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Free Course: Tone, Color, & Vibrato

Free Course: Tone, Color, & Vibrato

Discover the secrets to a more distinctive tone with acclaimed flutist Mark Sparks.

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“The flute is a musical instrument par excellence, in that enlivened by breath by the deepest outstreaming of the human being, it fills notes with both that which is corporeal and cosmic within us.”

That is not a quote by me, but a quote from the great French 20th Century composer André Jolivet, who throughout the 20th century contributed great lengths to the standard flute repertoire.

In honor of his 50-year death anniversary today, let’s take a deep dive into Jolivet’s legacy as a significant composer of the 20th Century, and reflect on his major contributions to the flute repertoire.


Jolivet was an incredibly non-conformist composer, one with a real commitment to his personal mission as a composer, and once he found that passion of his, he never looked back.

André Jolivet

Zooming out from the specifics of his adoration for the flute, Jolivet’s entire purpose as a composer he believed was to reunite his audiences with the mystical and spiritual. His experience serving in the French Army during World War II was a large influence on this, inspiring heavy reflections on modern French aesthetics of his time, and the role of the spirit in the listening experience of a piece of music.


This point in time, especially in Paris, was a hugely existential moment for many artists. Early 20th Century French composers like Jolivet took their experience in both world wars and came to a priority of external reference over pure musical aesthetics, writing music inspired by “things” versus absolute musical inspiration.

What this means is that composers wanted to write music that said things, that pulled from inspirations outside of the music itself. This was ultimately an effort to seek greater meaning in the music, as opposed to writing pieces as pure musical explorations in some aesthetic quality alone, which was very prominent in the “Belle Époque” musical era.

A largely significant aspect of Jolivet’s process was his adoration for non-musical arts, and his strong ability to string together references and paint images from other mediums.

Before committing to composition, Jolivet was a painter and cellist. His time spent exploring these facets exposed him to the new artistic movements of his time, such as surrealism and expressionism, which would later be large influences on his work as a composer.

Possibly my favorite observation of his body of work and his documented feelings towards his work is this element of “amassing” influence on himself. Jolivet was constantly discovering new artistic influences to pull from, ranging from movements in visual arts discussed earlier to philosophical concepts that peaked his interest. However, there is rarely a sense of shifting in his approach. Jolivet had a tendency to collect references throughout the decades of his career, building up an incredibly strong stance on what composing meant to him.

By the end of his lengthy career as a composer, he had developed an incredibly mature compositional philosophy, one which was both extremely opinionated, but was ultimately born from his “never look back” attitude.

Now, let’s analyze the works by Jolivet that really defined the 20th Century flute repertoire.

Chant de Linos (1944)

First on the list is a pinnacle of 20th Century flute writing, and possibly one of the hardest flute pieces to ever make it into the standard flute repertoire.

This is Chant de Linos, a c. 12 minute work for flute and piano, which was also transcribed for flute, string trio, and harp.

Chant de Linos was written as a commission for a flute competition hosted by the Paris Conservatory, which was won by flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal, who would go on to be a frequent collaborator with Jolivet.

This piece is an excellent example of Jolivet’s draw towards external reference, but more noticeably here is his take on modernity in music.

Jolivet loved the idea of magic and its infusion in music. He saw this as something that was missing in modern society’s approach to music, which was more apparent in the musical approach of ancient societies.

To sum it up, Chant de Linos takes inspiration from the mythological musician Linus [Lînos, Greek] who according to Greek mythology, was a talented musician and poet, often depicted as a son of Apollo. The story has it that he tragically died at a young age, either killed by Apollo in a fit of jealousy or by Hercules.

The story of Linos in Greek mythology
The story of Linos in Greek mythology

The work itself is described as an ancient Greek mourning chant, made up of a sequence of laments.

Musically, Chant de Linos stands for everything Jolivet wanted to represent in aesthetics. His music here is characterized by an almost synesthetic-sounding color palette, with roots possibly stemming from his encounters with the music of Arnold Schoenberg and his mentor Edgard Varese.

The flute and piano parts are both incredibly virtuosic, each featuring rapidly changing textures, full use of the instrument's ranges and incredibly swift gestures.

All in all, Jolivet has managed to create one of the most intimidating pieces for the flute, all in just 12 minutes of music.

However, the legacy of this piece doesn’t just boil down to difficulty alone. It’s one thing to put a bunch of notes on a page and call it difficult music, it’s another to do so carefully and to tell a compelling story that pushes the flutist technically.

Chant de Linos has become an iconic work in the flute repertoire largely due to a combination of the piece’s fixation on modern compositional techniques, such as rapid flutter tonguing, as well as its showy, well-written lines.

Playing this piece right on the flute involves heavy attention to articulations (which Jolivet is very detailed with in his score), as well as control of phrasing in all sorts of musical contexts.

Because of this, learning this piece can be a real nightmare for many flutists, even those who are more advanced.

