Claude Delangle - French Saxophone Master
About Claude Delangle
Soloist, researcher, and pedagogue, Claude Delangle is one of the greatest contemporary saxophonists and he stands out as the master of the French saxophone.
Considered a profound interpreter, he also has enriched the saxophone repertoire by collaborating with the most renowned composers, including Berio, Boulez, Takemitsu and Piazzolla as well as supporting many younger composers. Since 1986, he has been saxophonist with Ensemble intercontemporain, and has appeared as soloist with prestigious orchestras worldwide including London BBC, Radio France, Radio of Finland, Berlin Philharmonic and the Australian Chamber Orchestra amongst many others.
Passionate for his instrument, he has worked closely with Musical Acoustic Laboratories of the University of Paris 7. The results of his research on the specific acoustics of the saxophone have helped him further his collaboration with living composers.
He has recorded many albums for BIS, Deutsche Grammophon, Harmonia Mundi, Erato and Verany including popular repertoire through to the most avant-garde works.
After obtaining several 1st prizes at the Paris Conservatoire, Claude Delangle was appointed professor in 1988, where he has created the most prestigious saxophone class in the world.
- Happy because at 9 years, he was too old to play the violin.
- On hearing the saxophone for the first time – I have to play that instrument.
- When we grow up with something, it feels natural.
- My teacher Daniel Deffayet did not play during lessons
- Serge Bichon’s teaching was very tough.
- I had been told that I would not learn anything at the Paris Conservatoire.
- Students today are exposed to too many ideas too early.
- Sometimes I try to sing some tunes I listen to in an elevator.
- Began teaching at the Paris Conservatoire at age 31.
- The main job of a teacher is just listening, very, very carefully.
- 10 years to begin something, 20 years to develop it and 30 years to realise that it could be done differently.
- We shouldn’t be proud but we should be confident.
- What I like most about travel is meeting new students.
- Try everything with no expectations.
- Students play music that is too difficult too early.
- When we love something, we learn very easily.
- Playing in a duo for 40 years.
- Learning the most by making recordings.
- Music is the art of time.
- We now have the time to experiment with new things.
- Working with composers has been the key point of my career.
- I use improvisation in teaching.
- Love of technology.
- The biggest mistake one can make is to believe there is only one right way.
- Practising as little a possible on the day of a performance.
- When you know something from memory, you just know it.
- The Solitary Saxophone recording.
- Learning music is practising and playing chamber music.
- Working with a dancer.
- The human part of my life has been the most important.
- Claude’s Website | Claude’s Facebook page
- Daniel Deffayet
- Jean-Marie Londeix
- Marcel Mule
- Odile Delangle
- Brisbane saxophone congress
- Jean-Paul Fouchécourt
- Mysterious Morning by Tanada
- Benjamin Attahir
- Philippe Leroux
- International Saxophone Committee
Transcript of Podcast Interview with Claude Delangle
Claude Delangle: When, I was nine-years-old, my father had wanted me to play music for a long time. I hadn’t asked, but my father had wanted me to learn because he had studied violin when he was a kid, at least for a few years because his father passed away too early. Afterward, he had to go on in life and so he wanted me to play the violin, of course. We always talked about that at home, “It would be good that you would play music.” For a time nothing happened but we had, at that time, a very good program in schools. There were teachers coming to the primary school, I wouldn’t say teaching music, but we were singing, having a little bit of solfège, all inside the regular school.
My parents received a letter from one of the teachers, saying that I had a good ear, was pretty well in tune and it would be a shame if I wouldn’t do something. Perhaps, it would be good to register at the Conservatoire, giving us the address of the Conservatoire. My father took this as an opportunity to register me in the violin class. I was nine years old and we went to the Conservatoire and they said, “Oh nine years old, that’s too late to start the violin, but he can do so many other instruments.”
For me, I was pretty happy because I really didn’t want to play the violin! I had some idea about different instruments as we were sometimes going to a concert or opera. My father was a cook, but he has a very high level… he knew a lot about music and we enjoyed … he still enjoys music, even being deaf, now, but he still listens to music. It’s strange but true. We went to visit classes, such as clarinet, and I do not remember. We listened to a saxophone lesson, it was Serge Bichon, it was not exactly, in the Conservatoire, but was in a kind of annex of the Conservatoire.
I said, “Oh, that is an instrument – I’ll have to consider that.” Because, it was not only the sound, for me it was … I had absolutely no idea about the saxophone, the instrument itself. The repertoire, jazz, classic, contemporary, no idea, zero idea about that. I listened to this lesson – I still know the guy who was having this lesson. I enjoyed the sound. Not only the sound, but the connection between the shape, the colour and the sound. Everything mixed together, made for me, as a kid, something. I said, “Yes, I would like to do that.” And afterward, I began.
Barry: Just like that?
Claude Delangle: Just like that.
Barry: As a beginner?
