Romanticism in the Trenches

It's not very often that a composer makes it through their life without courting some sort of controversy, but flautist, conductor and composer Philippe Gaubert somehow managed to achieve this. From an early age Gaubert began taking all the right steps to a successful career, he began his studies with revered flautist Paul Taffanel at a young age, entering the Paris Conservatoire when he was just 13. Whilst he was at the Conservatoire he was awarded prizes for both flute and composition and began work playing at the Paris Opera when he was 18. On completion of his studies, Gaubert's career was a succession of achievements. He was appointed the head of the Conservatoire Orchestra and Head Conductor of the Paris Opera in 1919, and was professor of flute at the Conservatoire until 1931 when he became professor of conducting instead. He supplemented his performing career with composition, with some of his works becoming standards in the flute repertoire.

As a Composer firmly in the style of French romantic Impressionism, Gaubert's works were generally well received. His style referred to early Debussy and Fauré, and his music was praised for being pure. He liked to write uplifting music in summer to try and forget the darkness of winter. While his output was reasonably prolific, with several orchestral and stage works amongst various chamber and voice compositions, Gaubert has become a somewhat obscure composer outside of the flute world. This is possibly due to his apparent refusal to participate in the compositional advances that were taking place in Paris, especially during and after World War One. Where many composers, such as Henri Dutilleux, were actively trying to avoid the elegance, wit and charm associated with French music, Gaubert was producing music almost entirely characterised by these traits.

Trois Aquarelles, "three watercolours," was written in 1915, originally for violin, cello and piano, during Gaubert's three year period in active service in the War. The piece was one of two he wrote in the trenches, the other being his Violin Sonata. Given what his surroundings must have been like, neither piece seems to be exceptional amongst his other works. Whatever our pre-conceived notions of what a piece written in such an environment might be like, Trois Aquarelles must fulfil none of them. The piece is written in three fairly substantial movements; "On a Clear Morning," "Autumn Evening," and Serenade. An overall sense of optimism runs through each movement, along with a tangible elegance in each theme.