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by Cate Hummel
Marcel Moyse left this world nearly 40 years ago now in 1984. He was born near the end of the 19th century and came up as a student of Paul Taffanel, Philippe Gaubert and Adolf Hennebains at the Paris Conservatoire. What value can we find today in Moyse’s legacy as a player and teacher for today’s flutists and wind players? As it turns out, there is plenty for us today in his legacy as a player, in the myriad accounts of his teaching, and in the many books he published.
Marcel Moyse was to the flute what Andrés Segovia was for the guitar, Pablo Casals was for the cello, Fritz Kreisler was for the violin or Vladimir Horowitz was for the piano, namely a direct connection to 19th century performance practice from the time before recordings. Moyse learned from the best. In his early 20s, he toured the United States with Nellie Melba. He played in the pit of the Opera Comique in Paris, hearing some of the best voices of his time and was principal flutist of the Société des Concerts Orchestra. He got to hear and play chamber music with some of the most eminent musicians of his day. In his teaching, there were several important concepts that Moyse revisited over and over again.
- Acknowledging the legacy of the players and teachers that came before
- Playing with a luminous sound
- Making the hierarchy of beats audible
- Defining the phrase structure
- The return to opening material (the recap) is special
- Showing the skeleton of the phrase
- Understanding how to correctly execute
- Understanding French declamatory vocal style
Marcel Moyse always acknowledged his teachers and the traditions of performance practice that he learned from them. He learned to follow the rules of musical language and considered them to be immutable. These especially include showing the hierarchy of beats, i.e. the first beat is always strong, weak beats move towards strong beats. 1 2 3 4 or 1 2 3 Also that there are a couple different types of symmetrical phrases such as, 2 measures + 2 measures + 4 measures or 4 measures + 4 measures. Make it a habit to go to the apex of the phrase.
There are many accounts of Moyse spending hours of time helping a student find their best, most lively, luminous sound, even with really weak students. He taught tone by example, by means of metaphors that encouraged students to experiment with all the different ways of angling the air stream until the student found their ideal sound. There is an account of a lesson in a Moyse Society Newsletter of Moyse working with a student on the B above the staff for 90 minutes to find the life and light in the sound. Asking Moyse about vibrato would send him into a rage because it appears that he thought it was off topic. He was of the train of thought that vibrato was part of the sound. He didn’t want to talk about how to generate it or use it. He considered that obvious. If you understand the underlying musical principles, you just stick to those and the vibrato takes care of itself. Use your vibrato to show arrival at major strong beats or the apex of a phrase, which coincidentally frequently coincide. Always have energy and direction in how you phrase. Moyse’s writing about vibrato, as in “Comment J’ai Pu Maintenir Ma Forme” reads like a rant on the overuse of a mechanical vibrato. He’s very clear that he believes expression comes from the contour of the phrase, the liveliness and energy of the blowing, and through studying phrasing and expression, not through studying vibrato per se.
The return to opening material is special and requires a special sensitivity to color and inflection. Specifically, when you come back to the recapitulation, it requires a light, clear, quiet sound reminiscent of how a pleasant memory stays in your mind, i.e., piano, supported, spinning air column and luminous color (shimmery vibrato).
There are lots of examples in the flute literature of the flute taking on two roles at once. These include the Telemann Fantasias, Bach Partita, Karg-Elert caprices and many others. The key to understanding these pieces is identifying the skeleton of the phrase vs. what is supporting material. The skeleton requires more weight and presence in the sound, while the accompaniment needs a lighter color so the skeleton gets the necessary spotlight.
I love that Marcel Moyse would say that he wanted to create a school for a year each in order to study each musical device such as appoggiatura, acciaccatura, syncopation and gruppetto. He wanted to comb the literature and find every possible example of appoggiatura, for example, and make sure everyone was putting the stress in the right place, to make sure the audience could hear the dissonance resolving. He had an expressive way of describing syncopation that goes beyond being a rhythmic device to displace the beat. He insisted that one breathes before the long note in the syncopation in order to have the short note(s) after being a part of the same gesture. He explained that the word ‘syncopation’ comes from the root word that means to faint. Think of how you respond when you are surprised by something extraordinary or beautiful in order to understand this expressive device. You gasp in wonder and delight.
