Heavenly Flute Players 20 - Jean-Pierre Rampal
Jean-Pierre Rampal died on the 20th May 2000, aged 78, and was the most famous flutist of the 20th century. His influence was enormous and to many of today’s flute players, he was a model to aspire to. At the height of his career, he gave 100 concerts a year and during his life he made about 500 solo records.
Rampal was born on January 7th, 1922, in Marseilles, France, where his father Joseph, was a professor of flute at the music conservatory. His parents wanted him to become a doctor, and he began flute lessons with his father at the age of 12, entering the conservatory, but later taking a course in philosophy. In 1937 the conservatory awarded him the first prize in a flute competition, but still he enrolled at the state college in Marseilles to study medicine. In 1944, in his third year of medical training, he was called up for military service by the occupying German forces, but he evaded the Germans by going to Paris, where he hid and frequently changed houses while studying at the conservatory. Within a few months, he won first prize in a competition there and gave his first formal public performance, playing the Ibert Flute Concerto with the Orchestre National de France.
Before the Second World War, flute players rarely followed a career purely as a soloist because the instrument was not as popular as it is today. A flute player might play one or two solo pieces either as part of a vocalist’s recital, or as part of an orchestral programme. But though Rampal joined an orchestra he only wanted to become a soloist, and he was the first flute player both to attempt and to succeed in this.
He was particularly fond of baroque music, and recorded just about all the popular sonatas and concertos. Because of this, many little known pieces were popularised and he also later published his own editions of them. He commissioned new works too, though really modern music was not to his taste; he preferred the romantic main-stream repertoire. He wrote his autobiography, "Music, My Love," (1989) which has been translated into four languages, and he also wrote the preface to a book all about Japanese sushi, and how to prepare it!
As a person, he was the most generous of men, never having a bad word to say about his fellow players. Easy to talk to, helpful and kind, he was a widely loved personality. Perhaps his most memorable characteristic was his love of life; he lived it to the full, enjoying everything that it offered; he would try anything!
He adored food, wine, people, and of course music. I last saw him in Paris where he played in part of a concert, though he was having trouble both with his knees and his heart at that time.
Rampal was truly great character and is warmly remembered by many musicians the world over.
He is survived by his wife, two children, five grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.