Library of Congress Debut
“Rampal plays with an abundance of ame (soul) and a tenderness that is potent at its core,” wrote Eugenia Zukerman, describing a Jean-Pierre Rampal performance in Esquire. “With a profoundly expressive musicality, he is a poet-flutist nonpareil.” Until Rampal began his international career in the 1950s, only the violin, cello, and piano were considered solo rank by classical instrumentalists. The first virtuoso to perform flute recitals solo, Rampal gives one hundred twenty concerts a year on four continents. Though his more than three hundred recordings make him a likely candidate for the most highly transcribed classical artist in history, Rampal confessed in his autobiography Music, My Love that he “stumbled into a musical career.” “There are people whose careers are well planned, even predestined,” he related in his introduction. “Mine was a mixture of chance and destiny.”
Rampal was born January 7, 1922 in Marseilles, France, to Joseph and Andree (Roggero) Rampal. In spite of the fact that his father was a professor of flute at the Marseilles Conservatory, neither of his parents recommended Rampal make music his career. Since his mother preferred a steady income to the vagabond life of a musician, she encouraged the boy, who ranked at the top of his class, to become a doctor. Although his father did not influence Rampal to study medicine, he discouraged Rampal’s interest in the flute. Refusing to give Rampal lessons until he was twelve years old, Rampal’s father relented only when he needed students to fill up his flute class at the Conservatory. Rampal advanced quickly on the flute, winning first prize at the Conservatory after two years of study in 1937. In his early teens, he was second chair flutist (his father was first) in the Classical Concert Orchestra of Marseilles. His first professional recital prompted several encores at the Salle Mazenod in Marseilles when he was sixteen, but this did not turn him from his intentions for a medical career.
In 1943 the German occupation of France changed the course of Rampal’s life. Since he was twenty-one, the third-year medical student faced service in the German military. He had kept up his playing along with his studies in urology and opted to join a German military orchestra. While a member of the orchestra, he received permission to audition at the Paris Conservatory. Rampal was chosen in the first round of the audition, but had his entrance to the Conservatory deferred for one year. When he discovered he would be deported to Germany on his return to his German outfit, he planned his escape. With his family’s help, Rampal hid for a year in Marseilles before entering the Paris Conservatory.
For the Record…
Born January 7, 1922, in Marseilles, France; son of Joseph (a professor of flute) and Andree (Roggero) Rampal; married Francoise Bacqueyrisse, June 7, 1947; children: Isabelle Dufour, Jean-Jacques. Education: Graduated from the Lycee Thiers, 1939; attended University of Marseilles medical school, three years; completed musical studies at the Marseilles Conservatory and the Paris Conversatory.
Flutist, 1937—. Established flute as a solo instrument; played in the orchestra of the Vichy Opera, 1947–1951; principal flutist of the Paris Opera, 1955–1962; performed with chamber groups, including the French Wind Quintet and the Paris Baroque Ensemble; debuted in the United States at the Library of Congress, 1958; edited Ancient Music for the Flute, 1958; performed at Carnegie Hall, 1959; co-founding father of the Academie Internationale d’Ete in Nice, France, early 1960s; appointed professor at the Paris Conservatory, 1968; appeared on The Muppet Show, 1970s; performs and sometimes conducts in roughly 120 concerts a year on four continents.
Awards: Winner of numerous awards and prizes; first prize at the Marseilles Conservatory, 1937; first prize at the Paris Conservatory, 1944; Danish Leonie Sonning Prize; Grand Prix du Disque de Montreux for his entire discography; Edison Prize; Officier de la Legion d’Honneur, Officier des Arts et Lettres; Commandent de l’Ordre National du Merite.
Rampal knew he was safe under the director of the Conservatory, Claude Delvincourt, since Delvincourt never turned illegal students over to the authorities. Rampal decided on a career in music after five months of study, when he won first prize at the 1944 flute competition at the Conservatory.
Although he went home to Marseilles temporarily to continue his medical studies, a return to Paris in the spring of 1945 to play in a concert with the National Orchestra of France helped Rampal to make music his life. “I don’t need another musician in the family. I want a doctor,” his mother told him as he left, Rampal recounted in his autobiography. He did not want to disappoint his mother, but Paris was a ravaged city in need of entertainment when he arrived. Rampal found great success in the lucrative medium of French radio, as music lovers were discovering pieces of the Baroqueera, which showcased the flute. In the late 1940s, Rampal formed the musical relationships that were pivotal to his career. First, Robert Veyron-Lacroix joined Rampal as his piano accompanist in an association that would last the next thirty-five years. Then in 1946 Rampal organized the exemplary French Wind Quintet, and two years later, the Paris Baroque Ensemble. Both chamber ensembles existed simultaneously for fifteen years, but the Paris Baroque Ensemble outlasted the Quintet for fifteen more.
