Our composer of the month for May is the illustrious Philippe Gaubert, who was also a respected conductor and flute performer as well as composer of flute music. Considered by some to be a “weekend composer,” he nonetheless wrote several pieces that are still staples of the flute repertoire today. He was considered one of the top French music composers between the two world wars.
Gaubert began studying flute as a young boy with Jules Taffanel, father of the distinguished flautist Paul Taffanel. In 1890, impressed by his talent, Jules persuaded Paul to take the boy on as a pupil. He entered the Paris Conservatoire when Taffanel became professor of flute there in 1893. He was still a teenagerwhen he became the first chair flute at the Concerts du Conservatoire and the Paris Opera. At the same time, he studied composition and became an assistant conductor at the Concerts du Conservatoire from 1904. With the outbreak of World War I, Gaubert served in the French Army and fought at the Battle of Verdun, earning the Croix de Guerre. After he was discharged due to chronic bronchitis, Gaubertreturned to the Conservatoire where he was immediately named a professor of flute.
Even though he was more well-known for his performing and conducting career while he was alive, it is his compositions for which Gaubert is best known in posterity. They are wonderfully written, fully idiomatic for the flute, and demonstrate a grasp of French impressionist harmonic language that was so popular in his time. His two most popular pieces for the flute are “Madrigal” (1908) and “Fantaisie for Flute and Piano” (1912). The melodies are elegant, with a nod to Debussy, and quite lyrical. Please enjoy this recording of Philippe Gaubert’s “Madrigal,” performed by Mark Sparks.