Rampal and Dufrene

    This Quarter brings the sad news of the deaths of two great flute players who have had an enormous influence on me personally.

    Firstly in may we heard the news of the death of Jean-Pierre Rampal, aged 78 who had created a huge international career, and made more recordings than anyone in the world on any instrument. He unearthed a huge quantity of Baroque music, and published countless editions of all sorts of pieces. He had a special flair for writing tasteful and elegant cadenzas – and sometimes he conducted (& quite well at that!).

    He was tall and amply proportioned, but moved graciously and easily, giving the impression that his feet were not so much supporting him as much as tethering the large balloon of his body down to earth. He would often raise himself onto his toes and lift up the flute for a special high note. His head, which appeared as quite small on his large body, was very freely perched on top of his spine, bobbing about and nodding, carrying his amused smile and sparkling brown eyes.

    He was the first “Man with the Golden flute “ - the first really big international superstar – but his repute came more from his musical sparkle and the happy personality which radiated to the audience than from the yellow tube he carried so elegantly. He also had a wonderful facility, which he could sustain without much practise – and a wonderful way of taking quick breaths without interrupting the flow of the music.

    I was lucky enough to get a few lessons with him whilst a student in Paris – and was instantly delighted with him – his humour, and his generosity – especially for his sharing my enthusiasm for other great players such as Moyse, Dufrene & Crunelle, and also for refusing to accept payment for the lessons! On My first visit he asked what I wanted to find out from him – and I told him that I wanted to find his detache in the low register, - at which he laughed ( as if everyone else wanted that too) and then went on to show me how to use the Taffanel scales to work towards this. He then went on to show me much more than I had imagined about how to shape the scales into music, trying to seduce the ear of the imaginary impresario who was on the other side of the door, and how practise the scales for working at the quick breath. He was very concerned in a piece about the rise and fall of a phrase, sometimes leading towards the actual top note more than to the first of the bar at the summit, and sometimes concerned about the rise and fall of a semitone. He was unscrupulous about changing the articulation if he thought it would improve the music, apparently guided more by instinct than reason. Many teachers say that one should practice until everything is 200% certain, but Rampal was a risker who said “Don’t go mad practising all those high D’s in the first movement of the Prokofiev, many players get in a bad state if they miss one, but I sometimes miss them all and still I get success with the piece because I practised the musical bits” – and he said “ Why bother practising long B-flat's? – Somebody put the thumb B-flat and the side lever to make life easier!”

    He once told me that he was on tour in the USA and he lost his Gold Haynes flute in an airport, only discovering it’s absence on reaching his final destination, but still he relaxed and enjoyed a good meal and a film that evening, and the flute turned up the next day – and he didn’t lose any sleep over it!

    Once I played an afternoon recital for the New York Flute Club, and walked onto the platform to see Jean-Pierre in the audience, his head rocking gently backwards and forwards and wearing that slightly amused smile. His presence was in no way intimidating, Just supportive in the nicest possible way –and of course afterwards we went out and had a large quantity of smoke salmon & scotch, and played duets and trios all evening, notwithstanding that he was playing the Khachiaturian Concerto the next day in Carnegie hall. During the course of that evening he told me that he was actually laughing at the beginning of my recital because he had come to play the Khachiaturian Violin concerto, which he had just rehearsed, and had popped over the road and found me playing a recital of Violin, Oboe and saxophone pieces and between us we were playing no flute repertoire at all. He then outlined his philosophy of why it was always alright to borrow music from another instrument – saying that if you tell a living composer that you like his music, he is happy with your enthusiasm, and will say, as did Khachiaturian “You should play it then!” This rule will surely apply to a dead composer, although it is slightly more difficult to get the response required. Ever since then I have taken if as a sort of Carte Blanche to purloin anything I fancy.

    The Cadenzas he wrote for classical concertos show his excellence as a musician. He had the imagination and good taste to create elegance and beauty in an appropriate style that could still enhance the music of Mozart, Gluck of CPE Bach, without ever conjuring up the evil dinosaur which would lead you through a purgatory of a thousand modulations and false dashes to a final thrill to dump you back in a piece that you had forgotten about anyway.

     Once as he was driving me around the Boulevard Peripherique in Paris; some other driver cut in front of us with an awful piece of driving which almost involved us in a crash and where some one else would have been indignant or angry, Jean-Pierre merely laughed and said “He won’t live very long!”

     He was a “Bon Viveur“ determined to enjoy the good things in life, and like many Frenchmen was passionately interested in food. Once in Japan we went to a Sushi restaurant, and he amazed me that he knew the Japanese names of all the dishes, and all of which, except Ika (Squid) he loved. His Autobiography “Musique, mon Amour” sums up his enthusiasm for living, which he did with great energy.

     Well done Jean-Pierre, and thank you for sharing so much happiness!

