The Magic of Moyse by Dr. Cate Hummel

The Magic of Moyse
by Dr. Cate Hummel


In his long career as a performer and teacher, the flutist, Marcel Moyse (1889-1984), influenced many musicians around the world. From Europe to the US and even to Japan, there are musicians alive today who studied with Moyse and pass his musical tenets on to their students. He always credited his own teachers, Paul Taffanel, Philippe Gaubert and Adolphe Hennebains for teaching him these principles. Moyse was mindful of the legacy of his teachers passing their knowledge to him, which he then communicated to his own students.

Perhaps the most magical aspect of Moyse’s playing and teaching was his gift for communicating the qualities and nature of a beautiful sound. He could make an analogy or create a metaphor for the quality of sound that would help a student find the right color or shading suggested by the dynamics or contour of a phrase. Here are just a few:

“Alors, you ‘ave a gold embouchure? Yes? Well, I want the tone the same!”

“Don’t change the color in a phrase just because it’s easy. When starting a new phrase, keep the color.”

“You have to practice the breathing as you practice the notes”

“Play your Bach appoggiatura with love.”

“Don’t simply blow in the flute – give it your warm breath.”

“You try to make an effect. No—you must feel.”

“When playing really softly, try to get the shadow of a sound—not the sound.”

“Vibrato? You need luminosity on a note—like sugar on strawberries or dew on a leaf.”

Over and over in his teaching, Moyse stressed that it was important to “play the music, not the flute.” He said, “…First of all be a musician. Love music. Have something to say and feel, however vaguely, that this ‘something’ needs a means of expression – a voice, an instrument…a flute, for example.” To Marcel Moyse it was of paramount importance that you “Do not show your own temperament but that of the music.” He related to Trevor Wye, “When I die, I want to leave behind a tradition for flute players; a respect for the music.”

Of utmost importance to understanding Moyse’s teaching is to begin to realize how intensely he valued the ability to speak musical language clearly. Moyse writes in The Flute and its Problems: Tone Development Through Interpretation: “Certainly music has its own language. The laws which govern the construction and consequently the interpretation of a musical phrase are as precise and as subject to analysis by a musician as the laws of prosody are for a writer; but in music, they are often more difficult to discern.” This hierarchy of beats is so clearly delineated in the first two melodies in the 24 Petites Études Melodiques, and throughout the rest of the book. In a nutshell, make the hierarchy of beats audible. In 4/4, beats 1 and 3 are strong, 2 and 4 are weak. In 3/4, beat 1 is strong, beats 2 and 3 are weak and weaker. Weak leads to strong, especially going from the last beat of a measure to the first beat of the next measure.

Use your color to define the phrase structure. For example, in a 2+2+4 phrase structure, taper the first phrase, and release the second phrase so it leads to third phrase. Show how in 4 + 4 phrasing, the antecedent is like a question and the consequent is like the answer. Recognize and make the apex of the phrase audible with color and dynamics.

Moyse taught that the recapitulation or return to opening material is special. It should be like a fond memory. If the phrasing permits, no breath before the return, go right into the phrase. There are several great examples of this in the 24 Petites Études Melodiques. An excellent example from the repertoire is the recapitulation of the Chaminade Concertino. It should be ever so quiet, with a light, clear color, supported by the piano or orchestra playing pianissimo.

Find the skeleton of the phrase and practice the skeleton as a melody in its own right. There are some outstanding examples in the Andersen etudes, e.g. op. 33, #5; op. 15, #3. Let the skeleton be the thread that ties the entire section/piece together. There are other famous examples from Bach Sonatas and the Mozart Concerti that Moyse cited repeatedly in his teaching.

Moyse emphasized that it is essential to understand how to correctly execute expressive devices, for which there is a long tradition from the 19th century that he inherited from his teachers, such as appoggiaturas, acciaccaturas, syncopation and gruppetto. Appoggiatura means “to lean”. Lean on the dissonance with color, and then play the resolving note simply. With an acciaccatura, the grace is louder than the main note, like a singer’s cry in the voice. Moyse always explained that the word syncopation comes from the Latin “syncope”, which means to faint. No vibrato in the long note. Like a gasp or a startle. Moyse said of gruppetti (turns), “Eat every note”.

Finally, there is a distinct vocal pedagogy known as the French declamatory style. For Moyse, this meant being able to speak through your instrument, not just sing. In French vocal pedagogy, there is an acknowledgement that the French language is very musical sounding language. Therefore, the melodic tessituras can be rather narrow because the language carries the expressiveness rather than the melody. There is also a kind of emotional restraint that is part of French national character. The emotion is there, but the expression of it is held in reserve, just beneath the surface. This lends an expressive potency where the expression is implied rather the overtly expressed. Moyse considered it crude to be too effusive. Perhaps another way of saying this is that “less is more”.

The Magic of Moyse was his unique and enduring ability to make musical expression come alive for his students and for us today.


Marcel Moyse, Tone Development Through Interpretation for the Flute (and other wind instruments: The study of expression, vibrato, color, suppleness and their application to different styles, New York: McGinnis & Marx Music Publishers, 1962.

Marcel Moyse, The Flute and Its Problems: Tone Development Through Interpretation for the Flute, Tokyo: Muramatsu Gakki Hanbai Co., Ltd., 1973

Marcel Moyse, 24 Petites Etudes Melodiques avec variations (facile) pour Flûte, Paris: Alphonse Leduc, 1932.

Susan Fries, “My Teacher: Remembering Marcel Moyse, Bloomington, IN: Author House, 2007.

Cate Hummel, “Marcel Moyse and Tone Development Through Interpretation: A Study Guide”, DMA dissertation, Manhattan School of Music, 1996.

Ann McCutchan, Marcel Moyse: Voice of the Flute, Portland, Oregon: Amadeus Press, 1994.

Trevor Wye, Marcel Moyse: An Extraordinary Man, Cedar Falls, Iowa: Winzer Press, 1993.

Cate Hummel Headshot

 Dr. Cate Hummel is in demand as a performing artist and clinician in the Midwest and around the country. Dr. Hummel is Adjunct Professor of Flute at the University of St. Francis in Joliet. She is a clinician and scholar for Altus and Azumi flutes. In this capacity, she travels to schools, music dealers, flute events and educator conferences around the country performing and presenting on a wide range of topics including her research on the teaching of Marcel Moyse, good practice habits and flute pedagogy. She also created the popular blog Dr. Cate’s Flute Tips, at especially for music educators about flute pedagogy. She is the founder and director of Dr. Cate’s Flute Camp, a day camp for 7th-10th grade flute students that meets every July.