Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday! This week we are revisiting the Practice Blueprints series with a bang. Chant de Linos is a super difficult work not for the faint of heart. Chalk full of technical gymnastics and crazy abrupt changes of mood, this work is intended for an unapologetically intense flutist looking for a challenge who is not afraid to test their performing endurance. In today’s blog, I will offer a few helpful hints for tackling this, pardon the pun, Herculean feat, hopefully taking the scaries out of learning such a technically difficult but beautifully virtuosic piece.
Chant de Linos Background Information – The first step to truly understanding this work is by taking a deep-ish dive into its compositional and historical background. Written in 1944 by Andre Jolivet (1905-1974), Chant de Linos was commissioned for the annual Solo de Concours at the Paris Conservatoire, a competition that was subsequently won by Jean-Pierre Rampal. The piece was dedicated to then Conservatorie flute professor, Gaston Crunelle. Jolivet transcribed the work later in the same year for flute, violin, cello and harp. Jolivet was greatly inspired by ancient myths from around the world and has described his art as, “dedicated to restoring music’s original ancient sense, as the magical and incantory expression of the religiosity of human communities.” https://www.boosey.com/pages/licensing/composer/composer_main?site-lang=en&composerid=2913&langid=1&ttype=SNAPSHOT Included on the opening page of the composition is a statement from Jolivet explaining that Chant de Linos is a kind of threnody – a funeral lamentation (or a lament to the dead) in Greek antiquity, a song of lament interrupted by cries and dances. Indeed, the work is divided into three elements invoking a lamentation (typically in a 5/4 meter), crying, and a dance (typically in a 7/8 meter). The work is based on the story of Linos, who, in Greek mythology, taught Orpheus and Heracles to play the lyre but was subsequently murdered by Heracles for excessive criticism, struck in the head with his own lyre (talk about a toxic student/teacher relationship..). The work centers around a G modal scale (G, Ab, B C#, D, F) but ends in the Dorian mode. Although written as a single movement, there are five distinct sections:
Introduction (Improvisatory in nature)
Section A – Slow 5/4
Section B – Moderate 3/4
Section C – Fast 7/8
Section D – Moderate 7/8
The work also features flutter tonguing, extreme dynamic changes, and irregular phrases.
Practice Blueprints – Chant de Linos
Piece of Extremes. This piece juxtaposes opposite tone colors, compositional approaches, techniques, and moods. Embrace these opposites by creating a tone color plan that outlines exactly how and when you plan to change your sound. For the basics on creating a tone color plan, please see my article in The Flute View, Rainbow Score. Literally color in your music with your plan (not on the original, obviously – make a performance copy). This will help you anticipate mood changes long before they happen, creating quite literally a performance blueprint for your sound.
Robot/Snappy Fingers are a Must! If you have read my previous Practice Blueprints blogs, you will know this is one of my favorite techniques for tackling super technical passages. Robot Fingers (or “Snappy” Fingers) simply means to move your fingers very quickly between notes. Pretend your fingers are a machine. Slow the tempo way down and move your fingers as deliberately as possible between notes. Then speed up the tempo gradually. A great example to practice this technique is in the first four lines of the piece. Although this section is wild and improvisatory, keep your finger movements quick and remember to add a bit of flavor here and there with a few slight tenutos on various downbeats (this will also help ground the relative beat):
Another example of where practicing snappy fingers comes in handy is at rehearsal letter B:
And 2 measures after rehearsal letter D:
And most importantly, 2 measures before rehearsal letter L, which is arguably the most difficult run in the entire piece:
Lament Sections as Daily Warm-Ups. A great way to consistently improve your tone and solidify your performance of this piece is to convert the slower lament sections into your daily long tone warm-ups. These could easily take the place of Moyse’s Tone Development Through Interpretation exercises. Focus on finding a solid center to your sound and seamlessly connect your tone from one note to the next, making dynamic changes fluid, and expressing all slight variations in tone color clearly and with purpose.
Practice Technical Passages in Chunks. A great way to simplify technical passages is to break them up into bite-sized chunks and practice them one at a time. Pause between each chunk until you can play all of the separate pieces correctly, then slowly put them back together (For more helpful tips to begin working on chunking, please see my blog entitled “Chunky Monkey”).
A couple of great places to practice chunking your music is 2 measures between rehearsal L (the sub-divisions are already notated in chunks – half the work is already done for you!):
Also 1 measure before rehearsal J:
And 1 measure before rehearsal P:
Like the first example, the sub-divisions are already outlined in chunks. Practice each sub-division separately, with a pause between each, and then put them back together when you have worked out each chunk individually.
Keep Dance Articulations as Light as Air. Keep your articulation super light and crisp in the dance section beginning after rehearsal letter F. A great way to practice this section is by using a “tut-kut” articulation. This will keep the tongue in place for each note while cutting the previous note as short as possible. Another great way to practice this section is by practicing entirely in “coos” to strengthen the back of the tongue, or in chirps, to help train your air to do the heavy lifting. Add these routines to your daily articulation exercises and watch your articulation lighten tenfold.
Trick Fingerings are your Friends! Use trill and harmonic fingerings whenever possible in the crazy difficult technical sections. If you can make it easier for yourself without losing sound quality, go for it!
One instance where trick fingerings come in handy is in 3 measures after rehearsal letter D. Overblow a B, Ab, G, C#, and B on beat 2, while playing a regular high A on the last 16th note. The next measure contains another opportunity to use harmonic fingerings by overblowing a B to achieve the high F#s and overblowing a C# to achieve the high G#s.
The easiest place to utilize trick fingerings is 2 measures from the end of the piece. Overblow a G, Bb, D, (regular high A fingering), C, and Bb to make this section fly as fast as possible while still retaining a beautiful, virtuosic sound:
Circle the Most Important Notes in Red. Using a red pencil on your photocopied performance score, circle the most important notes in each phrase. This will train your eyes to anticipate where you will need to add a bit of razzle dazzle to your sound. This is a great way to plan exactly how you would like to shape a phrase and where you would like to draw your audience’s attention. Again, this is another way to create a performance roadmap to help you give a consistently great performance both on and off stage.
Have you performed Chant de Linos? What were your greatest challenges? What tips and tricks helped you the most as you learned this piece? Do you have any great stories or insights that you gained by working on Chant de Linos? Please comment below!