    The other great player was Fernand Dufrene, who died in June aged 89. I first heard him in the flesh in the Edinburgh Festival, playing in the Orchestre Nartionale de la RTF. I was in the army playing for the Tattoo, and we were allowed into the Usher hall for the rehearsals, so I got to hear several exposures of the Philharmonia, the Danish state Radio Orchestra, the Nord West Deutscher Rundfunk Orchestra and the French L’Orchestra nationale de la RTF. This was all very highflying stuff, but it was the sound of Dufrene that captured my imagination, it had a great depth and changeability.

    A few years later I went to Paris where I went religiously every week to hear the National Orchestra Just to hear the Flute. I felt as though I was drinking from the fountain of truth just to hear this wonderful deep sound of many colours that was so wonderfully in tune – this might not sound so special nowadays, but it must be understood that there was not much to get in tune with, but whenever the flute had a melody in octaves with another instrument there was a blend of sounds, and the net result always sounded “in tune”, despite the fact that the other instrument by itself would frequently be far from perfect. This ability to create a new instrument when playing in octaves was shared by Oliver Bannister of the Halle Orchestra. I have often wondered if either or both of them employed some special way of “Coupling“ their sounds to that of the other instruments by employing a sound with less harmonics than normal and using a very relaxed lip than would normally be necessary for projection in a soloistic way? – I shall almost certainly never find out now!

    I heard quite a large amount of Music in the four months I was there, including a “Daphnis & Chloe” and a ”L’Apres midi” and a Stokowski concert with Bach organ works transcribed for Orchestra. I was very impressed with the Stokowski set-up with the strings on the left, wind and Brass on the right and cello’s and Basses in the centre facing forwards. This seemed to give a greater depth and warmth to the sound, and better separation of the different sections. Stokowski had all the woodwind parts doubled up, but I don’t think Rene Rateau, who was doubling Dufrene’s part, played a note all evening, it simply wasn’t necessary!. Dufrene played so nobly large and effortlessly with his great deep sound, and was always audible, and never sharp.

    Gerald Jackson, who had played alongside Dufrene in some joint concert of the RPO and the Orchestre Nationale under Sir Thomas Beecham, said that “He made a sound like a great organ” – and also that he had played every note in some impossible passage in Dukas’s L’Apprenti Sorcier.

    His playing was distinguished by the sophisticated way he could vary his vibrato from nothing at all, to slow and calm, into intense and exciting all within one phrase if necessary. I once heard him play “ Petrouchka” under Pierre Monteux, and especially remember one spine-chilling phrase, which he played totally without vibrato, but as usual perfectly in tune. When he played “L’Apres Midi” it was amazing because the sound didn’t come from that little spot in the centre of the orchestra, but seemed to come from everywhere else, gently and softly enveloping everything, maybe coming more from behind than directly.

    He studied with Philippe Gaubert , Marcel Moyse, and Gaston Blanqhart (the dedicatee of one of Roussel’s Joueurs de flute) and his playing sounds incredibly similar to the few recordings there are of Gaubert; but when questioned about Gaubert, he said that he didn’t remember very much about him as he was so very young at the time of the lessons and he considered that he had learned most from Blanqhart.( Moyse he considered to be “Mechant”). However he knew of my enthusiasm for Moyse, and served St Amour wine when we visited him for the first time. He was a tall, nice looking, gentle person who always refused to do any interviews for music magazines and was greatly surprised that the Japanese produced the “Art of Fernand Dufrene

    He said that was not on good form in the Honnegger Recording and had played badly – whereas I get great pleasure from the perfection of this performance. As he avoided any interviews, he avoided teaching. I sought him out asking for lessons, but he politely declined, saying that it was hard enough for him to play in the Orchestra.

     He represents a pinnacle of musical integrity amongst flute players, always putting the music before himself and was in fact the purest and noblest servant of the music.

    There are several recordings available of his wonderful playing, notably:

Debussy: Boite a Joujoux (Martinon)

Stravinski: Pulcinella & Baiser de la Fee (cond. Markevitch)

Faure: Dolly suite & Pavane (Beecham)

Bizet: Carmen (Complete Opera) with Victoria re Los Angeles (Beecham)

Villa Lobos: Villa Lobos par lui-meme. Conducted Villa Lobos (French EMI)

    And Finally an important disc for flautists “The Art of Fernand Dufrene” containing:

Honegger: Concerto da Camera Villa Lobos;
Brasileiras No 6 for Flute and Basson (Conducted .Villa Lobos);
Concerto for flute and strings (conducted by the composer).

    This can be obtained in the London flute shops.

    It is an interesting viewpoint of this man’s character that he only consented to record the Jolivet on the condition that he could sit in his normal seat in the orchestra, as he found it far too nerve racking to stand out in front.

    He never stopped practising and try new pieces. When we visited him 5 years ago, he was 84 years old, and it transpired that he had just been practising the Rodrigo Concerto, but he pronounced that he could find very little music in it!.

     Geoffrey Gilbert said that Dufrene was a flautists flute player – and I can say “ Thank you Fer, you have given me wonderful inspiration.

     I have tried to emulate you throughout my career – but I don’t expect to practice Rodrigo when I am 84!”

London 15th July 2000,
William Bennett