The term "expression" includes many components, including vibrato. French flutists often speak of playing expressively, but rarely mention vibrato except in a negative context. French flute players consider vibrato to be an integral component of tone production. Marcel Moyse was quoted as saying he never used vibrato, and yet it is clearly present on his recordings. Recordings as early as 1905 [Taffanel] reveal that French flutists did indeed use vibrato, but they would often only say that they played expressively.
Peter Lloyd and Geoffrey Gilbert both use the term "expression" from having studied in France. According to Geoffrey Gilbert the term expression "more accurately describes the total content of sound, including volume and tone color, in which one's vibrato becomes part of the sound, not something one does to the sound."
French vibrato, says Peter Lloyd, is more of a shimmer --a presence--rather than something layered on top of one's sound. French flutists identify the term "vibrato" with an exaggeerated "wah-wah" that calls attention to itself as a separate component and is not incorporated into the flutist's overall sound.
Having understood what that means, it means that when you use vibrato, it is a positive, thought-out reasoning. You use it because you think it. If you're just shimmering to keep color alive, then it's very, very light. So light that you hardly notice it. And I don't think that that is the same thing at all. It's not the same as vibrato. Vibrato is something that you consciously add. I think that's quite important. I think the worst thing we can do, as so many players do, is [to have] a continual wobble. It doesn't matter what on earth sort of music they're playing. It starts at 7:30 at the beginning of their concert and it ends at 9:30 when they've finished their last piece. And nothing happens in between. And that has nothing to do with music.
Whatever it was called, expression was exported from France, as more flute players studied with flutists at the Paris Conservatory of Music or with French flutists such as Marcel Moyse and Caratgé. English and German flutists resisted using vibrato the longest. Peter Lloyd believes that this had something to do with long-standing feuds among European countries.
I don't know why Germany didn't. They left it [vibrato] out for a long time....I think they were aware of it. It's my own sort of curious twisted mind that tells me that...there were [big wars] between... France and Germany. Maybe there was such an aversion ...to anything French in Germany that they...would not accept [it].
Curiously, it seems that vibrato followed the silver flute. Countries slow in adopting vibrato also tended to be slow in adopting the silver flute, keeping to the wooden flutes instead.
The vibrato system as we know it didn't start until 1920 or so when Moyse was in the Opera. It really came out of that. Before that, it was a much shallower shimmer....Now, I think that the important thing to remember is that styles change. It's like singers...you listen to singers of the 1920s and 1930s and it's...very hard for us to listen to it. Almost like hearing the old violinists who used slides, you know, and they're sliding all over the place in Bach and Beethoven--and of course it's not very acceptable now.
I think we have to be very careful to remember that styles change. Nannygoat vibrato as such was accepted and was part and parcel of the way wind players, or rather flute players, played. But most winds at the time were totally vibrato-less--even the oboes. And so I think it wasn't really until Moyse started to say, "Look--why don't we play like singers?" The besst often had expression and were using their vibrato for expression.....I keep the [tone] alive by working from the dead end, not by reducing vibrato. I take it from playing dead and just moving up very slightly, because I believe that so much sostenuto playing gets ruined by vibrato....If you play a lovely [Bach] with no vibrato it's more beautiful than hearing this wretched thing wobbling up.
Your generation and the generation you're teaching needs to be much more aware of what the possibilities of vibrato are. And again, to [paraphrase] Geoffrey Gilbert, he's saying it's the next generation that need to think about the way you use vibrato. I think of that as a very, very important point. Sometimes we don't want to get an intense sound going all the time--it's very boring. And unless we really [find] the possibilities, color possibilities, vibrato possibilities, expression posssibilities, we're going to go on producing recitals as they've been done for so long. And I think that is boring.
Peter Lloyd points out that vibrato, incorporated as part of the tone, warms the sound and is not obtrusive, whereas vibrato that is extraneous to the sound calls attention to itself as a separate entity and interrupts the flow of sound. As Marcel Moyse put it, "If you notice the vibrato when someone is playing, then it is too much. Too much vibrato and I think the flute is drunk."
