Who in the World is Henri Busser? – Lesser Known French Flute School Composers

Welcome to this week’s edition of Flute Friday! *enter majestic flute music accompanied by harps and trumpets*

In your life as a flutist you will undoubtedly come into contact with the collection of 19th century flute works from the seminal book, Flute Music by French Composers for Flute and Piano, edited by Louis Moyse. The works in this book are staples of flute repertoire and contain pieces by famous French Flute School composers such as Paul Taffanel, Gabriel Faure and Philippe Gaubert. There are also a few pieces by composers that are quite obscure. It is often very important to understand who the composer is in order to properly understand the underlying style of a piece and any hidden characteristic compositional traits buried within the texture. I have composed the following short biographies on some of these lesser known composers so that those of you working on these pieces may discover new approaches to the music by examining the life and work of the artist behind its conceptualization. Enjoy!

  1.  Henri Busser – Prelude et Scherzo. Henri Busser was known in France primarily as a composer, conductor, arranger and educator. Born in January 1872 in Toulouse, France, Busser’s began his musical training at the Ecole Niedermeyer under Alexander George before entering the Paris Conservatoire in 1889 to study organ with César Franck and composition with Ernest Guiraud. After serving as organist at Saint Cloud in 1892, he won the Prix de Rome in 1893 and began his career as a conductor at the Opera-Comique in Paris. Here he became the protégé of Jules Massenet and was appointed as the chief conductor at the Grand Opera, a post he remained in until 1939. Busser led the 4th and numerous subsequent performances of Claude Debussy’s Pellets et Melisande and in 1921 began teaching at the Paris Conservatoire where he was later promoted to Professor of Composition in 1931. He was elected as a member of the Academie francais in 1938 and married French soprano Yvonne Gall in 1958 at the age of 86 (this was a bit of a scandal as Busser was 12 years her senior). Busser’s former students include Henri Challan and Japanese composer Tomojiro Ikenouchi. His most important works include the operas Daphnis et Chloe, Colomba and Les noces corinthiennes and his compositional style adheres to the traditional 19th century French tradition. Henri Busser died on December 30, 1973 at the age of 101.  untitled (28)
  2. Alphonse Duvernoy – Concertino. Alphonse Duvernoy was a renowned French pianist, composer and son of the noted bass-baritone Charles-Francois Duvernoy. Born in August 30, 1842, Duvernoy studied piano at the Paris Conservatoire in 1886 with Antoine Marmontel, Francois Bazin and August Barbereau and later became a piano virtuoso, composer and professor of piano at the Conservatoire de Paris (date unknown). His 1880 symphonic poem, La tempete for soloists, chorus and orchestra (based on Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest) won Grand Prix de la Ville de Paris in 1900. In 1892, Duvernoy produced his first opera, Sardanapale, at the Theatre Royal, Liege. Other notable works include the two-act ballet, Bacchus, produced at the Paris Opera in 1902 and many shorter piano, chamber and orchestral pieces. His students include Alexander Winkler and Norah Drewett de Kresz. Duvernoy died in Paris on March 7, 1907. untitled (30)
  3. George Enesco (Enescu) – Cantabile et Presto. This composer is probably the most “famous” on today’s blog and almost did not make the obscure composer list… George Enesco is regarded as Romania’s most important musician. Born on August 19, 1881 in Lieveni, Romania, Enesco was a child prodigy on the violin and composed his first work, Pamint romanesc (Romanian Land) at the age of 5. The inscription on this work reads, “Opus for piano and violin by George Enescu Romanian composer, aged five years and a quarter.” At the age of 7, he entered the Vienna Conservatory, the youngest student ever admitted, to study violin with Joseph Hellmesberger, Jr. Robert Fuchs and Sigismund Bachrich. In 1895, Enesco entered the Paris Conservatoire and studied composition and violin with Andre Gadalge. Premièring his first mature work, Poeme Romana with the Colonne Orchestra, at the age of 16, he went on to win first prize in violin at the Paris Conservatoire in 1899. Enesco’s compositional style is influenced heavily by Romanian Folk music and his most popular compositions include two Romanian Rhapsodies (1901-2) and the Opera Oedipe (1936). On January 8, 1923, Enesco made his American début as conductor in a concert hosted by the Philadelphia Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in New York City and returned to New York to conduct the New York Philharmonic between 1937-8. In 1939 he married Maria Rosetta (known at that time as Princess Cantacuzino through her first husband, Mihail Cantacuzino), and remained in Paris after the Soviet occupation of Romania in World War II. Enesco was a noted violin teacher whose students included Yehudi Menuhin, Christian Ferras, Ivey Gitils and Joan Field. Enesco died in Paris on May 4, 1955. Today, Bucharest houses a museum in his memory and the Bacau International Airport in Romania was renamed the George Enescu International Airport shortly after the composer’s death. untitled (29)
  4. Louis Ganne – Andante et Scherzo. Known primarily as one of the leading composers of lighter music in France, Louis Ganne was born in the Auveryne region of France on April 5, 1862 and grew up in Issy-les-Moulineaux, in the suburbs of Paris. Ganne studied composition under Cesar Franck and Jules Massenet at the Paris Conservatorie and served as conductor at the Nouveau Theatre de la Rue Banche and at the Follies-Bergere. He is recognized today for popular patriotic marches such as Le pere la victories and La marche Lorraine (1892) which became a battle song for the Free French during World War II. Although many of his operettas are now rarely performed, Ganne’s most successful light opera is the circus musical, Les Satimbanques (The Acrobats), composed in 1899. Ganne was perhaps most recognized for his very popular concert series, Les Concerts de Louis Gannet, hosted at the Monte Carlo Casino. Louis Ganne died in Paris on July 13, 1923. untitled (26)
  5. Albert Perilhou – Ballade. Albert Perilhou was a French composer, organist and pianist. Born in Duazaman, Ariege on April 2, 1846, he studied organ at an early age at the Niedermeyer School where he met Saint-Saens. Perilhou began his early career as organist and piano teacher in Saint-Etienne, France and became professor of piano at the Conservatoire de Lyon in 1883. In 1889 he became organist of Saint-Severin and subsequently organist of Saint-Eustace in 1905 and 1906. In 1910 Perilhou was named as the director of the Niedermeyer School. Composer of several pieces for piano, organ, orchestra and voice, he was renowned for his improvisational techniques in the 18th century style and preferred delicacy over virtuosic writing. Perilhou died on August 28, 1936 in Tain-I’Hermitage, France. untitled (27)

I hope these short biographies help you in your practice of these works, knowing now that a concert pianist may approach writing for the flute in a different style as an organist or a violinist. Please let me know if you have any other research on these composers and I will be happy to update their bios.

Have you performed these pieces before? How has learning about a composer’s background and style influenced your performance approach? Please comment below!

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