Une trompette pour la renommée

Book cover

Biography by Guy Touvron

Discography by Olivier Delavault

Edition: Rocher
Date: 11/2003
ISBN: 2-268-04785-7
Pages: 233

A comment about the book by Ian McKechnie (sent to TPIN):
Date: Sun, 04 Jun 2006 16:32:10 +0100
Subject: [TPIN] Touvron on Andre

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 mouthpiece :

"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 this.

Finally, no 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?

The discography (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 several more!

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!

Ian McKechnie