On April 21, 2013, Flute Focus published the foreword to Noteworthy Sheet Music's transcription of Claude Debussy's Première Rhapsodie for alto flute. This interesting and enlightening foreword, written by flutist Peter H. Bloom, is presented below in it's entirety.
Transcription of Claude Debussy's Première Rhapsodie For Alto Flute
Foreword to Noteworthy Sheet Music's recent publication of a transcription of Debussy's Première Rhapsodie For Alto Flute by Peter H Bloom
Most flutists, especially those who've become interested in performing on alto flute, are well acquainted with the long and storied tradition of the Morceaux de Concours of the Paris Conservatory. From the early nineteenth-century through the present, candidates for graduation from the conservatory have been required to perform a prescribed examination piece, morceau de concours, before a jury of professors. With rare exceptions, a special morceau was commissioned for each instrument every year.
Often written hastily and with attention to then-current stylistic and technical concerns, the majority of the Morceaux des Concours are undistinguished, derivative, dated, and by definition, mediocre. Sometimes, however, a composer found the constraints of deadline, orchestration, and duration to be inspiring; and occasionally the commission of a Morceau de Concours results in an enduring treasure. Claude Debussy's Première Rhapsodie for clarinet, written for the examination of 1910, is such a gem.
First performed in July of that year by eleven (!) candidates for a jury that included Debussy himself, the Première Rhapsodie was immediately well received by players and auditors alike. Clarinetists, for over a century, have considered it an essential element in the repertoire.
I hadn't, as a flutist, been particularly knowledgeable about the Première Rhapsodie until I received the roster of a masterclass I was preparing to present. Among the participants was a clarinetist who had chosen to perform Debussy's Première Rhapsodie. I decided that the best way to become familiar with the piece was to adapt it, as well as I could, to the flute.
My sense of the Première Rhapsodie progressed quickly from challenging, to charming, to utterly captivating, but adapting it to the concert flute wasn't going to work. The range was wrong, the sonorities didn't work, and the "Debussy-esque" sensibility just didn't translate. While I was considering what a shame it was that we flutists couldn't poach this exquisite item, I returned to practicing the obbligato to Schubert's Der Hirt auf dem Felsen in its alto flute transcription (also published by Noteworthy Sheet Music) and inspiration struck.
Noteworthy Sheet Music editor-in-chief Carol Vater responded to my suggestion with enthusiasm and immediately set to work on this sensitive and beautifully edited transcription, for alto flute, of thePremière Rhapsodie. Purists may argue that such a re-imagining of this piece is sacrilege. Perhaps, but consider that the clarinetist to whom the piece was dedicated, Prosper Mimart (and many of his students), performed with the "reed up" technique and a both-lips-in embouchure that produced a sound unlike that of most clarinetists today.
As we adopt Debussy's Première Rhapsodie, we should be mindful that the composer's instructions to the clarinetist (especially concerning articulations, paired slurrings, and dynamics) will require extra attention and insight from the flutist. Here we have an opportunity to apply Marcel Moyse's principles of artistry through emulation.
P.H. Bloom, December 29, 2012 ©
Flutist Peter H. Bloom performs diverse chamber music from period-instrument performances to new music premieres. He is also a noted jazz artist. He concertizes widely, appears on 35 recordings, and is a winner of the American Musicological Society's Noah Greenberg Award. He has given lectures, workshops and master classes across the globe on such wideranging topics as historical performance, new music, jazz and improvisation. Mr. Bloom serves as Editorial Consultant for Noteworthy Sheet Music, LLC. His own transcriptions of the Bach Chaconne, Schubert Der Hirt auf dem Felsen, and Hatton/Longfellow The Wreck of the Hesperus are available at www.NoteworthySheetMusic.com.