Nationalism and the traditional French style, I


Lucien Thévet (1914 – 2007) was one of the last practitioners of a unique style of horn playing and recently, some samples of his playing have surfaced on YouTube.

The video, which is audio-only taken from a scratchy Decca Records disc, exemplifies a style of playing that dated roughly from the late-19th century to the mid-20th century, predominantly in France and French-speaking countries.

This recording is historic and it presents us with many things to think about. For myself, listening to it is like traveling in a time machine. The bravado is inspiring.

To some of us Thévet’s playing might sound strange, even alien. Some basic elements are apparent right away:

Here, Thévet performs a few Gallay Unmeasured Preludes.

It is important to recall that at one time, this style drew great applause and wide adoration. Thévet was regarded as the “Prince of the Horn.”

Siegfried, à la Parisienne

From the IHS site:

In a famous incident at the Paris Opera, Thévet was called to the stage for numerous curtain calls after playing the off-stage solo in Wagner’s Siegfried, an event that was reported in the press.

The press also praised his solo playing: “Mr. Thévet gives the impression of perfection with his confidence, incredible flexible phrasing, and beautiful sound.”

Here it is:

Whether or not the French Prince’s playing is your cup of tea, it can be a creative and productive exercise to remain opened-minded and think deeper about this, especially in terms of the bigger picture.

For starters, here a few coincidental historical facts to think about:

  • Paul Dukas – – the composer of the famous recital showpiece Villanelle – – would have been immersed in this style during his lifetime.

History and relevance

These historical facts are interesting, but of course it is understood that they are part of our past. Looking deeper into history does not necessarily correlate to a call-to-arms for wide vibratos and piston valves.

The more important point of thinking about horn history is to find something that rings true for us today as performers. In digging a little deeper we might find something relevant – – perhaps something illuminating – – that will help us to understand ourselves better as players today.

* * * To be continued, Wednesday in Part II: ‘Regionalism’

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