How this collection of interviews came to be:
When I was studying for a PhD in musicology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (from 1973-78), I took a seminar on the Sociology of Music led by musicologist Barry S. Brook and sociologist Bernard Rosenberg. One of the current topics in musicology at that time was the gathering of source material through taped interviews. At City University the Project for the Oral History of Music in America (POHMA) had just been established. Professor Bernard Rosenberg and his daughter Deena Rosenberg, also a member of the class, were just completing a book called The Music Makers, a collection of 32 interviews of people who were involved in various areas of the classical music profession – from composers and performers to critics, educators, theorists, and managers. It was the first book published as part of POHMA. As a requirement of the class, each student was to undertake an oral history project. And I, as an oboist, decided that I would interview students of Marcel Tabuteau, one of the most influential teachers and instrumentalists of the twentieth century.
The following is some of what I wrote in my proposal at that time:
“The course project I have undertaken concerns Marcel Tabuteau and the ‘Tabuteau Tradition’ as an example of twentieth century performance practice.
Tabuteau had definite ideas about phrasing and certain ways of describing his ideas, including among other things a system of numbers and a system of up and down impulses. The problem is knowing what these and other key terms mean. He would apparently use the terms without explaining what they meant (and how to produce them physically.) [For example, Wayne Rapier said that “as scientific as I can ever remember his getting concerning vibrato was that ‘it comes with the wind.’ And you figure out where the wind comes from!”]
At the same time Tabuteau was quite dogmatic and apparently it was up to the student to figure out what Tabuteau wanted, if the student did not understand Tabuteau’s terminology. In other words, the student had to come up with his own definitions of Tabuteau’s ideas. [Quoting Wayne Rapier again, “We learned in self-defense. He would keep kicking you in the right direction until you supplied your own right answer. That’s why most of his pupils in answering any question concerning the oboe or music will come up with different answers, but they will come up with the answer that worked for them.]
In 1963, several years before Tabuteau’s death (he died in 1966), Wayne Rapier presented Tabuteau with a tape recorder and suggested he put some of his ideas down for posterity. Tabuteau did make a series of tapes, which were edited into two masters. One of the masters is the record “Art of the Oboe” [later issued as a CD called Marcel Tabuteau’s Lessons.]
As an oboist, I studied with one of Tabuteau’s students [Wayne Rapier at the Oberlin Conservatory], who used many of Tabuteau ideas and some of his expressions, including the up and down impulses. But, after 4 years I still was unsure what they meant and how to do them, though I had come up with my own “self-defense” definitions. I wondered how other people, especially first generation students interpreted Tabuteau’s concepts. Using the record [Art of the Oboe], I studied Tabuteau’s concepts and prepared an outline of them. My plan was to see how people understood these principles and to find out what they assimilated into their own playing and what they rejected, that is, what they understood as the tradition and how they chose either to perpetuate it or not. Professor Rosenberg, of course, reminded me that this was a process of socialization.”
I ended up interviewing eight eminent instrumentalists, who had studied with Tabuteau. There were six oboists, a flutist, and a bassoonist. (Positions cited were those held at the time of the interview.)
John de Lancie – successor to Tabuteau as principal oboist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, but had retired from that position at the time of the interview and had become the head of The Curtis Institute of Music.
John Mack–principal oboist, Cleveland Orchestra.
Wayne Rapier – associate principal oboist, Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Rhadames Angelucci – principal oboist, Minnesota Orchestra.
Laurence Thorstenberg – English hornist, Boston Symphony Orchestra
Robert Bloom – professor of oboe and chamber music at The Juilliard School; Bach Aria Group.
