Rhadames ‘Johnny’ Angelucci (1915-1991) made his first professional appearance when he was 13 years old. In 1931, he won a scholarship to the Curtis Institute where he studied oboe with Marcel Tabuteau. After graduating in 1936, Angelucci embarked on a career of chamber music, teaching at the University of Minnesota, and performing numerous solos with the Minneapolis Symphony, the Minnesota Orchestra’s predecessor. During his first two years with the orchestra, Angelucci played English horn until music director Dmitri Mitropoulos named him principal oboe, a position he held for an additional 44 years.
NOTE: Minor variances may occur between the audio and written transcript due to later text editing by the interviewee.
Interview with Rhadames Angelucci [at that time principal oboist of the Minnesota Orchestra], on January 10, 1978 in New York City. Interviewed by Laurie Van Brunt
Laurie Van Brunt: The first thing that I want to know is when you studied with Tabuteau?
Rhadames Angelucci: I started in the middle of January, 1931. [The next few lines of taped interview had deteriorated.]
LVB: This was at Curtis?
RA: Yes, at the Curtis Institute; I stayed there until I graduated in 1936.
LVB: I mean to say that whenever we’re discussing any concepts or anything, please give your own opinion on everything.
RA: Oh yes, yes.
LVB: Did you also participate in chamber music classes?
RA: At Curtis?
LVB: Yes, with Tabuteau.
RA: Many of them, yes, woodwind ensemble classes, many of them, yes.
LVB: What was he like in lessons?
RA: Well, of course, I was very, very frightened of him, you know, because he demanded so much. He was very, very interesting. When I took lessons from him, he was very interesting in phrasing; in one word he said so many things, actually. In the woodwind classes he was again very interesting. He had many, many great ideas in phrasing; it always carried. You could always understand what he meant.
Remember, I am not as lucid as some of those guys, I just –
LVB: It’s fine.
What kind of atmosphere did he generate?
RA: Oh [laugh]. Well, I was always worried [laugh] when I was around him. I was frightened of him really, except in my last year at school, then I seemed to sort of relax near him. Then, of course, I knew what he wanted. And I was, of course, waiting to graduate, and he always treated me with a great deal of respect in my last year. I don’t think he ever said a cross word to me, but oh, when I first got there and the several years after that, [There is some deterioration in the tape at this point] I was just frightened of him all the time; I was nervous near him. I think the rest of the students might say the same thing, because he was quite demanding. And you had to be prepared in your lessons.
LVB: Do you remember the kind of things that you worked on like long tones and that kind of thing?
RA: I do recall my first lesson consisted of one note; I had to strike an “a”. He was very anxious for me to [tape continues here:] produce the sound and not stop the wind at the throat. I remember that, I
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had to learn to play on a forward motion. I don’t know if you have ever heard that expression, but he told me that I was collapsing after each note. So, that was my first lesson on one note. After that I practiced by a mirror so that my throat here, this wouldn’t move back and forth [indicating the sides of his throat], if you know what mean.
RA: After a few lessons, then I began to play scales; I had to play scales – very slowly, both detached and slurred, a major and minor scale. And each lesson started with two scales — both detached and slurred, both scales. And you progressed then, of course, from the sharps then to the flats. And then after that always I had to play in intervals thirds and fourths, as I recall. And then you got into the Barret book, for instance. And then after I finished the Barret book, I went into the Ferling Studies, then the Brod Sonatas, and, of course, I had to do the Handel Sonatas and the Paladilhe or I don’t remember which one now, — I think both of those I had to play and learn. And then I took the Gillet Technique and also a Prestini my last year in school. That’s exactly what I went through, but the scales were always, always preceded your book, always the scales. I understand that later on he might have changed that, you know. Some pupil later on was telling me that he had the scales done differently than I had learned.
LVB: We’ll get into numbers –
RA: I did want to say one thing, Laurie, that it is amazing that I can’t recall after I got over some of the bad habits that he wanted me to eradicate, I remember that most of the time I always seemed to finish a lesson on time. He was great at that. You know that that’s a talent, you know to assign a lesson and then have a student finish the lesson at the proper time. And, of course, one year I remember I used to have a lesson on Saturday, I think it was at 11 o’clock. 11:30, I was through. I always came into the room several minutes before, just into the studio at Curtis several minutes before the lesson, and I was all prepared and must be all ready. At 11 o’clock I started; 11:28 the next pupil came into the room, I forget I think it was Harold Gomberg now. And it was the same thing with him. He was quite ready, and at 11:30 I was through, and I finished what I had to practice or what was assigned to me. So, it was quite a marvelous thing how he could do this, you know, all the time it seemed, constantly. So he had planned the time quite well. You know you have eight or nine students in a row, if you run over, at the end of the day you’re two hours late, but he wasn’t. And you did get an awful lot.
