John de Lancie (1921–2002) studied with Marcel Tabuteau at the Curtis Institute of Music from 1936 to 1940, succeeding him in 1954 as principal oboe in the Philadelphia Orchestra and at Curtis. He became Director of the Curtis Institute Music in 1977 serving for eight years. He commissioned two works for oboe: the Benjamin Lees Oboe Concerto and ‘The Flower Clock’ by Jean Francaix. In interviews with both Donald Hefner and Melissa Stevens, he reported the following in regards to the Tabuteau System:
When the Curtis Institute was founded in 1924, Marcel Tabuteau was engaged to teach oboe, woodwind ensemble, orchestral winds, percussion class, and string classes. As John de Lancie has remarked, “It was during this time that his concepts were crystallized and his brilliant ability to communicate with the young musicians of that period captivated and radically transformed the musical lives of all those who came under his influence.”
In class structure and curriculum, the Institute resembled the Conservatoire; the resemblance was obviously intentional. No classes were given before noon so that the morning hours could be devoted entirely to practice. Orthodox (“fixed do”) solfege, taught by a French instructor, was required throughout the years of study unless one could pass an immensely difficult “standard” solfege examination. Harmony, counterpoint, form and analysis were required as well as the all-important ensemble and orchestra classes.
John de Lancie made the observation that undertrained players manifest their deficiencies most clearly “in the area of pianissimo.” It was to this area that Tabuteau addressed so much of his training in the form of “drives”, of scales, and of the level of control demanded in his now legendary ensemble classes. As he said in 1965, “In my opinion, the quality that carries is the amplification of a dolce tone. The dolce tone is the nearest to zero!”
The “drives” began each lesson. They consisted of patterns of articulated (or sometimes unarticulated) notes of increasing, then decreasing, intensity. They addressed at once so many of the problems of “tone emission” that are at the core of the difficulty of oboe playing: wind control, articulation, reed placement, tone coloring, and even phrasing. They were very difficult to do.
The above is an extract from Donald Hefner’s 1984 dissertation: The Tradition of the Paris Conservatoire School of Oboe Playing with Special Attention to the Influence of Marcel Tabuteau.
The above is an extract from Melissa A. Stevens’ 1999 dissertation: Marcel Tabuteau: Pedagogical Concepts and Practices for Teaching Musical Expressiveness: An Oral History are his comments about the Tabuteau system.
Stevens, Melissa. “Follow-up to the Interview with John de Lancie”. The Double Reed. Vol. 25, No. 4 (2002): 61-63.
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