Saturday, February 8, 2014

Performance Guide to Georges Brun's Romance, Op. 41

Performance Guide to Georges Brun’s Romance, Op. 41
by Leonard Garrison, Associate Professor of Flute, The University of Idaho
Copyright©2014 by Leonard Garrison

This beautiful four-minute gem from the early twentieth century is a favorite at solo and ensemble festivals. Rated Level G by the National Flute Association, it is a perfect introduction to French repertoire for intermediate students before they study more difficult pieces such as the Fantasie by Gabriel Fauré and Cantabile and Presto by Georges Enesco. It is published in several collections, including Himie Voxman’s Concert and Contest Collection, and available in several editions and as a free download at Please see my video performance guide to the Romance. I have recorded this piece; see,, Google Play, or iTunes.

Little is known about the composer, Georges Brun, whose last name means “Brown” in French. Born in 1878, he married Antoinette Laute-Brun, a Parisian opera star, in 1907. He wrote a few songs and a symphony and died in 1961. His Romance for flute is dedicated to Georges Barrère, an important French flutist who immigrated to New York and taught many American flutists, including my teacher, Samuel Baron.

The instrumental Romance, a lyrical or song-like piece, often in ABA form, became popular in the nineteenth century. Your first priority in playing Brun’s piece is to develop a beautiful tone that is flexible enough to encompass a wide range of dynamics, colors, and vibrato in all registers. Listen to the best professional flutists so you have a model for how you want to sound. Spend a little time warming up each day with something slow to give you time to concentrate on tone.
Prepare to play this piece by practicing the scale of its key, G-major, in two octaves.

Also, locate and identify other scales and arpeggios and practice them separately. Here are some examples:
            Meas. 7, beat 2: C major arpeggio (also in meas. 50)
Meas. 9, beat 2: dominant seventh chord on E (also in meas. 52)
            Meas. 23, beat 4: augmented triad, A – C-sharp – F-natural
            Meas. 34: chromatic scale
            Meas. 37: G major arpeggio
            Meas. 38: F-sharp minor arpeggio
            Meas. 42, beat 4: D major scale
            Meas. 43, beat 2: C major scale
            Meas. 58: D major arpeggio

Meas. 1-12
Now you are ready to practice the piece. The tempo is Modéré, sans lenteur, or “moderately, but not slow.” I like quarter=80.

Think in phrases. Bring about all of the dynamic inflections marked in the score, and breathe between slurs, as French composers, sensitive to the flute, think carefully about how long their slurs are. Mark breaths in your music and consistently breathe in the same place each time you play.
An important detail of articulation is that when the same pitch is repeated under slur, it is re-tongued unless an additional tie is marked. This occurs in meas. 3, 5, 7, 9, and the downbeat of meas. 12. Also, in French music, when tenuto dashes are marked under a slur, each note is tongued lightly and smoothly, as in the last three notes of meas. 12.

You should study the piano score to know what the piano is playing. In most of this first section the piano has eighth notes, but the piano holds a chord through meas. 11, and this is an invitation to play a bit freely (but calmly as written). Finger the double grace note as you would an E-to-F-sharp trill, moving the right-hand first finger. In meas. 12, un peu retenu means slow down a bit. Coordinate carefully with the pianist, who has the same rhythm. The phrase ends on beat three, so breathe before the three pickups into the next section.

Meas. 13-28
Un peu animé is a little faster (I play quarter=88); show the increased animation with a faster vibrato and more color or harmonics in the tone. Be aware of the syncopated rhythm in the piano. Toujours animé means “always more animated,” so the tempo pushes ahead until meas. 23. Chaleureux in meas. 17 means “with warmth.” Although the flute is marked mezzoforte, the piano is marked pianissimo, and there is a totally new harmony here, so I like to start a little softer and crescendo with the ascending line.

The subito pianissimo in meas. 21 marks a change in role for the flute, which accompanies the melody in the piano. Finger the grace note Ds with the first trill key. Practice at first without the grace notes so you can establish an even flow of sixteenths. When you add the graces, they must precede the second sixteenth; careful not to rush the sixteenths themselves. The crescendo is important here, and the phrase ends in meas. 23 on beat 4 before another three-note pickup (similar to meas. 12).

