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ClassicsOnline Home » GAUBERT: Works for Flute, Vol. 1
Philippe Gaubert (1879 - 1941)
Complete Works for Flute, Volume 1
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 was appointed in 1919, at the age
of forty, to three positions that placed him in the highest échelons of French
musical life: 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.
Gaubert’s fourteen works for flute and piano have long been
standard repertoire, but the six chamber works presented here, all of
comparable quality, have remained obscure. This recording unites them for the first
time, bracketed by two works for flute and piano. Gaubert himself recorded the
opening Madrigal, one of his best-loved pieces, and one that provides a
succinct introduction to the virtues of his several miniatures for the flute:
clarity of form, economy of means, and warmth of expression.
Trois aquarelles (Three Watercolours) is the first of
Gaubert’s trios for flute, cello, and piano. The ebullient, big-boned, D major
opening of Par un clair matin (On a Clear Morning) exploits the full resources
of the three instruments before subsiding into a serene middle section with
impressionistic washes of colour and mercurial harmonic shifts. The
recapitulation takes an unexpectedly long time to arrive – Gaubert takes us up
several blind alleys and lands in several wrong keys before finally returning,
triumphantly, to D major. The broad expressive arch of Soir d’automne (Autumn
Evening) is followed by a Sérénade with a tinge of the Middle East about it –
and a puckish, throw-away ending. Gaubert penned these pieces under improbable
circumstances, in the trenches of World War I. He served his country with
distinction but was dismissed from active duty because of chronic bronchitis;
he was named a chevalier de la Légion d’honneur in 1921.
In Divertissement grec Gaubert improves the irresistible
combination of flute and harp by incorporating the equally irresistible
sonority of flutes in thirds. I was honoured in this recording to play second
to the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s then principal flute, Jacques Zoon, who
famously plays a wooden instrument made in Paris about a century ago. To better
match his unique sonority I also used a wooden flute in Divertissement grec.
The classical motif continues with Soir païen (Pagan Dusk).
According to Greek mythology Diana (or Artemis), virgin goddess of the moon and
of the hunt, fell in love with the mortal shepherd Endymion and petitioned Zeus
to preserve his beauty in eternal slumber, thereby preserving her virginity as
well. Albert Samain’s poem (see page 6), and Philippe Gaubert’s chanson,
sensuously set the scene for a moonstruck rendezvous between the goddess and
her immortal if ineffectual lover. In dedicating this haunting little gem to
one Suzanne Millet, Gaubert appears to have had an ulterior motive: she
subsequently became his first wife.
In Gaubert’s first published piece, the Tarentelle for
flute, oboe and piano, the 24-year-old composer displays an easy mastery of
counterpoint, testimony to the rigorous training of the Paris Conservatoire,
and his own effortless melodic gift. He dedicates the work à mon cher maître
Paul Taffanel, professor of flute at the Conservatoire from 1893 until his
death in 1908. Throughout his career Taffanel had gathered material for a
comprehensive treatise covering the history, theory and practice of the flute.
Shortly before his death he entrusted this archive to his favourite pupil,
Gaubert, who in 1923 finally completed the project and brought it to
publication. To this day the Taffanel & Gaubert Méthode complète de flûte
remains an indispensable guide and inspiration to flautists throughout the
With the Pièce romantique Gaubert revisits the felicitous
combination of flute, cello and piano. This beautifully sustained lyrical
outpouring shows a considerable advance in compositional technique and security
during the decade since the publication of Trois aquarelles. It evolves from
two themes: the cello’s broad, exploratory opening melody is contrasted, about
halfway through the piece, by a gently rocking tune in 6/8 time, in the pure
high register of the flute. To close the work Gaubert combines the two,
fortissimo, in an elegiac and particularly satisfying coda.
Our final chamber piece evokes images found on a pair of
Médailles antiques (Ancient Medallions). Nymphes à la fontaine opens with
closely interlocking figuration divided among flute, violin and piano,
effectively calling to mind the glitter and splash of a bubbling spring, and
reminding us that Gaubert learned a thing or two from his great compatriots
Ravel and Debussy. The nymphs are depicted in languid, sensuous violin solos,
abetted intermittently by the flute. The piano’s proposal of a danse vif is
first ignored, then taken up by the violin, and finally by the flute, in a
playful, light-footed conclusion.
With the Suite we return to the pairing of flute and piano.
This genial confection, like most of the intervening chamber works, evokes
exotic subjects in the opening movements before returning to traditional
European models in the Barcarolle and Scherzo-valse. Gaubert dedicated the four
movements to four of the finest representatives of the French school of flute
playing: Georges Barrère, Louis Fleury, Marcel Moyse, and Georges Laurent.
Three of these enjoyed long and distinguished careers in the United States: Barrère
as first flute of the New York Symphony Orchestra, Laurent in the same position
with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and Moyse as a founding member of the
Marlboro School and Festival in Vermont. All three were also dedicated teachers
who together spread the salutary influence of the French school of flute
playing throughout the United States.
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GAUBERT: Works for Flute, Vol. 1