I do recall several times, I suppose, he was quite tired, he’d sort of put his head on the piano and sort of lean over and I thought perhaps he was asleep, but he always woke up when I did something wrong, it seemed like, you know. So he wasn’t asleep you know [laugh].
And he was a great one for playing with imagination. You know, it seemed to me I would play an entire sonata and he’d only say one or two words, but it always meant so much. It’s hard to remember exactly, you know, but I remember the first little phrasing tip he gave me, he says, “Play those three little phrases – don’t play them as one; just play them as a question, answer, and conclusion.” I was so amazed at this. And little rubatos that he taught me; I mean it, he says, “Put a little on this note and whatever you put on you must take off later.” And these all made sense in what I was playing, you know.
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And about projection and the sound being so that it would float, and, you know, spinning the breath, all of these things, but they weren’t all said at once, but a little at a time he would tell you things that meant so much. You know I appreciated him even more after I left school, not that I didn’t appreciate him while I was at school, but you know so much of the time was spent in trying to hide my fear. I used to go into a lesson kind of shaking, you know. And he was a great one that when he would explain something to another student if you were standing there, he always wanted you to acknowledge that he had said something. And if you had a smile on your face, he liked that. He didn’t like negative personalities. I don’t think I had a negative personality, so I got along very well, especially that last year.
LVB: You mentioned spinning the sound, what did that exactly involve?
RA: The way that I gathered it was that you first got the breath in motion, and with the intensity and with the support, as he used to say, “Play on the pressure of the diaphragm,” and you just pushed the breath through the instrument, and the tone just sort of spiraled through and played on a forward motion. It’s very much like, he would say, like an engine starting on the rails and you know how it would tug the rail and then it would gather speed, and, of course, then you get more intensity.
LVB: Did he talk about vibrato at all?
RA: Never, no, he did not. I am glad you asked me, now you see that’s something that I almost forgot about, because I have this problem with a lot of the students that come to me, and you know they say, “Oh, my school conductor wants me to get a vibrato.” I said, “No, let’s not talk about it.” I said, “I just want you to play, just the notes, just as full as you can, even; play your scales evenly and [with] a nice sound, but just think of singing with intensity,” and this is what he did with me. I remember in my sixth lesson, I think it was around the sixth, sixth or seventh lesson, while I was playing a scale, he never mentioned the word vibrato, he just said, “Sing with intensity; more support; push, push, place on the forward motion.” All of a sudden in the middle of the scale he says, “That’s it!” I was singing according to what, according to him; well, I did notice that was something happening all of a sudden. And he said, “That’s it,” and he never used that word. Now I don’t know, I don’t believe in vibrating from the diaphragm. I think it happens, in fact it happens higher up. I don’t know if you agree with that, you know some people –
LVB: It’s a real matter of controversy.
RA: Yes, it is. But, I’ve talked to a lot of singers about this, and they claim they don’t talk about vibrato as such, just let the tone sing.
LVB: It comes naturally.
RA: Yes. Now my brother on French Horn I remember one time when we were doing something from Rosenkavalier [sings example], he had this horn solo in orchestra class, and Tabuteau did like him very much, liked his playing, says, “You have a very beautiful floating tone.” And he used to vibrate naturally; it wasn’t with the hand. Now I talked to him about it, and he says, no, he didn’t vibrate from the diaphragm at all. I think that a lot of flutists sometimes will practice vibrato with a metronome. Have you talked to them about that?
LVB: I know that some people do, yes.
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RA: I can only say with my own experience, taking lessons with Mr. Tabuteau that I never heard “Vibrate” as such or “Use a vibrato”; he might say “vibrate”, but not “to use a vibrato.” He used to say, “Sing with intensity.”
LVB: I meant to ask you when you mentioned all the Barret and –, did you have to transpose all those?
RA: Yes, I had to transpose the beginning, the articulated lessons [sing examples in solfege]. I had to transpose those, but you know, Laurie, I can’t remember whether I had to transpose the little sonatas; I don’t believe I had to, no, but I do remember the articulated lessons. That to me is very vivid now. The scales, right into the Barret book; scales, into the Ferling.
You know he had a thing that many times you would phrase your own way he wouldn’t stop you. I think that he stressed individuality. He didn’t like imitation or to copy anyone. I know a few times he would harp onto someone, “Don’t imitate so much.” And it wasn’t an oboe student, it would be maybe a flute student or a clarinet who’d imitate. Be your own personality.
LVB: Did he play in lessons?
