Luigi Hugues: Flutist, Composer, and Geographer

by Enrico Sartori

If you mention the name Luigi Hugues to an Italian flute player, he or she would immediately recognize it and recall the years as a student practicing “La Scuola del Flauto” op.51. Outside of Italy, however, Luigi Hugues is not at all well-known and if his name is familiar, it is probably because of Hugues’ fame as a geographer. 

With this article I would like to introduce Luigi Hugues, Italian flautist, composer and geographer from Piedmont, my home-region in Italy. 

Early Years

Luigi Hugues was born in Casale Monferrato on October 27th 1836.

His father, a wealthy textiles merchant, was of French origin. This explains why the family name “Hugues” is not a typical Italian last name. 

We don’t have much information about his early years or his musical formation. We know that after finishing high school he moved to Torino to join the University’s Department of Science and Physics. Torino, which is also my hometown, was a very important city at that time. It served as the capital of the Savoia Kingdom and was a city full of life with a vibrant musical scene. The city was home to both the Royal Opera Theatre and the Chamber Orchestra of the King. 

Although it is not formally documented, many musicologists believe that while a university student in Torino, Luigi Hugues most certainly studied flute with Camillo Romanino. Romanino was the principal flute of the King’s chamber orchestra and also a very good flute teacher, with several flute methods and flute compositions published under his name. 

Flutist and Composer

While there is no definitive information about Luigi Hugues’ formation as a flute player and composer. Several documents, including newspaper articles and concert brochures, provide insights into his performances in and around Italy during the years 1856 to 1860. 

Most of Luigi Hugues’ concerts during this period were performed in duo with his brother Felice Hugues who was also a skilled flute player. They could both play the piano as well, and often during a concert they would interchange roles. The two Hugues brothers often performed concerts with a third player: Constantino Nigra (1828 – 1907), who was an amateur flutist but also an important political figure in Italy’s political landscape. Nigra was an Italian nobleman, philologist, poet, diplomat and politician. A great diplomat and collaborator of Cavour, he acted as an intermediary between Napoleon III and Cavour in planning the Italian war of independence.

Here you can look at a painting of this famous trio. As you can see, both Constantino Nigra and Felice Hugues hold flutes, while Luigi Hugues, situated on the right, is without one. It’s likely that on this occasion Luigi Hugues acted as a pianist for the two flute players. 

At the age of twenty-five, Luigi Hugues started composing music. Today we have a music catalogue with more than one hundred opus numbers. During the course of his career, he wrote works for flute and piano, two flutes and piano, solo flute, wind ensembles and sacred music. 

Leading Expert In Geography

Despite the success of his concerts, Hugues was not inclined to the nomadic life of a concert artist. Luigi Hugues always regarded the flute and music as hobbies. Despite his considerable talent, he always referred to himself as an amateur flutist and composer.

He preferred the quiet and peaceful atmosphere of his hometown, Casale Monferrato.

His main field of study and life-long pursuit was geography. This is why in November 1859 he accepted the position as Professor of Geography and Inspector at the Istituto Tecnico Leardi, a vocational school and high school in the Anglo-Saxon school system. He held this position for almost forty years, acting also as the school’s dean later on.

He published important books and articles on the subject and became a leading expert in Italy, and likely in Europe as well. Later in life he also became a professor at the University of Turin. 

Educator in Geography and Music

While living in his hometown, Casale Monferrato, Luigi Hugues led a busy life. Along with his duties as a geography professor for the Istituto Tecnico Leardi, he taught flute at the town’s music school, Civica Scuola di Musica, eventually becoming the school’s dean from 1863 to 1883. He was the artistic director of the town’s theatre as well as the director of the city’s musical wind band. During his free time or main festivities, he played the organ at the Church of Santo Stefano and composed many sacred works.

It is important to remember that Luigi Hugues, for most of his life, was a teacher, both of geography and music. He enjoyed teaching and was talented as an educator. This is the reason why so many of his publications are for educational purposes, in both fields. He produced textbooks on geography tailored for primary, middle and high schools, along with more advanced books for university students.

On music we have his autonomous didactic series of books that cover all the flute levels, from methods written for beginners to methods written for advanced students. Most of the exercise books were designed for his flute students at the Casale Monferrato’s Music School. He had students at different levels and the more talented ones played in the town’s opera theatre or the town’s wind band.

