1840 – Tulou, 6e Grand Solo

On 16 August 1840 Henri Blanchard reports in the Revue musicale: ” Mr. Rémusat and Brunet, pupils of M. Tulou, shared the first prize for flute, and Mr. Moreau conquered the second; these three gentlemen copied the master’s style quite well, and even read quite easily at first sight a rather easy piece in 6/8.”

Louis-Marie-Sébastian Brunet, born on 21 August 1818 in Landerneau (Finistère), was 22 years old when he won the first price at the 1840 concours. He was one of the oldest students in Tulou’s class who finished their studies. Brunet made his career in military bands. He became Chef de musique of the 42th infantery and lead the 3d Grenadiers de la Garde. There are only very few references in French newspapers. In 1853 a Brunet plays the piccolo in a concert in Lille. The Revue Musicale reports on 24 July: „The variation for the two small flutes, performed by Messrs Brunet and Magnier, was as successful as the size of the virtuosos was small. If you imagine two little gnomes chasing each other, avoiding each other in the air, making a thousand hooks and a thousand turns, you will not yet have an idea of this prodigious speed.“ On 30 October 1859 Brunot appears in the Revue Musicale as leader of the 3d Grenadiers, and in 1865 the same paper announces his composition Grande Fantaisie pour grande harmonie. Three years earlier a Madame Alexandre Bataille dedicates a piano piece Souvenir de Saint-Cloud to him. At least one of Brunets works appeared in the Journal de la Renaissance des musique militaires, a collection of works for military bands. In 1877 Brunet was appointed Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur. He got 250 Francs per semester until his death on 17 May 1895.

Bernard-Martin Rémusat, born on 4 February 1822, was 18 years old when he won the first price at the 1840 concours. He is a younger brother of Jean Rémusat who won the first price for flute in 1832. Unlike his brother no information can be found about the further career of Bernard-Martin.

Joseph-Félix-Aimé Moreau, born on 24 March 1823 in Dijon, was 17 years old when he won the second price in the 1840 concours. One year later he won the first price. Many Moreaus have studied in Paris, however, their family circumstances are not known. I didn’t find any information about his further career.

Despite the reserved enthusiasm, Blanchard provides us with interesting information about the repertoire of the Concours. Students usually played two works: one they were allowed to prepare, another they had to play at sight. In this way, different skills were tested that a trained musician had to master. According to Blanchard, the unknown work was in 6/8 time. Since Tulou’s 6me Grand Solo does not contain this time signature, it must have been a different piece. This means, that the Grands Solo was the prepared work.

The 6me Grand Solo is in A major, an unusual key for Tulou’s repertoire. This is anything but a coincidence and has an interesting background.

At the beginning of the year, the famous hearings (procès verbeaux) take place in which the following question has to be answered: Is it appropriate to establish a special class for the Boehm flute at the Conservatoire? This question had been suggested by Victor Coche, who was already teaching the Boehm flute in his preparatory class at the Conservatoire, as he mentions in a letter in France musicale. The hearing goes through four stages, of which minutes have been preserved (Michèle Tellier, reproduces them in full in her excellent dissertation on Tulou). They paint a somewhat more objective picture than Pontécoulant does in his well-known report in the Revue musicale.

31 December 1839: A jury (professors of composition, harmony, singing, oboe and horn) discuss the above question. Several members appreciate the advantages of the new flute and feel that one should not stand in the way of the artistic development process. Another member feels that the question should be answered negatively, as he doubts that the salaries of the other professors would then be increased with a newly created class. Moreover, others might get the idea of demanding an extra class for their instruments as well. The jury concludes to hear Tulou at the next meeting.

7 January 1840: Tulou is of the opinion that the Boehm flute has by no means as many advantages as its advocates claim. He gives numerous music examples that were more difficult to play on the Boehm flute. Also, in his opinion, the tone is not as good. Furthermore, he argues that those who play the new flute, i.e. Coche, Dorus and Camus, would modify the instrument so that the others could not play it. Since the mechanism is not yet fully developed, the flute cannot be judged. The jury then decides by seven votes to two that further musicians must be heard. Among them are Dorus, Coche, Camus as well as Coninx and Frisch (“Frich”), who have given up the Boehm flute again. A week later Coninx, Frisch, Coche and Dorus attend the hearing.

