Western Classical music has established an increasingly pronounced hiatus between “composition”, “performance” and “improvisation”. On the one hand, there is the “creator” of music, who writes down a score with instructions for performance; on the other, there is the player who realizes these instructions and actualizes the music. Improvisers share some features with composers and some with performers: they play their own music, but, generally speaking, this music is not written down beforehand, at least not with all details. However, this misleadingly simple scheme is highly deceptive. No composer, actually, writes down all details of a piece; no performer simply executes the instructions without a creative component; no improviser starts from scratch with no pre-established structure or reference. Thus, even in today’s very organized musical world, the boundaries between these three distinct figures are not as neat as one might imagine. Still, they are much clearer today than they were even in the recent past. For centuries, musicians in many “cultivated” and “popular” traditions around the world have intended the transmitted “music” (be it a tune, a harmonic or rhythmic scheme, or even a composed piece) as a creative stimulus rather than as a set of instructions. It was not just admissible, but rather necessary to intervene on that heritage with a carefully balanced mix of respect and innovation. A performer who simply played “the notes” received from tradition could be dismissed as unimaginative and arid; one who went too far from the established model could produce a music felt as unintelligible and nonsensical by his or her contemporaries.
Fantasy was prized as an appreciated value by listeners, as happens today with jazz improvisation and in many non-classical traditions. Not only it demonstrated the performer’s creative artistry; it also showed his or her technical accomplishment and knowledge of the structures of the musical language. Only those who master the finest nuances of a language can venture to create extemporaneous poetry in that language, and the same applies to music. Only those who are perfectly skilled in all of the trade secrets of instrumental technique, of harmony and counterpoint, may be really free to improvise without risking catastrophes.
Both performers and listeners, however, will feel on safer ground if there is a clear and known starting point, which may be – as said before – a known tune or harmonic scheme. For ages, the art of “diminution” grounded itself precisely on this principle: the notes of a tune were understood as markers of a musical space, and the space delimited by them could be “filled” in a variety of ways according to the performer/improviser’s skill and taste. This is the principle behind the Theme and Variations, but also behind many Fantasies and similar works.
This Da Vinci Classics album leads the listeners in the discovery of a largely unknown repertoire, and, particularly, of a style of making music which may seem to have disappeared from today’s “classical” music world, but – as will be seen and heard – is instead very much alive. The twentieth century mainstream classical music school saw an increasing tendency by the composers to over-determine their works; performers were gradually relegated to a role of mere executants of scores which left very little to their own creativity and freedom. By way of contrast, numerous composers in that century – and also today – cultivated a more old-fashioned “alliance” between creator and performer. Instead of seeing the player as an enemy which had to be subjugated, they wrote pieces in which performers could display all of their musical and technical skills, but also their own fantasy and inspiration.
The flute repertoire could boast many such pieces dating mostly from the nineteenth century (even though, by its very nature, improvisation and ornamentation on the flute were two of the first and more lasting experiences of human musicianship). Frequently, the skeleton of these Fantasies was constituted by operatic themes, or other tunes often coming from the vocal repertoire. In this case, too, the reason is easily understood: both the flute and the human voice depend on breathing, and the flute can be seen as a “hyper voice” which may achieve levels of virtuosity unattainable by singers, and which therefore impress the listeners as “super human” results which however maintain a markedly “human” component. A typical example of this repertoire is Wilhelm Popp’s Rigoletto Fantasie. Popp, a composer who was also an appreciated flutist in the second half of the nineteenth century, was one of the first to select some of the best-known tunes from Verdi’s Rigoletto and to rework them in a brilliant pastiche weaving melodies in a web of virtuosity and expressivity. The success of this Fantasie was so impressive that Popp would continue drawing from Verdi’s operas also in the following years, confirming his standing as one of the masters of the flute repertoire. A similar attitude can be observed in the Fantaisie pastorale hongroise op. 26 by Franz Doppler, another famous flute player who was Popp’s contemporary. Doppler knew Hungarian music deeply, also due to his cooperation with the Budapest Opera for which he wrote many acclaimed works; moreover, thanks to his friendship with his former mentor Franz Liszt, he had orchestrated Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies. As happens with Liszt’s models, Doppler’s Fantaisie gracefully and imaginatively connects folk tunes (or tunes with a folk-like flavour), frequently employing them as pretexts for the most dazzling virtuosity.
