But, wait a minute! In order to set the story correctly,let me tell you about my early years as a young student who fell in love with the clarinet. I had a really great teacher who knew the value of playing and not just practicing. On day, he told me about the New England Conservatory band. I thought, well, a band is a band is a band. After all there was the high school band , but this band was no high school band, It was a band shaped along the style of the famous Garde Republicain of Paris. Total different instrumentation than that of our high school band.Actually, it was more like an orchestra, with large sections of first clarinets and seconds, roughly that of an orchestra, with clarinets instead of strings. Now, the conductor of this conservatory band, meeting on Saturday mornings was Georges Moleux. He was at that time principal bass volin of the Boston Symphony.Actually, he had been a first prize winner at the Paris Conservatory in both double bass and clarinet. For me, that meant everything, as I thought nothing further could be achieved. This was my beginning of learning of the great growth of the clarinet in FRance, due to the grandeur of the Napoleonic WARS, THE TRIUMPHANT BANDS THAT WERE A PART OF THE NAPOLEONIC TRADITION . It is one thing to mention the Dixieland tradition, but quite another to realize the immense growth of he clarinet in France as a direct result of the napoleaonic war tradition.
Debussy: Première Rhapsodie, Petite Pièce
The breakthrough as a composer came for Claude Debussy (1862-1918) around 1909. The premiere of his opera “Pelléas and Mélisande”(Score of which is at the New England Conservatory)in 1902 received a rather cool response from the public and press, but the performance in London’s Covent Garden on 21st May 1909, was received triumphantly. The performances of “La mer” and “Prélude à L’après-midi d’une faune”, the previous year had been a great success.
Now his music began to find recognition in Paris and as a result Gabriel Fauré who had been director of the Paris Conservatory since 1905, nominated Debussy into the “Conseil Supérieur” (Board of Directors) of the institution.
One of his first tasks was to compose two mandatory pieces for the conservatory’s clarinet competition. In December 1909, Debussy began writing a rhapsody for clarinet and piano which he finished a month later. On 14th July 1910 the jury, which included Debussy, judged the performance of eleven candidates and the following day he wrote to his editor, Jacques Durand:
“The clarinet competition went extremely well and, to judge by the expressions on the faces of my collegues, the rhapsody was a success. […] One of the candidates, Vandercruyssen, played it by heart and very musically. The rest were straightforward and nondescript.”
The official premiere of the Rhapsodie was on 16th January 1911 in the Salle Gaveau in Paris with Prosper Mimart as solo clarinetist and it was to him that the piece had been dedicated. Debussy was so enthralled by his interpretation and commented quite spontaneously that this was one of the most pleasing pieces he had ever written. This enthusiasm would have encouraged him to adapt the work for clarinet and orchestra in the same year and it is this piece which is well known today.
It was published as “Première Rhapsodie”, but a second rhapsody for saxophone and orchestra was never finished.(But, it was finished and has been recorded with my dear departed friend, Felix Viscuglia, Erich Leinsdorf and the Boson Symphony)
The second mandatory piece was “Petite Pièce”, a work of only 36 bars and lasting just under two minutes. For the Rhapsodie the candidates had several months preparation time, but this piece was to be played “prima vista”, that is, by sight. The technical difficulties, therefore, are not so great, but the jury would surely have expected correctness in the execution of the punctuated rhythms which run throughout the entire piece. As a composition that was intended “only” for an exam, the “Petite Pièce” is a wonderful and charming little work, not to be taken too lightly.
The Republican Guard is the heir of the various bodies that preceded it in the course of French history whose task was to honor and protect the high authorities of the State and City of Paris : Gardes Françaises of the Kings, Consular and Imperial guard of Napoleon, etc.. Its name derives from the Municipal Guard of Paris, established on 12 Vendémiaire XI (October 4, 1802) by Napoleon Bonaparte. It distinguished itself in battles of historical significance, including Danzig and Friedland in 1807, Alcolea in 1808 and Burgos in 1812. (yes, there was a battle Friedland, and there is a street with that name running from L’arch du Triumph ((I was a bit too young))
In 1813 it was dissolved following the attempted coup of General Malet and replaced by the Imperial Gendarmerie of Paris and then, under the Restoration, the Royal Guard of Paris and the Royal Mounted Police of Paris. In 1830, it was recreated, and again removed after the Revolution of 1848 in favor of the Civic Guard (which proved to be a transient institution).
June 1848 saw the creation of the Republican Guard of Paris, including an infantry regiment and a regiment of cavalry. It received its insignia July 14, 1880. It took part in the First World War and saw its flag and banner decorated with the Knight’s Cross of the Legion of Honour. During the Second World War, it reported to the police headquarters and took the name of Guard of Paris. Part of its staff rallied to General de Gaulle and the Guard was involved in the fighting alongside the FFI at the liberation of Paris.
In 1952, the guard was renamed the Legion of the Republican Guard of Paris and took part in the Indochina War, which earned it the Croix de Guerre.
At one period during its growth, there were no less than 126 clarinetists studying in Paris at the conservatory. Many of our predecessors were among them. including Georges Moleux, Alexander and Henri Selmer and many more. During my years in Paris I was taken to lunch several times by the Selmers, riding out to Mantes in their big Peugeot with the air suspension.
happy Holidays keep practicing