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Review of Marcel Moyse: Voice of the Flute by Ann McCutchan

The Sensible Flutist: Review of Marcel Moyse: Voice of the Flute by Ann McCutchan

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Review of Marcel Moyse: Voice of the Flute by Ann McCutchan

I just finished reading Ann McCutchan's bio of Marcel Moyse, one of the foremost members of the French flute school. I bought this book when I found it on Jen Cluff's suggested reading list (, and it's been sitting on my shelf for over a year. I felt inspired to begin reading it upon my return from the Ithaca Flute Institute, and I learned a few things about Moyse that shores up why I feel so deeply connected with him. This book deepened my understanding of Moyse the man versus the legend that lives on in flutists' hearts all over the world.

1. He taught musicality, and how to make the flute sing and deepen its expressive qualities. In his later years in Vermont, Moyse was a teacher you sent students to for "finishing." The beauty of Moyse's teaching was how accessible it was to other instrumentalists. As Raymond Benner stated, "He was a teacher for everybody. The instrument didn't matter. He was a teacher of music."

Many flute students who were not ready for his instruction picked up bad habits as a result of their trying to emulate what they heard. This is an important difference to keep in mind, especially as you look for a teacher. Some teachers are better for technical proficiency on the instrument. For some world class American flutists today (Leone Buyse, Carol Wincenc, and Paula Robison to name a few) who studied with Moyse, he was not their primary teacher. Instead, they came to him for polishing and refining and in turn, Moyse influenced a whole generation of American flutists who each in their own way are spreading Moyse's teachings. I myself teach with many of Moyse's ideas in mind. Perhaps I wasn't sure who to credit them to (even though I use many of his books in my own practice), but this biography solidified Moyse's influence in my playing.

2. Moyse as the man and Moyse as the musician were not one and the same. I am interested in reading a few more sources on Moyse to corroborate the personal stories included in McCutchan's book. After World War II and Mr. Moyse's subsequent move to America, he was very bitter at how his Paris career ended. Many times, Moyse's misfortunes struck me as a matter of miscommunication. During WWII and his exile to St. Amour, Moyse assumed that his position at the Paris Conservatoire would be held for him without any real assurance that this was in fact the case. Upon his return to Paris after the war, he found that Gaston Crunelle (a former student) was teaching the flute classes. There is also an earlier story of Moyse who as a young man accompanied a singer on an American tour and while in Minnesota, had a job in the Minneapolis Symphony verbally offered to him. Once his touring obligation was done, he went back to Minnesota intrigued by the prospect of a job there and found that there was nothing.

Many times we musicians have conversations with people with the promise of something more. I think the lesson here is to always keep the channels of communication open with whomever you're working. In our generation, we have the internet as a wonderful resource to minimize our chances of assuming wrongly about opportunities. Moyse's ability to support his family through teaching and performing shows the amount of talent he had regardless of the failures that were pointed out throughout this biography. Regardless of these communication breakdowns, Moyse's adventurous spirit certainly contributed to his ability to take risks in developing a pedagogy all his own.

3. Moyse's wonderful teachings stemmed from an interest he had in string and vocal music early in his career. He studied how vocalists and string players expressed musical ideas, and he worked to include the same qualities in his flute playing. This way of flute playing expanded the instrument's possibilities in the solo realm. Ibert and Bozza were two contemporaries who wrote several unaccompanied pieces for flute specifically for Moyse, no doubt intended to display his abilities. On a pedagogical level, I use De la Sonorite, Tone Development through Interpretation, his Daily Exercises, and several other books in my practice rotation. The most beneficial aspect to reading about Moyse's early life was the ability to gain some clarity about the inspiration behind these books which are still so important to today's flutists. The book also provides excellent information about the repertoire written for him during the Paris years.

4. The great respect his students had for him aside from his quirks. Moyse was apparently jealous of his female students' time. Because he was such a legend to Americans and the French alike by the time he came to America, many students were willing to overlook his strange personality traits to continue studying with the teacher. We have all had a teacher at some point in our lives that has done so much for us musically, but they puzzle us on a personal level. This part of the biography shed light more on Marcel Moyse, the man which is important for contextualizing his important contributions to flutists and to the music world.

I recommend this biography to anyone who has a deep interest in the teachings of Marcel Moyse, and would like to learn more about him. This book provided insights into the French school of playing that I will continue reading about. This biography is a great read for any instrumentalist, especially woodwind players, since it goes beyond the flute and into the musical world that Moyse worked so hard to create and expand throughout the world. The book largely dealt with Moyse's Paris career in the pre-World War II years and his time in Vermont post-war up until his death. I was disappointed that little attention was spent in regards to his time with Takahashi, the Japanese flutist that adapted the Suzuki method to flute. If you are a flutist, the primary benefit of owning this biography is it has a publication listing with dates, and a full discography.

I'll leave you now with a quote from Aurele Nicolet recalling Moyse's energetic teaching:

Moyse "was like an actor in the French theatre. His magic was in his power of suggestion, through physical gestures, descriptions of pictures, and of course, singing." (McCutchan, 165)

If you are a non-flutist and do not know who Marcel Moyse is, please take a moment to find out. He is one of my inspirations, and his teaching and "eye-ear-heart" teachings will help you find the beauty in all music.


At August 16, 2010 at 8:05 AM , Blogger Cate said...

Nice post on Moyse. For other books, check out Trevor Wye's biography. It corroborates Ann's accounts and is full of Moyse's pithy quotes and acerbic comments to students. For anecdotes about Moyse, Susan Fries book is great. A collection of vignettes from her studies with him. BTW, my dissertation was on Moyse's teaching of Tone Development Through Interpretation. I got interested in Moyse because I studied with a number of his students. His gift for metaphor and analogy continues to inspire me in my playing and teaching.

At August 27, 2010 at 8:03 PM , Blogger Karl Henning said...

Wonderful review, thank you!


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