Producing vibrato that is flexible and acting within the flute tone depends upon a free supply of air.
We need to have that long line of free air. Get the speed. Then you have something to hold onto, to control. If you have tension up there [throat], you can't do it. Then [you'll] either...have the one speed you've learned, because that's your natural speed, or else it's going to be impossible to control at different speeds.
I'm absolutely certain that vibrato depends on the freedom of your breathing. People who have trouble with vibrato in my recent experience, have all had problems with the freedom of their playing....Now, if we can get back to thinking that when you breathe and blow, it's as simple as that. You've got something to hold onto, to grip...when you have an air speed that's natural and free, you can gain control.
We've talked about vibrato....you cannot control vibrato, or color, or anything else--unless that airstream is free. You can actually demonstrate that quite easily by lifting your shoulders. Play with your shhoulders high. You see....there's no projection. No freedom. You also can't control what you're trying to do with the vibrato. Now, drop your jaw, relax everything, and you suddenly find that things just start to flow. Sound goes down the stairs and out in the street and you can do what you like with your vibrato, which is better.
What he said was that when he was young, he heard so much vibrato going on, but it was always...rhythmic with the music and he said, "I didn't like that." So he said he started learning to vibrate always across the beat--like five over two, or seven over three. Something like that. So...you just never let your breath know what your fingers aare doing. What he was trying to do was to get that vibrato--well, he didn't call it vibrato--the general expression, moving in the sound at a tempo that never fit the music that he was playing. And then outside of that, we know that [one] varies the depth of vibrato to suit the musical line as well. In other words, he was moving the sound within a dead sound to keep the sound alive. And it wasn't necessarily strictly in the tempo in which he was playing.
Geoffrey Gilbert had a way of showing pupils what vibrato "against the beat" would sound and feel like.
Variation in the speed and depth of vibrato widens the expressive choices available to flutists. There are few habits as distracting as a vibrato that never changes during a performance. Variation in vibrato can help shape a phrase, set a mood, intensify a dynamic, make a single note stand out among many, and help distinguish works of different eras and nations from one another. As James Galway put it, "Some people think vibrato should have a regular speed. Others clearly demonstrate that it should not." Just as life changes, musical moods change, and variation of vibrato is a large part of that expressive capability.
Although a flutist may have a natural vibrato, variation of speed and depth must still be learned.
I remember Geoffrey Gilbert saying everybody has a natural vibrato. Very few people have a natural vibrato that's either at the right speed or is flexible. And so it's his contention that most people have to go back to the drawing board and start from playing absolutely straight and then playing with a metronomic system....and then when you get really good at being able to control those, okay, then start doing three over two or five over two--in other words try to break it up a bit.
Vibrato variation is especially helpful in shaping phrases. Generally, a phrase starts with less vibrato which then builds in intensity to the phrase's climax, relaxing afterwards to the end of the phrase.
I think in a simplified way, we need to think [about] the tops of phrases. If you build a phrase from there to there, then you can work up...the intensity of the vibrato as you reach the top.
If a phrase is going to rise, [you] can't start it with a lot of vibrato--a lot of depth of vibrato, or even speed--because it takes away from the intensity of the top of the line. We've got to worrk towards something. You can't only work toward the top of a phrase with dynamic, of getting louder. It's boring always to do the same.
