Sunday, March 16, 2014

Performance Guide to Johannes Donjon’s Pastorale No. 1: Pan!

by Leonard Garrison, Associate Professor of Flute, The University of Idaho
Copyright©2014 by Leonard Garrison

To view my teaching video of this piece, please visit my YouTube Channel.
Much flute music portrays the Greek god and mythical flutist, Pan. The Pastorale No. 1 by Johannes Donjon is one of the most widely performed of these pieces. Rated Level F by the National Flute Association and available in collections such as Robert Cavally’s 24 Short Concert Pieces (Southern),  Donald Peck's Solos for Flute (Carl Fischer), and Himie Voxman’s Concert and Contest Collection (Rubank), it is a good choice for solo festivals.

Johannes Donjon (1839-1912), whose name means the keep or tower of a castle in French, was principal flutist of the Paris Opera Orchestra and a student of Jean-Louis Tulou (1786-1865), a long-time professor at the Paris Conservatory in the days before the modern Boehm flute was adopted. Donjon wrote a second Pastoral, Pipeau, which is rarely performed, a popular Offertoire, eight Études de salon, and many other flute works that are hardly known today.

The original score includes the following poem with no attribution (possibly an original poem by Donjon):

Pan n’est pas mort!
Au fond des bois
Quand tout s’endort!
Plus d’une fois
Il souffle encore
Un air sonore!
Quand tout s’endort!
Pan n’est pas mort!

Pan is not dead!
Deep in the woods
When all are sleeping!
More than once
He plays again
A sonorous air!
When all are sleeping!
Pan is not dead!
[translated by Leonard Garrison]

In Greek myth, Pan represented rustic music, as opposed to Apollo, the God of cultivated beauty in the arts. Thus, this piece has an air of improvisation, and the little cadenzas are an invitation to play freely in an appropriate manner. For the main tempo, I feel the metronome indication of quarter=72 is too hurried and prefer a pace of quarter=63.

The following chart summarizes the form of the piece:

Meas. 1-8: The theme requires a large dynamic range. Although the score marks a crescendo only at the end of meas. 2, it is better to crescendo continuously through the first phrase (meas. 1-4). If you have the capacity, play this phrase in one breath; otherwise, a small breath at the end of meas. 2 is possible.

Flutists must cue their pianists, so incorporate conducting into your individual practice. For the opening of the piece, give an upbeat on an imaginary beat 4 with an ascending motion along with a rhythmic breath, and then let your flute down at the same time as you play the downbeat. 

Careful not to use a harsh tongue on this first note. In fact, for soft attacks, I prefer the syllable “poo,” in which the lips close and trap the air behind them and then let it out cleanly.

You may not have played many thirty-second notes before. In bars 1-3, count “one-and-two” for the first tied note and then fit the four thirty-seconds within the “and” of beat two. A good exercise is to articulate each eighth-note subdivision in these measures:

Another challenge is intonation, and if one is not careful, this first phrase will start flat and end very sharp. When you play softly, lift the airstream, use of small opening between the lips, and keep the airspeed fast (just not a big amount of air). When you ascend to a loud high G, blow down, use a large lip opening and relaxed embouchure, and try to slow the air down. Check yourself with a tuner.

The second phrase (meas. 5-8) is similar to the first. I breathe at the end of meas. 6. Although it is not indicated, a ritardando into the fermata is effective. Sustain the fermata C a little longer than two beats, and indicate a cutoff so your pianist releases with you. In fact, your cutoff can function as an upbeat to the next section.

Meas. 9-25: Since the key changes, vary the tone color; the key of A minor demands a more covered, tentative quality than C major. Pay attention to details of articulation. For instance, in the second half of meas. 11, slur four notes and then two and two. This hastening of the articulation enhances the crescendo. In meas. 13, en pressant le mouvement means push the tempo forward, and this goes through the end of meas. 16, where you can relax and start a new phrase, making another accelerando through meas. 19. For the louder high Es in meas. 15 and 18, remove the right-hand pinky to correct intonation.

Meas. 18 illustrates a common situation.

When breathing after a tied note, sustain the long note right up to the next beat, but do not actually play the tied note, because that is where one breathes.

Meas. 20-24 pose the greatest technical challenge. Work this section out one element at a time. First tackle the trills. Each should start and end on the main note. An ideal number of trill shakes is three, resulting in nine notes to the beat when combined with the grace-note turn:

Add the thumb B-flat for meas. 21-22, and finger the A-flat to B-flat trill with L2 and L3 moving together (see the fingering chart at Play the trills in even notes, making sure not to pause on the last trilled note before the turn. Practice with a metronome so that you arrive on the next beat at the proper time.

Next learn the arpeggios. Meas. 20 goes up and down in G major. Be sure to slur the third beat and tongue the fourth. Meas. 21 is the same idea up a step, in A-flat major. Remove your left-hand first finger for the E-flats. Meas. 22 is another step up, in A major, but notice that the articulation changes. In meas. 23, there are two chords, B-flat major and—be careful about this—B diminished triad. Again, play the articulation accurately.

Now put this passage together. There should be a continuous crescendo, and Donjon writes en pressant toujours, or pushing the tempo throughout.

The climax of the whole passage is the high F in meas. 25. Play with relaxed lips and slow air so the pitch is not sharp; in fact, because the F is the seventh of a chord, it will actually sound better a little flat. Add the right hand ring finger to correct pitch.

After the  fermata, there is a little cadenza, and Donjon writes a volonté or freely. Stretch the first couple of notes in the run (a C major scale) and then gradually speed up towards the bottom. Breathe after the low G. The composer then writes en trainant or dragging. Stretch the A-flats—very expressive notes—then play the A-naturals a little more brightly. Vary the speed of the repeated Gs. Start the trill slowly and speed up. Let the low G sustain, and take a leisurely breath before proceeding.

Meas. 26-31: This is a varied reprise of the opening. In meas. 30, grab a full breath in the rest, but DO NOT breathe after the fermata A-flat, as it resolves to the following G. In fact, play from the low A-flat here clear into the downbeat of meas. 32 in one breath. Use a light, smooth tongue in meas. 31 (this starts as a C major scale and turns into a chromatic scale). Pause teasingly on the B trill and relax the tone into the downbeat of meas. 32.

Coda, Meas. 32-40: En pressant un peu means a little faster. Play meas. 33-35 with the thumb B-flat. Use a light tone for meas. 32, which is harmonized by a C-major chord, but use more vibrato and color in meas. 33, which has an unusual Neapolitan sixth chord (F, A-flat, and D-flat). Same in the next two measures, but use even more tone in meas. 35, as B-flat does not fit with the Neapolitan sixth chord.

Play the last three bars in one breath. Meas. 39 is a volonté (freely); start slow, accelerando, and slow down again. There is a hilarious misprint in the original edition, where the last note is marked fortissimo! Obviously, this should be pianissimo. Practice using the embouchure to slur from middle G to high E with a diminuendo. Move the lips out and up, keep the air fast, and reduce the size of the lip opening. Taper to nothing!

Good luck, or bonne chance!