Return to the original tempo (quarter=80) at plus calme (calmer) and employ a more relaxed vibrato. It would also enhance the sense of calm to play piano.

Meas. 29-44
The middle section of this piece is still in four but plus lent, slower, about dotted quarter=60. Be an opera star at très expressif et chanté (very expressive and singing); use a rich tone and crescendo and diminuendo with the shape of the line. Again, the repeated notes in meas. 30 are re-tongued despite the slur. Careful not to roll the flute in, or the pitch will be flat in the low register.
In meas. 34-38, the line keeps going higher, and each gesture is louder than the previous one. However, don’t go sharp! Playing fortissimo in the high register requires a lot of air, but try to slow the air down and thus bring the pitch down. Open your throat and the inside of your mouth. Without lowering your head, angle the air steeply down using the jaw and lips. Keep the sound sweet, not too strident, by not forcing, keeping the lips relaxed, and blowing on an open vowel such as u (as in truth), not ee (as in teeth).
Another challenge is playing the groups of seven in meas. 37-38. The piano is playing three notes to the beat here, so one can distribute the seven notes as two-plus-two-plus-three, but not in a mechanical way. This gives a forward momentum.
Let the sound and tempo relax in meas. 39-42 as this section winds down. You can push forward again (animé) for the three ascending scales in meas. 42-43, each one a little louder.

Meas. 44-55
Meas. 44 functions as a transition. The piano has a rallentando (slows down) for the first half of the bar, and supposedly one should play Premier movement, plus vite que le 12/8, or in the original tempo, faster than 12/8 on beats 3 and 4. Since the theme actually starts on the downbeat of meas. 45, however, it is appropriate to stretch the upbeat a bit.  The piano has suivre, or “follow the flute,” a clue that the flutist might take some liberty here. Our remarks about the original theme pertain also to this section.

Meas. 56-end
The last section is called a coda, the final resolution of the piece. The piano plays triplet eighths in meas. 56. When the flute enters in meas. 57, the tempo can move ahead, as Sans lenteur, avec un peu d’animation means “without slowness, with a little animation,” about quarter=84.
I’ll let you in on a little secret here—I cheat with the fingering! Leave the right-hand pinky off for the E-naturals in beat one of meas. 57 and 59.  In beat three of meas. 57 use the trill fingering or right-hand middle finger for F-sharp. In general, you should avoid this fingering, which is flat and has a slightly veiled tone quality, but whenever you alternate quickly between E and F-sharp, the middle finger is acceptable.

Slow down a bit (un peu ralenti) towards the end of meas. 60, and as in parallel spots, breathe after the C in beat beat, and make a three-note pickup to the next bar, tonguing smoothly and stretching.
Return to the original tempo in meas. 61. Although no nuances are provided in the score, crescendo into meas. 62 and diminuendo into meas. 63, showing that the harmony under your F-sharp is the most dissonant and expressive of this phrase.

In meas. 65-67, the flute has a little cadenza, or free section. Show that each motive begins on the second sixteenth note, and vary the speed artistically. Take a big enough breath in the rest of meas. 67, so that you can go through your last long G without breathing again. In meas. 68, listen for piano chords on beats 2, 3, and 4 before landing on C-sharp. Observe the fermata here, teasing your audience by delaying the resolution of the harmony. Listen to the piano triplets in meas. 69 so you time the gentle release of your G with their arrival at the highest note.

Many pieces end with a taper on the last note, so this is a challenging skill you must practice with a tuner. To prevent the note from dropping into a lower octave or going flat, maintain the same airspeed until the very end. To reduce the amount of air while maintaining airspeed, gradually bring your lips together to form a smaller opening. Meanwhile, lift the air by pushing the lips forward and up; one of my students called this “kissing the note away.” Also, gradually taper your vibrato so that it hardly makes any wave towards the end. Try not to slow the vibrato speed, however. By the way, the score specifies that the piano hold its chord one more beat than the flute’s G.

I hope playing this gorgeous piece inspires you to perform more French flute music, eventually working your way up to advanced contest pieces. Bonne chance!

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