No less complex to play is the Fantaisie op. 79 by Gabriel Fauré, who wrote it in 1898 upon a commission by legendary flutist Paul Taffanel , a leading performer at the Opéra and the driving force behind the Orchestre de la Société des Instruments à Vent. At that time, Taffanel was the Professor of flute at the Paris Conservatoire, where Fauré taught composition; that institution used to commission the final examination pieces to some of the greatest musicians of the era. This laudable habit has given us numerous among the finest examples of French music, particularly in the case of instruments with little solo tradition (of course, this cannot be said of the flute). Fauré’s Fantaisie was created as the Pièce de concours for the summer exams, and the composer took the task very seriously, to the point of relinquishing some of his earlier commitments. Writing to a student, Fauré stated: “I am drowned in the Taffanel and plunged up to my neck in scales, arpeggios, and staccati! I have already perpetrated 104 bars of this irksome torture”. As happens with many similar works, a slow and cantabile introduction is in fact followed by pyrotechnical technical passages; Fauré’s talent, however, never allows this dazzling virtuosity to decay into a mere display of difficulties. Not entirely sure of where the boundary was between very difficult and unplayable on the flute, Fauré asked Taffanel, the piece’s dedicatee, to modify the impossible passages; since the manuscript does not survive, we do not know how pronounced were Taffanel’s interventions. Certainly, however, they were approved by Fauré, and were enacted by someone who was a fine composer in his own right, as is demonstrated by Taffanel’s Mignon Fantasy also recorded here. The tunes on which this famous piece is based are excerpted from a very successful opera by Ambroise Thomas, and Taffanel managed not only to employ them in a consistent and well-knit fashion, but rather to evoke the opera’s overall atmospheres, style and colours in a work whose expressive dimension is not inferior to its technical aspects. Taffanel was the dedicatee also of Saint-Saëns’ Romance op. 37, which, like many other works sharing the same title, is more inclined to the lyrical aspect than to that of glittering virtuosity. A similarly singing and narrative style suffuses the Romance op. 41 by Georges Brun, dedicated to another great French flautist, Georges Barrère. It is a short but touching piece, which requires warmth of tone and an extended dynamic range. The same expressive qualities are necessary in the initial section of yet another Fantaisie, the one written by Georges Hüe. In this case, however, as in those of other Fantasies discussed above, the piece soon leaves this enchanted atmosphere, and, after a Modéré with an intense musicality, acquires decidedly virtuoso features.
Similar qualities are found also in the examples of these genres composed by contemporary musicians. This is the case, for example, with Eugene Magalif’s Romance, based on a song written by the same composer, and reworked as a flute piece for Rita D’Arcangelo. The composer’s familiarity with the world of the flute is revealed by the skill and ability with which the expressive features of the instrument are used. The same flutist also premiered the Fantasy for Flute and Piano by Joseph M. Russo, an American composer and double-bass player. In spite of the use of modern musical languages, this piece reveals its rootedness in the earlier tradition outlined throughout this musical itinerary. Analogously, and notwithstanding the obvious differences in style and personality, the Romanza marina by Brendan McConville evidently aims at a powerful narrative and evocative impact, and clearly achieves it. McConville is also an appreciated theorist of music, and the structural thought behind this seemingly effortless piece is an added value.
Over nearly two centuries, therefore, and notwithstanding innovations in the musical language and in flute technique, similar ends are pursued through different means, but a substantial continuity can be clearly observed. An album such as this can therefore lead us to appreciate how music can flexibly take new forms while maintaining similar poetic ideals.
Liner Notes by Chiara Bertoglio
Giuliano Mazzoccante: He is already recognized as one of the most famous italian pianists of the moment. After studying and being graduating with highest honours in Florence, he became student of Lazar Berman, with whom his concert repertoire deepened and improved with particular attention to the music of F. Liszt, at the European Academy of Music, Erba (CO).
Price winner of many national and international competitions (“International Music Tournament-Rome”, the 40th International Piano Competition "Arcangelo Speranza"- Taranto, the “IV International Tbilisi Piano Competition" member of WFIMC - Georgia…), he appears regulary as a soloist with orchestras ("Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra", "Kiev Philharmonic Orchestra", Orchestra Sinfonica di Lecce, ecc..), plays with musicians such as Dora Schwarzberg, Karl Leister, Francesco Manara, Romain Garioud, Rita D´Arcangelo ecc. and he is often part of the jury of international piano and chamber music competitions. His large and various record productions includes soloist repertoire and chamber music for many labels or channels being reviewed with acclaim by the press (Musica, Suonare News, Giornale della Musica, Fanfare, The Clarinet). The published discography includes: "Sergio Calligaris - Rigor y Pasión" (DAD Records 2006) with Antonio Tinelli; "Brahms Anniversary" (Phoenix Classics 2007) with Antonio Tinelli and Giorgio Casati; "Romantic Trio" (Camerata Baltica - 2010) with Karl Leister and Antonio Tinelli; "Allegro con Brio" (Wide Classique 2012) with Rita D'Arcangelo; "MOZART Concerti per pianoforte e orchestra K 466 e K 467" (Wide Classique 2014) with Abruzzo Symphonic Orchestra; "STRADIVARI Maréchal Berthiez 1716" (Dynamic 2017) with Pavel Berman; "Brendan McConville - Un D'Annunzio Nuovo" (Wide Classique - 2018) with Manuela Formichella and Nunzio Fazzini; "FRANCK - STRAUSS, Stairs to Heaven" (Wide Classique 2019) with Grazie Raimondi. Considerable concert activity has seen him engaged both as a soloist and as a chamber musician at major International Music Festivals in Italian venues and in many countries of Europe, Asia and the USA. In 2015, he was named Artistic Director of the “Music & Art International Academy" in Chieti which aims at promoting artists and the development of the arts.
