a few of my pupils were learning the Jouers de flûte by Albert Roussel. For those of you who don’t know the piece, it is a suite containing four movements, each named after a flute player from literature with each one being dedicated to a flute player of the time. These are the movements.
1. Pan - A god from Greek Mythology. Half man, half goat, not a hit with the ladies. He plays the pan pipes (from where they get their name). The piece is dedicated to Marcel Moyse - a flute player to whom entire generations have given god like status, although I can neither confirm nor deny the goatiness of his legs.
2. Tityre - Always a nightmare to introduce at dinner parties. Tityre, or for short to his friends...er...Tityre, was a shepherd from Virgil’s Eclogues. This one is dedicated to flute professor at the Paris Conservatoire, Gaston Blanquart. Flute Fact - He won 1st prize in Paris in 1898 playing the premiere of Faure Fantasie when it hadn’t been played to death. He also played in the premiere of The Rite of Spring and Pierrot Lunaire.
3. Krishna - The Hindu god. When he was young he played the flute and mesmerised people and animals. My dog leaves the room when I play. Roussel uses an Indian scale in this movement with flattened 2 and 6, augmented 4th, perfect 5th, major 3rd and 7th. This piece is dedicated to Louis Fleury, famous as the dedicatee of Syrinx. I expect you’ve heard of it as flute players always play it when there’s no piano.
4. Monsieur de la Péjaudie - Mr P is the main character in the novel, La Pécheresse by Henri de Régnier. It won’t surprise you to know that he is an awesome flute player but also a womaniser. In all honesty, he was more interested in the latter. It is dedicated to Philippe Gaubert. He was a well known flautist, conductor and teacher and composer of flute music that mainly only flute players have heard.
I really like the concept of pieces which form little portraits of famous fictional flute players and are dedicated to famous, real flute players. I would love to know just how much Roussel had a cheeky wink at dedicating a piece about a womanising flautist to one of the most respected musicians of the day! I can’t think of another piece that does this for the flute - maybe you know better than I. Programmatic music, musical portraits etc aren’t new, but I think that we could do with an updated version of jouers for the 21st century. Not only are there now thousands of really talented and influential flautists according to twitter who could be worthy dedicatees, but there are also a whole new generation of literary flute players. But why stop there? Let’s really update the concept.
Last night, I went to the cinema with my son to see Mission Impossible:Rogue Nation. I had the pleasure of interviewing Lalo Schifrin, the composer of one of the most recognisable flute tunes of all time, a few years ago and he was one cool dude. It was great to hear the familiar melody being used throughout the film instead of yet another generic trumpet theme. Ethan, Tom Cruise’s character, is an intelligent and ingenious man, so naturally the flute is the choice for his leitmotif. Another use of lovely music in the film was a performance in Vienna of Turandot. I was enjoying it whilst Tom pursued some baddies, one of whom was carrying a baddass bass flute case. Naturally one has to suspend disbelief for the char chases and motorbike jumps and all the other stunts, but seriously? I mean come on. The guy with the bass flute goes through security to get in. He has the case opened so we can all see it’s a bass flute. The woman looks him up and down and checks him off her list and he walks through! Unbelievable! Now I know that Tom Cruise can’t really survive drowning or hold onto the outside of a plane whilst it takes off or survive a high speed motorbike crash with no protective head gear, but everybody knows that there is NO BASS FLUTE IN TURANDOT. Madness, I tell you, madness.
Anyway, without giving anything away if you haven’t seen the entirely predictable film, the bass flute turns out to be a gun! It’s the first time in history that you’ve been able to hear a bass flute without amplification. The flute was sourced by friend to the stars, Gareth McLearnon and obtained from Just Flutes and has gained instant celebrity status. It got me thinking. There are many flutes appearing in contemporary film and surely some enterprising composers and flautists could get together to write a Jouers de flûte v2.0.
Here are a few suggestions aside from Tom Cruise.
Name not familiar? Fictional flautist of the Baltimore Philharmonic Orchestra who spreads Midsummer Nights dream all over the concert hall much to the annoyance of his doctor, Hannibal Lector. It quickly turns into Midsummer Murders In the film Red Dragon. The flute player in the clip is played by Tim Wheater who is acting and can in fact play beautifully.
This character could perhaps be written by a composer who is happy to explore the dark side of the human condition and who hates Mendelssohn. Dedicated to flute players who enjoy a nice Chianti such as...well...any flute player really.
2. Ron Burgundy
The classiest flute player in San Diego. Fictional news anchorman from the film of the same name, Ron gets up to play a little jazz flute under duress in a restaurant. Fire ensues. It’s hilarious and has inspired a whole new generation of kids to not take up jazz flute. The actual playing is performed by Katisse Buckingham who in real life is way cooler than Ron. Sorry Ron.
3. Busker No. 2
The 1996 film, Foreign Moon directed by Zeming Zhang. A story about a Chinese flute student who must marry a middle aged man whilst grappling with the culture shock of studying in London. She goes busking in Deptford market in a crucial scene where she plays with busker no 1, played by violinist Laura Melhuish and Busker no 2, played by...er...me. Fortunately, it’s only now available on download from BFI so there are no you tube clips and it is my debut and only on screen appearance given my face for radio.
So, over to you. More film flautists with composer and dedicatee suggestions please.
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