Claude Delangle: As a beginner, with a true saxophone professor, which was pretty rare at the time. Not a clarinet professor, a saxophone professor. It was 1966.
Barry: Would you say, you had a natural talent for the instrument? Or did you work hard or was it a combination?
Claude Delangle: I don’t think I have a natural talent, the thing is, I think I have a natural talent for playing woodwind instruments. My goal was to blow into something. I wanted to blow, whatever that would have been, flute perhaps not, but clarinet, oboe, bassoon… The strange thing is, I have two kids under four playing winds. I discovered later on that my mother’s grandfather was playing the saxophone. I never heard him but he was. Afterward, he said to me when he was still alive, “I played the saxophone.” He was even a band director, but some things happened in his life, he stopped many things.
I didn’t know that, you know. We have something in the blood, you don’t know. It’s kind accomplishment of things that we are not aware of why we choose things. Talent… for me the question of the talent is a very difficult thing. Natural ability, I don’t think about having a natural ability to do something. The important thing is when you like something and when you do it, early enough, and work enough at the good point in time, when you grow up with the instrument, that makes it natural. We say that for the violin, for a piano player, that is why we are beginning so early. Not because we need to practise young, but because we need to grow with the instrument. The body finally is made to do that afterward.
Barry: Which makes sense why we start the saxophone a little later, when physically, we can.
Claude Delangle: We can, of course. But probably it requires more effort. I’m 60 now and I should say, that after a concert, after practicing, after two hours practicing, four hours … I would say after four hours I could be tired, but not that much. That does not tire me because, probably, I don’t know. This is because of the way I’ve been taught about blowing, of course, was very active and very strong. Afterward I discovered a whole other way of playing. But the question of natural ability for me is something. We say sometimes, “Oh this guy is so gifted.” I don’t know exactly what gifted means. The relationship between being gifted or having the taste to enjoy something. This is a very complex and it’s different for everybody.
Barry: Do you remember the different styles of teaching that you received from your teachers?
Claude Delangle: Yes, it was not as rich as nowadays, because we can have master classes everywhere. You can work with this guy, that guy and with everybody to learn lots of approaches. At my time, not so much. I had for six years exclusively, my own professor, Serge Bichon. Then I had some private lesson with Daniel Deffayet, with Jean-Marie Londeix, and a few with Marcel Mule. Then when I was 18 years old, I entered the class with Deffayet and worked with him exclusively. That’s it and I didn’t know much about different teaching. For me, it’s why it took me so long.
I think I needed 10 years for me to understand something about what I knew or what I didn’t know. What I should do, or what I could do, according to my life. Fortunately, I’ve been trained in a way which was a little bit too strong, in a way, which was with Deffayet, a little bit too light, can we say. Deffayet did not explain much, just very little things. He played very little. He hardly played during lessons, very rarely. No examples. Sometimes he played, when he had an instrument. When somebody played the Buffet, he could play because he played Buffet. Then he played almost a whole concerto, a whole part of a concerto, but, never a little excerpt, never.
Therefore, I knew only his playing through concerts, in saxophone quartet or through his recordings, which are not that many. Bichon was exactly the opposite. He never played the whole thing because he was not a solo player although he did play chamber music. He had a quartet, but he was not a stage musician at all. He was exclusively a professor and his teaching was very tough, very hard. We worked so hard, you know. It was teaching that nobody can use now. We cannot do that way now. That experience for me was kind of conflict. In between, I had a few master classes with Londeix.
I do remember the incredible experience at World Saxophone Congress in London 1976. I was with Odile, who was still not my wife, we were just friend at that time. We played together, and I saw that I could have a master class with Hemke, or the professor in London, I do not remember his name now, and Londeix. I wrote my name on the list and I had master class on Creston Sonata, first and second movement, perhaps not the third. I do not remember exactly and we talked. He talked about my position and I was moving a lot when playing at that time and he said to me, “All your energy goes to your movement, in spite of going to your music and so on.” That was 1976 and I was still in Conservatoire and next September, I had a lesson with Deffayet and he knew that I had a master class with Londeix from Bordeaux.
He said, “You had the master class with the Duke of Bordeaux.” He never said Londeix. I said, “Yes.” He said, “What did you learn?” I was 19 years old, almost a kid. I said, “He told me that I moved too much, and so on. I have to practice against a wall in order to feel the music only in the sound, and so on.” He said, “And what else?” I said, “Not much more.” He said, “And you had a lesson for that? It was not worth it.” It’s incredible, because now we invite Professors to the Conservatoire at least once a year, twice a year. We share, and my own students are taught of course differently. We cannot now imagine that musical world, that way of teaching.
Barry: It sounds that the professors were very competitive between each other?