RA: I don’t know what the others say, no, if I had to do it over again, I would insist that he did play for me. Laurie, I can’t remember; oh, one time he picked up the oboe and played a few notes for me and then, of course, he told me to, that was when he was trying to get me to play more from the diaphragm, and as he played I had to touch his stomach muscles and all; I was amazed that how tight they were and how strong. But, that is the one thing I felt cheated about that he did not demonstrate on the oboe what he wanted. You know, for instance, in the Barret book or in the Ferling go through an exercise to show you what he wanted. I do that with the students; I take a chance, I even pick up their own oboe and reeds and play them. Of course, I apologize sometimes because the reed or the oboe is not working, but I take a chance. And many times a student is very pleased that I demonstrated and can see what I am trying to get them to do; I am sometimes lucky enough to show it on the instrument. But, of course, he again could do it by telling you what he wanted. I’m not as good that way. It seemed that with a few words he could get many things across. Rhythm also.
Did the others say that he played for them?
LVB: Well, he seemed to play for his later students, he tended to play more.
RA: Ah, yes. Now because Mr. de Lancie, of course, for instance, (is it all right to use names?), I know that he was just coming into school as I was graduating: I think he came the following year if I’m not mistaken. And I just wonder if he played much for him.
LVB: I think he did say that he [Tabuteau] did play in lessons, demonstrate in lessons.
RA: You see we had orchestra class, we also had woodwind class and the lessons, and I can’t remember that many, many, many things that I played that he ever played for me. I don’t know why, but maybe, you know, one can change their style of teaching from one year to the next.
LVB: Mr. de Lancie seemed to think that Tabuteau did change his teaching from right before he came to Curtis, he had that impression. Now did Tabuteau work on reeds with you?
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RA: Not very much. He guided you; he told you some ideas. I know Mr. de Lancie and I spoke about this, and he didn’t actually work on reeds very much. I don’t know, he [Tabuteau] felt that one had to learn to depend on yourself to make reeds, to learn how; he says he slaved to learn a few things about reeds and you must do the same. And he used to say that there was an oboist that used to have reeds made for him; he says, “But what if his reed-maker’s sick, and he has no reeds?” So, he always depended on himself for his own supply of reeds. But he would, for instance, tell you if a reed is flat, do this, if the reed is too bright, try this, experiment and all. I think that you will find the rest of the older students might say the same thing about it.
LVB: Did he show you at all what kind of scrape he used. Did you know what his reeds looked like?
RA: I would sneak a look, you know occasionally, and I was surprised at some of the reeds that he used that they didn’t look evenly scraped and all, but he knew what he was doing. I did some time ago bought an oboe through him, and he sent a reed along with it, and I was amazed at the scraping. It was just a tip; the very tip was very thin and just a little bit in the hump and nothing out of the back taken out, and it was a good reed. I tried to copy that, but I could never make a reed that would do this, the way this reed did. So, I don’t know, maybe he found a good piece of cane, he had a good supply of cane, and the gouge and the shaper was just right, so you could scrape this way. But he did use the long scrape. You know after all, I think, he was the first one to start this type of scrape. See this is what he learned after he got out of the Conservatory, the Paris Conservatoire; this is what he learned to do, his own thing on reeds. But he would give you a tip here and there. You know, don’t tie over the tube, and you must use good knives when you’re doing this, be careful; you’re sharp, scrape so that you can bring the pitch down. But, not to the point where you just brought a reed along and he would scrape it for you from beginning to end, no, not that sort of thing.
LVB: You mentioned that he talked about how to support; he actually went into that kind of, how you take a breath –?
RA: Oh yes, well you support the tone, of course, it’s all here [motioning to the diaphragm and stomach muscles]. Of course, you know on his record he claims to, I didn’t know whether he used circular breathing or not. I really don’t know; I would like to talk to someone that played in the orchestra with him, but in his record, that I followed very closely, that he claims that you must exhale without breaking the tone. So, I gathered from that that was a circular breathing. Did you ask–?
LVB: I have asked several people about that, because I also wondered about that section on the record, and well, he didn’t teach it and he never mentioned it to people, so that they didn’t think that he did circular breathe.
RA: I don’t know. I do. I use it. Of course, some people say that if you breathe correctly, you don’t need it. I don’t know; I know many times I’m playing something and I’m gasping, I need breath or I have too much, but I do use the circular breathing. And it came to me some years after I left school quite by accident actually. Maybe I subconsciously was practicing it and didn’t know it, but I thought it was one time we were playing a Brahms Symphony and on one of the long chords at the end of a slow
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movement, I forget whether it was Brahms Third [Symphony], and the conductor was holding it a little longer than I had expected, you know, and found myself breathing without breaking the tone. I said, “How am I doing this? Oh.” So then I tried it a few times after that. Then I began to do it in open places, you know when I am holding a note sometimes, and occasionally I can do it, when I’m moving [sings fast tongued passage], I’ll take a breath without breaking the tone. But now I don’t know if that’s what he meant. Here I studied with him and I don’t even know that part of it. But, he did want you to exhale and inhale, of course. He would say take a breath; I remember many times he’d say, “Take a breath once in a while, it’s free!” [imitating Tabuteau’s speech]. He would get so angry that, you know, I was afraid that it would be the wrong place to breathe, that’s why. But he would insist that at the end of the phrase, let the air out, take a new supply. Now that’s what I try to do sometimes, you know, exhale that way and quickly take a fresh supply or play a small phrase with just the surplus; we always have a little left over.
