PHILIPPE GAUBERT (1879 - 1941)
Born into a musical family, his father being an amateur clarinettist, Gaubert initially studied the violin; but at the age of seven, at his own request, he started to learn the flute after his family had moved to Paris. His first lessons were with Jules Taffanel, father of the distinguished flautist Paul Taffanel, but in 1890, impressed by his undoubted talent, Jules persuaded Paul to take the boy on as a pupil. He entered the Paris Conservatoire when Taffanel became professor of flute there in 1893, also studying harmony with Pugno and Leroux and composition with Lenepveu. Having won the first prize for flute playing in 1894, in 1897 Gaubert became a member of the orchestras of the Paris Opera and of the Paris Conservatoire, swiftly achieving fame as a soloist. He continued to work closely with Taffanel, whose most distinguished pupil he was to be, and, after Taffanel’s death in 1908 he collaborated with Lois Fleury in completing a history and method of flute playing which remains a standard text.
Gaubert’s composition studies progressed hand-in-hand with his practical work. In 1903 he won the first prize for fugue at the Conservatoire, and two years later he took the second place in the Prix de Rome for composition. He was appointed as second conductor of the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra in 1904, working alongside André Messager (the principal conductor) and Georges Marty, while maintaining his position as solo flute. In the same year he was selected by the prima donna Nellie Melba to accompany her in concert and on her first recordings. Later, in 1913, he joined the conducting corps of the Paris Opera under the guidance of Camille Chevillard. During World War I Gaubert enlisted in the French army and saw action at Verdun.
After the end of the war his career rapidly took off: in 1919 he was appointed to succeed Messager at the head of the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra, remaining in this post until 1938, and in addition he became professor of flute at the Conservatoire. The following year, 1920, he became first conductor at the Paris Opera, and four years later in 1924, chief conductor, holding this position until 1939. From 1923 onwards Gaubert ceased to play the flute professionally in favour of conducting, although he maintained his flute professorship at the Conservatoire until 1931, when he switched to become professor of conducting. Following the outbreak of World War II, in1940 he became chief conductor at the Opera once more, but this was a position he was to hold for only a short while since in 1941 he died unexpectedly following a cerebral haemorrhage.
With both the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra and the Paris Opera Gaubert was a tireless champion of contemporary French music and composers. He conducted many works by composers such as Debussy, Ravel, Dukas and Florent Schmitt, as well as the first performances of Padmâvatî (1923) and Bacchus et Ariane (1931) by Roussel, Oedipe (1936) by Enescu, and numerous scores by Fauré, Pierné, Ibert, and Sauguet. He also led the first performances in Paris of many significant scores by non-French composers, such as Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier and Elektra and Puccini’s Turandot, and in 1934 and 1935 he presented the first modern performances in France of Monteverdi’s Orfeo with the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra. He composed prolifically: not only many pieces of chamber music featuring the flute, but also operas (Sonia, Naïla), ballets (Alexandre le Grand, Le Chevalier et la Damoiselle, both choreographed by Serge Lifar), and orchestral works (Le Cortège d’Amphitrite, and a symphony).
Gaubert was active as a recording conductor between 1927 and 1938. Initially he and the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra recorded for the Columbia label, during 1927 and 1928 recording shorter works by Borodin, Mozart, Mussorgsky and Wagner, as well as French music by Debussy, Dukas, Fauré and Ravel (historic accounts of two of the Nocturnes, Nuages and Fêtes; L’Apprenti sorcier; the Nocturne from Shylock; the Sicilienne from the incidental music to Pelléas et Mélisande; and La Valse). Later, during 1929 and 1930, larger works were committed to disc, such as the Symphony by César Franck, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 ‘Pathétique’, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade, as well as repertoire pieces such as Chabrier’s Marche Joyeuse. The outstanding recordings of this period were those made with the pianist Marguerite Long of Fauré’s Ballade and Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2, which won the Grand Prix du Disque of 1930.
In that year the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra changed recording companies, moving to the Compagnie Française du Gramophone, the French affiliate of the English Gramophone Company, and of which the Italian conductor Piero Coppola was musical director. Gaubert was an exclusive artist of the Columbia label, and went on to record a scintillating reading of the Second Suite from Ravel’s ballet score Daphnis et Chloé with the Straram Orchestra, a powerful account of the Overture to Lalo’s opera Le Roi d’Ys, and excerpts from Delibes’s ballet Coppélia, which well displayed his strengths in terms of style. Towards the end of his career, and after the formation of EMI and the absorption of the Columbia marque, Gaubert once more recorded with the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra, notably in two of his own compositions, Les Chants de la mer and Les Inscriptions pour les portes de la ville, as well as the Hungarian March from Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust. Gaubert’s conducting was notable for its rhythmic precision, vivid colours (albeit slightly clouded by the recording process of the period), refined timbres and musical sensitivity. His mastery lives on in the work of his pupils, such as the conductor Jean Fournet.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Conductors, Naxos 8.558087–90).