Vibrato, used carelessly, can also destroy the shape of a phrase. As Peter Lloyd pointed out in a masterclass:
Be very careful that it [vibrato] doesn't keep [being] insistent when you get to the ends of phrases. The beginnings of phrases, you can build up, maybe start a little bit gentle, a little bit more at the top of the line and then for heaven's sake lose it at the end of the phrase. Otherwise it's going to go wobble-wobble.257
An interesting point here about the vibrato thing--when you use that vowel sound [EU] in your mouth and get the air stream going fast, you can control the depth of the vibrato much better. It starts to work. You can get it shallow. If you can imagine the singing energy...imagine that...you're singing with French vowel sounds...it's very easy to get.260
Do listen to a Frenchman talking, because an American or an Englishman trying to speak French--unless they've actually lived in the country--is not going to be any help whatsover. And I really emphasize this.261
Now you try to get that [vibrato] with one of our Anglo Saxon deep throat sounds, [and] it doesn't work so easily. It's much harder to control.262
Vibrato control is air speed--and freedom. There you are. That's all. Easy, isn't it? A lot of us poor people who have problems with slow vibratos, all you've got to do is control the air speed and the color of the sound. It's not quite as easy as that, but that really is the fundamental.263
I think [if] you...have a problem with only one vibrato speed, go to various rhythms, play them over, get your metronome going [and] change the speeds--even if you do them on the beats....And I'm absolutely certain that it's completely dependent on how freely you're breathing. If you're really free, then you've got proper air speed. And it's air speed that gives you something to hold onto, and then you can do things with it. If [the air] is coming out slow, you're having to work hard [and] you can't do a thing.264
Never let your air stream know what your fingers are doing.266
Vibrato can have as important a role in setting the mood of a particular work as tone color. By varying vibrato depth and speed, the flutist obtains much more variety in the range of moods and can change moods rapidly by using both tone color and vibrato variation.
Peter Lloyd is aware of the mood to be conveyed and its attendant vibrato; often he tells a flutist that the best vibrato for a passage is almost none.
In [the Ibert] we should be making a proper sound based on French vowel sounds anyway, which will give us the French kind of shimmer naturally.268
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Vibrato and Dynamics
Mood, dynamic, tone color, and vibrato all combine to make music interesting and alive. Vibrato and dynamics are especially tied together, because a deeper vibrato in a softer sound may have the unfortunate characteristic of cutting into the tone, producing "nannygoat" or "pointy" vibrato that calls attention to itself and diverts attention from the music. Conversely, a shallow vibrato in a fortissimo passage may be lost in the tone and inaudible. Therefore, except for some special effects, vibrato speed/depth follows dynamic lines.
Peter Lloyd maintains that vibrato can have the effect of intensifying sound so that it appears louder--without actually changing one's dynamic. In a masterclass, he encouraged a player dealing with a hairpin dynamic [a crescendo immediately followed by a decrescendo] to "crescendo with the vibrato; it's easier."271
Vibrato on a single note will call attention to that note, which is very useful in passages where the flute has a line which includes both melody and accompaniment. This type of "vibrato shine" is also often encouraged by Peter Lloyd [and Geoffrey Gilbert] in appoggiaturas. Having vibrato on the appoggiatura note and taking it off the resolution neatly solves the problem of emphasizing an appoggiatura without making a dynamic "bump."
Lloyd also encourages changing vibrato depth with changes in tessitura. In this case, a change in the actual depth will cause the listener not to notice a difference in tessitura.
Even with that advice, Lloyd warns the flutist not to do everything by rote. "Remember when you get louder you don't have to vibrate wider....It doesn't have to be like that, when it is not desirable."273
There are two areas of style that Peter Lloyd raises when talking about vibrato variation [as well as color]: national styles and styles of different historical eras.
In speaking of eras, he said:
If you know a little bit about classical style, then when you play a Mozart symphony, just look back on that. Okay, I'm not suggesting that you don't use vibrato....However, I do think that we have to think a little bit about cutting out this wobble that happens with some people. It may be a fast wobble and it may be a slow wobble. But...we've got to learn the different speeds and the different depths according to the style of music we're playing. We're not going to play Mozart with the same sort of vibrato you're going to play [with on] Daphnis, or Brahms.276
I think we have to be very careful to remember that styles change.277
Peter Lloyd feels that the tone color and vibrato style of a country's flutists is determined to some extent by their language.