About the number system, Laurie, were you going to ask me that?
RA: Is it all right if I –
LVB: That’s a good thing to talk about now.
RA: He didn’t use that much on me.
RA: He didn’t use the number system, I don’t know what the others have said.
LVB: I wonder if he developed it along the way? Did he use it in chamber music classes?
RA: He used it a lot when I was there, but he did not use it with me. Now if you ever speak to Mr. Bloom about it. I told him, I said, “Bob, he never used that number system.” Of course, I didn’t like mathematics, arithmetic, maybe. Bob Bloom said something else about that why he didn’t use it with me and some others, but I don’t want say what it is. It was a compliment, and I think it’s really… I try to believe it was a compliment, but I don’t know, maybe he figured I was too stupid to learn the numbers. [Laugh] I always thought that, because maybe he was satisfied that maybe I understood what he was saying; but that 1 1 2, you know it’s a degree of intensity and tone color.
LVB: Did he talk about changing colors – like it should be darker here or –?
RA: Well, this is, the thing I think he used to tell me that “Oh, this phrase here, it’s more positive; a little more negative here,” and I understood that to be the difference in color and feeling, you know. I think that, for instance, if a person is playing, let’s say Don Juan of Strauss, I think that when you start, if you think Don Juan is thinking of (the way I interpret that), that he’s thinking of the perfect woman or something, that I think it would come out that way. It’s what you’re thinking, and he figured too that way, I’m sure, because in a lesson many times he says, “More imagination – more imagination.” And you know, of course, many times he had some whimsical things to say about it. I remember one particular time he said, “Gentlemen,” he says, “play it with some feeling.” He says, “and some motion;” he believed in motion in music. And he says, “When you see a beautiful race horse, the lines on a race
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horse…curves.” Well, we knew what he meant, you know, Laurie [laugh]. Many, many times… He had a sense of humor too. But, I think that actually using the terms, “change the color” he never did with me.
LVB: But he, instead, he would ask –
RA: I think it was more or less in interpreting what you were playing in a different mood. And I think by playing in different moods, the tone color changes; you know you can sound sad or happy, scherzandi or pastoral affect. That’s what I recall. I do know that, boy, every half hour I came out of there thinking that I had really moved up a notch in the ladder of success, you know, figuring that he’d taught me so much.
LVB: that’s great.
Let’s see, do you remember him using up and down impulses?
RA: Yes he did, yes. That I remember vividly, you know, up down up up down. And I do recall it especially in the articulated lessons, those in the Barret book [singing example from pg. 54 #1, meas. 4], because I use it with my pupils and I even talked to violinists, my son-in-law who happens to be an associate concertmaster in Pittsburgh, and I asked him how he would bow this particular up-up-down business, and he says,” yah, I would do it that way.” So, the up-down impulse was, you know, to get the motion in the music.
Another thing he didn’t speak, he didn’t say, “tee long taa taa” with me. It was just long long daat daat. He used “long” for the slur, you see. Also he used to say, “If you have a slur on two notes, it’s only one note that’s slurred.” But, you know, and if you have a slur on six notes, it’s five notes that’s slurred. But we always say six notes, you know.
And he used to claim too that good musicians don’t need bar lines. But, you know, if you’re rehearsing an orchestra you can’t go, you say, “Let’s take the third phrase,” because people might have a different idea of what the phrase is, you see. You have to have bar lines, but he says you wouldn’t need bar lines.
