Close this search box.

How to Use Moyse’s Melody Book

Victoria Jicha | February 2021

   Flutists who studied with des­cendants of the French school of flute playing are undoubt­edly acquainted with Marcel Moyse’s collection of vocal melodies from vari­ous operas, Tone Development Through Interpretation, and its many applica­tions. Those who developed using other pedagogical materials or left school before the book was published in 1962 may be aware of the compila­tion but are unsure how to use it.
   Most students today are unfamiliar with many of the tunes in the book, but these were very popular with average Parisians in Moyse’s day. Moyse per­formed most of these pieces at the Paris Opera, and during the early 20th century Parisians from every walk of life went to hear the great singers and knew the music well. Music students in that time would surely have known the standard opera works as well.
   The background of Tone Development is interesting but hazy. In an address to the British Flute Society, Trevor Wye stated that the 24 and 25 Little Melodious Studies were probably pre­decessors to Tone Development. In a Moyse Society Newsletter Robert Aitken wrote that the book developed out of woodwind coaching classes that Moyse held at Marlboro. While various flutists voice multiple sources for the compilation, that the work repre­sents a lifetime of musical experience seems more than clear.
   Two prefaces exist for Tone Devel­opment that differ but share similari­ties. The most detailed and probably the one intended for inclusion with the McGinnis & Marx publication of 1962 is translated by Robert Langevin and edited by Nancy Andrew. She dis­covered it in 1985 amongst other Moyse papers when she was catalogu­ing his estate for the New York Public Library. The publisher chose to print suggestions about how to use this melody book.

John Bailey: It is a well-known fact that Marcel Moyse was principal flutist of the Paris Opéra-comique, but it is less known that his major musical experience as a child was going to the opera with his grandfather in Besançon. By age ten he had seen 40 operas and knew many of the arias by heart. At that time in Paris the two major musical institutions were the Opéra and the Opéra-comique. Concerts provided by the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire and the three concert series of Lamoureux, Calonne, and Pasdeloup, were fewer and much less prestigious. Opera was at the center of musical life for musicians in Moyse’s day, as it is for European musicians today. For example, the Vienna Philharmonic performs only ten sub­scription concerts a year but plays opera as the Vienna State Opera Orchestra every night of the opera sea­son from September through June. The Dres­den Staatskapelle performs on the stage of the Semperoper, for which it also functions as the opera orchestra, and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, known internationally as a concert orchestra, plays nightly for the Leipzig Opera. The Berlin Phil­harmonic is one of the only orchestras in a major German-speaking city that is not connected to opera.
   Moyse explained that he had listened to and mod­eled his singing sound on the great operatic perform­ers of his day, including soprano Nellie Melba, with whom he toured in America for six months in 1913-14. Because under­graduate students can graduate from American music schools without ever attending or studying opera in any depth or hearing the artistry of great singers, my students prepare three of the melodies from Tone Development each semester, but they do not learn them from the page alone. They listen to a recorded performance and attempt to imitate the nuances of the performer, including rubato, phrasing, breaths, and dynamic shaping.
   As beautiful as the melodies are, Moyse did not intend for them to stand alone, but to be the starting point for nuances that fit with the texture of the accompaniment and the traditions behind the tune in a manner that is similar to a lead sheet for a jazz standard. Students should learn to vary the dramatic context and content of the text to add expression to the melodies.
   The book is organized by range for players to explore and add expression in the low, middle, high, and mixed regis­ters at various dynamic levels. The repertoire includes excerpts by early 19th-century Italian bel canto com­posers Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti, some middle-period Verdi operas (Trovatore, Traviata, Rigoletto) and compositions by late 19th-century French opera composers (Massenet, Delibes, and Bizet) and a few little-known French gems. Several instrumental works with obvious vocal models by Bizet, Saint-Saens, Mozart, and Chopin are also included, but operatic works by Mozart, Puccini, late Verdi, and 20th-­century composers are absent.
   After students have studied these pieces for several semesters I encourage them to compile a melody book of arias that they love and can use to work on musical expression. Moyse encouraged students to transpose the melodies and often wrote the initial bars in several keys. This practice technique gives stu­dents a basic understanding of the melodic structure and forces them to conquer the idiosyncrasies of particular intervals or note responses. Students who study these melodies on a regular basis will gain a firm knowledge of operatic literature, a better sense for melodic tension and shape, and a bet­ter understanding of the tonal, dynamic, intonation, and vibrato con­trol to play expressively. The melodies are such a joy to study, hear, and play, that I look forward every semester to a new set of performances.

