Romantic Flute Concertos
France and the flute are inseparably associated. The connectionis nothing new, but one with clear historical roots. It was at the beginning ofthe eighteenth Century that nearly all instruments began to undergo rapid technicaldevelopment. This set in train an evolution that was to continue well into thenext century, the technical changes leading to a marked increase in expressivepotential. Instrumental music naturally underwent a similar development.
From the beginning, France revealed a special interest inwind instruments, with a marked preference for the flute, which explains whythere are so many good French compositions for the instrument. Notation inparticular became highly developed in and around Paris. The tradition was builton firm foundations. The
Paris Conservatoire had, from its beginnings in the daysof the French Revolution, a strong tradition of flute classes, with teacherswhose names are still familiar. Even today, we can still speak of a French fluteschool of composition and performance, analogous to the French violin schoolthat assumed its first great importance in the nineteenth century.
It is not at all difficult to draw up an impressive list ofteachers, composers, methods, practice pieces and their associated virtuosi,all from the French capital. Two sets of circumstances have further contributedto the particular popularity of the flute in France. First, there was thesocial background. The end of the nineteenth Century in France wascharacterized by an ebullient and perhaps decadent nightlife. Numerous storiesand paintings reflect the cheerful atmosphere of parties and concert-roomswhere the men and women might flirt by the light of the new electric lamps,while an excellent but discrete orchestra played popular medleys of polkas andwaltzes. In these, the flute, and the smaller and more penetrating piccolo,played an important part. Together with this there grew up the moresophisticated festival, opera, casino and spa orchestras, employing well knownand highly skilled flautists. The latter took the opportunity of demonstratingtheir talent and skill to their audience through a large number of specialcompositions for the flute. The musical quality of such exhibition pieces wassometimes doubtful, but there was compensation for this in a second element,the privileged position of the flute. Recognised great composers like Faure,Saint-Saens and Ravel also greatly appreciated the flute's technical andexpressive possibilities. It therefore comes as no surprise to find in thetitles and musical content of their work precisely those elements for which theflute is best known, the bucolic or pastoral, programmatic, virtuoso, melodiousand melancholic. All these elements are represented in the present collectionof brilliant French flute music, with its associated interesting contributionsfrom the similarly valued oboe and clarinet.