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78 years ago…

Concerto for Flute and Orchestra

Jacques Ibert

BornAugust 15, 1890 in Paris, France

Died February 5, 1962 in Paris

A French original

by James Strauss

“In my concertos I have allotted the instruments the types of themes which correspond to their particular tone qualities and respect their expressive possibilities.” This statement of Jacques Ibert’s certainly applies to his Flute Concerto, written over the years 1932-1933. The work was dedicated to Marcel Moyse, who was the featured soloist in its premiere performance, under Philippe Gaubert’s direction, in Paris on February 25, 1934. Both Moyse and Gaubert, incidentally, were students of the great French flutist and teacher Paul Taffanel, for whom many of the greatest French flute works were written.   Ibert’s Concerto was dedicated to Moyse, who didn’t play it often. In fact, the work lay neglected for many years due to its perceived difficulty. The opening Allegro is based on a perky first theme with a neoclassical shape, and a slower, more languorous second theme. Throughout, the flute is kept constantly busy. A sweet, lyrical Andante follows, the flute’s long-breathed song accompanied by gentle strings. The longest of the work’s three movements is the last, a jazzy Allegro scherzando with a virtuoso solo cadenza; this Finale is such a challenge for flutists that it became a test piece at the Paris Conservatoire.     In Fact the French composer Jacques Ibert  was a contemporary of the vibrant group known as “Les Six” (Louis Durey, Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud, Germaine Tailleferre, Georges Auric and Francis Poulenc), which dominated French music between the First and Second World Wars. Probably closer in spirit to Milhaud than the others, Ibert charged much of his music with a wit and irreverence that Erik Satie would have applauded. Although Ibert composed extensively for stage and film, his best music is for orchestra. He was fascinated by the colors and timbres of wind instruments, which figure prominently in his writing. Two of his three concertos are for wind instruments and the third, for cello, features a chamber orchestra consisting of six solo winds plus a string quintet. Ibert wrote his Flute Concerto in 1932  at the behest of distinguished French flutist Marcel Moyse (1889–1984). Moyse introduced the concerto at the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire on February 25, 1934. The brilliant third movement became a test piece at the Conservatoire almost immediately. Moyse remained a champion of the concerto, but its difficulty proved daunting. It was not performed in England or the United States until 1948. Today, the Ibert concerto is acknowledged as a 20th-century masterpiece and a bellwether for virtuoso flutists. The other frequently performed 20th-century flute concerto is Carl Nielsen’s, which is darker and more intense, the Ibert is lighter, more scherzando and overtly technical.

Spanning the centuries: Baroque to contemporary

Ibert was a strong proponent of classical tradition, and the concerto’s three movements adhere to the standard fast-slow-fast arrangement. That stated tripartite structure and dance elements link each movement to the French Baroque suite. We could think of the opening movement as an allemande, the slow movement as a sarabande and the finale as a gigue, but frequent metric changes in all three movements distance the concerto from those older forms. The musical language is distinctly modern. Ibert’s use of 9th, 11th and 13th chords shows his indebtedness to Debussy, Dukas and Roussel.

A torrent of notes 

Two contrasting thematic ideas dominate the first movement: a rapid cascade of staccato 16th notes at the start, countered by a lyrical, expressive second theme. The dazzling 16ths soon return to dominate the active solo part. By inserting measures of 3/8 or 3/4 into an otherwise steady duple-meter pulse, Ibert makes the opening allegro a virtuoso counting exercise for soloist, conductor and orchestra. “Right out of the gate you play running 16th notes. The flutist has to concentrate on projecting above the orchestra, grabbing a breath and capturing Ibert’s jazzy lightness. It’s a challenge to make it sound effortless and French. “I think it’s fun for the audience, too,” said James Galway . Everyone on stage is bubbling over with this torrent of 16th notes. The opening movement provides a really good workout for the first violins. I am  especially fond of the Andante. Muted strings set the scene in D-flat major, and then the flute enters, playing the same melody in a different key. The effect is hauntingly beautiful, And the slow movement provides a break between the athleticism of the outer movements. Ibert father’s died during that time, that  Andante its a Requiem a like. Listeners familiar with Ibert’s orchestral Escales will perceive a comparable atmospheric languor to that work’s central “Tunis/Nefta” movement. After the climax, the serene first theme returns in the solo violin, with decoration from the soloist. The closing Allegro scherzando—the flashy competition piece for the Conservatoire—brings back the mixed meter of the first movement. The occasional measure of 3/4 interpolated in the midst of 4/4 gives the music a jazzy feel. Formally, this finale is a rondo with three principal ideas and the concerto’s only cadenza. The third movement is very well paced, compositionally. For balance, sharp edges, charm and the dazzle factor, Ibert’s concerto is hard to beat. But is unknown to the general public that Ibert was nothing more than cousin of Manuel De Falla,and he was a  great influence   on his career as a composer, that there AllegroScherzando whole atmosphere of the Iberian origin of the composer.

First Recording with Marcel Moyse :

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