Cécile Chaminade: Concertino for Flute


Cécile Chaminade was born in Paris, 1857. At a young age she started playing the piano, with her mother being her first teacher. She then learnt with Félix Le Couppey. As well as learning the piano, Chaminade also took an interest in learning the violin. She studied with Marie Gabriel Savard and Martin Pierre Marsick. Chaminade flourished in music composition so much so she showed some of her sacred music to Georges Bizet. He was very impressed by her talent and worked closely with the young composer. When she was 18 she gave her first concert. 

From here her reputation as a composer grew and grew. She composed a lot of character pieces and salon songs, to which nearly all of them were published. After touring around France, Chaminade made her first trip to England, where he works were received in a very positive light. In 1901, Chaminade married music publisher, Louis-Mathieu Carbonel. 

In 1908, Chaminade took a trip to the USA. Her compositions were also received very well there. Whilst in the USA, Chaminade composed a ballet called Callirhoé and other orchestral works. She is also well-known for her songs, which were popular throughout Europe and the USA. Frnch composer Amrboise Thomas said this of Chaminade: “This is not a woman who composes, but a composer who is a woman.” 

In 1913 she was awarded the Légion d’Honneur – the first for a female composer. Before World War I broke out, Chaminade recorded many piano rolls. However, in her later life she composed less and less. She died in Monte Carolo, 1944.


The Music

Initially written for flute and piano, the work has also been orchestrated for flute and orchestra. The piece was commissioned by the Paris Conservatoire in 1902 to be an examination piece for flute students. The Concertino is dedicated to flautist and teacher, Paul Taffanel. Supposedly, Chaminade wrote this work to punish a flute-playing lover after he left her to marry somebody else. She thus wrote an extremely difficult concertino which he would not be able to play. The piece has remained popular in flute repertoire and is still used as an examination piece.

The work is in one movement and in rondo form. It begins with a broad statement from the piano, which leads into the flute entry. A lyrical melody built on quaver and triplet movement is heard and this decorative solo is the foundation of the whole work. This melody is very cute and it shows off the different ranges of the flute. More technical passages act as an interlude which lead into the next sections. 

Next, there is a central section which is marked animato. This slightly more upbeat section uses different techniques such as double tonguing and decorations which make the solo part much more difficult. There are some sporadic fast passages which add to the excitement of the piece. The sheer speed is part of what makes the work fiendishly tricky.

An interlude from the piano leads into the next variation of the theme. This leads into the very exciting cadenza. The written cadenza requires keen dexterity from the soloist as well as a bold sound and range. The piano returns after a trill from the flute. The final section of the work is composed of a reprise of the opening melody. The fast scalic runs are much more prominent in this final part of the concertino. An animated coda ends the work with an exciting passage of music.


Ⓒ Alex Burns

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