He is Artistic Director of the Concert Season of Teatro Marrucino in Chieti and of "In Musica International Music Festival and Piano Competition" in Rome - Italy.
Rita D´Arcangelo: She graduated in flute, with honors, at the Conservatory of Music "L. D'Annunzio " in Pescara (Italy), she then graduated also at the "Royal Northern College of Music "in Manchester, “ the International Academy of Music in Milan " and " the Hochschule fuer Musik” in Mannheim. Rita studied with Sir James Galway for many years, following the masterclasses of the Weggis Flute Festival in Switzerland, where she won the gold Nagahara 14K flute headjoint in 2008 and was invited as Guest Artist in 2016 and 2019. First prize in numerous international competitions, she made her debut as soloist in 2011 at the Carnegie Hall in New York. She's one of the few flautists to have in repertoire the Concierto Pastoral by J. Rodrigo. She recorded for the German radios SR2, SWR and WDR, the Japanese National Television NHK and for the Vatican Radio. As a first flute she worked at the "HPAC Orchestra" and the Osaka Philarmonic Orchestra in Japan; Filharmonia Gorzowska, the United Chamber Orchestra and the Kammersolisten der Deutschen Oper Berlin. As chamber musician she plays in Duo with musicians as pianist Giuliano Mazzoccante and guitarist Jakub Kościuszko. She's flute professor at the Department of Music of the German State University BTU – Cottbus, at the private University Akademie für Musik in Berlin, and regularly teaches in masterclasses in Asia, Europe and U.S.A. The published discography includes: Chedeville: “The Pastor Fido”, 6 sonatas for flute and continuo (Wide Classique 2010); “Allegro con Brio” (Wide Classique 2012) in duo with Giuliano Mazzoccante, winner of the Award of Excellence in the Instrumental Performance Solo category of the Global Music Awards, Los Angeles, U.S.A; “A Virtuoso Journey”, (2015 Centaur) winner of the "Gold Medal Winner - Award of Excellence" of the Global Music Awards, Los Angeles, U.S.A; “Rita D'Arcangelo - Jakub Kościuszko” (QBK - 2016); “Solo Bach” (Centaur 2017) dedicated to solo flute music by J.S.Bach and C.Ph.E.Bach with also some transcriptions made by Rita D´Arcangelo, from the repertoire for violin and cello by J.S.Bach. “Inspired by Rita D´Arcangelo” (QBK 2019) a world premiere recording of new pieces inspired by her art. Rita D'Arcangelo is a Nagahara Flutes Artist and plays on a beautiful instrument crafted expressly for her by Kanichi Nagahara.
Camille Saint-Säens: (b Paris, 9 Oct 1835; d Algiers, 16 Dec 1921). French composer, pianist, organist and writer. Like Mozart, to whom he was often compared, he was a brilliant craftsman, versatile and prolific, who contributed to every genre of French music. He was one of the leaders of the French musical renaissance of the 1870s.
