Sonata Op. 15 La flûte de Pan by Jules Mouquet was written in 1904 and dedicated to Léopold Lafleurance, a French virtuoso flutist in the Paris Opera Orchestra. This work was also arranged for flute and orchestra, but now it is more frequently performed in its version for flute and piano. We love this piece because of how evocative it is at telling a musical story.
Like many popular French flute works, it takes its inspiration from Greek mythology. Pan had the physical appearance of a satyr and was the god of the wild, shepherds, and flocks. The arguably most well-known legend about him centres around his affections for the nymph Syrinx. He was so enamoured by her that he chased her until she eventually disappeared by turning into reeds with the help of some water nymphs; when Pan blew across the hollow reeds, they created a beautiful sound, so he cut them and created the first set of pan pipes. Through this legend, he became commonly associated with the flute. The most famous musical depiction of this story is Claude Debussy’s Syrinx for solo flute, a staple of the repertoire.
Mouquet’s work also draws upon these associations. The piece is in three movements Pan and the Shepherds, Pan and the Birds, and Pan and the Nymphs. It is very carefree and pastoral in its quality, especially the first movement in F major. That key is commonly associated with nature; Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 is a famous example. The second movement is much more reflective, with bird calls in the flute. The final movement is very playful and fun, bringing the piece to an exciting close.
While this is Mouquet’s best-known work, he also wrote a number of other pieces, including Cinq pièces brèves, also for flute and piano, and Mélusine, which won the Prix de Rome in 1896.
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