During the fifties Rampal’s record sales earned him two Grand Prix du Disque Awards. Performances in concerts and recitals across Europe and Asia garnered him the 1956 Oscar du Premier Virtuose Francais. He became the principal flutist with the Paris opera in 1955, and remained in that position until 1962. His American debut at the Library of Congress in 1958 brought rave reviews. Rampal reported a sample, critical response in his autobiography from Day Thorpe in the Evening Star, who wrote: “Although I have heard many great flute players, the magic of Rampal still seems to be unique. In his hands, the flute is three or four music makers—dark and ominous, bright and pastoral, gay and salty, amorous and limpid. The virtuosity of the technique in rapid passages simply cannot be indicated in words.”
In the seventies Rampal’s work flourished in unexpected areas. Joined by the harpist Lily Laskine, who had played duets with him for thirty-five years, Rampal released an album of Japanese folk songs which was record of the year in Japan in 1970. Subsequently, Rampal became a successful crossover artist when his foray into a jazz/classical combo sold over a million records. In 1975 The Bolling Suite album with, French jazz artist Claude Bolling, gave Rampal such broad-based appeal that he was invited to appear on the popular television program The Muppet Show, where he performed “Ease on Down the Road” with Miss Piggy.
In 1982 American pianist John Steele Ritter replaced Lacroix, who had retired due to ill health, as Rampal’s accompanist. Despite this change and the diverse musical avenues Rampal has explored, the words “silvery,” “sweet and pure,” and “golden” to describe Rampal’s play have remained constant throughout his lengthy concert career. Rampal only performs on his two fourteen-carat gold flutes; he is not interested in gimmicks, however, but prefers the sonority of the precious metal over that of silver. The artist who plays the delicate airs of Mozart and the rags of American Scott Joplin on the same program likes to balance Baroque music with contemporary pieces in the great concert halls of the world, including Theatre de Champs-Elysees, Carnegie Hall, and the Hollywood Bowl. In later years he has taken up conducting, frequently directing orchestras in accompaniment to his solo performances.
Rampal married Francoise Bacqueyrisse, the daughter of harpist Odette Le Dentu, on June 7, 1947. Rampal’s home on the appropriately named Avenue Mozart is the gathering place for his family, including his daughter Isabelle, her husband Guillaume, his son Jean-Jacques and his wife Virginie, and three grandchildren, Caroline, Nicholas, and Elodie. An international superstar who discovered long-buried Baroque masterpieces, Rampal also promotes original works by contemporary composers like Poulenc and Joliet. As Esquire reported, one critic christened the phenomenal Rampal, with his successful, diverse career, “the Alexander of the flute, with no new worlds to conquer.”
Vivaldi’s Diverse Concertos, Columbia.
Tartini’s Four Flute Concertos, CBS.
(With Claude Bolling) The Bolling Suite, CBS, 1975.
The Art of Rampal, RCA.
Classic Flute, RCA.
Classic Gershwin, Columbia.
18th Century Flute Duets.
Fantasies for Flute.
From Prague With Love, Columbia.
Japanese Folk Melodies for Flute and Harp (with harpist Lily Laskine), Columbia.
A Night at the Opera, Columbia.
II Pastor Fido, RCA.
Picnic Suite, Columbia.
Portrait of Jean-Pierre Rampai, Columbia.
Songs of Ravel & Debussy.
Rampal, Jean-Pierre, with Deborah Wise, Music, My Love: An Autobiography, Random House, 1989.
Esquire, September 1981.
Newsweek, January 1, 1968.
New Yorker, March 12, 1979.
New York Times Magazine, February 22, 1976.
One of the greatest flutists of all time, Jean-Pierre Rampal (1922-2000) introduced the flute as a solo instrument to audiences around the world, drawing audiences comparable to those attracted by piano and violin virtuosos. His technical genius and artistic brilliance won for his instrument a popularity even greater than it had enjoyed during the Baroque period. For much of his career, Rampal averaged 120 concerts a year.
