"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 Andrée (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.
Occupation Spurred Musical 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. 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 Baroque era, 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.
Library of Congress Debut
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 makersark 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 Boiling Suite album with, French jazz artist Claude Boiling, 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.
Fourteen-Carat Gold Flutes
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 Françoise 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 Boiling) The Boiling 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 Rampal, 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.
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