Personally, my answer would be flexibility and it can include many various flexibility aspects such as flexibility of the rhythm (rubato), flexibility of tone colors (switching between colors quickly), flexibility of the embouchure (in order to play big intervals extremely smoothly) and more.
The Fantasie by Gabriel Fauré (you can find the notes here) is perhaps one of our most played pieces in our French repertoire, and I wanted to guide you through the piece and reveal together the opportunities for using the different types of flexibility in the piece.
You can listen to my own performance of the piece here (I’ll refer to certain times in the recording in the article):
How to deal with the first note?
You might think that the first phrase of the piece is quite simple, but in fact, it can show a lot about your control of the flute and your musicality.
The very first note is always a challenge: How to start a rather high note, softly, in tune, without any unwanted accents?
You probably know by now, that we have 4 different main types of attack – 4 ways to start playing a note. You wish to have a clear beginning, yet soft and not accentuated. I’d recommend to avoid using ‘Ta’ as attack (tongue behind the teeth) as this type of attack tends to lack the focus of the sound at the beginning of the note and recommend to rather attack with a ‘Pa’ attack (with the lips). This type of attack reacts very quickly to your air and is extremely useful for the attack in the 2nd-3rd octaves, when you want clarity and softness at the same time.
Controlling this type of attack and using it smartly can help tremendously in many pieces and orchestral excerpts, such as for example Leonore Overture, when playing the triplets in the 2nd-3rd octaves (you can read my excerpt guide here). In general, in Beethoven’s literature there are many occasions you could benefit from this type of attack.
To make this attack work well, part of the trick is to be able to build up the right air pressure you need for this note in advance. If you start playing without it, it’s too late and you’d most probably be too flat and might even crack the first note. Knowing how to control your air pressure and how to attack in various ways is really important for us and it’s exactly what you will learn in my unique online warm-up routine courses.
In addition, keep in mind that the chord under the first note is E minor. That means that our B2 is actually the fifth and should be played slightly higher than what your tuner shows. You can read more here about intonation and how you can practice it.
Rhythm flexibility from the very first phrase – adding rubato
What’s the main difference between a robot or a computer playing music and a human? The computer reads the music as mathematical/metronomic values and therefore each note’s value would sound exactly the same as the one before or after. But we musicians have the understanding and capacity of applying “rubato” to the music, reading the values of the notes yet playing them with slight different lengths and speeds and yet still be on time.
If you listen carefully to my recording of the few first bars I’m sure you’ll be able to notice that although the notes are equally written, they are not really equally performed – some are a bit slower, some are a bit quicker. Playing with rubato allows the music to sound flexible and fluid, and avoid being harsh and static.
French music has a lot of opportunities to use rubato and applying it to your performance would really reveal your musicality, as there are endless ways to you could play around with it.
Do you feel comfortable playing bar 18 with the big interval from B2 to D#1 (minute 0:50 in the recording)? worried whether you would ‘hit’ the lower note or might crack it?
Big intervals in legato require special care and involve a technique you can and should practice and develop. If you play separately each one of these notes you’ll surely notice that each note has a different embouchure position. In order to change between the notes you have to change your embouchure position. But in order to make it smoothly, there’s a catch: you should be able to move your lips first, while still playing the upper note and prepare the position of the lower note in advance. Avoiding a big lip movement at the time of changing a note is the key for playing such big intervals smoothly with much bigger chances of actually hitting the lower note without cracking it.
In almost every piece you play you’ll find big intervals and learning this technique will improve significantly how you play.
In the second part of the piece Fauré instructs us to play lightly (leggiero) certain parts (minute 4:07 in the recording) and you can easily achieve that by playing the last note of each legato group extremely short. That will allow your tongue the extra split of a second it needs to clearly articulate the next legato group and make the whole phrase sound as if it would be really easy to play.
You can read more about the secret for great articulation in my article here.
I hope this article provided you with some new ideas to consider. I’ll be very happy to hear your thoughts, so feel free to leave your comments below.
Enjoy practicing and keep healthy.