Donald Peck – principal flutist, Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Sherman Walt – principal bassoonist, Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Everyone, except Wayne Rapier, went to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Wayne Rapier, when he was in the Marine Band and during some summers In France, studied privately with Tabuteau. All the Curtis people took chamber music classes with Tabuteau and played in the Curtis Orchestra, which Tabuteau conducted. Of course, the oboists also studied oboe with Tabuteau. My interviews were done during the years 1977-78. As it turned out, I had talked to an interesting cross section of people. Some of the students studied with Tabuteau in the late 20’s and early 30’s during his early years at Curtis and others just before and after World War II. And it appears that Tabuteau’s teaching method and ideas evolved from the time he studied with Georges Gillet in Paris to the time he died. Some of the interviewees noted certain people who may have influenced Tabuteau; these included: Tabuteau’s teacher Georges Gillet; conductors/singers/musicians at the Metropolitan Opera (where Tabuteau played first oboe prior to his joining the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1915); and Leopold Stokowski (conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra 1912-38.)
By doing this Project, did I find the answers I was looking for? Definitely, yes. In these interviews there is an extraordinary amount of information provided “first hand” by renowned students of Tabuteau. I hope you will find their offerings interesting, valuable, and useful.
About the recordings and transcripts:
The interviews were not done in a professional sound studio, but rather in homes and offices which were not immune from extraneous sounds, including traffic and banging noises, chairs squeaking, and phones ringing. They were recorded originally on a portable cassette recorder (analog format), which was standard practice at that time. The cassette tapes of the interviews survived these forty years with some, but not significant or seriously detrimental deterioration, and recently have been transferred to a digital format. I also have provided transcripts of the interviews with the intention that they should be read while listening to the recordings. Fortunately, the transcripts were done at the time of the recordings and remain as the primary and most enduring source of information. However, hearing the voices of these important musicians adds a very important element to the interviews. The tempo and cadence of their speech, the emphasis they placed on certain words, provides an added dimension. Did they vividly and/or enthusiastically remember things or did they slowly recall certain concepts when prompted or did they not remember hearing certain things at all? Above all, we get insight into their personalities. For me, I was thankful for their knowledge, time, sincerity, and kindness. It was a great honor to meet and talk to these very significant 20th century instrumentalists. Please note that some of the interviewees edited their transcripts, which would account for some discrepancies between the audio and the written transcript.
The tapes were transferred to a digital format and restored, edited and mixed by audio engineer Daniel Schoen to improve the sound and flow of the interviews. Also I want to give special thanks to my husband Theodore Schoen, who helped me in many aspects of current technology.
Here are a few quotes from the interviews:
Robert Bloom remarking why Tabuteau was so important to him:
Tabuteau was a meticulous musician; he was a very intellectual musician, everything he did was thought out… which was wonderful. And to a young man who had heard all kinds of oboists, and wind players were not supposed to be that way. Wind players, you know were just supposed to blow in their instruments, and play what’s on the score. And if they had a pretty good tone, that was all right, and if they didn’t well, it wasn’t too bad either, you know. So to come to a man who knew exactly what he wanted to do, he was quite similar to Casals in that way. I mean he never played anything without knowing where he was going. To a young man that was a great experience that you just don’t play music, you think about it.
And Robert Bloom added: I always thought you could be a good musician on the oboe, but now here was a man that was showing me that you can just by example. And so, of course, and besides that, there was a psychological lift, because he was thought of so highly in Philadelphia.
Everyone knew him. And for a wind player this was great; it gave a wind player a hero, you see. Whereas before it was always a violinist, a cellist, a singer, a pianist, but now we had a hero that not only the conductors and the rest of the orchestra appreciated, but the public considered a great artist. So, this was a very good ambiance for a young guy.
John Mack on wind “speed”:
He wanted to think of the wind as something traveling and alive, never something like just pressure. He didn’t like the idea of talking about it that way, so he used the expression “speed…” One can hear the motion in the sound [when Tabuteau played]; there’s no question about that. The motion in the line and the concept of phrasing; it moves, it goes, it travels, it’s never stationary.
Laurence Thorstenberg on the importance of the chamber music classes with Tabuteau:
That was really one of the most important things. To do ensemble work with him, because balancing and listening to the others, phrasing together, phrasing similarly, and bringing out the voices, subordinating at the right times – all that was gone into in great detail. Perfect ensemble, starting things just together, and having a balanced chord. For example, we did the transcription of the Beethoven Quintet, we did that about a year. The introduction, we may have done that about half a year – just the introduction.