Award-winning “La scuola del flauto”

His most famous flute method, “La scuola del flauto op.51”, printed by the editor Ricordi, was in the official program for all the music conservatories in Italy when I was a student and it is still in use today.  

La scuola del flauto op.51 is a method in 4 volumes, written in the form of duets. The student plays the first flute part while the teacher plays the second flute part. 

Each of the four volumes has twenty duets, with increased difficulty level. For example, the first duet of volume one, is easy to play; the range is limited (there are no high notes) and the tempo is relatively slow. Each subsequent duet is harder than the previous and each book or volume is designed for different years – the first volume for the first year, the second for the second year and so on.

This method, which I particularly like, is not only useful for developing the flute digital technique and sound, but it is important for learning how to shape a melodic line and play a beautiful melody. These duets are progressive, but since they are duets and not exercises, they are not as intense as the exercises or studies. Precise articulation and beautiful constant sounds throughout the third octaves is more important than the digital technique, even though in every duet you can find two or three hard spots for fingers. 

It is the first flute part, the one intended for the student, that changes. The second flute part, the one played by the teacher, maintains the same level of difficulty throughout the four volumes. 

All the duets are written in cantabile style, that is typical of the Italian school, and the student learns also about phrasing and carrying the line over several measures. 

When played together with the second flute part, the duets are also quite pleasant to listen to.

Hugues won a prize for his method. In 1881, during the Esposizione Musicale Internazionale (International Music Exposition) in Milan, he won the silver medal for the high quality of his work. The jury who awarded the prize included the esteemed Italian musicians Ponchielli, Mariani, Piatti and Torriani.

Flute Compositions

Luigi Hugues wrote many other works for flute. Many of his works are fantasies on opera themes. As a contemporary of Giuseppe Verdi (1813 -1901) and the artistic director of the Opera theatre in his hometown, Hugues had constant exposure to the latest operas.

He composed fantasies on themes of Verdi, Rossini, Wagner, Meyerbeer, Boito and Franchetti. He composed original works for flute and piano, and chamber music for wind ensemble, including quartets for flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon. He also composed many works for two flutes and piano, the most famous being the Fantasy on Melodies from il Ballo in Maschera by G. Verdi, recorded by Jean Pierre Rampal and R. Stallman. 

If you are interested in other works for two flutes and piano you can check the recording I made together with the flutist and musicologist Maurizio Bignardelli. The album is available for free on Spotify and features two fantasies based on the melodies of Verdi’s Aida, the fantasy on the Jone by Petrella and the fantasy on the opera La Favorita.

Newly Discovered Manuscripts

Last year marked a major discovery in Luigi Hugues compositions. Several manuscripts, most of them unpublished, were found by the violinist Bruno Raiteri. Over a phone call we had recently, he told me that there are many more works than the ones we know today. The compositions are not exclusively for flute but also sacred works as well as a string quartet. In the next few years all this material will be analyzed and published and perhaps we will have a better understanding of Luigi Hugues in the near future. 

Enrico Sartori | YouTube | Spotify | Apple Music

Enrico Sartori is professor of flute, conducting and vocal coach at the Northeast Normal University in Changchun (China). Since 2019 he is also the main conductor at the International School in Changchun as well as the Jilin Baroque Youth Orchestra. 

He played as a soloist with numerous orchestras in Europe, Russia, Asia and America and collaborated as principal flute with many orchestras such as the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (2015), the Opera National de Lyon (2014), the Turin Philharmonic Orchestra (2013-2014), the Italian Philharmonic Orchestra (2013 – 2017) and the Harbin Symphony Orchestra (2018 – 2019). 

Enrico Sartori graduated with full honors at the Conservatorio G. Verdi of Turin, earned his Master degree from Yale University in 2005 and Doctorate from SUNY, Stony Brook in 2011. In 2003 he studied at the Academy of the Teatro alla Scala of Milan under conductor Riccardo Muti. (Italy). His main flute teachers include Carol Wincenc, Ransom Wilson, Antonmario Semolini, Bruno Cavallo and Patrick Gallois. 

Winner of many international competitions, in 2009 maestro Satori made his solo Carnegie Hall debut (New York) as a winner of the Artist International Competition. His stunning performance at Weill Recital Hall received an unanimous standing ovation. 

Also an accomplished conductor, Enrico Sartori has been invited as a guest conductor of many professional orchestras around the world including the Xi’An Symphony Orchestra, (China), the Changchun Theatre Orchestra (China) and the Kaliningrad Philharmonic (Russia).