Claude Delangle: This is the first point, but there are also other points. You could be a student of one guy or another guy but not both. It was a question of belonging to a school. The relationship was like that even for me, when I was taught by the Deffayet. It was just for a year and a half, because you study at Conservatoire for two school years, which means twice seven months, that’s it. That was it. His teaching was very free, but myself I have been told before that I would not learn anything in Paris Conservatoire. I know that is still the case. Some people write and think the same. Perhaps I’m right, because Bichon said, “You will have to go to Paris Conservatoire, but you won’t learn anything.”
You know, it’s such a wrong word, because we learn from everyone. Of course, we learn everywhere. Everyone learns something different, of course. Every musician has something to offer, If he plays well, if he does something, he has something to teach. There is always something to be learned. Deffayet was not a great professor. He was not a great professor, because he didn’t have much interest in that. It was not him. He didn’t have much interest in teaching.
Barry: Do you think now that students have access to all of these masterclasses, and I see this in students when they write their biography, they don’t just list their teacher now, they list all of the masterclasses they’ve been to. Is it possible that they’re getting exposed to too many ideas?
Claude Delangle: They are good points, and they are some wrong points at the same time. The good point is being much more open, knowing from a very early age that there are so many possibilities. We can play this way, we can play this way with this kind of repertoire. Finally, that makes the things a bit more insecure, which is good, because hopefully, they understand that they have to choose themselves and to make their own musical life. The musical life is not putting the shoes of somebody else. Just having new shoes and walking. That is good. The bad point for me is sometimes they are exposed a little too early to this. For me, I feel, perhaps I’m wrong, I’m not sure, but I feel that it’s good to know something a little bit with some kind of security. Even if it’s, I would say, wrong or partly right. But to know something solid.
Then when we play we have some stability than having the most, to be exposed to more possibilities. The other wrong thing is now even if with regular professors, even in my class, for example. I guess I feel that the students think, because it’s culture now, it’s nowadays culture among the young people, and even for me. We think a little bit wrong about transmission. We think that choosing my path is choosing something from the professor who is teaching now. For me, this is completely wrong. Exactly the same thing as if you live in Melbourne. I don’t know the accent in Australia is different … You learn English in Australia and there is a specific way of talking English in Melbourne and different in Adelaide or Sydney.
If you are taught English in this area, you will learn the accent of this area, you will learn through not only the accent, but a lot of expressions and things which are not necessary to talk English. But you are in a culture, you are inside something which is locally used and it’s a culture. Then you travel and you talk English in some other places. You clearly understand that these things you cannot use these words, and these expressions are connected to the area where you are being taught. You know your own evolution. But I think it’s very wrong when we have a class, we have to accept everything. Everything, I’m sorry to say that. I don’t know, because this is not the mood. I think we even have to accept things that are not good.
Things which I judge not good for me, perhaps I can find something good. The problem is, and that has been part of my life, I’ve been practicing quartet for 10, 15 years with Jean-Paul Fouchécourt… all those people. I do remember, especially in terms of sound, in terms of vibrato expression, my own evolution came from the moment when I tried to imitate things I didn’t like. When I began to understand that my evolution would be better if I would be able to do the things that the other people do, and some I don’t like, I can find something.
A musician is a balance in itself, and there is no good way, there is just … You know like a boat, we have to go from left to right. I saw once in a pretty little boat the captain in the storm. We were in between islands near France, in a storm, a very strong storm. We already had the way to think how we can swim to the coast, because the waves were coming in the boat. The guy, the captain at that time was … It was very interesting, because it was in an emergency way, of course. He was just using the strength, of course the strength because the boat has no more strength at that time. Was using the strength of the waves, and using the sea itself, and the wind itself. I feel that a musician on stage, a bit that captain on the storm sometimes. He doesn’t do what he wants, he doesn’t go to the point he wants to go. Not the way, not the speed, nothing. Just surviving, finding a way to be a boat going to the harbour. The musical life sometimes looks a bit that kind of thing.
Barry: So the students, they have to be able to accept some different ideas, take them on board, try them.
Claude Delangle: Try, just try.
Barry: Then make a decision.
Claude Delangle: Make a decision, and once again, I feel that the decision is done by itself. We will never play a way that we don’t want to. We’ll never. But if we do it, we’ll just get the thing which we need. Exactly the same thing in food. Sometimes when you are a kid you don’t like some things. The parents do not force you to eat but don’t eat all the things, but just eat a little of that. Of course, you don’t like it, that’s okay. We’re not forced. Afterward, you discover something in a taste that you don’t like, and it is not that bad. Progressively you understand. Music is like that for me. Even now, there is music that I don’t like. Elevator music, I don’t like at all elevator music. Sometimes I try to sing the tunes I hear in an elevator, then I say that’s not that bad.
Barry: So you’ve been teaching now at the Conservatoire for it must be 30 years, right?
Claude Delangle: It’s almost, yes.
Barry: So you began as a young man?
Claude Delangle: I began, I was 31, yes.
