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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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,
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. 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.
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, 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.
For instance, when they played in Berlin,
there was the famous Joachim.
You know, the...teacher.
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.
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...
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.
This is National Educational Television.
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