Julia Bogorad-Kogan: Moyse toured the United States and Europe with many great singers, including Enrico Caruso, Amelita Galli-Curci, Luisa Tetrassini, and Nellie Melba. They inspired him with varied expressions, the ability to convey emotions, and control over lines, colors, and rubatos. Moyse believed that wind instruments should be able to produce the same expressiveness as singers, and he chose vocal material to develop greater pow­ers of expression on the flute. Later he used these pieces in teaching of other wind players. The ability to shape a beautiful phrase is the most important skill a musician can develop, then to connect a series of phrases into a larger segment. I require each student from junior high through doctoral candi­dates to prepare one melody from Tone Development each week, and in the process they learn general rules that can be applied to any music. First they study phrase shaping in the first piece in Moyse’s Twenty-four Petites Etudes Melodiques. It has a standard three-­part phrase structure, which is present in everything from Mozart to Schoen­berg and beyond.
   Moyse spoke of ‘les regles immuables de la musique’ or the unchanging laws of music, and he meant that music has a syntax similar to speech; upbeats (like articles), downbeats (nouns), weak endings (weak syllables), and peaks or climaxes (conclusions). It would be impossible to interpret Shakespeare, for instance, without knowledge of the English language. In the same way, knowledge of the struc­ture or language of music is essential to musical interpretation.
   My students use the melodies to study structural versus ornamental notes, appoggiaturas, syncopation, and other musical devices. They learn to recognize typical shapes and elements of musical language and discover how great composers departed from these shapes to create surprise, excitement, or drama. When a composer writes an unexpected note that is not in the key signature, we can talk about tone color or timing to set that note apart.
   Once students have the physical capability to shape phrases with their lips and air they can play these melo­dies, which Moyse purposely tran­scribed into difficult flute keys so that students would learn to match the tone colors and correct the pitches on such troublesome notes as middle C# and D#. Students can then transpose the melody into othe­r keys, putting the troublesome notes at different points in the melody. With this knowledge and these skills, each musi­cian can come up with a particular interpretation.

Barbara Leibundguth: Moyse played in the orchestra pit night after night and could not wait to get home to his Montmartre apartment after perfor­mances to attempt a recreation on the flute of the same magical expressive­ness he heard from the singers. The book grew out of his striving to trans­fer to the flute the emotions, subtle color variations, and phrasing he had heard. Besides working with singers in French opera productions, Moyse played flute obbligatos with some of Europe’s most celebrated vocal artists, many of whom toured extensively in the early part of the of the 20th cen­tury. The arias in Tone Development offer a welcome sense of freedom and introduce students to the heart and soul of music, as almost no other book does. Students can just sing beautiful melodies that are not full-blown, slow movements from the solo repertoire.
   Students can play the melodie just for fun or use them as a bridge between exercises and solos to work on tone quality, intonation, phrasing, rhythm, dynamics, breathing, different registers, transposition, memorization, posture, hand position, and embouchure. Simple melodies at the beginning of a practice session can lead students nat­urally to their best sound and ground them musically. I find that the melodies towards the back of the book can tie everything together at the end of a long practice session.
   Tone Development gives advanced beginner and intermediate students examples from a mature and exciting musical world, which expands their creative imagination. The arias include the added bonus of words and stories to help students connect to the music in a personal way that can be quite revolutionary if they have never experienced the feeling of the music coming from inside before. Most of all, Tone Development develops a desire in students to play with artistry. Those who regularly and consistently play these melodies as beautifully as they can will reach for all the subtleties and emotions they can summon from all the music they play.
   Students who have not heard the operas performed will benefit from working with the book, but only with knowledge of the text, plot, and accompanying harmonies can they fully benefit from these melodies. After many years of working with the book I decided to listen to every opera in it. If recordings were available I taped each melody, summarized the story of each scene, and copied the relevant section of the libretto. This was the only way I could fully explore the emotional shades expressed in each excerpt, and I think this study brought my playing to a new level. Students should at least find a few recordings with full libretti. Perhaps some enterprising person will write a companion volume to Tone Devel­opment and include piano reductions and a C.D.
   If all flute students could experience firsthand the incredible resonance that great singers and instrumentalists gen­erate, it would change everything for them, just as it did for Moyse. I once heard Mario Sereni, a Metropolitan Opera baritone, sing an aria as I left the opera house stage door and was awed at the richness, ease, and pres­ence of the sound that just burbled out of him, even from just that little snip­pet. I later played Gounod’s Faust with tenor Jerry Hadley, and I will never forget how he sang the first word of the opera (why) with such anguish, clarity, and fullness of sound. Imagine doing that on the flute, without any words. This is the key to Tone Development. Flutists should get right up close to fab­ulous singers and instrumentalists, whether it means finding the money for a front row seat at a performance, or sitting in on a chamber music rehearsal, going to a singer’s master class, or maybe even eavesdropping at someone’s studio door.