Barry: Is that a young age for a professor?
Claude Delangle: I was already professor for 10 years, because I had been a professor in the regional Conservatoires for four years in Angoulême, and six years in Boulogne. That means that’s 10 years total. The wrong point here is I just began a destiny, how it works … How it works for these kinds of students, and I have to move. Now I think I’m okay because I’m okay. I don’t know if I’m okay because sometimes I’m horrible. But I understand more now. I understand more about the relationship between personalities and the main thing I understand through teaching is that the main job of a professor is not teaching. Is not teaching. Teaching means what? Teaching means talking and playing. But for me the professor, he can talk, he can play, but the main thing is listening.
The main thing for a professor is just listening. Listening very, very carefully, and for long enough. For me, the best way of teaching has been doing masterclasses. It’s very interesting for the professor, the best school is giving masterclasses because you don’t know the kids. You don’t know the people. You have to use your time well. It could be half an hour, 15 minutes, an hour long, it’s never very long. You want to be as useful as possible for the student. You give everything you can, but you have no goal. You just want to be understood. But you have no pressure. It’s not your baby, you know? That the wrong thing when teaching, we think too much this is my student, and I want them to play very well. Through them, perhaps I could be known as a good professor. That’s the worst thing in teaching. To teach according to the professor we want to be. It’s awful, and that’s the wrongest thing I know, for me. After getting older it’s much easier. It’s much easier.
Barry: Have you seen any change in the type of student that’s been coming through to see you for the last 30 years?
Claude Delangle: Completely. It’s not the same job, I should say. It’s another job. When I’ve been appointed in Conservatoire in 1988 the main job was what? Most of the students were living outside of Paris, considering that they have nothing to do in Paris. They came for the saxophone lesson. Once a week, having some solfège lessons. Sometimes they do not have to attend because they were good enough at that already. Some sight-reading lessons, and a bit of analysis. That means a day in Paris, and then back home. Practicing a lot, and being focused on saxophone playing. I would say that many people, too many people in French competitions were playing really out of tune, and didn’t know how to play the saxophone.
Most of the time they had, I would say, a good sound, and most of the time very good technique. But about style, about everything else, they had no idea about music. Now a little bit… Now people know a lot about playing the saxophone. That the big change. Now the students already have this experience of changing professor not only once but many times.
For me now there is no interest in being a good professor, in being judged being a good musician. I have no interest in that. I just play the way I want, just teach the way I think I have to. That’s, I would say, it’s a shame that we need to be that old to understand it. To have no goal, no specific goal. To be very free with the students.
Once again, 30 years ago my work was mostly teaching about embouchure, about very basic techniques and repertoire. The idea that transcription could be not only playing the classic saxophone by Marcel Mule, but also exploring other repertoire and having friends who are composers. Asking friends to compose music themselves. Going to the improvisation class. You know, I was not able to do saxophone ensemble at the beginning, because the students were not all together in the class. They were not attending the saxophone class, just their lesson. It took 10 years to begin something, and 20 years to do it a bit about it. And 30 years to realise that it could have been done differently.
Barry: Do you think, looking back, could you give yourself a piece of advice to a 31-year-old professor just starting at the Conservatoire?
Claude Delangle: That’s not that easy because it fits so much with our own culture, our own where we are. Nobody would be at the same place I’ve been 30 years ago. My main advice, but this is not connected to being a professor, but being a musician is I don’t know the word in English, [osai – to dare]. Just try. It’s not the same word I would like to express, but try and be … There is a very big confusion between being confident with one’s self and being proud of one’s self. This is totally different. We should not be proud of one’s self, but we should be confident of one’s self. This is very different. When I was younger, when I was young, I had a huge lack of confidence and I was too proud of myself. That was a contrary thing. Trying, trying, trying.
Claude Delangle: Yes.
Barry: I first met you more than 20 years ago in Australia. It was one of those first conferences in Brisbane.
Claude Delangle: Yes, exact, 20 years, exactly 20 years ago, because my wife was pregnant with my last child.
Claude Delangle: Yes, she’s 20.
Barry: You’ve been traveling everywhere to attend saxophone events. To tour, to teach, you’ve been traveling for so many years. That’s an amazing commitment to taking the saxophone to places. What is it that you like most about traveling and taking the saxophone with you?
Claude Delangle: That’s a very good question. I don’t know why I did it, but I know why I like it. I could answer first this last question. I really like this, of course I try to not travel too much, because afterward I really need to concentrate. I love to concentrate on my own job and being at home. I try to limit, in a way, the travels. But what I like the most is meeting new students. Sometimes now meeting not so new students, students that I already met here and there, because students travel a lot. In Slovenia, I met yesterday some professors, who are 30, 35 years old, almost 40 years old, who were students in my masterclasses. Not my students, but I taught them 20 years ago. Now I see them as professors with their own students.
