Flutist Sounds Flat in Print


MUSIC MY LOVE by Jeane Pierre Rampal, with Deborah Wise,

New York: Random House, 193 pp., $18.95.

IF Jeane Pierre Rampal had become a doctor as his mother wished, France might have gained another surgeon, given the dexterity of his fingers. Instead, he decided to follow his heart and the world was blessed with a virtuoso flutist, one who can be credited in large part for the success of the flute as a solo instrument.

Now in ``Music My Love,'' a book about his life written with Deborah Wise, Rampal tells how he came to be a flutist - the apple didn't fall far from the tree, as they says; his father was one of the best orchestra flutists in France - and about his life performing.

No one can blame a person for delighting in a happy life, but at times the account of his life is too sunny to believe. His career soared as high as his cadenzas, and there was hardly a time when he fretted for lack of engagements or money, for that matter. He's not one for neglecting creature comforts. ``I always travel first class,'' he says, ``and have done so from the beginning of my career.''

He fell in love with the woman who became his wife the moment he laid eyes on her and calls her the backbone of his life. He was given the gift to play unbelievably beautiful music and has a host of famous and charming friends. They, as well as his laughter, go all through the book as well.

There is some discussion of musical trends and the idiosyncrasies of certain composers and pieces of music, and he does describe the development and popularity of the flute as a solo instrument after World War II, but mostly the book is a string of anecdotes about what it's like to travel all around the world, play with the best orchestras, eat fancy dinners with the likes of Isaac Stern, and make lots of money. Nice work if you can get it.

Some of the more engaging stories are about what goes on on stage or below in the orchestra pit during performances, inside baseball stories of the music world.

Once Rampal got a fit of uncontrollable laughter during a performance of Bizet's ``Carmen'' (when two live horses came on stage and, as he puts it, did what horses do when they get nervous) by the Paris Opera. Soon the entire orchestra was convulsed and the singers were forced to make their entrance unaccompanied. In fact, he has had so many of these laughing fits that he calls them an occupational hazard. As he says, ``I have never been able to figure out what really starts it off, but once it begins heaven and earth could meet and I'd still have tears streaming down my cheeks.'' It's hard not to find these tales amusing; somehow it wouldn't be quite the same if, say, a timpanist got a laughing fit.

There's the obligatory lost flute story and tales about getting stuck in snowstorms an hour before a concert. An insect flies into his mouth, and meets its demise in an imaginable fashion, at an outdoor concert in Ravinia. These are all enjoyable if rather mundane tales, and after reading through the whole host of them you have to wonder exactly why Rampal wrote this book. His story doesn't seem to be propelled by any significant impetus.

Rampal himself said in an interview, ``You can read it very, very fast; it's not a long book. But it's not bad.'' Not bad, perhaps, but fairly banal and the writing, which is hardly inspired, to say the least, doesn't help.

Early on in the book, Rampal says he has never strayed from what he decided was his aim in life, ``to make the flute a solo instrument, one that would rank alongside the violin and the piano.'' He's got a ways to go to accomplish the second part, but anyone who has heard him play will attest that he's succeeded in the first. After reading his book, one can see clearly that he should let his playing and popularity speak for themselves. In many more ways than one, his flute is mightier than his pen.

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