14 January 1840: Louis-Joseph Coninx (ca. 36 years old) reports that he had tried out the new flute for two weeks (!), but that the tone seemed to him too faulty, the first octave too hard and the flute too unbalanced in its entirety. In addition, the mechanism seemed difficult to him, as it often prevented the finger action. Besides, he could also play everything on the old flute. Robert Frisch (ca. 35) is of the opinion that the old flute is better in tune. The tone of the Boehm flute is faulty and not as pleasant as that of the old one. He is also able to play all the works composed for the new flute on the old flute, which is why he challenges the supporters of the Boehm flute to play passages that he could play on the old flute without difficulty. Now Coche (33) presents his Boehm flute, which he modified slightly together with Buffet. He explains why he prefers it and plays passages that he finds unplayable on the old flute. Then the jury shows him a flute by Dorus. Coche recognises that the mouth hole and some keys and springs are different. Then Dorus appears. He too explains the changes he has made, plays some passages at the jury’s request and, like the students in the concours, is also asked to play a piece at sight, which he did with the best will. Then he is asked to play some passages on the old flute, which he also did. Camus didoesd not present himself to the jury. After all the demonstrations, the jury realises that the tone of the old flute is purer and more pleasant. They are left with the question of whether the compositions for the Boehm flute can also be played on the old flute and want to examine Coche’s claim in a final hearing.

18 January 1840: Coche presents nine passages. Tulou, Coninx and Frisch play them with quite (this word was added later) ease and prove that their instrument can stand up to the demands. The commission then decides the hearing is over. The jury recognises that all the Boehm flutes presented to them differed from each other, that is, they did not form a unit either in mechanism or tone. And since they learn from Tulou that he himself is engaged in renewing the flute, without rejecting the new system, and that he will shortly make his flûte perfectionnée available for a thorough examination, they decide, in the interest of art, to await the result promised by such an excellent artist as Tulou. The director asks Coche’s question again: Is it appropriate to establish a special class for the Boehm flute at the Conservatoire? The result is unanimous: all nine members decide to postpone the clarification of the question.

Whether there was a thorough examination of his new flûte perfectionnée is not known.

Pontécoulant gives a far more emotional account of the trial. He describes Coche as an egocentric, almost narcissistic person, Dorus as an intimidated young man completely devoted to Tulou. Both would have prevented the introduction of the Boehm flute because of their personalities. As the protocols show, this is not entirely true.

But what is it about the key of A major? In the same article, Pontécoulant describes the disadvantages of the Boehm flute:

It is claimed that Boëhm’s flute is more in tune, more sonorous and easier: these are three points that Mr Tulou formally denies, and here is how. Firstly, he assumes that a wind instrument cannot be in tune, strictly speaking, and that it is up to the performer not to play out of tune, which, of course, is very difficult on the flute, because of the mobility of the embouchure; and yet it is this same mobility that gives the means of immediately rectifying defective notes; but for this to happen one must have, as they say, the right ear. There is only one way to play in tune on the flute, and that is to have two scales, which is not the case on Boëhm’s flute, that is to say, to have enough altered notes to be able to adjust the sensitive notes that come up.

As one writes for the flute most often in the keys of D and G, the F sharp and B natural have been raised in order to get the leading notes in tune; but as there are no other fingerings to put these two notes back in their proper places, what happens to this momentary correctness when a G flat or a C flat is needed? M. Tulou also claims that one would play much more out of tune than on the old flute if one performed a piece in A major; moreover, the tonality of A major on Boëhm’s flute is of a shrill tonality, and as it no longer has any relation to the tonalities of C, F, or flats, it results in an inequality that hurts the ear when one modulates.“

It almost seems as if the 6me Grand Solo in A major, with a middle section in C major, is a proof of his theory, a sign to the Boehm flutists that he has won the case.

For this recording, the flute no° 3084 by Clair Godfroy aîné was used. The piano is a 1829 Pleyel.