Have any of you tried singing French vowel sounds?... It's very easy to be very shallow and very fast in the vibrato. If you try to go fast and you've got a great big old Anglo-Saxon "AWWWW," it won't work....Now something in French music should be very "EU" and high. And the other thing is to keep the air speed free and fast.279
I don't say you should play Baroque flute....On the other hand, I think it's totally wrong to put a good hard, rasping sound on a Loeillet sonata or a Couperin. We shouldn't do that. And we can go a long way toward taking the edge, taking that center out of the sound to make colors that are much more appropriate.281
We're not going to play Bach with the same vibrato technique as we're going to play a French piece, which probably won't be the same as [a contemporary work].282 It's quite probable that they were written with different ideas in mind. I mean, the French are going to write differently than the Englishmen and all that. And so the way that they understand color and style is through their own language. And if you think of that, you'll find that the sounds you produce through different vowel sounds of different languages will come out differently in the way you play, and I think that this is a very important thing to think of.283
French music should be played with less actual dynamic, but with great intensity.
Forte in French doesn't necessarily mean a great enormous American-English sort of sound. When French players play forte, there's an intensity which comes through vibrato technique as much as anything.284
Speaking of a Gaubert sonata during a masterclass, Lloyd said:
If you can find your way into a Bach sonata, it is very much more obvious...if you try to feel these little subtleties of color. This is the big point that I think is hard, that we haven't got the type of color and the type of articulation on the modern flute that they had....They used different articulation letters of syllables in Paris than they did in Germany because of the language, which we've spoken about before in articulation in the twentieth century. And it was the same thing....How far do we go into Baroque style?
Do we go as far as thinking about vibrato for example? If you're playing on a metal flute, it's very hard to keep an interesting color with no vibrato. You have to be very certain of what you're doing in order to make it sound decent, but it is possible.
My whole attitude toward Baroque playing underwent a fundamental change when I heard Kiujken's Bach.... It's Baroque music, absolutely honest and straight-forward and fabulous. And I heard it and said, "Wow, listen to this! We've got to do something about this." [We don't] understand what all the bibliography papers...and dried bits of paper with black bits on them...what they actually mean.
What I remember above all was his [Kiujken's] spontaneity. Listening to his recording of the Bach Partita, I then listened to another one taken off the radio of a live performance. This live performance was totally different in his phrasing of the first movement. Sounded totally spontaneous. Now, he's a genius--there's no doubt about that--he can play these things in a totally spontaneous way, because that's how it should be. I think we need to make this spontaneous point, because it's very difficult to make it sound good if you start marking into a part every little nuance and every little bit that you want to make a point of. I think you can do a certain amount, but if we go on putting everything in, we're going to play what's there and then it's going to be boring again! You have to be free!287 There are so many rules that vary according to composer, even in as small an area as Paris and Versailles, that really what one has to learn is what one could not do. Working it from there--if you know what you can't do, you can be fairly free. I'm thinking in terms of playing in the twentieth century.
As we go towards Classical, the lines become longer, whereas of course in Baroque they are much smaller, more fragmented....I think that's the main thing to think about between Baroque and Classical, is the longer lines generally.
Now getting on into the Romantic...somebody played a couple of those Boehm arrangements of Schubert lieder. Whoever it was started off with loads of vibrato on it, and we cut all that out and started rethinking all the phrases without it, and it sounded absolutely fabulous....Again, we have to refer back to the big sort of vibrato era of Moyse....If you imagine playing all the Demerssemens and the variations without vibrato, it's quite an interesting concept--and on old flutes, too....Now, what I'm interested to know is whether it's a characteristic of the flute itself that makes the possibility of playing flute without vibrato acceptable--whereas on our [metal] flute, unless it's very, very carefully handled, it sounds disgusting. Taffanel and Dorus and all those early Boehm people presumably had the style of keeping the sound alive without a whacking great lump in it.
What it did above all was to show the pathos of the songs that had been written. Whereas if you use vibrato, you're tending to let the sun come out. And an awful lot of those Schubert lieder don't want sunshine coming out, do they? Look at the variations on the old withered flower and comparing it to his withered love and all the rest of it. If we start that introduction with a lot of vibrato, it's a load of rubbish isn't it? If we listen to the accompaniment and listen to the chords in the accompaniment and see how it works, and then think about what the song is all about, we wouldn't use vibrato. We'd use dynamics that are so soft and so pathetic, that it might actually sound right.288