Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday/Sunday.
This past Monday, the United States witnessed a magnificent total solar eclipse (in the sign of Leo, coincidentally). A solar eclipse is said to have powerful astrological effects lasting up to 6 months after an eclipse has taken place. This will mean different things for different signs of the Zodiac. The overall idea of an eclipse is that something significant is coming to an end to create space for something new (for example, my sun sign, Scorpio, will have major changes happening in the work sector in the near future). In the spirit of the astrological changes that we all may be dealing with at the moment (or that we will encounter after Mercury goes direct around the 5th-6th of September), today’s blog is a continuation of my previous “What’s Your Sign, Wolfgang” posting, addressing how the astrological sun signs traits of some of our most famous flute virtuosos may have influenced their approach to the flute. It’s okay if you do not believe in astrology. I only offer these as fun, possible explanations on how different personalities manifest through flute playing. Perhaps you will see some of these same traits in your own flute playing!
Jean Pierre Rampal – The king himself! Jean Pierre Rampal is probably the most famous French flutist of our time and the undisputed master of articulation. Born in Marseille, Jean Peirre studied flute with his father, Joseph Rampal, flute professor at the Marseille Conservatorie and Principal Flute of the Marseille Symphony Orchestra, from the age of 12. At the beginning of the Second World War, Rampal entered medical school in Marseille (at the persuasion of his practical-minded parents), but fled to Paris 3 years later to escape the Nazi Occupation of France. Studying at the Paris Conservatorie with Gaston Crunelle from January 1944, Rampal won the coveted first prize in the conservatory’s annual flute composition a mere 4 months later. He later had quite a successful solo career, touring France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands with harpsichordist Robert Veyron-Lacroix, continuing on to their American debut in 1958. The duo performed and toured together for 35 years until Veyron-Lacroix’s retirement. In the 1980’s, Rampal formed a new, long running partnership with pianist John Ritter. From 1955-1962, Rampal served as Principal Flute at the Paris Opera. He is perhaps most notable for his revival of Baroque flute works, performing with the Ensemble Baroque de Paris for nearly 3 decades. FUN FACT: Rampal was the owner of the only solid gold flute made by the notorious French flute maker, Louis Lot (No. 1375), earning him the nickname, “The Man with the Golden Flute”. Rampal had an extremely successful solo career, collaborating with musicians from Isaac Stern to Miss Piggy on Jim Henson’s, The Muppet Show. Jean Pierre Rampal died in Paris in May 2000 of heart failure at the age of 78 but he is remembered to this day as the greatest flutist of the 20th century.
Jean Pierre was born on January 7, 1922 making him a CAPRICORN. Capricorns love the details. Many of my Capricorn friends are accountants or lawyers and have an incredible talent to recall the tiniest, most obscure, facts off the top of their head. Capricorns are the ones you want to have on your pub quiz team! Known as the strategists of the zodiac, Capricorns like to plan and rehearse everything in advance. They are very practical and organized, value tradition and structure, but steer clear from chaos and unpredictability. Capricorns are known to be workaholics. Although they may be a bit stubborn sometimes, they have a heart of gold under their hard, outer shell. As an Earth sign, Capricorns are the most responsible sign of the zodiac (aka they like to get things done!). Rampal just may have been the traditional Capricorn workaholic and his legacy absolutely shows that he was a hard-working soloist and recording artist. His performances are sheer perfection down to the smallest of details (which we all know must have taken significant rehearsal and preparation in advance). As Capricorns value tradition, Rampal valued the beginning of flute composition with his interest and revival of Baroque music. Finally, what I find most interesting, is that Capricorns like to avoid chaos and unpredictability. The only piece dedicated to Rampal that he had never publicly performed was the Sonatine by Pierre Boulez. When asked about this, Rampal explained that the music looked, “like the blueprints for a plumber…pieces that go tweak, twonk, thump, snort – this doesn’t inspire me.” A Capricorn quote if ever there was one! We often think of Rampal as the King of Flute Playing. Guess which other King was a Capricorn? That’s right! Elivs Presley. Rampal is definitely the Elvis Presley of the flute.