LVB: Just to clarify one thing, did you feel that up-up-down was a combination of metrical and harmonic kinds of motion, like… There was some confusion, some people feel that the up is just a feeling 2 3 4 1 [ up up up down], a metrical, rhythmic leading –
RA: I felt it more in intensity. You know that the up-down to me, as I was looking at the down down down up, you know, it was three slurs, [sing example Barret p. 54 #1, measure 4]. See, he would say sometimes, “Gentlemen, it’s like when you go boom boom [said with more intensity on the 2nd boom], not boom boom [said with no increase in intensity]. I took it to mean more intensity and to make sure that you would get the articulation correctly. That’s the way I took it, because after – That was another thing throughout the month of July when there was no school, I practiced that [singing] da ee dut dut, so that I wouldn’t collapse [singing the example without intensity], I had to go da ee dut dut and to keep the support throughout. Now that da ee up up, daw up up, that kept me sure that I would play the staccatos in its place, and he was very, very fussy about that to say the least. But, I took it more as intensity. Maybe I learned it wrong, I don’t know. [laugh]
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LVB: The end of the slur then was always long and –
RA: Yes. Of course sometimes, depends on what you play. Like the Rosamunde, you know, the Ballet Music [singing example] I don’t like it [singing the example with the ends of the slurs long], you know. But, sometimes you might have a slur on the two notes, but the second, maybe there’s an accent and the second note you weaken, for instance the [singing example from p.54 #3 measures 4 and 5 in the Barret book] that’s number 3 in the articulated lessons. Well, if you notice at the 16 sixteenths, the first, third, fifth, seventh, ninth, eleventh, thirteenth, fifteenth 16th note has an accent, so I always shorten the second, fourth, sixth, eighth, tenth, twelfth, fourteenth, sixteenth 16th note, right? So, it’s [singing example with shortened 2nd, 4th, 6th, 8th, 10th, 12th, 14th, 16th sixteenth notes]. Then the next bar is reversed, the reverse [singing example]. So, you see a strong note is going to take away from the next note which is a weak note . So you see, it doesn’t always work out, but in some things like, like for instance, if you’re playing two and two all the way up the scale [singing two notes slurred, two notes tongued, two notes slurred, two notes tongued], you wouldn’t go [singing example with 2nd note of the slur short]. That’s what he didn’t want, because he claimed that there was a schooling where they taught that for technical reasons. [Singing example in two and two articulation with the second note of the slur short], and he wanted [singing example in two and two articulation with the 2nd note of the slur long]; he said it was more even. But the others, many times you’d have a quarter note to a half note where the half note is accented, you don’t go [singing an interval of a fifth with the first note strong and the second note weak]; that’s one where he’d say you go [sing both notes strong with space between the two notes] or many times… I explained to the pupils if you go [singing both notes strong with a space between], you don’t go [singing strong on the first note and weak on the second note] to jump, right. Things like that he explained quite well, although I use the jumping method with the students and they seem to understand what that means. I don’t know if I am being very lucid about this.
LVB: You are. The other thing about the articulation, you know when you have a series of up impulses, all tongued. Did he ever say, Well, “You should increase the length of the notes as you approach –
RA: Yes, yes, certainly. For instance, again we have to refer to the Barret Book (because that was the gospel with us, it was a good start. Because there were many times in the book, it’s still that way, I wish I had the original book, there are many mistake in it), but you’re playing something, a pastorale thing, and it has staccatos [singing very short even notes], well you’re not going to play it as written. So many times he would say, “It doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit; make the articulation more lengthy, the staccato lengthy.” But, of course, you are playing – [singing a tongued passage with a gradual ritard and the articulation getting longer] naturally the notes became a little longer. But this is what he changed in the scales; I understand later on he had them play long and longer as they went up, as I understood it. But that, of course, he didn’t do with us, but I suppose he found that it was a good thing to learn. But, you can’t always play what’s on the page; you have to change it a little, you know.
LVB: The bar line, you mentioned that he felt that you didn’t really need it unless you’re in an orchestra –
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RA: He said, of course, you need it for… so that people know two bars before A or seventeen bars before or after a certain letter. But what he meant by that was just because you have four notes in a bar, it isn’t do re mi fa /do re mi fa [accenting the first note in each bar]. Sometimes, you know, the phrase went into the bar; sometimes it ended there before the bar line or after the bar line. This is what he was referring to.
LVB: But, he would let you phrase at that time on the bar line if the music seemed to call for it?
RA: Oh yes, yes. And where you took your breath was very important with him. You know, you wouldn’t take a breath, he says, “Don’t breathe there.” He says, “I don’t say An ’ ge ’ luc ’ ci [taking a breath between each syllable]; you’re breathing that way; finish.” He says, “A comma here, an inflection; this is a fine place to take a breath over the bar line.” Our scales, as I remember, also we had to breathe in the proper place, you know 1 2 3 4 /1 2 3 4 /1 breathe 2 3 4 , you see. I used to have to breathe after the bar line, not before the bar.
LVB: Did you play scales that were nine notes, then?