This gives me a lot of joy because I feel that … Not according to me, it’s not because of me, but they found their path. They have their own musical life, and they do things that … They found their … It’s not a question of music, it’s a question of being happy in life. That’s the main thing for me. I say this more and more, that making, in brackets, making good musicians is something interesting. Making good instrumentalists, players, is of course, interesting. But meeting people that could have a wonderful life through music, enjoying life through music, or enjoying music through life, this is the main goal for me. There are so many … I don’t know in Australia that much, but I know in many countries, in France, in Europe, especially, you have so many musicians whichever the instrument, whether orchestral musician, solo player, chamber music players.
I understand, because life is very difficult, and some are frustrated because they didn’t do this and they didn’t do that. They are just so depressed because of an expectation which is not realised. I would say the best thing is having no expectation, trying everything with no expectation. No specific goal. If we could teach that, that could be taught also in very simple exercises or in an etude, in a concerto, in chamber quartet. Even when practicing, we can teach one’s self about that. Sometimes I see students practice, I have some students from Portugal, they practice so hard, and they look to be fighting so much when playing. When we begin practicing a smoother way, they discover that they are much better than they expected.
Of course, I don’t mean that a professor should say you are great. In some countries, we hear that a lot. But you are great, I enjoy your sound. What beautiful technique, I love your playing. A professor should not be exactly that all the time. Sometimes, but not all the time. But the question is we need to teach the student in order to be themselves, a good professor for themselves, but a good professor, I mean to be a kind professor with themselves. I say to my students, you will never be a good professor, an efficient professor, if you are not the same for yourself. I discovered that I have always been a good professor for myself. That doesn’t concern my level with playing, nor my teaching. But for myself, because my body is not very strong, and I’m not very tall, I don’t have much strength. I cannot force myself to practice too long. I cannot force myself.
I need sport, I need a break. I need breath, I need rest. As does everybody. But sometimes I feel that especially now, because the competition is so hard, with so many international competitions, and people want to play this repertoire most of the time, too early. Most of the time, too early too difficult pieces. I’m fighting a lot now with the repertoire. Play this first, it’s a bit easy. Yes, but try to play well. If we are very kind to ourselves, if when we are tired, when an exercise comes to be a bit boring. Boring is the … In French, we have an awful word, [répétition, répéter]. It’s an awful word, I much prefer the rehearsal or [ensayo, ensayar] in Espanol, is trying to. Rehearsal is different, it’s not repeating, it’s another word. I prefer the English than the French sometimes. Even speaking.
The question is we have to … Being efficient when practicing is not so easy, because it’s connected to the memory, and mostly memory. Body memory and rational memory, and eye memory, sound memory, all the memories we have.
Claude Delangle: Kinaesthetic memory. The question of memory, I worked a lot on memory. I did a kind of thesis on memory long ago. I interviewed geriatric doctors. They said, I learned through them, that memory is not connected to rationality. Memory is connected to affect. When we love something, we learn very easy. When we hate something, we cannot learn it. That means that we have to find a way of playing that we love. We need to be confident. It’s why we need a good reed, I would say, but we need to be happy with the reed, because if not, if we do not enjoy something in my playing. If I do not enjoy something, I cannot have a nice rehearsal. You would probably agree with that.
Barry: If you can enjoy one thing in your playing, that will let you enjoy other things.
Claude Delangle: Other things later on.
Barry: I noticed that you have been playing with your wife for decades together.
Claude Delangle: Yes, for 40 years. For four decades.
Barry: Four decades.
Claude Delangle: 40 years.
Barry: Which is incredible.
Claude Delangle: It’s a long time, yes.
Barry: That obviously has given you the opportunity to travel together sometimes.
Claude Delangle: A lot.
Barry: Which is wonderful, and also to record together. How important has recording been for your development as a musician?
Claude Delangle: I’d say it’s huge. I would say this is the main way to learn for a musician. Of course, not only listening to yourself afterward, because I almost never listen to my recordings. I never listen to my recordings, I have no interest. But when you do the job, it’s another job. It’s really another job. As we all know, we do not have the energy of the concert, there is no beginning, there is no end. Music is the art of time, of course. But with recording we discover that it’s not anymore completely the art of time, because we can go back. You are in front of yourself, and deciding for yourself. It’s like a mirror. For me, it’s exactly like you are using an airbrush, and you are in front of a mirror and you think, my hair should be that way or that way.
With recording, it’s exactly that. It is who I am? As they say, which musician I am? Of course, at the same time when recording, you are in front of a clock, because the session is three hours and more could be this, depending on the situation. But with the orchestra it’s just that, and the main goal is to finish on time. That’s it. Do it, the way it’s done, sometimes escape. Being on track does never escape, it costs a lot of money. But I enjoy recording. I really enjoy recording but I haven’t recorded now for two years. The CD I did two years ago is not available yet. I did a Debussy Rhapsody, but the last available recording was released at least seven or eight years ago. It’s too long ago. I have two more projects.