Claude-Paul Taffanel (b Bordeaux, 16 Sept 1844; d Paris, 21 Nov 1908). French flautist and conductor. Taffanel was the founder of the modern French school of flute playing which has since been widely adopted throughout the world. He studied at the Paris Conservatoire with Louis Dorus (who imposed the new Boehm flute there), winning a premier prix in 1860. For the next 30 years he pursued a brilliant career as a soloist and as an orchestral player at the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire and the Paris Opéra. He pioneered a new expressiveness of tone and sensitivity of musicianship which proved the flute to be capable of emotional depth. He was a founder member of the Société Nationale de Musique in 1871, and in 1879 created his own influential Société de Musique de Chambre pour Instruments à Vent which he directed for 15 years. This stimulated a whole new chamber music repertory for wind instruments, including Gounod's Petite symphonie (1885) dedicated to him. At the age of 45 Taffanel adopted a new career, becoming principal conductor of the Société des Concerts in 1892, where he expanded the repertory to favour contemporary music, and of the Paris Opéra in 1893, where he conducted the first French productions of operas by Verdi and Wagner. He was also professor of flute at the Conservatoire from 1893 until his death. As a composer Taffanel produced a prize-winning Wind Quintet in 1876 and various transcriptions and original works for flute and piano, notably the Andante pastoral et Scherzettino of 1907 which demonstrated the new lyricism of the French school. That year he also wrote an article on conducting for Lavignac's Encyclopédie de la musique et dictionnaire du Conservatoire (Paris, 1913–31). He began a history of the flute and a Méthode elaborating his principles of the instrument as a ‘singing voice’. These projects were completed after his death by his pupils Louis Fleury and Philippe Gaubert.
Franz Doppler (b Lemberg [now L'viv], 16 Oct 1821; d Baden, nr Vienna, 27 July 1883). Flautist, composer and conductor. He was taught music first by his father, the composer and oboist Joseph Doppler, and made his début in Vienna at the age of 13. After several concert tours with his brother (2) Karl Doppler he settled in Pest, where he was first flautist in the German Town Theatre from 1838 and in the Hungarian National Theatre from 1841. His first opera, Benyovszky, was produced at the National Theatre in 1847, and four further Hungarian operas were staged there during the next ten years, all with considerable success; they combine Italian influences (e.g. Donizetti) with elements of Russian (Benyovszky), Polish (Vanda) and Hungarian music. Again with his brother Karl, he took part in the foundation of the Philharmonic Concerts in 1853 under the conductorship of Ferenc Erkel. The two brothers continued to make successful joint concert tours throughout Europe, including a visit to the Weimar court in 1854 when they met Liszt, and a tour with the violinist Karl Hubay to London in 1856. Franz moved in 1858 to Vienna, where he worked for the Hofoper as first flautist and assistant (later chief) conductor of the ballet. Most of his ballet music, which was widely popular, dates from this period and his only German opera, Judith, was performed at the court in 1870. From 1865 he taught the flute at the Vienna Conservatory. He was a skilful orchestrator, and his transcriptions of some of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies became well known.
Gabriel Fauré: (b Pamiers, Ariège, 12 May 1845; d Paris, 4 Nov 1924). French composer, teacher, pianist and organist. The most advanced composer of his generation in France, he developed a personal style that had considerable influence on many early 20th-century composers. His harmonic and melodic innovations also affected the teaching of harmony for later generations.
Georges Hüe (b Versailles, 6 May 1858; d Paris, 7 June 1948). French composer. Born into a celebrated family of architects, he was encouraged by Gounod and later studied counterpoint with Paladilhe and the organ with Franck. In 1879 he won the Prix de Rome with a cantata, Médée, and two years later won acclaim for his comic opera, Les pantins (‘The Jumping-Jacks’). Vocal music was to form the core of his output and the ambitious symphonic legend Rubezahl was one of his earliest large-scale successes, first given at the Châtelet. Its fairy tale atmosphere (Rubezahl is king of the gnomes) paved the way for Hüe's later works exploring similar themes, notably the operas Titania (favourably reviewed by Debussy), and Riquet à la houppe, both of which confirmed his refusal to follow the realist path taken by several of his contemporaries. Alongside his larger-scale pieces, Hüe produced songs continually throughout his life. The earliest are firmly grounded in the salon tradition, while the later songs use a more developed musical language to respond to his chosen texts: Edith au col de cygne, for example, uses bars of uneven length. Between 1910 and 1920 his harmonic language advanced considerably, absorbing the added-note harmonies and static effects of the Impressionists, while remaining essentially traditional.
His first full-scale opera Le roi de Paris, dealing with the unsuccessful attempt of the Duc de Guise to usurp the throne of Henry III, was first performed in 1901, and employed pastiche Baroque music to portray its historical setting. Titania, in direct contrast, was set in a world of fantasy and employed extended forest scenes using shimmering orchestral effects and static harmony. Le miracle concerns a sculptor who produced an image of a saint all too reminiscent of a local courtesan. As in Dans l'ombre de la cathédrale, Hüe makes extensive use of plainsong and organ music to evoke the liturgical setting. This was his most successful opera, exploring the conflicts between socialism and the riches of the church. Hüe travelled in East Asia, and his one-act chinoiserie Siang-Sin and the Poèmes japonais reflect his discovery of the music of that region.