About this Recording
8.225295 - FUMET: Works for Flute (Complete)
English  French 

Raphaël Fumet (1898-1979)
An atypical composer

Son of the composer Dynam-Victor Fumet (1867- 1949), a pupil of César Franck, brother of the writer Stanislas Fumet and father of the flautist Gabriel Fumet, Raphaël Fumet showed his exceptional gifts as a pianist and improviser at a very early age. Parallel to his studies with Vincent d’Indy at the Schola Cantorum, he worked at a number of Paris cinemas, where he was able to improvise directly on the organ to accompany the silent films of the period. His charisma as a musician won him the friendship of many artists, mainly in Montparnasse. He was associated in particular with painters and sculptors still unknown, such as Soutine, Modigliani, Janette Hébuterne, Juan Gris, Joseph Bernard and others.

By nature very independent and with little interest in the bitter divisions occasioned by the aesthetic quarrels of his day, Raphaël Fumet withdrew first to the country, to the famous Collège de Juilly in Seine-et- Marne, where he stayed for ten years as director of music. After the disaster of 1940, he left Juilly with his family and settled at Angers, where he taught piano and harmony at the Conservatoire and served as organist at the Church of St Joseph, continuing there the tradition of his father in almost total isolation.

The history of art has always been that of the genius rather than that, above all in our time, of various academic trends searching for an aesthetic consensus that is ‘historically correct’. The music of Raphaël Fumet offers a particular illustration of this paradox. Although he had to the highest degree the qualities of a creator without equal, he lacked essentially the fundamental social know-how at a time when the composer was totally dependent on institutional structures to manage his work amid the stiffest competition. Doubtless that explains the extraordinary neglect accorded his work, which is only now starting to be published. Certainly the fact that his music never broke away from a line that might be postulated from Monteverdi to Stravinsky, passing through the work of his father Dynam-Victor Fumet, whom he venerated, did not help the promotion of his work in a period when every idiom not boasting to be avant-garde was reputed worthless.

Persuaded that his compositions had little chance of being understood by official institutions, Fumet made practically no attempt to promote his music. ‘I no longer believe in the success of serious music’, he wrote to a friend about one of his works, Le Colloque des Horizons, unfortunately now lost. ‘Modern man wants to enjoy in music something completely alien to harmony, in the universal sense of the word: he wants the sensual or the “scientific” but never love that is like the trees and flowers, which seem to him out of fashion and of no interest. It is true that the realisation of a musical work is such a labour, such an undertaking in one’s own life that there is little time to worry about its perfection, whether one’s dear daughter, on the day she comes out, will have success at the ball …’

Although condemned to write music in silence until his death in Angers in 1979, without ever hearing an echo of what he composed, Raphaël Fumet has left us, in spite of inevitable discouragement, a certain number of works that are significant in their diversity and which bear witness to the anti-conformist freedom of their composer in his search, against all odds, for musical beauty. These include several symphonic works, particularly the great Symphonie de l’âme (Symphony of the Soul), twice performed by the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Pays de Loire under François Bilger and Marc Soustrot, organ and piano pieces, a string quartet, first performed by the Via Nova Quartet and then by the Budapest Quartet, a wind quintet, broadcast on Radio France by members of the French Orchestre National, flute music recorded for Naxos by Gabriel Fumet, Benoît Fromanger, Philippe Perlot and others (Naxos 8.554082), and various chamber works, some of which have been recorded by Arion (ARN68475). Listening to these significant works one must consider that there is not one unique and inescapable path in the history of art but different directions sometimes contradictory and, in certain cases, bringing possible returns to earlier horizons.

Frondaison (Foliage), for flute and piano, was written for the film ‘Entre ciel et terre (Between Heaven and Earth), and is a sort of incantation to the desert, wehere the composer seems to question the night, recalling the Ode concertante for flute and orchestra, written much later, where the composer shares his reflections on the difficult relations between the techniques of strict harmony and a melody truly freed from the limits of tonality and of rhythmic symmetry, like bird-song. It was originally written for flute and organ, but can also be played by flute and piano.

The Trio for flutes was written in 1956 for Fumet’s chamber-music class at the Angers Conservatoire. The work demonstrates exceptional richness of texture in view of the medium employed.

In 1958 the Baroque renaissance began to take off, thanks to recording. Fumet was aware of this and in his Diptyque baroque shows an interest in the blending of two timbres rarely heard together, that of the flute and of the viola, making use of the spirit of the Baroque, while keeping a surprising originality in a style already so familiar.

The Intermède romantique for flute and piano was written in the 1970s and shows very well the composer’s independence of spirit at a time when serialism triumphed, not hesitating to give free rein to his romantic impulses. Of considerable subtlety, in spite of its apparently traditional writing, it demands particular concentration and insight on the part of performers in order to express all the magic of its paradoxical novelty.

At the limit of total consciousness, Interpolaire, with its unusual title, attempts to resolve difficult relationships of tonality and a completely free melodic range. Here tonal attraction remains, even if the melody tries to escape to return to its own sphere, a feature that explains the title Interpolaire, between the poles of attraction of tonality.

The Cantate biblique, for four flutes and cello, was written for the same film as Frondaison, showing pictures of Israel under the title Entre ciel et terre (Between Heaven and Earth). In this musical fresco, an evocation of holy places, the composer’s inspiration was drawn from what he himself called ‘earlier horizons’, which doubtless explains his more traditional musical language, although clothed in a perfectly original form, as much in the very unusual instrumentation as in the unexpected choice of means of expression that recall the form of the cantata. The great success of this music, originally intended as an interior commentary on biblical scenes, encouraged the composer to make of it a separate work.

Fumet’s Quatuor pour flûtes (Quartet for flutes) was written at the same period as the Cantate biblique. It reflects a new poetry, full of freshness and invention, in a musical language more contemporary in its clashes of stress, although always part of natural life.

Lacrymosa was originally written for viola and piano, with the present version for flute and piano, by Fumet, slightly different. A faultless melody, simple and serious, is set against extraordinary harmonies that, in spite of their apparent simplicity, bear witness to the composer’s powers of aural perception.

The Ode concertante, for flute and string orchestra, here in a version for flute and piano, is characterized by the astonishing dimension of the rôle allotted for the first time to the flute. At a time when this instrument was enjoying particular success, it was important to write a work that was completely different and could rival the violin or the voice, as much by the depth of the musical content entrusted to it as by the range, which explores all possibilities. The composer himself wrote as follows:

‘The Ode concertante came about, in the first place, as the result of long reflection on the difficult relationship between the techniques of strict harmony and a melody freed from tonal restrictions and rhythmic symmetry. Atonalism too has so often become a troublesome discipline! And yet! What is more atonal and more exemplary than the song of birds, so free, rising above the rooted forms, like trees, to discover new horizons? ... Shall I take this image, this ideal example, to translate into words what I have tried to do in terms of sound? My purpose as a composer has nothing literary about it! But the form of my Ode is not traditional, therefore it escapes, perhaps, from the traditional rules of musical analysis.’

Gabriel Fumet
(English version by Keith Anderson)

Close the window