breath-flute

06

Mar

2012

The Délassemens du Flûtiste op 47 of Eugène Walckiers Print E-mail
Written by Tom Moore   

The Délassemens du Flûtiste (Solos, Airs variés, Rondeaux, Romances, Valses, Boléros, etc.) pour Flûte seule, op. 47 of Eugène Walckiers

Eugène Walckiers (1793-1866), although blessed with a long life, and with a wide and varied œuvre, remains little-known to the general public and to flutists in particular, although he created a large body of work for the latter instrument. He was born in 1793 in Avesnes-sur-Helpe in northern France (about five miles from the border with Belgium), and studied with Tulou. He thus belongs to the generation immediately after that which produced the immense boom in flute repertoire at the transition from the Classic to the Romantic style, and was an almost exact contemporary with A.B. Fürstenau (born in 1792). He produced a method for the flute (his op. 30, published in 1829), and the op. 47 (considered below) contains an extensive classified list of the composer’s works, with space for later additions. These include the Quintet, op. 49, in A, for flute and strings; the Quartet op. 46, in f sharp minor for flutes, as well as two quartets for flute and strings, op. 5, and op. 50, and two wind quartets; four trios for flutes, one for wind trio (flute, clarinet, bassoon) and one for flute, violin and “basse” [a bass line left unspecified as to which instrument should play it]; six collections of flute duos, and four collections of duos for flute and violin; at least fifteen operatic fantasies for flute and piano, and even more arrangements of operas for two flutes.

Of this production little has been available until recently, with five sonatas for piano with obligato flute published in 2010 in new editions by Ricordi (opp. 89, 92, 98, 109, and posth.). The composer is even rarer on recordings, with a 2008 CD offering the two quartets for four flutes (op. 46 and op. 70) and the trio for flute, violin and basse, op. 35 (Hungaroton) the only recording devoted to his compositions.

The Délassemens du Flûtiste, op. 47 is another volume from the lamentably forgotten repertoire for unaccompanied flute from the nineteenth century. The collection, containing twelve individual works, was published in two volumes (livraison, or “delivery”, in the original French), with the volume number entered by hand on the title page. The first livraison has been digitized by the Bibliothèque National of France1. Here, the collection is indicated as being published in Paris, with three addresses – “l’Auteur”, “Aut. Walckiers”, and “Schlesinger, Rue de Richelieu” (the street addresses being illegible for the first two). Both volumes are also held by the Zeeuwse Bibliotheek of Middelburg, The Netherlands, which was so kind as to digitize the second volume for me. Here the publisher is given as Maurice Schlesinger, Rue Richelieu, 97; Berlin, chez A.M. Schlesinger, and with a plate number of M.S. 3499-3500 (the pages of the second volume have the plate number: M.S. 3500. 2e Liv: ). These plate numbers would indicate a publication date of 1841-1844, though perhaps the lack of such on the copy at the BN would indicate an earlier state and earlier date of publication. The collection seems never to have been republished since the original issue.

The title “Délassemens” is not part of modern usage in French (it can be translated as “relaxations”), and indeed it falls out of use by 1860 or so. In the eighteenth century it might be have been rendered in French by an equivalent term such as “divertissement”, or diversion, the source of the Italian divertimento, which became a generic compositional title in the later eighteenth century, or perhaps as more poetically as “délices” (a collection of sonatas by Corrette from ca. 1740 is titled “Les délices de la solitude” [the delights of solitude]). By the date of Walckier’s collection, the title may have connoted the sort of relaxation from stressful activity or tension familiar to moderns. There is a contemporary musical collection by Franz Hünten of opera excerpts for piano titled “Délassemens de l’étude” (published c. 1830), though it seems unclear whether here the relaxation is through study (that is, playing the works included) or from study (enjoying opera, rather than technical etudes).

The subtitle for the work – “Solos, Airs variés, Rondeaux, Romances, Valses, Boléros, &c.” indicates that the focus for this collection of music will not be technical problems (as might be indicated by the word “etude”, although indeed collections of etudes could and did include airs variés, e.g., the set of 50 etudes by Lindpaintner, which includes four sets of variations, as well as two rondos, and a bolero), nor more improvisatory works (as might be indicated by “caprice”, though this latter term also overlaps somewhat with “etude”), but rather works to be enjoyed for purely musical reasons by both performer and listener.

A table of contents (items are numbered in the publication, and numbered consecutively between the two volumes):

1re. Livraison:

1.Solo, b minor

2.Romance, c minor,

3.Au clair de la lune, varié, A major – theme, 5 variations, coda

4.Rondo Auvergnat (with programme), G major

5.Valse and Trio, F major

6.Rondo, A major

Second livraison

7.Marche, D major

8.Andantino, E-flat

9.Valses (5 waltzes and coda), A major

10.Rondo pastoral, d minor

11.Galop, C major

12.Cavatine du Pirate, variée, 3 variations and finale, F major

Some notes on the works:

The Solo, as one might expect from the title, which during the eighteenth century was functionally equivalent to sonata, that is, a large-scale, abstract work, not based on lyrical or dance forms, is an extended work in one movement, in a key generally associated with serious works (b minor), and with two contrasting sections of thematic material, one moderato (marked piano, mais avec expression at the beginning), and the other considerably quicker, with continuous sixteenth-note motion.