Susan Levitin:
The aria collection introduces students to the world of opera as teachers explain the stories and encourage students to experiment with tone colors and dynamics to create a mood. Students will learn about interpretation by listening to recordings and imitating the vocal per­formances. Some of the melodies, such as #59, "Il Trovatore," represent two different vocal lines, which should be played in different styles. When stu­dents understand the plot and charac­ters, they will play more expressively.
   These studies are excellent for teaching students to transpose and to determine how many lines or spaces to move each note to play in the new key signature. This is a visual and cerebral exercise and does not entail just play­ing by ear.
   Moyse chose keys that are resonant and enhance the tone quality. Many of the tunes use numerous accidentals, particularly those in Db. l ask students to learn the melody in the original key, then transpose them into all keys and play them an octave higher to imitate the tone quality of the original key using the same principal found in De la Sonorite to match one sound to another. A tuner is useful to determine how the intonation differs from one to key to another.

Nancy Andrew:
I believe that Moyse intended his collection to be an example for future flutists to create their own set of beautiful melodies. In fact, in the Robert Langevin trans­lation of the preface Moyse wrote, "You have in this book 92 melodies. Listen to them – compare. You can augment the value of this book by adding melodies that you love, that inspire you, and that seem likely to help you progress."

* * *

John Bailey is professor of flute at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln and principal flute with the Lincoln Symphony Orchestra. He was President of the NFA 2003-04 and Program Chair for the 2016 NFA convention. He studied with James Pellerite and Walfrid Kujala.

Julia Bogorad-Kogan, Grammy- Award winning principal flutist of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, combines an orchestral career with regular recital and solo performances. A frequent soloist with the SPCO, she has also served as guest principal flutist of the Boston Symphony, the Milwaukee Symphony, the National Symphony and the Minnesota Orchestra, and has appeared at the Grand Teton and Marlboro music festivals and on the St. Paul Sunday and Performance Today radio shows. She is on the faculty at the University of Minnesota, and taught at Oberlin Conservatory. Her CDs are of Handel Sonatas and French repertoire on the Fullharmonic label. Her teachers included Marcel Moyse, Thomas Nyfenger, James Pellerite and Robert Willoughby.

Barbara Leibunguth ​was a menber if the Minnesota Orchestra for 20 years, 14 of which as co-principal. She teaches at Gustavus Adolphus College. Her teachers include Walfrid Kujala, Susan Levitin, Donald Peck, and Marcel Moyse.

Susan Levitin ​formerly taught at the Sherwood Conservatory of Music in Chicago and consistently produces prize-winning stu­dents. She has recorded and performs extensively throughout the Midwest. Her teachers include Joseph Mariano, Ralph Johnson, and William Kincaid.

Nancy Andrew teaches privately at the North Spring Flute Studio in Colorado Springs, Co. She has recently compiled, arranged, and edited The Paris Conservatory Album for Flute and Piano (Southern Music Publishers). She is a student of Robert Willoughby, Samuel Baron, Frank Bowen, and Marcel Moyse.

Marcel Moyse, A Musical Biography by Trevor Wye, Winzer Press.
Marcel Moyse Society Newsletters McCutchan, Ann, Marcel Moyse: Voice of the Flute, Amadeus Press.