Saturday, 29 April 2017


“Life is like a flute. It may have many holes and emptiness but if you work on it carefully, it can play magical melodies.” - Evan Carmichael

Michel Blavet (March 13, 1700 – October 28, 1768) was a French composer and flute virtuoso. Although Blavet taught himself to play almost every instrument, he specialised in the bassoon and the flute which he held to the left, the opposite of how most flautists hold theirs today. Quantz writes of Blavet: “His amiable disposition and engaging manner gives rise to a lasting friendship between us and I am much indebted to him for his numerous acts of kindness.”

Born in Besançon as the son of wood turner Jean-Baptiste Blavet, a profession which he followed for some time, he accidentally became the possessor of a flute and soon became the finest player in France. Blavet was famous for maintaining impeccable intonation, even when he played in difficult keys, and for the beauty of his tone. Voltaire expressed his admiration for his playing and Marpurg spoke of him as a virtuoso of the highest excellence who preserved his innate modesty despite his unbroken popularity.

In 1721, Blavet entered the service of Louis, Count of Clermont and became his steward of music. In 1726 he joined the Duke of Carignan and took part in the newly formed Concert Spirituel for the first time. In 1728 he published his first book of flute music, containing six sonatas for two flutes without bass. From 1731 to 1735, he performed at the Concert Spirituel with Jean-Marie Leclair, Jean-Pierre Guignon, Jean-Joseph de Mondonville, Jean-Baptiste Senaillé, and Jacques Aubert.

In 1738, Blavet became the principal flute in Louis XV’s personal musical ensemble, the “Musique du Roi”, and in 1740 at the Paris Opera orchestra. He played in the quartet (flute – Blavet, violin – Guignon, viola da gamba – Forqueray the younger, cello – Édouard) that played the premiere performance of the Paris quartets by Telemann. Blavet turned down a post in Frederick the Great’s court, which Quantz eventually accepted after the pay had been increased significantly.

In 1752 Blavet modelled on Italian interludes the first French comic opera, ‘Le Jaloux corrigé’. He also wrote a march for the Grande-Loge, having joined the Masons under the influence of the Comte de Clermont who was Grand Master of the Order in France. Blavet’s three ‘Recueils’ for two flutes are undated, but internal evidence suggests that they come from the early 1750s. The breathing marks (h, for haleine) indicated in the ‘Recueils’ and his op. 2 remain an invaluable aid in understanding eighteenth-century French musical phrasing. He died in Paris in 1768.

Blavet wrote primarily for the transverse flute, in the so-called ‘Italian’ as well as the French style. His surviving works include a concerto and three books of sonatas (1740). His surviving works are written only in the easiest keys, since he published them for amateurs to play.

Here is a selection of flute music by Blavet, played by Frank Theuns, Marc Hantaï, Martin Bauer, Ewald Demeyere, and Wim Maeseele.

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