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8.557306 - GAUBERT: Works for Flute, Vol. 2
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Philippe Gaubert (1879 - 1941)

Philippe Gaubert (1879 - 1941)

Complete Works for Flute, Volume 2


In the mid-nineteenth century the German jeweller, goldsmith and flutist Theobald Boehm applied his considerable talents to the improvement of the flute. The result, after several decades of research and experimentation, was an instrument with greatly improved intonation and a versatile, dependable mechanism. It could be built with a tube of either wood or metal – typically silver. The Boehm flute had a wider compass and a wider dynamic range, and was capable of greater virtuosity than its predecessors, thus providing the greater brilliance and carrying power required in ever-larger orchestras and concert halls.

               Especially when built of silver, the Boehm flute was also found to be more responsive to subtle shadings of timbre, colour, and intensity, characteristics first exploited by the French. The sinuous, slowly unfurling solo line of Debussy’s L’après-midi d’un faune, first given in 1894, proved the flute capable of a radically new range of expression. Debussy and his compatriot Maurice Ravel, the great orchestral colourists of the early twentieth century, developed and expanded the capabilities of the instrument in a wealth of memorable orchestral passages. Each also contributed to the repertoire of the flute in more intimate settings, Debussy most notably with the incidental music to Les chansons de Bilitis (1901), the famous Syrinx for solo flute (1913), and the Sonata for flute, viola and harp (1915), and Ravel with Trois poèmes de Mallarmé and Chansons madécasses.


This heady climate of flute innovation coincided with the early maturity of the distinguished French flutist, composer, conductor and pedagogue Philippe Gaubert. Born in 1879, the fifteen-year-old virtuoso earned his first prize for flute at the Paris Conservatoire just months before the première of L’après-midi d’un faune. In 1903 he received a first prize in fugue, and just two years later he won the Prix de Rome, distinguishing himself from the many competent if unexceptional flutist-composers produced by the Conservatoire. Despite his later professorship at the Paris Conservatoire and his conducting commitments at the Opéra and Société des Concerts, Gaubert composed throughout his lifetime, producing dozens of chamber and orchestral works, several ballets and other stage works, and a large corpus of chansons.


Although Gaubert’s strongest compositional influence was Fauré, he soon incorporated the innovations of Debussy and Ravel in such flute pieces as Soir païen and Médailles antiques (Volume I of this series) and Deux esquisses (Vol. III). Honegger, Koechlin, Ibert, and a few others contributed flute pieces in a similar vein, but Gaubert created almost single-handedly a repertoire of sonatas, chamber works and shorter pieces that reflect the revolution in flute playing initiated by Debussy’s L’après-midi d’un faune.


In the Sonata of 1917 Gaubert takes the unusual step of prescribing specific qualities of sound in certain passages. At the beginning of the first movement the flute is to play avec une sonorité très claire, and at the beginning of the second avec une sonorité calme et pénétrante. The opening theme of the Sonata is followed immediately by a pair of graceful arabesques built on the whole-tone scale, an exotic device made more familiar by its deployment in L’après-midi d’un faune. Throughout the work Gaubert’s many meticulously notated manipulations of tempo, phrasing, and dynamics, and his free elaboration and development of his melodic material give this Sonata, despite its clear forms, a feeling of improvisational freedom and spontaneity. Borrowing a successful device of César Franck, Gaubert brings the work to a satisfying close by paraphrasing, at the end of the last movement, the beginning of the first. The piece is dedicated à la mémoire de mon cher maître Paul Taffanel, who had died in 1908. Gaubert had published several works with flute in the intervening years, but perhaps he felt that this fine sonata was his first effort to be fully worthy of his mentor, collaborator and friend.


The Second Sonata is likewise dedicated to a great and influential flutist, Marcel Moyse. With its pastoral style, restrained dynamics, moderate tempos, long melodic lines, and simple formal layout, the mood of this genial piece is more Apollonian than Dionysian. In the first movement particularly, the music has a smooth surface that calls to mind the mature chamber works of Fauré.


The long lines present quite a challenge to the breath control and interpretive ability of the player. In the classic Taffanel and Gaubert Méthode complète de flûte Gaubert explains, in the section on style, that breaths are sometimes required by the music even when not needed by the performer, and that conversely, in contexts where the music wants to continue uninterrupted, the performer sometimes needs to breathe, and so must incorporate the interruption as unobtrusively as possible. In his edition of the Second Sonata Gaubert gives no suggestions as to when and where this is to be done. This writer (and performer) would like to point out that although digital editing has of course been used in the production of these CDs, it has not been used to spirit away any of the breaths actually taken.


Gaubert’s three flute sonatas all share a three-movement format. Each has faster outer movements flanking a reflective interlude. The three sonatas together repeat this pattern, with the Apollonian Second Sonata flanked by the more outgoing First and Third.


The Third Sonata is the most dramatic of the three, and reverts to the freely improvisatory style of the first. Its third movement is downright rambunctious as it chases the simple four-bar subject through no fewer than eight different tonalities before finally deciding that it is, after all, in G major. This sonata is dedicated to Jean Boulze, solo flutist of the Paris Opéra and the Concerts Lamoureux.


The Sonatine is the last of Gaubert’s works for flute and piano, and is dedicated to Georges Barrère, Gaubert’s Conservatoire classmate, who had moved to the United States in 1905 to become solo flutist of the New York Symphony Orchestra. The second movement is unique among his flute works in its dedication to a composer (Hommage à Schumann). It opens with a theme of Schumannesquely yearning chromaticism, followed by three variations and an extended coda. Both movements, with their wide variety of tempo and mood, effectively convey the feeling of improvisational freedom suggested by the subtitle quasi fantasia. Although it is shorter than the sonatas, the Sonatine continues Gaubert’s lifelong development of expressive and dramatic power.


Fenwick Smith

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