Also something important about recording with Odile, and alone, is that when you do recording, when you have the plan to record something, you immediately begin to think about a program to record. What kind of music, and for what? For a concert you can say, I will play this, because I do not have time to practice a new piece, and I will play Tableaux de Provence, because I know Tableaux de Provence. You can have an emergency program for a concert, but not for recording. You cannot have an emergency program for a recording. You plan and you build, you build something. It’s a work, by itself, we all know this. That helps a lot for identity construction. With Odile of course I know, she should and could have been playing with a much better saxophone player, but unfortunately, she’s married to me.
We really enjoy playing together and the work we do. For the last two years, we no longer have to care for our children every single day, so we can do a lot more travel. We have commissioned new pieces for saxophone and piano. Huge works, sometimes half an hour works with musical theatre in it and singing. We experiment new things now. We have time to experiment more.
Barry: You’ve had a long history of working with composers, getting new works, being able to collaborate with living composers. From my perspective, seems to have been a huge part of your interest.
Claude Delangle: This is very key. This is a key point in my career. This is my goal, that’s it, they review the repertoire. Funny, not that much different than the repertoire just this action, being with somebody and having a common baby, you know? This becomes our own baby. Sometimes we are not aware how much we adopt this. I had a very recent experience. I premiered a piece in November 2017, and I sent the recording and video to the composer. After a while, he said the playing is okay, but that the piece is too long, it’s a solo piece for 18 minutes. It became 14, from 18 to 14. Of course, I could have been frustrated according to time spent on those four minutes. But it was not the purpose. The purpose was I discovered a new baby.
I loved the first version, and this was a new one. It was not entirely new, because the 14 minutes were still there. But the shape, and when you change something when we do ski on tracks, it’s very easy to ski 10 meters away, but 20 centimetres away, you get back on the tracks. For memory the same. Even if I don’t play the piece by memory, but you know the piece by memory. Getting to another shape, through this experience. It was pretty weird, that much cutting so much music in a piece. I discovered not only my interest, but that the music was, the time of the shape was in my mind, was in my memory, was in my fingers. I get so much frustration about that, I didn’t tell him, because I didn’t want to tell him this. And about the composer, with Odile, realised that when we were very young we were playing the music of the same generation. Our friends, colleagues, the same age.
Getting older, we had a connection with all those people like Berio, Stockhausen, Bolez, Ligeti – unfortunately Ligeti never wrote anything. Of course, it has been successful or not, sometimes not. Some friends said I should be very frustrated that some never wrote for me. I said, “Not, really not.” Of course I tried, I was very connected to him, and I was very frustrated when he said once at Conservatoire, “Mr. Delangle, I thought a lot about you, because I was on my way to use three saxophones in my last symphony for Boston, but I cannot do that for them. They are traveling, and they have to play supplementary people. I’m a very close friend of this orchestra, and I feel it would be wrong for them to have that.”
Of course, at the time when he told the story, it’s very frustrating. But in a way, not a big deal. I do not have veneration to the works, even one of the works, even La Jaconde [Mona Lisa] by Leonardo da Vinci. Okay, it’s good, it’s great to have those work, and it’s a good example for study and that because these great works are connected to I would say, I’m sorry to say that, but to beauty with a big B. To creation, to humanity. Because I say to sometimes my friends, “You can have a wonderful piece, but it’s never as beautiful as a beautiful woman. Never as beautiful.” Never is anything more beautiful than a wonderful woman, that’s not possible. It’s closer to a tree, a wonderful tree here. Sometimes it’s better to have a beautiful tree, than a beautiful piece for saxophone.
Barry: All of these new pieces that you’ve played, some continue on, some get played and become popular out of the repertoire, let’s say.
Claude Delangle: Yes.
Barry: Have you identified anything that allows a piece to become a great piece, and to be taken on board?
Claude Delangle: I’ve some clues, can you say clues?
Claude Delangle: For me, the best example according to this, first talk about the clue. The clue is if a piece really belongs to you, then it can have some success for other people. If it’s a piece that you practice, but do not adore, stick to it, and you play it and it’s a part of your body. You play it and you perhaps like it, but for some reason, it’s part perhaps your repertoire, but you do not consider it’s your own improvisation. It’s more difficult for the piece to go through. For me, the best example is the Mysterious Morning by Tanada. Which, for me, it’s the strangest success I’ve ever seen, that I ever saw. Because the piece was written in very specific conditions, because I ask him to do it for the recording, for the Japanese recording. He was very slow to do that, and for a long time, he didn’t do anything.
