Une trompette pour
Biography by Guy
comment about the book by Ian McKechnie (sent to TPIN):
Sun, 04 Jun 2006 16:32:10 +0100
Subject: [TPIN] Touvron
OK - some
thoughts on the book.
First, it's very
short; only 98 pages of biography with a following 151 pages of
discography and 16 pages of photos.
My impression is
that it is more of an essay in praise of a teacher and friend rather
than an objective biography (though of course in discussing Andre's
playing I am quite prepared to believe that it is still objective even
when superlatives don't go quite far enough!) However, it gives a good
picture of where Andre came from (very humble beginnings - which seems
to find an echo in Touvron's own working class origins) and gives a
very impressive picture of the extraordinary amount of hard work and
effort which went into developing this unique talent. The period up to
the Munich competition where his career took off globally is well
covered and does show that up until then his success was not at all
assured - he could have been 'just another' orchestral trumpeter.
A great deal of
the work goes into areas which we already know quite well from other
sources (eg the iTG Journal and Brass Bulletin) i.e. that everyone
seems to like Andre, and it is justified because he is a genuinely nice
person; that his staggering technique is secondary to his innate
musicality; that he is an excellent and supportive teacher; that his
family is incredibly important to him.
There are a
couple of interesting snippets : apparently he massages his upper lip
with fresh butter at the end of each day, and his only ritual before a
concert is to take a cup of tea with lemon.
I do have some
doubts that Guy Touvron might not be an ideal biographer for his
teacher and friend : his extreme enthusiasm for his subject is such
that one could doubt whether he could be properly objective (I do get
the distinct feeling that if one were to make a disparaging remark
about Andre in Touvron's presence, one would be asking for a punch on
the nose). I am slightly concerned that any areas of difficulty or
embarrassment for Andre have been glossed over or omitted, and there
are several areas which are mentioned very briefly but not at all
explored : for example
Raymond Andre (Maurice's brother,
who appears on a few recordings) gets only one passing mention late in
the book, but no mention in the early section (so we don't know how
many siblings Maurice has.) So what happened to him? Did he go down the
mines and stay there? Did he become a musician too?
Lionel Andre (Maurice's son, who
also appears on some recordings, but who tragically died) is mentioned
only in one short paragraph. I can understand that Guy T would not want
to dwell on an issue which would distress M & Mme Andre, but this
seems very short treatment for a biography. Who taught him?
Nicolas & Beatrice Andre, who
figure so prominently in Maurice's late works, get very little mention.
I know more about them from the programme to the concert I went to in
2003 than I do from this biography. OK, it's not their biography - but
I still think it's relevant.
Maurice Andre senior, who clearly
started the whole thing off, disappears early in the book. Did he live
long enough to see his son achieve global fame? Did he carry on playing
himself for many years?
There is very
little mention of the other trumpeters who must have crossed Maurice's
path over his long career, and very little of the contact with other
nations' musicians is entirely complimentary. For example, there is a
story about Maurice doing a concert with the orchestra in Boston, and
because he knew that they don't get paid for out-of-season work he
donated his large fee to the players. The very next year, he again
played with the same orchestra, and asked for a copy of the recording
of the piece he had played. They demanded $100 for a copy of the tape !
(Apparently Maurice does not appreciate the mercenary attitude
underlying the music business in the USA!)
I would have
liked to know more about some of his pupils - Soustrot, Touvron,
Bernard, Wilbraham even - but no comment is forthcoming. Except for one
rather extraordinary statement about the Vincent Bach 1 1/2 C
"Some time later
he adopted a Bach 1 1/2 C which became, THANKS TO HIM, the standard
mouhpiece most widely sold in the world" (my capitals)
Somehow, I think
that the success of the 1 1/2C probably predates Maurice's use of it !
There is very
little mention of the instruments and mouthpieces, other than to say
that he inspired production of and many improvements to the Selmer Bb/A
picc, and there is no mention of the other instruments he played and
the effect on his work (for example, I think he sounded better on
Selmer, worse on Schilke, and then pretty good on Stomvi. What about
Scherzer ? And why do so many of his instruments begin with "S"? What
about mouthpieces? We know he uses a 1 1/2C, but there is no mention of
what he uses on picc, or Eb. I, for one, would like to have known about
coverage at all of his diabetes which I know, from personal experience,
can be a make or break issue for trumpeters. How far did it affect him?
Did he have to take any special action as a musician?
(prepared by Olivier Delavault - no, I don't know who he is either,
because the book doesn't say) is fascinating, but incomplete. I have at
least two Andre recordings which are not in there. I suspect there are
So, on the
whole, a good easy read, with some interesting information, but not by
a long stretch the definitive biography I was hoping for. Reasonably
well written, but not in very literary style (more literate than Howard
Snell's book, however, if you want a comparison). I can see me reading
the discography very carefully over the next few months to find
hitherto unheard repertoire.
I must say I
don't regret buying the book, and I would recommend it to any and all
of you (your french does not have to be particularly good to follow
what is going on). I only wish it had gone into much more depth, not
about family (which would be intrusive and largely irrelevant) but
about concert tours, equipment, other players and colleagues, the
Maurice Andre trumpet competition in Paris, and so much more. The
difficulty might be that to be truly enthiusiastic about Maurice, you
need to be a trumpeter, and to find out the useful information you need
to know him. Unfortunately, finding someone in his inner circle with
the enthusiasm, access and properly developed biographical skills might
be asking too much!