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Les Oracles du souffle for Bass Flute

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Pan - Journal of the British Flute Society

This review first appeared in Pan, the journal of the British Flute Society and is reproduced with permission. Join the BFS: membership starts from £20 a year.

This is an eight-minute work for solo bass flute, written in 2020 and dedicated to François Veilhan. The material for the piece is relatively sparse, built on a core pattern of just three pitches—D, Ab and Eb—repeated across different octaves. The momentum of the piece builds gradually, from long notes which reduce in duration, beginning on a single pitch and introducing different pitches, dynamics and registers until the phrases become a quick
explosion of notes across the full compass of the instrument. This becomes a wave-like motif which features off-beat accents and 3 against 4 patterns in series of gestures which build and then settle on a single pitch. Some of the effect of the repeated patterns reminds me of the use of raga in Ravi Shankar’s L’aube enchantée, with the material becoming hypnotic but also maintaining interest through subtle shifts and compositional processes. 

New material is introduced on the third page (section B), in the form of a new pitch (A natural) and the use of air sounds, glissandi and trills. These begin to focus the attention on the timbral variation possible through still a relatively limited range of pitches, and feels like an interesting exploration of the bass flute’s capacity for tonal variety. Multiphonics appear (although no fingerings are given) and become a further exploration of sound. The following section includes still more pitches, and short, rhythmic attacks, in a gradually evolving character. The final section of the piece is a series of fortissimo explosions, from which the notes coruscate downwards, increasingly focussing on air sounds.

This is a skilfully composed work, in terms of its exploration and development of relatively simple material. It incorporates a range of challenges for performers, not least in the need to fight against the natural dynamic curve of the instrument to produce fortissimo high A flats, but it serves well as a recital piece to showcase the variety of sound that can be produced on a bass flute. Definitely worth exploring for intermediate/advanced
players who are interested in developing timbral control on the instrument.

Carla Rees

From the Publisher

From the start of this writing project, I wanted to respond to what the bass flute invites, by composing an intimate piece, like a confidence; for close listening which, as its title suggests, attempts to decipher what the sound generating breath tells us. In ancient times, oracles were a fundamental aspect of Greek culture. The oracle is the answer given by a god who has been consulted. This answer is provided via intermediaries, in specific places, on specific subjects and with respect for rigorous rites: taking an oracle is akin to worship. Translating responses may take some learning. The oracle often claims a mediation or even an interpretation... like a musical work.

Performance duration (approx): 8'00

Difficulty guide: 9
Difficulty level, roughly compared to ABRSM exam grades. 0 is beginner, 9 is advanced (beyond grade 8).

Item Details

Instrumentation

  • Part 1: Bass Flute
Category: Bass Flute Music
Publisher: Editions Jobert
Publisher's reference: JJ2293
Our Stock Code: 1509526
Media Type: Paperback (7 pages [score])