About this Recording
8.557307 - GAUBERT: Works for Flute, Vol. 3
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Philippe Gaubert (1879 - 1941)
Complete Works for Flute, Volume 3

Philippe Gaubert was among the most prominent French musicians of the period between the two world wars. After a distinguished career as flautist with the Paris Opéra, he received in 1919, at the age of forty, three appointments that catapulted him into the highest échelons of French musical life, with appointments as professor of flute at the Paris Conservatoire, principal conductor of the Paris Opéra, and principal conductor of the Société des Concerts. As a composer, Gaubert was not an innovator, but he assimilated many of the innovations of Franck, Ravel and Debussy, leaving not only music for the flute but also contributions to opera, ballet, orchestral music and songs.

A wind player, when preparing to perform, will often choose a comfortable note and repeat it a few times until the embouchure begins to feel right, the instrument is warmed by the player’s breath, and sound and expression come into focus. So begins, beguilingly, Soir sur la plaine (Evening on the Plain), with a brief warm-up centered on G sharp. For good measure, the flautist repeats the exercise down an octave, whereupon the piano chimes in with a few chords, and having determined that our G sharps are in tune, we launch into the piece itself. As it turns out, the opening warm-up has sufficient musical merit to warrant returning several times including, satisfyingly, as the movement’s conclusion. The following Orientale, the second of the Deux esquisses (Two Sketches) gives a glimpse, from a safe distance, of the mysterious and exotic East.

The striking opening of Soir sur la plaine harks back to Debussy’s Afternoon of a Faun, which happens to outline the same ambiguous interval, the tritone, in its opening flute solo. Philippe Gaubert created almost single-handedly a repertoire of sonatas, chamber works and shorter pieces that reflect the revolution in flute playing initiated by Debussy and by the flute-maker Theobald Boehm, which is described more fully in Volume II of this series (Naxos 8.557306).

Nocturne and Allegro scherzando upholds the high standard of Fauré’s Fantaisie, the Paris Conservatoire’s examination piece for 1898. To put flautists succinctly through their paces, both pieces consist of a lyrical introduction and a virtuosic conclusion. Gaubert’s Fantaisie and Ballade share a similar lay-out, expanded to include brief cadenzas and greater expressive variety, and, in the case of the Ballade, a calm conclusion.

It is regrettable that Gaubert never wrote a flute concerto. As the composer of many successful largescale orchestral works, he would have been a prime candidate for the task. He did, however, compose the brief Sicilienne for flute and orchestra, which would serve admirably as an encore after a flute concerto, but which has achieved wider currency in a transcription for flute and piano, presumably by Gaubert himself.

The two Romances, composed just a few years apart, form a contrasting pair. The first is one of Gaubert’s most effectively sustained lyrical outpourings, shapely, long-lined, and wide ranging, while the second, a shorter affair by half, is by turns whimsical and impetuous. The barcarolle Sur l’eau (On the Water), in the unusual tonality of G flat major, and with a rippling accompaniment in the baritone register of the piano, effectively evokes a Venetian gondola gliding smoothly, low in the water. We bid good night to our survey of Gaubert’s flute music with the Berceuse, or Lullaby, as it gently rocks in 6/8 time, and unfurls an artlessly simple tune that is yet another example of Gaubert’s genial melodic gift.

By the mid nineteenth century the Industrial Revolution had created a numerous, leisurely, and wellto- do middle class in England and on the Continent, and with it came a growing demand for music to grace the bourgeois home. No respectable Victorian parlour lacked a piano; a modicum of musical ability was among the expected accomplishments of a lady, and was not considered suspect in a gentleman. Theobald Boehm’s contemporaneous improvements to the flute brought a tolerable level of accomplishment on that instrument within reach of a large and enthusiastic public, while concert-giving flute virtuosi became popular and successful as never before. Meanwhile an expanding music-publishing business thrived on the demand for new material, which was satisfied by an effusion of salon pieces, variations on Scottish and Irish airs, and potpourris on popular opera tunes, all penned by a host of distinctly minor composers, most of them flautists themselves. At the Paris Conservatoire, for example, there was an unbroken tradition from 1868 to 1893 of required graduation pieces by faculty flautists Tulou, Altès, and Demersseman. Meanwhile such stuffy ancients as Bach, Gluck, Lully and Mozart languished in obscurity.

As Philippe Gaubert graduated from the Paris Conservatoire in 1894 this technically brilliant but musically impoverished tradition was beginning to change. With his mentor Paul Taffanel in place as the Conservatoire’s flute professor, such names as Fauré and Enesco began to appear on the annual graduation pieces; Mozart, now considered indispensable in any flute audition, was first assigned in 1918.

Throughout his career Taffanel had gathered material for a comprehensive treatise covering the history, theory, and practice of the flute. Shortly before his death in 1908 he entrusted this archive to his favourite pupil, Gaubert, who in 1923 finally completed the project, publishing it as the Taffanel & Gaubert Méthode complète de flûte. In addition to the expected treatment of scales, arpeggios, articulation, and other technical topics, Gaubert included a generous selection of orchestral excerpts and a chapter on style, with detailed advice on the interpretation of such classics as the Adagio from Bach’s Sonata in B minor, and the Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Gluck’s Orpheus.

In a further effort to revive the baroque and classical flute repertoire Gaubert initiated in 1910 a series of transcriptions, with assistance from George Catherine in the preparation of piano accompaniments. As Gaubert became increasingly busy with his conducting commitments, noted flautists Marcel Moyse, Louis Fleury and Fernand Caratgé also contributed transcriptions to the series. In 1927 Leduc published the collection under the title Les Classiques de la flûte. Gaubert’s contribution to the project consisted of some thirty titles, including multiple selections by Gluck, Lully, Schumann, Chopin and others, and giving flautists ready access to a broad variety of musical styles.

Since it was not possible – or even desirable – to include all of Gaubert’s transcriptions in this recording project, we have chosen a single transcription to represent each composer. The dozen names will be familiar to most music-lovers, with the possible exception of André Campra, a leading figure in French theatrical and sacred music in the early eighteenth century, and André-Ernest-Modeste Grétry, who later in the same century was similarly influential in opéra comique. Two of the selections could use identification more specific than what Gaubert and Leduc provided: the Beethoven Mélodie is a lied entitled Zärtliche Liebe (Tender Love), and Handel’s Petite Marche exists in three versions, the most familiar of which is probably the third movement of the Trio Sonata, Op. 5 No. 2. Handel, an inveterate borrower and arranger of his own and others’ music, would surely not have been surprised to encounter a fourth version of this catchy and goodnatured tune.

Fenwick Smith

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