August 2013 Convention
New Orleans, LA

John Bailey—Teaching and Performing the Widor Suite, Op. 34

Despite its early placement on Sunday morning and its remote location on the 41st floor of the New Orleans Marriott, John Bailey’s session on the Suite for Flute and Piano, Op. 34 by Charles-Marie Widor was well attended and enthusiastically received. Bailey is professor of flute at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a former NFA president and program chair. This session continued his series of talks combining analysis of and performance suggestions for major repertoire, the previous installments featuring sonatas by Hindemith and Reinecke.

Bailey began by presenting his general view that performance must be informed by knowledge of musical style and structure. His principles include the following ideas.

Flute music is music (that is, flutists need to know a wider body of music by the composers whose pieces they perform).

Music has character.

Music has poetry, logic, and coherence, thus flutists need to understand the language of the composer. As illustration, he demonstrated the change in meaning by moving a comma from “Roses are red, violets are blue” to “Roses are red violets, are blue.”

Most music that flutists perform has a tonal center, and flutists need to understand the harmonic meaning.

It is important to communicate shape, direction, phrasing, and syntax to the audience.

Kevin Chance and John Bailey

Bailey explained why Widor chose the title “Suite”—because the work is definitely not a sonata. His overall points regarding this piece are that the flute melody has harmonic implications, that often the flute is secondary to the piano, that the plethora of notes in the flute part should not detract from important structural goals, and that the unusual tonal plan is typical of late-19th- century music—the movements are related by chromatic third relations, moving from C minor to E minor, A-flat major, and finally C minor/major.

Bailey also noted that there are two versions of the Suite. The longer version, which he favors, is more widely available in print, and the shorter version is available for download from imslp.org. Bailey said more research needs to done to determine which version is the final, definitive one.

Following detailed discussion of each movement, Bailey and pianist Kevin Chance presented a compelling performance of the complete Suite, serving as cogent evidence that intelligent, informed performance is always preferable to the faster, higher, louder approach favored by many flutists.

—Leonard Garrison

photo by Leonard Garrison