Jean-Pierre Louis Rampal was born on January 7, 1922, in the southern French port city of Marseilles. Son of Joseph (a flute professor and performer) and Andree Roggero Rampal, he was not drawn to music early, despite his father's career in music. Throughout his childhood, he dreamed instead of a career in medicine and only reluctantly did he take up the flute at age 13 when his father— equally reluctantly—began giving him lessons. His father only consented to teach his son when he needed additional students to fill out his class at the Marseilles Conservatory. The senior Rampal and his wife both wanted their son to find a life outside music, which they considered an unreliable means of support. Despite his lack of enthusiasm about the flute and music in general, young Rampal showed a natural talent for the instrument and advanced rapidly. He played second chair flute in the Classical Concert Orchestra of Marseilles and made his professional solo debut at the Salle Mazenod in Marseilles when he was only 16. Although he was well received in his premiere recital, the audience calling for several encores, Rampal remained fixated on a life in medicine, preferably as a surgeon. After graduating from Marseilles' Lycee Thiers (the equivalent of high school) with a degree in letters and philosophy in 1939, Rampal began his studies toward a pre-medical degree at the University of Marseilles.
Of his father's influence, Rampal wrote in his autobiography, "I worshipped my father and wanted to be like him. In his wisdom, he permitted me to develop my own style. I often played pieces too difficult for me, and my father was sometimes angry. I played everything in the music library and was so excited. I was really walking like a giant. … My father taught me how to nurture my musical talent and also how to lead my life. He said to walk out on the stage knowing that you are the best, and when you are finished and walk off the stage, always know that there is someone better. My father's influence, encouragement, and example have stayed with me all my life."
War Brought Change in Plans
Under the Nazi occupation of France, Rampal faced mandatory service in the German military but managed to avoid it—at least for a time—by joining the Chantiers de Jeunesse, which he later described as a kind of "Boy Scout army without arms." He received permission from the group to audition at the Paris Conservatory and was selected for admission after the first round of auditions. Rampal asked that his admission to the conservatory be deferred for a year. Shortly thereafter, however, he learned that his unit was going to be sent to Germany for forced labor only days after his scheduled return to Marseilles. Desperate to remain in France, Rampal went into hiding. With the help of his extended family, he managed to elude German authorities for a year until he could enter the Paris Conservatory. He felt certain he would be safe once he began classes there, because the school's director, Claude Delvincourt, had earned a reputation for sheltering illegal students in the past. In 1944, after only five months of study, Rampal won first prize in the conservatory's annual flute competition.
Suddenly Rampal discarded his plans for a life in medicine. "I decided to be a flute player," he later explained in Instrumentalist. "Up until I was 21 I had thought my future was to be a surgeon, no doubt about it. But then I changed my mind. … Suddenly I just knew that I would be unable to do anything but music. … I was excited but also upset, because I didn't want to disappoint my parents by leaving medical studies. Finally I did it." Upon graduation from the conservatory, Rampal won a job with the prestigious orchestra of the Paris Opera, rapidly working his way to the chair of principal flutist. After the liberation of Paris in 1945 he was invited by French National Radio to perform Jacques Ibert's "Concerto for Flute" in a national broadcast that helped to launch Rampal's concert career. It was during the latter half of the 1940s that Rampal developed the musical relationships that were to play a significant role in his life for decades. He engaged pianist Robert Veyron-Lacroix as his accompanist, a collaboration that continued for 35 years. In 1946 Rampal founded the French Wind Quintet, a group that remained active until the early 1960s. Two years later he organized the Paris Baroque Ensemble, which lasted until the late 1970s.
Flute's Popularity Soared
Not since the Baroque period, which stretched from roughly 1600 to about 1750, had the flute found such favor with the general public as it did in the years following World War II. In an interview with David Wright of the New York Times, Rampal himself offered this explanation for the ascendancy of Baroque-style music—and with it, the flute— after the war: "With all this bad mess we had in Europe during the war, people were looking for something quieter, more structured, more well balanced than Romantic music." As for the specific appeal of the flute, Rampal told the Chicago Tribune: "For me, the flute is really the sound of humanity, the sound of man flowing, completely free from his body almost without an intermediary. … Playing the flute is not as direct as singing, but it's nearly the same."
During a rehearsal for a 1946 performance of Mozart's "Concerto for Flute and Harp" at the spa in Vichy, Rampal was introduced to Francoise-Anne Bacqueyrisse, the 17-year-old daughter of harpist Odette le Dentu, with whom he was to play. In his autobiography, Rampal admitted that about a week after meeting Francoise, he told her: "If I weren't engaged already, I'd ask you to marry me," to which she replied: "If I weren't engaged as well, I might have accepted." Prior commitments notwithstanding, Rampal and Francoise were married on June 7, 1947. Like her mother, Francoise was a harpist, but she abandoned her musical career to manage the Rampal household. For his part, Rampal deeply valued his wife's support and insight. Of Francoise, he wrote: "She is my severest critic, but she believed in me from the beginning. … She has inspired my work and my life. It was the best thing I ever did when I married her." Rampal and Francoise had two children, Isabelle and Jean-Jacques, both of whom grew up to become amateur musicians.