A few months before I said, “Okay, Fuminori, I won’t play your piece, and that’s it. No big deal, but you have to know that.” He came to my class and he showed me, what perhaps, four notes with a trill. He said, “Can you play that?” Okay, I play that with a quarter tone. “Can you do multiphonics with this note?” We began a process, me playing what he wrote, and each week was a little, little longer. He was always recording my playing, and kind of improvisation. I should say, all the piece I am provided, but you know it’s part improvisation. He used everything that came from the saxophone. He did not write something that he did not hear first. This is a clue for me. The composer had to listen, or perhaps have the imagination that he listens from the saxophone. It has to be the music of the saxophone, as Londeix says, not music for the saxophone.
I think a bit the same. This is such a difficult piece and strange piece. Of course, it has been a compulsory piece, and sometimes it’s just economic situation because it’s a required piece for the competition, and everyone plays it once, and everyone knows the piece. It becomes a repertoire piece, but by chance. Sometimes I would prefer, as we saw recently that some pieces are part of the repertoire, and I would prefer they would not be. If somebody like it, sometimes I have students bringing to the class some pieces really I don’t like, but I leave them playing them. If they like it themselves, I think it’s okay. They will take something from the piece.
I have some friends who are French professors, and when their student who do not like reading, if they love them, what we say, the comic books. They are left reading that, but afterward, they would read something else. The most important thing is to have an interest in sight reading, in discovering new repertoire. The clues why pieces are … It’s why we have wonderful pieces from Baroque times, which are still discovered now. We know, we all know, that Schumann … But this is another purpose because Schumann rediscovered Bach’s music. Mendelssohn did huge work for all this Baroque composition. This is not the purpose because at that time we were only playing music written by living composers.
The question of repertoire did not exist. We did not have the idea of a museum. Now it’s a bit problem. We have too much of a museum idea about music. Having repertoire which is … Now I begin recently, not long ago, to improvise in very classical pieces, to do my own Glazounov cadenza, Ibert a little bit too. Including some improvisation in Villa-Lobos. Some spots and changing some things. Of course, we play the piece, or we do not play the piece. But you know, we have to choose. We choose our path.
Barry: Is improvising something new that you have incorporated into your music?
Claude Delangle: Not today, because I did improvisation …
Claude Delangle: Always, because I’ve been trained when I was 20 years old. I had a composer, we would not know the name of this composer, asked me to improvise in art galleries. We did improvisation during art exhibits, and we did improvisation with electronics. I’ve always been very involved in electronic fields. For a long time, since I recorded my very, very first CD with Odile, was the Duo Delangle, it was 1978, or ’80, I don’t remember. ’80, perhaps ’79 to ’80. I recorded an electronic piece on that by Denis Dufour [Cueillir A L’Arbre] who is still a professor in electronic music. When you work with a composer using electronics, improvisation is always a bit there. The notation… is about the notation. You cannot play exactly what is written. I perform soon a new piece by the female Italian composer. What is written of course represent gestures, but not notes. Sometimes you have notes, but they are not required, you know? I’m of course not a bee-bop improviser, but I like it very much. And I use a lot of improvisation in the teaching.
Barry: If you had only one piece that you could play now, which piece would that be?
Claude Delangle: On the desert island?
Claude Delangle: If I’ve no time, because of an emergency, because you have a fire and have to go to the island with one piece, because perhaps you will stay a century there. Okay, I will take the last piece I have played. I will take the piece I play tomorrow by Philippe Leroux, because I’m on it, and it’s the one I prefer now. It would never be a repertoire piece.
Barry: You’ve got one hour to practice, how will you spend your time?
Claude Delangle: I will spend time on the next piece I have to play, not on scales, not on scales or etudes.
Barry: Who do you think is one of the most successful contributors to the development of the saxophone, in your experience?
Claude Delangle: I have to name a lot. One, just one, the most important contributor? That’s difficult. That’s for me very, very difficult question. It’s such a community process.
Barry: Could you explain if technology has a role, a good role, in your life? Or do you find that it’s an interruption to your music?
Claude Delangle: It’s just the way we use it. It’s a good influence on me. From the metronome to the tuner, to the recorder, every technology brings something else. Of course, this is the use, we do with it. Of course, the problem is with technology is when technology becomes the centre, becomes the goal, that’s the problem. But when we use it, it’s great. Of course. I love technology.
Barry: Do you find you’re able to escape the constant notifications on your phone, and can you step back from that and focus on something?
Claude Delangle: I do. I do, every day. I do. When I practise I turn off my phone, and I know that’s … I had to learn about that, but now it’s clear.
Barry: So if we learn from our mistakes, is it okay to make mistakes?
Claude Delangle: I would say the most what I feel, the biggest mistake a musician can do, and I have done, is to think that one way is the right way. Music doesn’t work that way.
Barry: You’ve got a performance coming up very soon, what is the most important thing that you do right before a performance so that you’re ready?
Claude Delangle: On the day?
