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Two Hundred Years of Woodwinds #9

This 1959 series features members of The Philadelphia Woodwind Quintet, made up of flute, oboe, clarinet, French horn, and bassoon. The musicians play a piece, then break it down in order to show how their instruments evoke certain images through music. They also explain the history of the instruments and how they were grouped - eventually culminating in the modern day quintet.

AIRED: December 31, 2020 | 0:29:40
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TRANSCRIPT

Welcome to the All Arts Vault. I'm Maddie Orton.

The Vault is the place to go

for special access to all things arts.

So we're going into the archives

to uncover some of our greatest gems

and share these programs with you

as they would've been seen decades ago

when they first aired.

Join us for a deep dive into a rich programming history

of over 50 years of archival content.

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The availability of fine instrumentalists

has always been an inspiration to composers.

When Paul Taffanel, the famous French flutist,

first organized the first permanent woodwind group

in Paris about 1872,

it breathed new life into the entire woodwind world.

Many composers then wrote specifically for this group.

Among these composers thus inspired was Charles Lefebvre,

a professor at the Paris Conservatory

and the man who wrote this music that we play today.

I like to think of the founder of this chamber music group,

Paul Taffanel, as my great-grandfather,

musically speaking, that is.

The reason is that George Barrère,

the bearded French flutist

who was brought to this country by Walter Damrosch

to play in the New York Symphony,

had been a student of Taffanel's at the Paris Conservatory,

and one of Barrère's first students

at the Institute of Musical Art in New York

was our own famous American flutist William Kincaid.

And I am fortunate to be one of Mr. Kincaid's students

and also his colleague in the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Bob, since we're discussing our musical ancestors,

I feel very proud that I'm a direct descendant

from that very same group, as a matter of fact.

Rose, the very famous French clarinetist of the day,

played with the group,

and my teacher, Daniel Bonade, came to this country, was --

Rather, before he came to this country,

he studied at the Paris Conservatoire

with a student of Rose.

And when he came to this country in the early 1900s,

he brought with him that magnificent French school

of clarinet playing,

and it so happens that my father studied with him years ago.

I studied with him.

Consequently, you see we have two members in the family

who are descendants from Rose.

The next movement of this Lefebvre quintet

is a very charming allegretto scherzando.

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Although many great French bassoonists,

such as Menard, Allard, Letellier,

came to the United States,

practically all the bassoonists in the United States

favor the German or Heckel system of bassoon.

Originally, all bassoons sounded the same,

but about 100 years ago,

the Germans decided to improve the instrument

to keep pace with other wind instruments.

The French decided to preserve

the characteristic sound of the instrument,

and the Americans, for many reasons,

prefer the more open and round sound

of the German system bassoon.

However, French bassoonists added a great deal

to the art of bassoon playing,

and their contribution is immense.

And they were also part of the wonderful art life

that took place in Paris in the second half of the 19th century.

This wonderful lithograph of Lautrec,

which I happen to have in my modest art collection,

shows this relationship to some extent.

It is actually the cousin of Toulouse-Lautrec

who was the first bassoon player of the opera

and also was painted by such great painter as Degas.

So, we Americans always have appreciated greatly

the artistry of the French impressionists

and these woodwind players that we were talking about,

and their work has been increasingly important

in our lives.

Now, the French have also established

a school of horn playing,

a little on the sweet side, perhaps.

And the Germans have a mellow style of playing.

And we American horn players

have tried to take the best from each.

Have you ever listened to a new recording

of a familiar classical composition

and heard a sound like a saxophone

and wondered, "Well, what's that doing in there?"

Well, it could be that it would be a French recording

and that strange instrument

would be a horn played by a French performer.

Now, those French performers love to use the vibrato,

or the undulating tone,

and that gives their quality a saxophone-like timbre.

My son just got back from Europe,

and he reports that even the hunting horn players

at Versailles use vibrato.

Whether you like that or not

is just a matter of personal taste.

Now, the last movement in the Lefebvre suite

is a fine allegro.

It has a nice little fugue and a whirlwind of a finish.

As exciting as this music is,

it is sort of an anticlimax, though,

since Stravinsky, 15 years later,

rocked Paris with his "Rite of Spring."

But now the finale of the Lefebvre suite.

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Throughout the development of woodwind instruments,

we see that each period is dominated

by a single city or country

that seem to furnish the finest players.

The devotion of these players to teaching

and the passing on of the high standards

that they themselves have created

sort of makes them the unsung heroes

of the evolution of music.

The one city that dominated the musical scene

at the end of the 19th century was Paris,

where woodwind playing flourished,

and from Paris, there was a great migration to America

of these fine players.

In this migration, 55 years ago,

a young French oboe player appeared on the scene

who was to crystallize the best

of the styles existing at that time

into a school which became later his own

or even more intimately identified now

as the American school of woodwind playing.

This man was Marcel Tabuteau.

His teachings at the Curtis Institute of Music

in Philadelphia

have undoubtedly been the strongest single influence

on instrumental playing in America over the past 40 years.

Since Mr. Tabuteau's retirement in 1953,

he has been visiting his native France,

and his recent return to America

happily coincided with our preparation of this series.

He readily consented to film a short talk with us,

and you will now see and hear a great musician,

a great teacher, and an unforgettable personality,

Marcel Tabuteau.

Oh, but if I don't --

if I don't count the years I studied in Paris,

you know, I have been first oboist in the...

in the little band at Compiègne. Schoenbach: My goodness.

And, by the way, the band master was a nephew of Massenet.

Massenet?

Massenet. His name was Cavalier Massenet.

De Lancie: Is that so?

And Massenet, when I had the opportunity to meet him,

advised his nephew to send me to the French Conservatoire.

-Fine reference. -Yes.

