by Leonard Garrison, Associate Professor of Flute, The University of
Copyright©2014 by Leonard Garrison
To view my teaching video of this piece, please visit my YouTube Channel
Henri Büsser (1872-1973) was a long-lived French composer, organist,
and conductor with important connections to the nineteenth century. He studied
organ with César Franck, was friends with Jules Massenet, and was chosen by
Claude Debussy to conduct numerous performances of the latter’s opera Pelléas et Mélisdande. His orchestration
of Debussy’s Petite Suite is widely
performed. For most of his career, he taught composition at the Paris
He wrote many operas and much chamber music, fortunately including
several delightful works for flute. Best known is his Prélude et Scherzo, a 1908
Paris Conservatory contest piece included in Louis Moyse’s popular collection
of Flute Music by French Composers. His
flute works include another contest piece for the Conservatory, Andalucia
sur des thèmes Andalous, Op.86 in 1933, and beautiful intermediate-level pieces, the Petite Suite, Op. 12 for flute and piano
(not the same as Debussy’s Petite Suite)
and Deux morceaux: Les Cygnes et Les Écureuils (“The
Swans and the Squirrels”), published by Leduc in 1927 that one must purchase individually.
et Les Écureuils function as useful stepping stones on a
student’s path to the famous French contest solos, as this little pair of pieces
introduces the challenges encountered in more advanced works: beauty and
flexibility of tone in all registers in Les
Cygnes, and clarity of articulation and coordination between tongue and
fingers in Les Écureuils. The
National Flute Association difficulty rating is G.
Most of Les Cygnes is in A
major, a key unfamiliar to many young flutists, so start by practicing this
scale in two octaves. Use the right-hand ring finger (R3) for F-sharp, not the
middle finger (R2). Practice not only for technical command but also for
intonation. The C-sharp in the staff tends to be sharp, the E at the top of the
staff flat, and the high E, F-sharp, G-sharp, and A, sharp. Avoid raising the
air or pulling the corners of the lips back as you ascend. Practice also the A
major arpeggio (A, C-sharp and E) in all octaves, concentrating on tuning.
slightly faster than Andante or
walking, and of course moderato is
moderate speed; the composer’s suggestion of quarter=100 is a perfect tempo. There
is no printed flute dynamic at the beginning, but dolce espressivo (“sweet and expressive”) suggests not too loud but
with some intensity of vibrato, shaping each four-measure phrase according to
Swans glide elegantly across the water, so play with a beautiful legato or connected style. The fingers
must synchronize perfectly, and each finger movement should be quick and light.
Another aspect of legato is direction
in the airstream. Blow between the
notes, making sure the air never stops or slackens. Think and move horizontally,
not vertically. In music like this, one never needs to beat time. Yet another
component of legato is how one uses
vibrato, which needs to be continuous, independent of the individual notes. Take
care not to restart the vibrato at each note change.
Follow all of the many detailed dynamic shadings. The phrase after letter
A is particularly difficult because of the diminuendo
to the end. Start by practicing a long-tone high A-flat at a medium dynamic.
Then try this note starting forte and
tapering al niente (to nothing). As
you taper, keep the air fast, bring the lips together without tensing, and move
the lips out and up. Once you develop control of A-flat, you can put this
phrase together. Do not diminuendo too early; in fact start your
diminuendo one measure after it is
In the next phrase, there is an A-double-flat three and five measures
before letter B. A-double-flat is enharmonically equivalent to G natural. While
this note might sound odd to you, it is not a misprint. It is a deliberately
exotic note, so lean into or color it.
At letter B, the tempo is a little faster, about quarter=108. At the
sixth bar of this section, à l’aise
means “at ease” or “relax,” and en
retenant peu à peu means “gradually slow down.” In the measure before letter
C, start with a full tone in the low register to make room for a lovely diminuendo as you ascend while slowing.
The main theme returns at letter C, this time in the high register.
Try to match your dynamic and color from the beginning, in other words, not too
loud or strident. A good vowel to use is U as in “truth.”
The ending features another difficult taper on a high note. Although
the flute’s last four bars are marked an octave higher at one’s choice (ad libitum), it really is more effective
in the higher octave. Take a good breath before the pianissimo trilled E. Take your time on the two pickups to the last
note. When playing a soft high A, put your right-hand pinky on the C-sharp key
rather than the D-sharp key; the tone is clearer and easier to control.
Écureuils (The Squirrels)
The mood changes completely in this companion piece. To achieve the
desired playfulness, perform close to the indicated tempo of 128 to the beat. This
piece is in ternary or ABA form, with the staccato
outer sections in D major and the legato and slower middle section in B-flat
and then A-flat major.
Follow all of the details of articulation and dynamics; thus, practice
slowly at first. Employ a clear but light staccato
(leggero means “light”). Tongue with
a D, not a T. Take particular care with the third line, which starts loudly in
the low register and proceeds with softer playing in the high register.
In this style, grace notes should be played quickly and just before
the beat. In meas. 7, use the trill fingering for F-sharp, the middle finger
(R2). The best fingering for the high G-A-G in meas. 16 is a trill from G; to
play A, add the G-sharp key (L4) and both trill keys simultaneously. Play meas.
17 in the written octave, as the ottava
marking ends in meas. 16.
At letter A, Moins vif means
“less brilliant” or slower. The printed tempo of 120 to the beat is not
sufficiently relaxed; a more effective tempo is 104 to the beat. Play as legato as possible to contrast with the
style of the first section. Since the first measure of letter A is in the low
register, start a little louder than mezzoforte
to set up the piano contrast in the
second bar. In the fifth bar of this section, add the right hand ring finger
(R3) on the final high F to correct pitch, and in the tenth bar, add the right
hand middle and ring fingers (R2 and R3) to high A-flat. Cédez literally means “yield” or slow down, so ritardando gradually in the four bars before letter B.
At letter B, the original theme returns. The most difficult part of
this reprise is the penultimate measure, a rapid D major scale. In beats one and
two, practice in four-note groups, and subdivide beat 3 into three groups of
three. For the final high F-sharp, substitute the right hand middle finger (R2)
for the ring finger (R3). Practice the last two measures with the metronome,
starting very slowly and only progressing to a faster tempo when consistently
even and clear. My favorite method for practicing this type of passage is “beat
to beat” as follows:
Good luck, or bonne chance!