Welcome to a new Flute Friday! It’s time for another installment of Practice Blueprints.
This week I will be discussing Francois Doppler’s Fantasie Pastorale Hongroise, a work that embraces the nationalistic vibe of the late Romantic era but also adds a bit of the famous French Flute School flair that we all know and love. Whenever I hear this piece, I immediately envision a circus. The melancholy yet mysterious opening sets the stage upon a quiet village awaiting the arrival and set up of the tents (spinning scales even suggest wind lightly blowing against polyester fabric). The following Andantino Moderato cuts to the tightrope walker who nearly falls to an untimely death in the proceeding cadenza. The Allegro at measure 120 ushers in the lions who perform spectacular tricks including jumping through increasingly magnificent hoops of fire. The jugglers interrupt at the Moderato where the line is quite literally broken into two separate voice followed by short scales moving up, then down, then back up again, mimicking objects being tossed through the air. The concluding Allegro is the grand curtain call signaling the end of the performance (perhaps fireworks? But…we don’t want to scare those lions). This work demands creative interpretation. Maybe you do not see a circus. Do you see a cityscape in a foreign country? Is this a rock concert or a trip to an amusement park? However you interpret the music, the most important part of delivering a convincing performance is changing things up from one section to the next. This is not one of those clever works that transports a single musical idea from clarity to instability and back again. It is a series of scenes. The follow practice guidelines in today’s blog will help you create variety in your performance based on your vision of the world that Doppler inspires in this work. Sure, we will also talk about some of the mechanics, but creating a story is how we make those mechanics meaningful.
- Map out your color plan. In previous blogs, I have talked about the importance of developing a tone color plan (aka coloring your music) based on your interpretation of how certain colors relate to sound quality. For example, for me, a pale-yellow color etched into my music suggests a hollow, delicate, creepy sound with very little vibrato at a p-pp dynamic level while a red indicates a robust, climatic sound with more vibrato and volume than is necessary. This is the perfect work to experiment with tone colors because it demands tonal change from one section to the next. What color do you think the opening Molto Andante suggests? How does that differ from the following Andantino Moderato? What musical and interpretative elements in the music make you associate a particular section to a particular color? Ask yourself these questions to develop your own tone color spectrum. Finally, apply that spectrum to each section of the piece and literally color your music to fit your tone color plan. By keeping your sound changing, you will bring an exciting element of variety to your performance and a stronger connection to your own interpretation. This is an essential difference between a good performance and an exceptional one.
- Map out your rubato. I have also discussed how to effectively use rubato in past blogs, but as it pertains to Doppler, rubato is crucial to painting your vision of the underlying story. If you look carefully at the music, you will notice that nearly each section of the piece includes its own cadenza. As with any cadenza, the interpretation is up to you, however Doppler gives us many clues as to which notes are the most important using carefully placed fermatas (okay, okay, okay – these may have actually been Jean-Pierre Rampal’s editorial decisions, but they are good ones). An easy way to approach these critical notes is to slow down as you approach and move away from each fermata. Carefully consider moments outside of cadential passages where important notes appear in the texture and how you may use rubato to bring these notes to the forefront. For example, in the Poco Piu Allegro section, you may begin the phrase slower, working your way up to tempo, then slowing back down on the last few notes before the longer dotted eighth note E natural at the top of the phrase to bring this note out of the texture. This is even more important in the following phrase between the low B natural and high E natural eighth notes. Identify these “rockstar” notes throughout the piece and create a similar rubato plan to bring them out of the texture. Like creating a tonal plan, planning out your rubato with an eye toward bringing out critical notes will add much needed variety to your performance while keeping the music unique and interesting.
- Practice your flexibility exercises. This work demands the performer to quickly transition from the depths of the lowest register to the highest of the high notes and back again rather quickly and quite frequently. You must prepare your embouchure for Olympic level gymnastics. Time to some quality time with the Trevor Wye practice book on Tone and Taffanel and Gaubert Exercise #10. Both of these books include excellent flexibility studies to help strengthen your embouchure in preparation for works such as the Doppler. Add these studies to your normal practice routine and strive to keep your sound consistent throughout the registers.
- Dual Voices. In the final Moderato (or what I like to think of as the juggling scene), there is a brief section written in what appears to be two voices. Of course, Doppler is again helping us pick out the most important notes in each measure by splitting the melody, but just how do we create the impression of two voice rather than one. Fortunately, this is a musical question posed by Karg Elert in his 30 Caprices, which features a number of exercises written in the same two voice format (Is this a French thing, or what?). A bit of vibrato and an added sparkle of an accent on the upper voices will help emphasize the second line, however to really practice this technique, quality time with the Karg Elert will be required. Are these few measures a subtle, compositional “shout out” to Karg Elert?
- Refine those triplet grace notes. There are grace notes littered throughout this work, particularly in patterns of triplets. Hope you are good at playing triplets! If not, another exercise you may consider adding to your daily warm ups is simply practicing your scales by placing triplet grace notes, either alternating with the note above or in a series of surrounding turns, before each note in all major and minor, two octave scales. Focus on creating sharp, yet snappy, figures that translate to the same type of notes required in the Doppler. Keeping these grace notes as light as air is key. Use a light touch and keep your fingers close to the keys to eliminate any unnecessary extra movements.
Creating a story and developing a tonal and rhythmic plan to correspond to your story is a good way to breathe life into Dopper’s Fantasie Pastorale Hongroise. With the right practice techniques, and supporting daily exercises to develop these techniques, the mechanics of the work will support your interpretation of the music, creating a memorable and meaningful performance for both you and your audience.
What do you picture when you hear this piece? How do you translate that picture into sound? What does your color plan look like for this work? What other exercises do you practice in conjunction with the Doppler? Please comment below!