From the earliest years of his career, Rampal recorded extensively. Strong record sales in the 1950s earned him two Grand Prix du Disque awards, while his concert appearances across Europe and Asia won for him the Oscar du Premier Virtuose Français in 1956. In 1958 he made his U.S. debut with a performance at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Writing in the Washington Star, critic Day Thorpe observed: "Although I have heard many great flute players, the magic of Rampal still seems to be unique. In his hands, the flute is three or four music makers—dark and ominous, bright and pastoral, gay and salty, amorous and limpid. The virtuosity of the technique in rapid passages simply cannot be indicated in words."
Toured the World
Once he'd made his debut in the United States, he toured the country frequently, making appearances with the leading symphony orchestras of Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Dallas, Detroit, Indianapolis, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, San Diego, and San Francisco. In addition to his solo performances on the flute, Rampal occasionally conducted the orchestras with which he appeared. He appeared in all the world's major musical venues, including London's Royal Albert Hall, Carnegie Hall and Avery Fisher Hall in New York City, the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, Paris's Theatre de Champs-Elysees, and the Kennedy Center in Washington, as well as smaller halls on four continents.
Rampal's ventures into music other than the classics sometimes brought criticism from musical purists, but it widened the flutist's audience. In the very early 1970s, collaborating with harpist Lily Laskine, he released an album of Japanese folk songs that was eventually named record of the year in Japan. Even more successful was Rampal's collaboration with French jazz artist Claude Bolling. Their album together—the Bolling Suite album—was enormously successful in the mid-1970s and gave Rampal a much higher profile with the general public. In the wake of this commercial success, Rampal was invited to appear on Jim Henson's Muppet Show, where he performed "Ease on down the Road" from The Wiz with Miss Piggy. Other musical forms explored by Rampal included English folk songs and the music of India. A number of France's best-known 20th-century composers wrote works specifically for him. These included Jean Françaix, André Jolivet, Jean Martinon, Francois Poulenc, and Pierre Boulez. In the early 1990s he debuted the "Flute Concerto" of Krzsztof Penderecki.
Rampal appeared on the Sony label from the 1970s until the end of his life, recording almost every major work for the flute. Among his better-known recordings were the flute concertos and sonatas of Johann Sebastian Bach and the flute concertos and quartets of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, as well as the flute compositions of Franz Joseph Hadyn, Antonio Vivaldi, Georg Philipp Telemann, and such lesser-known composers as Johann Kuhnau, Boccherini, Giuliani, and Carulli. In 1982 Rampal's longtime accompanist Robert Veryron-Lacroix retired because of ill health and was replaced by American pianist John Steele Ritter. In his appearances around the world, Rampal played one of his two trademark 14-carat gold flutes—not an affectation or a gimmick but a simple preference for the sound produced by instruments crafted from the precious metal.
When he was not touring the world, Rampal and his wife shared a home on the Avenue Mozart in Paris, where their child and their families visited them often. The end came suddenly for Rampal, who died in Paris of heart failure on May 20, 2000. One of the first to note Rampal's passing was French President Jacques Chirac, who was quoted in the Washington Times as saying that "his flute … spoke to the heart. A light in the musical world has just flickered out." Issac Stern, who had collaborated extensively with Rampal, was quoted in the same article as recalling: "Working with him was pure pleasure, sheer joy, exuberance. He was one of the great musicians of our time, who really changed the world's perception of the flute as a solo instrument." Fellow flutist and musical commentator Eugenia Zukerman observed: "He played with such a rich palette of color in a way that few people had done before and no one since. He had an ability to imbue sound with texture and clarity and emotional content. He was a dazzling virtuoso, but more than anything he was a supreme poet."
Contemporary Musicians, Gale, 1991.
Newsmakers, Gale, 1989.
Rampal, Jean-Pierre, Music, My Love, Random House, 1989.
American Record Guide, July 1, 2001.
Minneapolis Star Tribune, May 21, 2000.
U.S. News & World Report, June 5, 2000.
Washington Times, May 21, 2000.
Sony Classical Web site,http://www.sonyclassical.com/ (January 31, 2002).
Jean-Pierre Rampal Web site,http://www.mindspring.com/~fsimone/ (January 21, 2002). □