One of my most precious musical memories is of sitting on stage, my part played out, listening to the dying embers of Mahler’s 9th symphony. Bernard Haitink guided the LSO through a performance which transfixed 6000 prommers at the Royal Albert Hall. The space between final tones and silence impossible to determine, the hush of held breath and hearts beating before thunderous applause. It was a moment I’ll never forget, the mixture of Bernard, the LSO, Mahler and The Proms. Anyone who’s ever played in a Prom will tell you just how special an occasion it is. I was playing again this year with the LSO under Gergiev as we made our way through all five Prokofiev concerti; an exhausting but exhilarating evening (Although the Prommers applauding the leader giving the A on the piano gag did get a little tired by the 4th concerto). I was back this week in a guise which I have written about before on this blog, the nervous parent. My son was playing at the proms for the first time. It was a performance with Sir Mark Elder and the National Youth Orchestra, and they too were playing Mahler 9. Wonderful.
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.
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