Moyse taught us, reminded us that the correct way to utilize an acciaccatura is to play the grace note louder than the note it is embellishing. It’s akin to the vocal “catch in the voice” you hear in many Italian opera arias. While it seems foreign to us today, it’s worth the effort to learn how to do it for heightened expression, especially in the 19th century music, the French conservatory pieces and other works from the first half of the 20th century. And finally, for gruppetti, he would say, “eat every note”. In other words, be very deliberate to make every note of the turn clear and lead to its resolution. Turns should never be rushed.
The last point, understanding French declamatory style, comes from vocal pedagogy. This was largely the style of singing Moyse heard in his days at the Opera Comique in Paris. It’s also quite uncommon today, since the more expansive and effusive Italianate style has become the standard of operatic singing we hear today. French declamatory style is based on the belief that the French language is itself very musical, so it doesn’t need to be so openly demonstrative.
The great practitioners of this style are largely gone and forgotten. Some of the artists Marcel Moyse revered included Vanni Marcoux, Edmond Clemont, Georges Thill, Amilita Galli-Curci, among others. You can find recordings of these artists on YouTube to get an idea of what Moyse valued in their example. Note the lightness and shimmery quality to this type of singing. Also, the personal immediacy and intimacy of this type of delivery makes you want to keep listening.
One can learn a lot from the performance practices Moyse demonstrated in his playing. There are many recordings available on YouTube. There is a kind of driving intensity to his sound that you hear in many of his students, starting with James Galway, William Bennett, Trevor Wye, Paula Robison, Carol Wincenc. They each have their own version of that Moyse intensity in their personal sound and phrasing. It is also fruitful to explore how much Moyse learned from the string players he knew throughout his career. He recognized that the up and down bow strokes have different weight, so down bows are used for strong beats and up bows for weak beats. It’s built right into the technique of playing string instruments. There is so much in Moyse’s playing and teaching that continues to be relevant to us in refining our personal artistry today. I encourage you to read about Marcel Moyse, listen to his playing, the playing of his students and singers and instrumentalists who inspired him.
Marcel Moyse: Voice of the Flute, Ann McCutchan, Amadeus Press, 1994
Marcel Moyse: An Extraordinary Man, Trevor Wye, Winzer Press, 1993
My Teacher: Remembering Marcel Moyse, Susan Fries, Author House, 2007
Honoring Marcel Moyse, Alan Cox, Metamorphosen Productions, 2013
Marcel Moyse’s The Melody Book, Sonja Giles, Carolyn Nussbaum Music Company, 2010
Newsletter of the Marcel Moyse Society, 1990-2020, moysesociety.org
Marcel Moyse and Tone Development Through Interpretation: A Study Guide, Cate Hummel, 1996, unpublished, for the degree of Doctor of Musical Arts, Manhattan School of Music, New York
Marcel Moyse masterclass in Copenhagen 1969
Ibert – Pièce pour flute seule , flute : Marcel Moyse
Marcel Moyse: Grand Old Man of the Flute (excerpt)
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Cate Hummel discovered the books and teaching of Marcel Moyse as an undergraduate student in Philadelphia. As a doctoral student, Cate’s interest in Moyse’s teaching became her dissertation topic, a discussion of how Moyse taught the melodies of Tone Development and the various experiences and artists that had shaped his musical thought. Cate has taken her research into the teaching of Marcel Moyse to flute events around the country and internationally with presentations on Tone Development Through Interpretation and 24 Little Melodic Studies. Dr. Hummel performs as an Altus and Azumi flute artist. She is founder and director of Dr. Cate’s Flute Camp, a day camp for flute students based in the Chicago suburbs. She is Adjunct Professor of Flute at the University of St. Francis and teaches privately both in person and online.