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Jacques Ibert (1890-1962) was one of the most prolific and eclectic French composers of the last century. He left behind numerous works in nearly every contemporary musical genre (Rapp, 2012). I have selected his work Piéce for solo flute to study and record. When preparing to perform a work, a musician should research the composer and his or her compositional style. Having done this, I am optimistic that I have made a recording that comes as close as possible to realizing his intentions. Here is some of what I have learned.
Ibert was a composer who could be distinguished as independent. This character trait appeared at a young age, when he first studied piano. He was much more interested in improvisation than in practicing endless scales, and would play wrong chords just to experiment. On the belief that composition was his calling, he attended the Paris Conservatoire until he was drafted in 1914 to serve in World War I, where he initially was a nurse and then as a naval officer stationed at Dunkirk.
After the war, Ibert never joined any of the modern musical movements that were popular during his time. Instead, he prided himself again on that characteristic independence and reverted back to the ideas of the Classical and Baroque eras, preserving his country’s more traditional styles. Because of his opposition to the German occupation of France, the Vichy Government banned his music in 1940 and he was forced to leave Paris and take refuge in Antibes, southern France. After the liberation of Paris in 1944, Charles De Gaulle summoned him. In 1955, he was appointed the director of the Assembly of National Lyric Theaters. Unfortunately, he had to resign after a year due to ill health (Timlin, 1980).
Ibert sought to develop a personal style that absorbed what was useful from the past but that was also individual. His music embraces a wide variety of genres and moods. His music can be lyrical and inspired, festive and lively, or descriptive and evocative, often with gentle humor. The harmonies that Ibert uses relate closely to those we associate with the Classical tradition. Like his other contemporaries such as Poulenc and Milhaud, Ibert attempted to revive the French virtues of clean-cut melody and clear tonality. Perhaps his inspiration for this revival was a reflection of his political views against German occupation in addition to a musical choice (Laederich, 2013).
Jacques Ibert’s Piéce for solo flute is a great example of Ibert composition style. Piéce was composed in 1936 and premiered by the famous flutist Marcel Moyse at a dinner party after the premiere of Ibert’s famous Flute Concerto (Toff, 1996). The work has fragments from the Flute Concerto’s third movement and is in ABA form with two contrasting themes. The first theme, the A section, is a slow lyrical melody while the second theme, the B section, contains a faster, wittier theme. This use of two contrasting themes is traditional. When the A section returns, the lyrical theme is brought back with ornamentation. The use of ornamentation on the return of the theme and the use of recurring motives was a common performance practice. Ibert also gave the work an improvisatory feel that was characteristic of past musical eras (Timlin, 1980).
When a performer begins to learn a new piece, it is vital to research the composer and his compositional style in order to develop an interpretation of the piece. Without this information, a musician might perform the piece in an uninformed fashion. Armed with knowledge, I was able to record Ibert’s Piéce for solo flute as I believe it was intended to sound. Instead of using a thick, heavy tone, I used a lighter sound that would have been common in the Classical and Baroque eras. Keeping in mind Ibert’s enthusiasm for improvisation, I took a few liberties with the work to give the performance a more free feeling. I made sure to make a distinction between the two contrasting sections of the work and to understand the harmonic structure to make musical decisions. Armed with information about the composer and his aesthetic viewpoints, I was able to cultivate a style that Ibert might have appreciated.
The recording of Piéce for solo flute was performed by the author, Caroline Beard.
Laederich, A. Ibert, Jacques. Grove Music Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved from Oxford Music Online. 3 March. 2013. http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/13675
Rapp, J. L. (2012). Program Notes: Jacques Ibert Flute Concerto. West Columbia, SC: PrintSouth Printing, Inc.
Timlin, F. E. (1980). An Analytic Study of the Flute Works of Jacques Ibert. (Thesis D.M.A.). University of Washington. (OCLC # 9107092)
Toff, N. (1996). The Flute Book: A Complete Guide for Students and Performers. (2nd Edition). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.