Heavenly Flute Players 27 - Demersseman
Jules Demersseman was born in Holland in 1833. When only 12 years of age he received his first prize in performance.
'First prize' is not a competition result but a title conferred on a conservatory student to show recognition of achievement to a certain standard in playing. It is about equal to a professional performers degree. Anyway, to get his first prize at the age of twelve was pretty good.
This early virtuosity and the probability that he felt he had already achieved so much may have accounted for his later obstinacy when confronted by the new Boehm flute. This was Boehm's newest model of 1847 and was designed to overcome some of the supposed shortcomings of the 'simple system' 8 keyed flutes that Demersseman played, though to change to this new flute would have needed a whole new approach and a re-learning of the fingering. But he rejected it.
He was no doubt influenced by, and was following in the footsteps of, his famous teacher Tulou, who refused to play the new Boehm flute, preferring to stay with the old 8 keyed 'simple' flute.
Even though a phenomenal virtuoso with a considerable reputation, Demersseman failed to be appointed to a professorship of the Paris Conservatoire. This was only because of his refusal to change to the Boehm flute, an instrument encouraged by the Conservatoire authorities, and was desired by the students themselves.
Most of his short life was spent in Paris where he wrote many flute compositions of varying quality, but some of which are first-class second-rate music! That's to say, some of his works have stood the test of time, and are still played today though they are not regarded as masterpieces, but with affection. Such a piece is the Fantasie on themes from Weber's opera Oberon, a fine virtuoso work which, in the hands of a master, is captivating.
A feature of his music is his occasional use of fffff and pppp, terms more appropriate to an orchestra rather than to the poor flute! But he must have been a extraordinary player to have performed with these nuances and, if he performed them as written, the performance would have been most theatrical, the very idea he intended. Indeed., to have played them at all on his old system flute would have been remarkable because they are very difficult even on our modern supercharged flutes!
Another flute player and composer, Paul Wetzger was especially keen on Demersseman as he edited several of his best compositions such as the Six Solos de Concert, 'Oberon' amongst them.
Demersseman died in Paris in 1866 of tuberculosis, which was known in those times as 'consumption'. He wrote extensively for the orchestra too, and we might wonder what became of this huge output in such a short life.