Claude Delangle: Practicing as little as I can. Being involved as little as I can with the computer, with emailing, and things that use too much energy. Sleeping as much as I can, and eating and drinking. Also, something which is now clearer for me, but memory is like a computer. We know very well in a computer there is a hard disk and the live memory. We work the same. We have the hard disk, and many things, when we replay, everything is clear, safely on the hard disk. The problem on stage is it has also to be in the live memory, to come back into live memory. The days before, the day before, I would say, or the minute before, my only exercise is to be back to the very basic things, sometimes reading the music, and some passages to get them back slowly. Without playing on the saxophone, but just renewing the passages. Not to learn more, but to connect more the hard disk and the live memory.
Barry: Is there a project that you’ve got coming up that you would like to tell people about?
Claude Delangle: Yes, there are two things which are very strongly connected. I have a project to do a solo recording. This project has run for too many years now, and I wanted to check it off the most because I almost began really my CD career with The Solitary Saxophone. Even if I did some recordings before, this was really something important for me. I would like to not end, but almost end with something very solo. I find that in solo, when we play solo, of course the basic music is chamber music. Learning music is practising and playing chamber music. I learn all my music with my wife, with signers, with percussion players, bandoneon players and so on. But playing solo is connected to studying. There is a strong connection between Etude exercises. Etudes, musical etudes, piece musical d’etude, Koechlin, or now Ferling with piano. Most Concert Etude and solo pieces, which are solo pieces to be played on stage, as solo, but still a little bit involving pedagogy in a way. Because a composer writing for a solo instrument needs to focus on the instrument itself, and needs to focus on the gesture, and something which is really inside the beast. Me, as a beast, somewhere.
I like this, and this project is connected to the work I began for Strasbourg World Saxophone Congress 2015 with a dancer. With a dancer of the company, German company, Pina Bausch. She’s very good, and next week I will be performing in Toulouse with her again. Each time we play together, we try to grow the repertoire. We began with Mantovani and Bach. Afterward, we included some Etudes Obstinées by Benjamin Attahir, a bit crazy, but quite well-written. Now we had the Philippe Leroux piece, that included the Syrinx by Debussy. It is about a 45-minute show with this dancer. Sometimes she dances a lot, sometimes I move on stage also.
My biggest problem in this project is I hardly play by memory a difficult piece like this one. I’m not that keen on playing by memory. I have a good memory, in fact, a very good memory, but the problem is it includes so much pressure when playing, that I need so much related to romanticism about the musician. Before romanticism people were not playing by memory, it’s just good on stage. The feeling was because most of the big piano players, great piano players, Liszt and Chopin, were improvising. They were writing, improvising, and re-improvising and re-writing their works. Of course, they played by memory, because they were … all people want to connect with those big, great names, play by memory. But for me, playing by memory there is a lie behind it. There is a lie, because for me, I feel, it’s just Delangle talking, nobody else. But what I feel is I am Ibert, I am Glazunov, I am, look, I’m great, creating something. I do not create anything. I just play the music by these guys, which is written on the sheet of paper and I read, I sight read, and now I play for so long that I can play by memory. It’s not me, I integrated the piece, but be careful, it’s not me. There is a relationship with somebody else, I am not alone. I am not the guy.
We have to think about it. Of course, it’s great to learn by memory, and I said once again, connect to this subject, this theme. Working by memory is excellent, and it is the basic training. Learning by memory, and that’s it. You know something by memory, you know it, and that’s it. That’s the only thing, and afterward, we can talk. But playing on stage by memory it’s something else. This project, with this dancer, for me, is not only important for me, but it’s very important to … A new concept, not a new concept, not that new, but connecting arts, like opera, does. Opera is the best option, because you have everything. You have singing, you have an orchestra, and you have dancers, and you have the show, and you have lights. There’s the complete show, like film.
Barry: Is there somewhere online where people can find more information about what you do? Do you have a place where you put more things?
Claude Delangle: I should. That’s a good idea.
Barry: Do you update your website?
Claude Delangle: No. I’m very bad at that.
Barry: On your social media, do you share information?
Claude Delangle: I would like to share more, because I feel that I’m 60 and I don’t want to share, if I’m still alive at that time, I don’t want to share after having finished. Because I feel I need to be in, to be in to have the pride in myself at the moment. It’s not a story, it’s the testimony, or I don’t know the word, but I want to be inside. I have some projects, but I feel that some part of my life, which have been very easy for me, and very obvious, the human part has been the most important thing. As you said, I traveled a lot, and I move a lot. I can move a lot. I love changing the activity also. But in a way, I’ve been very stable. I like stability, and everything happens, happen to me, not by chance, I know, but I do not believe in chance, I believe in God. I think we cannot see the reality of relationships between people, between places where we live.
There is such coherence.
Barry: Claude, I’d like to thank you for our conversation today.
Claude Delangle: Thank you.
Barry: I think we should go and play in the snow.
Claude Delangle: Thank you. Thank you.