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POPULARIZING THE FLUTE: Flute Concerti by Johann, Carl, and Anton Stamitz

The MHS Review 406, VOL. 12, NO.10• 1988

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David M. Greene


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Jean-Pierre Rampal turned 66 last January. There were other solo flutists before him, to be sure. I recall encounter­ing on records Georges Barrere and Marcel Moyse, and I may actually have heard Rene Le Roy among the participants in some benefit concert. Too, there were famous first-desk flutists such as William Kinkaid with the Philadelphia and John Wummer with the Philharmonic (NY) and Doriot An­thony Dwyer with the Boston.

In more recent times, thanks in some part to the projection via television of a leprechaun image, James Galway has achieved something like superstardom. But I think it safe to say that no one within memory has done more to popularize the flute than Jean-Pierre. A decade ago when the music festival we used to attend at near­by Ambler was in full swing, he was one of the few classical artists who sold out the house (or tent, as it might more properly be called).

There is no doubt that Rampal's initial worldwide fame came from his recordings, which have poured in a torrent off the presses for more than 35 years. He was, in effect, weaned on the flute. His father Joseph (who has joined him on an occa­sional record) taught it at the Conservatory in Marseilles, the town of Jean-Pierre's birth. Having passed paternal standards, Rampal Junior moved on to the Paris Con­servatory. In Paris, in 1945, he founded the French Woodwind Quintet. The next year he became first flute of the Vichy Opera Orchestra, and in 1947 he embarked on the first of innumerable international tours.

One would have thought that by now Rampal would have recorded all the flute music worth unearthing. (One would like to know whether Rampal or Fischer-­Dieskau boasts the larger discography, record for record. However, I find that no Rampal recording of any Stamitz has come my way, though fairly recent Schwanns list an earlier RCA-Erato recording of Carl's D major Concerto (considerably earlier than its appearance would suggest, since the conductor, Karl Ristenpart, died in 1967!).

The Stamitz family is one of those like the Bendas and the Bachs and the Hotteterres that tempt one to think that musical talent may be in the genes (if it isn't in the environment). They were not Czechs to begin with, having migrated to Bohemia in the mid-17th century from what is now northwest Yugoslavia. The next generation included a church organist and choir direc­tor who was the father of Johann Stamitz.

Johann was hired as a violinist for the famous Mannheim orchestra, the prototype of our modern symphony orchestras, and worked his way up to its directorship. It was he who made it the envy of all Europe. As a composer he was especially important in the development of the symphony, mov­ing from the three-movement sinfonia or Italian operatic overture to the four­-movement concept that was to become the classical standard. Of his 30-odd known concerti, 11 are for flute.

Carl, his son, lost his father-teacher when he was not quite 12, but his train­ing was continued by other members of the orchestra, which he joined at 17. In 1770, he moved to Paris with his younger brother Anton (Mozart described them as "scrib­blers, gamblers, boozers, and womanizers"). For whatever reasons he left in 1777 and spent more than a decade traveling from place to place.

After 1790, he fell on hard times, burdened by an ailing wife and the birth and death of several children. When he himself died (at 56) his belongings were sold to pay his debts. Mozart didn't think much of his music which, in truth, might be taken for minor Mozart.

Anton, having moved to Paris, stayed there until, in 1782, he became a musician to Louis XVI at Versailles. He vanishes from the records after the fall of the Bastille. He was not so musically prolific as his two more famous relatives, producing chiefly chamber works and violin concerti. The Flute Concerto on this recording is his only one extant. (Carl wrote at least seven; others are attributed to him.)

Selection on page 49 Jean-Pierre Rampal plays Flute Concerti by Johann, Carl, and Anton Stamitz

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