Friday, September 21, 2012

Marcel Bitsch (1921 - 2011)

One year ago today, a French composer named Marcel Bitsch passed away. His flute etudes are little known gems amongst the vast amounts of etudes and literature we have at our fingertips; twelve little gems that I plan on introducing you to.

I first stumbled upon his Douze Etudes pour Flute a few years ago.  Now, since I don't remember when and where I bought this collection, and didn't know anything about him at all, it's safe to say that I probably was more entertained by his name than by anything else. Thankfully I have grown up since then, and have begun taking a serious look at these etudes.

As I began working on his etudes recently, I discovered that these are highly developed compositions that can - and ought to - stand alone on the concert stage in addition to the studio. Etude No. 2 - "Pour la souplesse des levres," for example, is not just a tone development study, but an exploration of sound and tonality. It takes a simple, yet disjunct theme and uses it to explore distant keys. It covers the full expressive range of the instrument, low C to high C, piano to forte, calm to agitated. All the while it maintains a striking cohesion and closes with a remarkable statement of both halves of the theme played simultaneously. If these etudes are any indication of other works of Mr. Bitsch (musical and literary), and I think they are, they are most certainly deserving of more attention and perusal than they currently receive from the community.

Since he passed so recently, there isn't much research or established scholarship on his life and work, which makes starting this process more difficult than my thesis was (John Cage and Arnold Schoenberg are a *little* well known, lol).

What I can say about him, looking at the back cover of the Douze Etudes (Leduc), is that he attended and later taught at the Paris Conservatory. While he wasn't an extremely prolific composer, he did write works and/or etudes for flute, bassoon, trumpet and horn, as well as three piano concerti and a handful of symphonic works. He also wrote books on harmony, counterpoint, and analytical editions of many works by Johann Sebastian Bach, which as I understand are generally held in high regard.

I have decided to take these etudes into a detailed study, one that will encompass technique, style, analysis, and a dash of musicology. I hope that this multifaceted research project will lend itself well to several different formats: lecture recitals, individual etudes as part of recitals, analytical presentations. I hope that I'll be able to present this material, at least in part, at various professional conferences.

There is a good portion that I've written for Etude No. 2 of course, but I doubt that I'll be posting much of it here verbatim because once I share it publicly, it'll lose publishability points pretty quickly, methinks. However, I will try to make videos and share short summaries on each one (as possible).

I was actually planning on recording a video for today, but...I had a run in with a meat slicer at work a couple days ago and my right thumb, while intact, is bandaged up and can't really support the weight of the flute (or even piccolo) for very long. It'll be fine soon enough though. In the meantime, more writing and research for me!

1 comment:

  1. I found several good flute books in PDF at