Julius Baker – If Rampal was the master of articulation, then Julius Baker was the master of sound (in reality, they are both the masters of everything having to do with the flute, but Julius Baker’s sound is nothing short of magical). Julius Baker began studying the flute at age 9 with his father in Cleveland, Ohio. He later studied flute at the Eastman School of music with Leonardo De Lorenzo, and at the Curtis Institute where he studied with William Kincaid. In 1937, Baker returned to Cleveland to perform second flute in the Cleveland Orchestra where he remained until 1941. He then went on to serve as principal flute of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (1941-1943), the Chicago Symphony (1951-1953), and the New York Philharmonic (1965-1983). Baker was also one of the founding members of the Bach Aria Group, whom he played with from 1946-1964. FUN FACT: Julius Baker played on many notable film scores including The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. He was also quite interested in electronics and developed his own record label, Oxford Recording Company, a mail-order business he ran out of his home where he recorded 5 of his first recordings between 1946-1951. Julius Baker was well known as a flute instructor at the Julliard School, but also served as faculty at the Curtis Institute of Music and Carnegie Mellon University. He was known as the most prominent American flutist of his generation and his students include the greatest of the greats of today (Paula Robison, Jeffrey Khaner, Eugenia Zukerman, Gary Schocker, and Jeanne Baxtresser). Julius Baker passed away on August 6, 2003 but remains as a beloved figure in our contemporary flute playing world.
Julius Baker was born on September 23, 1915 which technically makes him a Libra, BUT because this is the very first day of the Libra cycle, he is more accurately classified as an LIBRA ON THE CUSP OF VIRGO. This astrological distinction is very special because it is also known as “The Cusp of Beauty.” The last few days of Virgo and the first few days of Libra are ruled by both Mercury (the planet of communication) and Venus (the planet of love and beauty). Cuspers are drawn to people, places, and objects that are aesthetically beautiful (especially nature and works of art), and like to keep up with the latest trends. They also embody traditional Virgo traits including having sharp analytical skills, a strong work ethic, and can sometimes be perfectionists. They are, however, very balanced and can see all sides of a situation. As I mentioned at the beginning of this entry, Julius Baker was the master of sound which fits in nicely with his Libra on the Cusp personality. The beauty of his playing is in his sound which is even, balanced, and simply breathtaking. He also brilliantly combined a successful career as a performing artist (influence of Venus) with an equally successful career as a teacher (influence of Mercury). Again, this perfect balance speaks to his Libra on the Cusp personality. Finally, what I find most interesting, is that Cuspers like to keep up on the latest trends. Hello! Julius Baker started a record label out of his own home. Not only was this practical for making his own recordings, but it kept him, and other artists recorded on his label, on the mainstream record market. Balanced and beautiful, Julius Baker’s flute playing has been passed through generations of flutists and will continue to hold a significant influence on modern flute playing (literally keeping up with trends for years to come).
Marcel Moyse. The authority on French Flute Playing. Whenever I think about Marcel Moyse, obviously the first two things that come to my mind are De la Sonorite and Tone Development Through Interpretation (both published by McGinnis & Marx), two seminal flute studies that nearly all flutist have in their collections and have practiced throughout their careers. Moyse studied flute at the Paris Conservatorie and was a student of the greatest masters of French Flute Playing, Philippe Gaubert, Adolphe Hennebains, and Paul Taffanel. Marcel Moyse moved to Paris at the age of 14 to live with his uncle, Joseph Moyse, a cellist in the Lamourreux Orchestra. Joseph purchased a flute for Marcel in these early days and assigned the youngster daily practice sessions of 45 minutes each (hello, structure!). In May 1904, Joseph presented Marcel to Adolphe Hennebains, who accepted Moyse as a pupil. Moyse made quick progress studying with Hennebains, and was accepted to study with Paul Taffanel at the Paris Conservatorie in the fall of 1905. At the age of 17, with only one year of study at the Conservatorie, Moyse earned first prize at the school’s annual contest with his performance of Nocturne et Allegro Scherzando by Philippe Gaubert and embarked on his professional career. Moyse immediately began studying with Philippe Gaubert (allegedly taking lessons every Friday, at 5:00 pm – more structure!). Moyse became solo flute in L’Opera Comique and subsequently became principal flute with the orchestra of the Societe des Concerts. In 1931, Moyse founded the famous Trio Moyse, and in 1932 succeeded Philippe Gaubert as Professor of Flute at the Paris Conservatorie. Moyse also served as Flute Professor at the Geneva Conservatorie from 1933-1949 and became a Chevalier of the Légion D’Honneur in 1936. In his final years, Moyse was in and out of hospitals due to various medical problems and passed away on November 1, 1984 at the age of 94. His legacy lives on through his numerous pupils including James Galway, Paula Robison, Trevor Wye, William Bennett, and Carol Wincenc.