And I spent about four or five years there with Gillet.

Taffanel was a teacher of the woodwind group

and also of the orchestra class.

And it was most interesting

because Taffanel was a splendid, splendid musician

and a great flutist.

Well, you know it's really very fortunate for us

that you should come back at this time,

because in our preparation of this series,

200 years of woodwind music and players

and the woodwind instruments and chamber music,

we have gone through the development of wind players

in Vienna and Mannheim, and we come to Paris,

where it really reached great heights

and what could be called the...epoch.

And that was certainly during the period

when you were there as a student,

and those men that you mentioned, Taffanel and Gillet,

they must have been great artists

not only on their instruments,

but as musicians, which is even more important.

Yes.

They had quite some organization of woodwind playing in Paris.

And the most important one was what they called...

And the... the personnel of the...

was the teaching staff of the Paris Conservatoire.

And if you are interested, I could tell you that Saint-Saens

was the pianist of the group.

Taffanel was the flutist, Gillet the oboist.

Rose, famous clarinet player.

Letellier the bassoonist.

And the horn player, I always forget his name.

[ Speaks indistinctly Exactly so.

But how does it happen that you know all that?

Well, he's a student.

Oh, I see, yes.

Well, congratulations to you.

Well those must have been fabulous days in Paris,

the virtuosity of these players,

such a high excellence.

Exactly so, it was.

You know, there was a legend in those days

that woodwind playing was a French speciality.

In fact, people from all over the world

thought you had to be born a Frenchman

to be a good oboe player.

-Well... -Yes.

Well, I'm sure that it came from good source,

because I know in reading

about this woodwind group that you spoke of before,

they traveled around Europe quite a bit playing,

and I know they had tremendous success in other countries --

Germany and Russia and places,

and probably fine musicians heard them.

Exactly so.

For instance, when they played in Berlin,

there was the famous Joachim.

You know, the...teacher.

-Violinist. -Yes.

Schoenbach: He was the man that Brahms

wrote the violin concerto for, Joachim.

Yes, and he was so much impressed with their playing

that they were absolutely surprised

because they never heard anything like it.

Because the schooling in those days in Germany --

For instance, a man would not specialize in one instrument

like we did in the French Conservatoire.

You know, you would play the violin and the clarinet

or the piano or the...

You see, there was no specialization like here today.

You know, when you have to devote all your life

to become an oboe player,

and you know it personally, don't you?

With the wind making and this and all that.

Full-time occupation.

Yes.

So Joachim was very much impressed,

especially from the oboe player, Gillet.

And, of course, I don't know if it is the truth,

but I was told from many sources

that Joachim, after graduation from some of his pupils,

would advise them to spend a few weeks

talking about music with the oboe player of the group.

-Is that so? -Yes.

This was your teacher.

Yes, and I was very fortunate to have such a teacher.

Well, you certainly carried on in that great tradition

when you came to this country

and started your teaching of not only oboe players,

but all of the wind instruments, here in Philadelphia.

Yes. I must admit one thing.

Of course I had the possibility in me to enjoy teaching

and met with pupils.

But if I would not have been given the opportunity to do it,

it would not have been done by me, anyhow.

So I was fortunate enough to be chosen

to do this kind of...

-Teaching? -...teaching.

And to give the old tradition that we received in Paris

to the American boys.

And I am sure they have been doing very well,

because now the conductors do not have to go to Europe

to find their personnel.

They have it right here.

Thanks to you. Great pleasure.

You know, I did it probably because

I found so much fun in it.

But one of the remarkable things is that,

as I recall our days with you at the Curtis,

was that with all your fun, you've made it into a system.

It was a system which had fun to it.

It wasn't just --

Well, I wanted to establish a little system

which would be a re-creation.

You know, for instance,

my philosophy in playing and teaching,

I was very inclined to teach them how to think beautifully

because if you think beautifully,

you played beautiful.

And I believe to play...

as you think more than to play as you feel,

because how about the day you are not feeling so well?

Don't you agree with it?

There's no question about that.

So we had much fun

trying to establish a little system

which would use everybody.

I understand I wasn't a student of yours

at the Curtis Institute,

but I did associate with you for 17 years

in the Philadelphia Orchestra.

We had some rich experiences together,

and you certainly influenced my musical thinking.

But I've heard stories from your students

how in explaining your system,

sometimes you broke off an armchair or two.

[ Laughter ]

It was great fun, I assure you.

And I get the reward.

And I still have the reward to see them everywhere

and be happy with their profession.

And they find plenty of joy

in playing with the big organization

where they are today.

Well, you've certainly managed to impart that

to the hundreds of students

who studied under your direction at the Curtis Institute.

And I think that you best exemplify that person

who made this bridge between the excellence in Paris

and what has taken place here in the United States.

Hasn't the United States in some way

affected you and your concepts of playing?

Yes, you know, I came here as a French oboe player.

And I left --

and left the tradition after my research.

I found the blending of the German oboe-playing style

with the French would be -- to my own test.

And I think I have succeeded, to a certain extent,

to create almost a new... on the oboe.

There's no question about that.

It's not only the fact

that you created something new on the oboe,

but the the fact that your teaching was something

that could be applied to any instrument --

not only the oboe, but to all the instruments.

And that is the thing which has been shown

with such tremendous success with --

as you look over the personnel

of the orchestras throughout America.

So many of the boys, like myself,

that had the privilege of being with you as a student.

I am really delighted, I must confess to you,

that when a horn player would thank me

for the little fun we had together,

I am very proud of it.

We want to thank you very much

for this opportunity to speak to you

and tell all of us about your concepts of woodwind playing,

which we hope to carry on for many years

with the Philadelphia Woodwind Quintet.

Well, my best wishes to all of you.

Thank you.

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