RA: Yes, yes. That was the safest thing; after nine notes you could take a breath. You see, do re mi fa sol la si do [breathe] re and that was bad, you see, but do re mi fa sol la si do re [breathe] mi fa sol, you see. He always claimed too another thing, do re mi fa, it’s nothing; do re mi fa sol, that’s positive, you see, or conclusive. The other’s negative do re mi fa; it’s not negative, it’s what you’d call, when you’re asking a question –
RA: Interrogative, that’s what I meant to say; even on the record he mentions that. That I understood readily, because I remember in the scales when I wanted to take breath one time and it was against the phrase. See, he had it phrased so that it was over the bar line. And we didn’t have, as I recall too, if I played a C major scale (I’m staying in C major because you start there), but I didn’t have to go two octaves just to the high “c” and back, I had to go higher, he says, “while you’re at it, you might as well employ the entire range of the instrument.” But, you couldn’t go to the high “d”, you had to go the “e” so that you would break on the down. You see?
RA: And then hold out the note to the following bar. And sometimes when I do that with the pupils today, I’m sorry I start that, because they don’t seem to understand it, you know. It’s a little tricky for them. And it’s the same thing as coming back sol fa me re do, [humming just pitches re mi] you go back slurred. I tell them you can take a breath after the last note of the scale detached, because you’re finished that portion of it; now you’re starting a new phrase, re mi fa. But yes, that’s the way I had to play the scales, I remember. And I do love the scales, because this is where he said that I got the singing; he says, “It’s come to you now.”
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LVB: Did you feel that there was a clear distinction between dynamics and intensity that he made?
RA: Oh yes, oh yes. You know he used to occasionally, maybe more than just once in a while, he’d say, “More range, more dynamic range;” he wanted the differences, you know. You know as it’s in the book no matter what you play, there is diminuendo, crescendo, fortissimo, piano and all.
LVB: On the record he says something about the most beautiful sound being the amplification of the dolce tone. Did you know what he meant by that?
RA: That again I think he was referring to the fact that if you had the support and a floating tone, that it would by itself would start to do this, spiral. I use those words, I don’t know… it’s like, of course, he didn’t use the –, he refers to starting the tone with the locomotive engine; I suppose if he were alive today he would be talking about, referring to the airplane. But you know how you feel the motors as they are raring to go and then they release it and it starts, and actually the plane is gaining more intensity as it goes up and then it floats sort of. And that’s the way I understood what he meant by the dolce tone. Now he uses the word, does he say, “dolce tone”? Ya, and I think what he meant was a floating tone. On the record he doesn’t say floating, does he?
LVB: No, I don’t think he used that.
RA: He used to use that, “Let the tone float.” He says, “like on a clear day from a smoke stack the smoke goes up.” He says, “You know, you must let it float. Support the tone.” He says, “On a bad day, the same smoke stack, the black smoke comes down on the town, you know. It suffocates you.” We didn’t have as much pollution then.
LVB: As long as we are talking about this, did you always start the sound with an articulation or did you ever just start the sound without making a tonguing on the note?
RA: Well, he always said; I always had to attack the tip of the tongue on the tip of the reed. “It’s just like,” he says, “you must attack like you’re going through butter with a hot knife.” It should be smooth, of course. But, no, he didn’t. You mean wind and then attack?
LVB: Well, I was under the impression at least in the Philadelphia Orchestra that Stokowski had them sort of begin with no attack, by using just lip pressure.
RA: No, he didn’t, he didn’t. He did say, referring to Stokowski, one thing he said was that did get him that Stoky used to have as he quoted him, he used to have orchestra so down when he came in with a solo some times that it was like walking on eggs. He said that was one thing he thought “oh, so dangerous.” He always had to come in, you know, make one of these subtle attacks. You know, Laurie, like you play oboe, maybe a low c triple pianissimo, you know. I remember the Ferling I had at one of the lessons goes down [singing example to low c] and you hold out the c, and he says, “Don’t make a diminuendo too soon, leave a little room, you have a long way to go.” So, you must know the difficulties of the instrument. I guess the clarinet can do it.
LVB: Yes, sneak in from nowhere.
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RA: Yes, but we didn’t stop the tone with the tongue. The tongue was only used for the attacks. I don’t know, I suppose that some schooling does use – they do, they do use the tongue to stop the tone, don’t they? No, but, I was always taught to use the tongue just for the attack.
LVB: What influences do you think shaped Tabuteau’s ideas? Do you have any thoughts on that?
RA: First of all, if I get the question correctly, first of all most of the sounds that you hear in an orchestra today, wouldn’t you say was a direct influence of Tabuteau?
RA: And that isn’t being partial to him because I studied with him, but you must remember when he came from Paris from France, the oboe playing was a certain way. And the first person that heard him here thought “Oh, what a different sound, what a different concept of playing.” So, many people copied it. And I think that the lush style of playing was his influence… The reeds, his influence, because many people copied that. Now you have today so many of his pupils teaching others to do the same thing. And I will say that I have talked to so many pupils of pupils of his and the concept is still there, the influence is still there.