Luckily, there are resources to help with mastering incredibly difficult repertoire like this.

Over on tonebase Flute, Oberlin flute professor Alexa Still has a massive lecture on how to approach Chant de Linos from a technical angle.

If you’d like to watch this detailed lesson, head on over to tonebase Flute and sign up for a free 14-day trial. Here is an introduction to the lesson:

Sometimes exploring more about the composer's intentions offers pathways into how to approach the piece technically. Here is a score follow video for the string trio + harp transcription of Chant de Linos, completed by Jolivet just a year after completion of the original for flute and piano:

Now that we’ve tackled the technical monster of Jolivet’s flute writing, let’s dive into something a bit more delicate.

Flute Concerto No. 1 (1949)

Jolivet’s first flute concerto is the first collaboration to stem from the Chant de Linos commission with flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal, written 5 years after the completion of Chant de Linos. 

It’s a roughly 12-minute concerto for flute with string orchestra:

While Chant de Linos has made a name for itself due to its relentless difficulty, Jolivet’s Flute Concerto takes a more “tame” approach to flute writing.

Possibly my favorite of Jolivet’s flute music, the Flute Concerto opens with a lush sequence in the flute layered over a series of beautiful sustained chords in the strings.

His harmonic language is, like Chant de Linos, very synesthetic, but it takes its time developing the harmonic progressions (for the record, there is no evidence Jolivet was actually synesthetic, like his colleague Messiaen, I use the term more to describe the fixation on color his music).

After a sweet, lethargic section, the material transitions into a 3/4 dance-like interlude. After an introduction in the strings, the string writing becomes largely accompanimental and sparse, and the flute gets to really shine here.

The flutist has their moment to show off their control over staccato leaps with precision, as well as their control of time as they engage in off and on polyrhythms with the string orchestra.

A moment just before rehearsal mark 21 offers the flutist an opportunity for flutter tonguing, a technique frequented in Chant de Linos.

Jolivet soon makes a dramatic return to the 3/2 slow section, followed by a swift closing section in cut-time.

This is an incredibly flute-oriented piece, aside from the obvious fact that it’s a concerto for flute.

By the end of the piece, the flutist has demonstrated great control of all sorts of expressive and technical skills, from quick leaps to flutter tonguing to delicate, lyrical lines.

All in all, this is a monumental piece for the flute and a staple of Jolivet’s writing.

Flute Concerto No. 2 (Suite en Concert for Flute and Percussion, 1965)

Following the immense success of Jolivet’s first flute concerto, which was frequently performed by Jean-Pierre Rampal, Jolivet was asked to follow it up with a second concerto.

As mentioned earlier, Jolivet was extremely interested in music that felt connected to our primal human roots, and percussion, as well as the flute, were instruments that he felt brought us closer to those origins.

Jean-Pierre Rampal

This inspired his second flute concerto, titled Suite en Concert. It’s a flute concerto, roughly 20 minutes long, set along a 4 person percussion ensemble. Instruments in the accompaniment include tam-tam, bass drum, snare, cowbell, and many, many more.

The flute writing here is also extremely advanced, requiring quite a bit of dexterity from the flutist to not only play all of the flute figures with precision but also to align with the sporadic percussion parts.

While not as prominent in the flute repertoire as Jolivet’s first flute concerto, this is still a monumental flute work of his and is worth attention for any flutist interested in 20th Century repertoire.

Cinq Incantations (1936)

The final piece on this list of Jolivet’s significant flute repertoire is a much earlier composition of his, titled Cinq Incantations.

This work came about the same year as the founding of ‘La Jeune France’, a composer collective consisting of Jolivet, Olivier Messiaen, and Yves Baudrier.

This is a collection of pieces aimed at fully exploring the bounds of expression on the solo flute, incorporating a myriad of different advanced flute techniques to tell a very dynamic story.

A quick glance at the score will reveal a more committed use of flutter tongue than any of the previously mentioned pieces, and drastic, rapid shifts in articulation and phrasing similar to the approach taken in Chant de Linos.

In 20 minutes, Jolivet has the flutist navigate through some of the most technically demanding flute repertoire all on their own.

His flute writing throughout the work feels pleasantly improvisational, and offers the flutist plenty of room to add space and elongate phrases where necessary.

Ultimately, this is a piece that really showcases why Jolivet has such a strong association with the flute, and is easily a case study in masterful, cohesive flute writing.


It is undeniable that André Jolivet has had an immense impact on the standard modern flute repertoire, due to his passion for the flute as both an expressive instrument and a connection to primality and spirituality.

If you’re an active flutist looking to explore Jolivet’s music on the flute or to even just improve your skills in general, I highly recommend you go check out tonebase Flute.

Along with Oberlin professor Alexa Still’s course on Jolivet’s Chant de Linos, you’ll find lots of courses covering technique, repertoire, practice efficiency, and more.

Members also receive invitations to weekly live events, as well as an exclusive forum of passionate flutists.

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