Marcel Moyse was born on May 17, 1889 which technically makes him a Taurus, but because this date is at the tail end of the sign, Moyse is actually a TAURUS ON THE CUSP OF GEMINI. This is known as The Cusp of Energy. Some astrologers like to think of this cusp as a dust storm as it combines characteristics of an earth sign (Taurus) with those of an air sign (Gemini), resulting in a personality that is both stable and driven, as well as clever and communicative. All of these traits clearly embody his famous De la Sonorite! The studies in this book require a ton of patience but the progression of exercises is quite clear and the results are worth the blood, sweat, patience, and tears. These cuspers are the go-getters of the zodiac. I don’t know about you, but whenever I ask even my most talented younger students for daily practice sessions of at least 45 minutes, I am often met with excuses why this isn’t achievable (I probably also had my own excuses as a teen). Not only did Moyse stick to this plan, but also continued to seek out ways to develop his flute playing by making connections to the best, most important teachers of his age. Geminis are exceptionally good at creating meaningful relationships. Taurus’s are methodical. Moyse was the perfect union of both these traits.
Paul Taffanel. The founder of the French Flute School, we know Paul Taffanel as the flutist who paved the path for something new. Taffanel received his first flute lesson from his father at the age of 9. He studied with Vincent Dorus at the Paris Conservatorie at the age of 10, graduating in 1860. Taffanel built himself a career as both a successful soloist and renowned orchestral flutist. In 1893, Taffanel became Professor Flute at the Paris Conservatoire, where he famously restructured the masterclass format, required his students to perform on the newly constructed Boehm Flute, introduced a new style of playing that included light articulation and modulating vibrato, and revived works by Bach and other 18th century composers. Taffanel was also quite a gifted conductor, serving as conductor at both the Paris Opera and Société des Concerts du Conservatoire from 1890 to 1906, as well as an extraordinary chamber musician, founding the Society of Chamber Music for Wind Instruments in 1879, a group that revived chamber music by Beethoven and Mozart in their “historic” concerts. As a composer, Taffanel wrote a number of pieces for flute including Andante Pastoral et Scherzettino, Grande Fantasie sur Mignon, but is probably best known for his method book, 17 Grands Exercices Journaliers De Mecanisme, which was completed after his death by students Louis Fleury and Philippe Gaubert. Taffanel suffered from a physical breakdown in 1901 and died in Paris on November 22, 1908.
Paul Taffanel was born on September 16, 1844 making him a Virgo. Virgos are perfectionists and may, at times, be overly critical of others. This is because they are very careful about details. I think the most gifted conductors are Virgos because that is literally their job – to iron out the details and provide their musicians with clear feedback. Like a Capricorn, Virgos are methodical and prefer a well-organized life that leaves nothing to chance. Their goals and dreams nearly always have well defined parameters. The ruling planet of Virgo is Mercury, which rules speech, writing, and other forms of communication. Like the other flutists we have examined in this post, these character traits seem to fit Taffanel’s career to a T. Taffanel was not just a soloist, but built his reputation as a conductor (leading and directing soloists), teacher (again leading and directing students), and composer (influence of Mercury, planet of communication). What we understand best about Paul Taffanel is that he revolutionized the French Flute School by setting new, but well-defined, parameters for his students, who all went on to become the most notable flutists in modern history. He achieved this by being methodical and structured like a typical Virgo. Finally, his 17 daily studies is a well-organized method book that has become a must-have for flutists around the world. Perfectionists everywhere (including myself) adore this book due to it’s straight-forward, yet reliable, approach to scales and arpeggios. Taffanel’s Virgo characteristics are found in all of his most notable achievements and we owe quite a debt to his notorious writings and teachings.
How do astrological traits manifest in your own flute playing? Do you believe in astrology? Did you study with one of the above flutists or students of these flutists and could you see these astrological influences present in their teachings? Please comment below.