LVB: Would you say this is true not only of oboe players, but all the people that were in chamber music classes with him?
RA: Yes, I think a lot of them, yes. You know string players have told me they learned a great deal from him. I was so surprised that my good friend in Philadelphia, the Concert Master [said he learned a great deal from him.] [recording tape needed to be turned over.]
Of course, at that time when I was studying with him [Tabuteau], I didn’t know that he would bother with strings, that is, would teach string players, but he did have string classes, and they say they learned a great deal… It was music, a great deal. And he’s not the only one. Norman Carol in Philadelphia told me this and another violinist, oh, several of them in Philadelphia that I have talked to and some in Minneapolis that went to Curtis and they say, “I studied with your teacher, had chamber music with him and I learned a great deal from him. I looked forward to his classes.” Of course, you know after all he had quite a personality. I had him in my home in Minneapolis one time. After he left my wife says, “Gee, he’s tremendously interesting.” So, I think that he had quite an influence on what you hear in an orchestra today. I think Mr. de Lancie would say the same thing.
LVB: Yes. I think everyone does.
RA: I wonder if some of the conductors didn’t learn a great deal from him.
LVB: [Audio lost:] Would you like to give a summary of Tabuteau’s contributions?
RA: Understanding of a phrase simply was one of the biggest things about him and the understanding of the music and the spirit, and he put so much life into it. I just thought he was great. I always, always refer to him with all my pupils. There isn’t a lesson that goes by with some of the more advanced students that I don’t mention his name, because I looked up to him. The way his tone floated and the way he phrased, the imagination, the artistry, it was all there, you see. He was influential, he influenced the oboe playing and other instruments as well, a great deal. So, he went on beyond what he
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had learned in school. Certainly when he died there was quite a lot of publicity about it. You know other great people have died, you know, musicians and not mentioned like he was, you know. I don’t know if that is a good summation, but I think that he brought a great deal of knowledge to a lot of us that they could impart to others. Of course, now maybe we teach and use different wording and a different style of teaching, but it’s always with his hovering over us. Frankly I always feel like that, I think I tell a student to do this and I think, “God, would he have wanted me to say this or would he approve of this.” I think maybe I respected him, frankly—really, I did. I don’t know whether that is good enough.
LVB: Oh, that’s fine; that’s very nice. If there’s anything else you want to say, if you just want to think –
RA: I’ll probably think about it afterwards. I’m trying to think.
Oh, there was one little incident. I remember in class one time, we had at that time, oh, it was about nine oboe students, eight or nine or ten, I forget now. And amongst those students were some big players later on, held big jobs in the country, and I was another one of the students. And he had one of his former pupils there in the studio where he made reeds; always you had to sort of wade through all the cane, he was a great one for working on reeds. And he looked at my knife, and he made some remark about it, “What did you do, sharpen your pencil with this?” And I became embarrassed, I was embarrassed, and I just sort of flipped my knife onto my case, into my case. He saw that and he picked up my knife, and he threw it against the wall and [said] “Get out!” So, oh could imagine how I felt? I walked out of the studio, gathered up my things and walked out, and I just didn’t know whether to go home, go to Curtis (you see, his studio was away from the school some four-five blocks); I just didn’t know what to do. I stayed there and the class, they all came out. “Oh boy, he certainly was angry at you.” I say, “Well, I don’t care.” But, I did; it was just a front I was putting on. Well, a couple of days later I had a lesson at Curtis with him. Oh boy. So, I thought I’d better go. I went to this lesson. He says, “Good afternoon.” I started my scale on time, on to the minor scale. “All right; let’s have the sonata.” I forget now I think I was working on a sonata either in the Ferling or the Barret book, I don’t remember now. And there was a mirror, a big mirror in this room, and he was behind me. But, he stopped me in the middle of one of the phrases. He says, “Mr. Angelucci, I must explain to you about this temper that you showed the other day.” He says, “You know that is not nice.” And he proceeded to ball me out about it; in other words, he was laying down the law to me. He says, “You know, you must be careful; I have a temper too.” All the while unknown to him while he was giving me this lecture, he was smiling; he wasn’t really that angry. He really wasn’t. I think he was wanting to tell me that he felt sorry that he treated me that way; I really felt that, I really did. I really understood and he was not quite as mean as he appeared. He was only doing this for the others, you know, not to –, and he had a guest there, his former pupil, Mr. Kirschner. So, I sort of looked upon him, and I thought, “Gee, this guy is not as mean as he appears.” But, he really wasn’t that angry. But, he laid the law down. I remember I turned around, and I said, “Mr. Tabuteau, I’m terribly sorry.” I said, “I don’t know,” I said, “I was embarrassed, and I don’t know why—” “So all right, all right, finis, let’s go, continue, continue.” He felt that was enough. So, I always felt [laugh] there was an understanding then that maybe he liked that in a person that somebody would fight back. He did not like negative personalities. I know, he had a student there at school that never showed any pleasure or displeasure at anything: he never smiled when he was told
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something. When he [Tabuteau] explained something, he wondered. The fella didn’t come back to school. He figured that he didn’t have the imagination or the feeling for it.