The Romance was the most popular song-form for France of the later eighteenth and early nineteenth century, placing a premium on simplicity and expression. Two of the most notable romances were “Te bien aimer” by Plantade and “Partant pour la Syrie” by Queen Hortense, both of them the subject of sets of variations for flute (by Gebauer and Vanderhagen, respectively). Here the Romance is presented unadorned in the still expressive key of C minor (concluding in C major).

The subject of the first set of variations, “Au clair de la lune”, is still and was a familiar folksong in France well before Walckiers was writing, and was cited in a stage work from 1817 (Tous les Vaudevilles), where one character says to another “You know the air au clair de la lune. My friend, sing with me”, and they begin

Au clair de la lune,   In the light of the moon,

Mon ami Pierrot,  My friend Pierrot,

Prête-moi ta plume,  Lend me your pen,

Pour écrire un mot;So that I can write a word;

Ma chandelle est morte,My candle is out,

Je n'ai point de feu:I have not fire at all:

Ouvre-moi ta porte , Open your door for me,

Pour l'amour de Dieu.By the love of God2.

No. 4 is a rather unusual work, a Rondo Auvergnat, an explicit piece of program music, quite rare at this date, and one which depicts music from the Auvergne, in southern France. The program reads:

“An Auvergnat, full of that sweet warmth that one buys at a wine merchant’s, picks up his musette, and makes it resound with a song of his country. At the moment where our virtuoso abandons himself to all his verve, the local dogs arrive; attracted by this burlesque music, they come to mix their voices with his notes. Although accustomed to this sort of accompaniment, our Auvergnat finds it not much to his taste; and also, his notes have become less lively, less animated; they are even plaintive. Soon, however, in spite of his chagrin, he takes up once more his gay refrain, upon which he slowly departs.” Walckiers notes “To better imitate the musette, it would be best to turn the embouchure inwards.”

No. 5 is a Waltz and Trio, to be played A-B-A, with a soft or mellow (moelleux) tongue stroke. The composer notes here: “This piece is taken from the 135 exercises in my Method (second part)”, which indicates once more the porousness of any line that can be drawn between music for study and music for enjoyment or art at this period.

The first livraison concludes with a rondo in A in 6/8, marked Allegretto molto moderato.

The second livraison begins with a March in D, a sort of barcarolle in E-flat in 9/8, and then a set of connected waltzes in A, D, d minor, B-flat, E-flat, finally modulating to a coda in the home key of A. Interestingly, these are the only works in the set where the tempo is not given by metronome marking, nor even by verbal indication. Nos. 10-11 are a relatively simple Rondo pastoral (d minor) and a Galop. A contemporary dictionary notes “The contre-danse, the waltz and the gallop are the airs that once hears most often at balls…..The galop is in a very lively 2/4 time, the cadence of which makes one vividly feel the upbeat and downbeat of the measures. Opera airs are arranged as contre-danses, valses and galops; it would be hard to do anything else with the music from most French operas, since the vocal parts hold no interest for lovers of song.”3 The galop was introduced to Paris in the late 1820s, and by 1837 there was already a stage work entitled “Vive le Galop!”

The set of a dozen concludes with three variations (plus a finale) on the Cavatina “Ma non fia sempre odiata” from Il Pirata of Vincenzo Bellini, premiered at La Scala, Milan, on October 27, 1827, and a popular subject for instrumental elaboration, with settings including those of Franz Hünten, Kalkbrenner, and the Concert Variations op. 8 by Clara Wieck. A contemporary reviewer held this number to be the “favourite thing in Bellini’s opera”4. It is sung by Gualtiero in Act 2, Scene 10.

Ma non fia sempre odiataBut I hope that my memory

la mia memoria, io spero;shall not always be hated;

se fui spietato e fiero,
If I was pitiless and fierce,

fui sventurato ancor.I was unlucky as well.

E parlerà la tombaAnd the tomb will

alle pietose genti
speak to pitying people

de' lunghi miei tormenti,
of my long torment,

del mio tradito amor.Of my betrayed love.

General considerations

The set as a whole is noteworthy in a number of ways. First, it is one of the very earliest works in the flute repertoire to be well supplied with original tempo markings using the metronome (the collections from this period by Fürstenau, for example, have no such indications). Secondly, it is plentifully supplied with expression markings, including smaller-scale swells and sighs, larger-scale crescendi and diminuendi, sforzati, accelerandi and rallentandi, local slurs and staccatos, and larger phrasing markings. Thirdly, it is noticeably less virtuoso than the contemporary works by Fürstenau, for example, both in terms of the passagework and the less frequent use of the top register. It also avoids the notes where a c or b-foot would be necessary, almost always giving alternate readings if the low c does appear. This is not surprising given the general aversion to the extended foot by Parisian flutists. Finally, since this is not a didactic work, it can limit itself to the keys that seem most comfortable and/or appropriate for the musical expression.

And an odd question: where is the bolero promised in the title? Did Walckiers have in mind further volumes that were never published?

Notes:

1. http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b52000487x.r=walckiers.langEN

2. http://books.google.com/books

3. http://books.google.com/books

4. http://books.google.com/books

Tom MooreTom Moore is a journalist, musician, and translator living in Rio de Janeiro. He has recorded Telemann for Lyrichord (USA) and Boismortier for A Casa Discos (Brazil). He writes about music for BrazilMax, Musica Brasileira, 21st Century Music, Opera Today, Flute Talk, Sonograma, Early Music America, and other venues.