That’s part of a summation isn’t it?
Do you think that Tabuteau’s harshness or strictness was calculated?
RA: No, I don’t think so. Well, the thing is that I think he demanded–, well, he didn’t have to demand respect, he got it naturally. But you always had to refer to him as Mr. Tabuteau. My brother was in the orchestra class or woodwind ensemble class, my oldest brother, one time, and he said, “Okay, Tabuteau.” I’m sorry, Tabuteau said something to him and he [my brother] says, “Okay, okay.” You know at my next lesson he told me, “I want you to inform your brother not to say okay. It’s Mr. Tabuteau.” Well, I guess he felt that “okay” was maybe a dirty word, I don’t know. So, I say, “Yes, I’ll tell him, Mr. Tabuteau.” He wanted to be Mr. Tabuteau. Well, I think one has to have that in a school, and at that time I think youngsters looked up to their elders a lot more. Showing my age now. You know, because I’ll be sixty-three soon. So, I do feel that at that time there was lot of respect towards a teacher, Laurie. You know, nowadays I have students they want to go to ten different teachers. I don’t know if you agree with that, but I had one student after four years he told me, “I want to go somewhere else to get more ideas, you know, different ideas.” But, after I was through with Mr. Tabuteau and I graduated, I figured I don’t need anyone else. I was satisfied; now I have to grow on what he said. But today, they seem to want to go to many teachers. I had one student that after he left the University, he went to San Francisco to study with Lifschey; and he had to play some Bach, he went to Bob Bloom; then he came back to me to learn to play something that we had recorded. Now I think it gets confusing after a while.
RA: One thing I didn’t understand about attacks, he used to say on the record that you let all the air out before you attack. Well, you know, there is a difference of opinion there. People that played next to him said that he always took a full breath. So, I didn’t know –
LVB: Yes, that is a confusing statement. When I first started doing this, I asked people about that, and I think one person thought that it was just to explain the feeling, rather than getting rid of all the air before he played.
RA: You know that’s what I tell the students, “Try it.” I said, but I always understood if you’re going to play the Tchaikovsky’s Fourth [Symphony], you don’t start the solo in the slow movement, you don’t start that solo with no breath at all.
LVB: I think Wayne Rapier said that he thought that Tabuteau didn’t want people to fill up like a balloon with air and have it undirected.
RA: Perhaps, that’s it, yes.
LVB: To play with less air and really direct it.
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RA: I take a full breath, you know, you got a long phrase coming, you know. That’s the way I felt about it. It was a little bit something I couldn’t understand. And a lot of things I didn’t understand, you know. But, the impulses, you remember [singing from the Surprise Symphony of Haydn] the Surprise Symphony of Haydn. All, that, I understood that, but so many other things I didn’t understand, went over my head, really it did. Perhaps if I heard the record a few more times and just devoted my attention to one particular segment that I didn’t understand, maybe I would get it. But, a lot of it I heard in a lesson in a different wording, you know.
I understand that he was “enjoying himself” while he was making that record.
RA: He was [drinking].
LVB: Oh really, I didn’t know that. He did make it [the tapes] privately over a couple of years. He made a series of tapes.
RA: Well, it’s all compiled. He was going to make more, of course. Yes, I got the original. It was, the fella that wrote to me was Rapier, I guess he was one of the ones that wanted this record. And I gave him this little story about the temper tantrum that I had thrown; so he sent me the record. I thought that I’d add that to it. There’s another one too about every time he left his studio two students were measuring his gouger and all. And it took many weeks. Whenever he would leave the studio that they would measure it and copy it, put it down on paper. I said, “How did it come out?” I never heard how these two fellas came out, I don’t know who they were, two students, and I said, “I have an idea before he left the studio he turned, he did something; he wasn’t going to give away a secret that easily.
LVB: I’m surprised they didn’t measure the blade.
He used to say that he had an emery wheel there, and you turned it. And after a few cranks why the wheel would go faster and faster, and he says, “That’s the way the tone should spin, should sing, should have all this [indicating an intense spinning motion with his hands].
LVB: If you have anything else to say –
RA: No, I think it would then be superfluous. I would be repeating.
LVB: I think that it’s been very helpful.