Introduction: Moyse 24 Melodic Etudes

“The rules that govern the interpretation of musical phases do not differ much from those which govern prosody, but they are more difficult to discern. The study of the interpretation of the 24 and 25 Little Melodious Studies, written with that in mind, will help the student develop expression in music as clearly as the study of the rules of grammar would enable him to write literature. These studies, particularly the 24, are set forth in order to establish the general laws of interpretation – the sound, its color, its different ways of being expressed – character, rhythm, etc. These etudes are to be played by different students (from beginner to the best player).” – Marcel Moyse[1]

Marcel Moyse died in 1984. Those flutists who never had the opportunity to study with him, or do not study regularly with those who worked extensively with him, are at a disadvantage when working from etude books he wrote such as the 24 Little Melodic Studies. The published version of these etudes has almost no directions or suggestions for how to interpret them. Moyse wrote the etudes in 1932 and used them to teach his students how to play musically and expressively, but did not include instructions with the music. Eleanor Lawrence states that in these melodies Moyse put forth many of the principles that he held dear to his heart. This project includes annotating each etude as thoroughly as possible. Nancy Andrew, former Executive Director of The Marcel Moyse Society, shared that Moyse himself wished to annotate this book after realizing that many of the musical principles were not as obvious as he thought they were. Marilyn Shotola in her article “The Genius of Moyse’s Melodious Studies” writes: “He originally planned to include more detailed instructions, but decided that would make the volumes too lengthy. Through his teaching, Moyse explained their musical value”[2]

What is a study? It is a vehicle wherein we encounter difficulties and learn how to deal with them, whether a low level difficulty or a musical problem as in a Chopin Etude. One must decide, ‘What is this study for?’ One person may come up with different answers than another. (Opening words of William Bennett masterclass on the 24 Etudes). Indeed, as one explores these melodic etudes, especially used as teaching material in individual lessons, a seemingly infinite amount of detail emerges depending on how each different student plays. These blogs and podcasts will serve as a guide to offer some effective ways of using them.

Trevor Wye writes:

The Twenty-Four Little Melodious Studies and the Twenty-Five Melodious Studies with Variations, are among the most important studies ever written for the flute, though they are regarded by most students as being elementary, ‘kids’ stuff. It always came as a shock to anyone who studied with Moyse that these apparently simple melodies with their innocent variations opened doors into the mysteries of musical structure: phrase building, tone, colour, articulation, ornaments of different kinds and all manner of basic techniques necessary for the vocabulary of the accomplished artist. “I didn’t write these books for children,” he once said. “I wrote them to help the many [Conservatoire] students who came to me who could not understand how to build a simple melody.”

The inspiration for writing the “Twenty-Four” came from Andersen’s*[3]  visit to Paul Taffanel’s class during the time when Taffanel played the 3rd study of Anderson’s Opus 15 to him. This incident so impressed Moyse that as a result he conceived the idea to write some simple studies himself.

The author remembers a story that Moyse told about the beginning of the Twenty-Four Little Melodious Studies: One day Moyse took some of his friends for a drive from St. Amour into the Jura Mountains. His method of driving was to stay in the middle of the road until an oncoming vehicle was fairly close, then swerve to avoid it. The same technique was used by drivers of horse-drawn vehicles long ago. (Moyse drove a Volkswagen ‘Beetle’, and the author remembers clutching the little handle on the fascia….) The view of the Jura mountains and the valley was stunning and completely unforgettable, as was the lunch of ecrevisses (fresh-water prawns) which followed. We drove to Beaume les Messieurs, and half way up the mountain, he pulled the car over and said, “In 1928, I stopped here after driving from St. Amour. Celine was asleep. I took some manuscript and began to write melodies with variations.” These were the first of the Twenty-Four Little Melodious Studies.

To assert that the Twenty-Four and Twenty-Five Melodious Studies are amongst the most important studies in the flute literature may puzzle or even irritate the uninitiated, who can only see a collection of tunes with naïve variations; but to play them to Moyse was a real pleasure. He showed us how beautiful they were, how the principles they embodied could be applied to the rest of the flute literature, and how practical and useful they were if practiced intelligently.[4]

Wye, in reflecting on his experiences at the Moyse classes in Boswil, Switzerland writes:

During that first year, I had several surprises, the first of which came when I asked Paula Robison, who had previously been studying with Moyse for the past year, some questions: “What kind of exercises, scales, studies, etc., have you worked at in the past year with Moyse?”  “None,” she said, “just the ‘Melody Book.’”  “Oh, really? But when you’d played all those tunes, what then?”  “We started over again.”

I could not grasp that and thought it was a bit stupid at the time. I could not understand why it was necessary to repeat these dotty tunes, or why there was no other study material used, such as scales, studies, orchestral repertoire, or the popular flute literature. Later, I realized that through Moyse’s teaching methods, the music which is normally played quickly should be just as expressive as music which is played slowly. We must practice the tonal inflections, or ‘atmosphere’ of slow tunes in order to be able to play faster pieces in the same musical way.[5]

“The level of students that I encountered at Marlboro (who were often as empty of music as my shoes) helped me learn to become a good teacher. I was forced to become intelligent in music to help them develop.”– Marcel Moyse[6]

Bernard Goldberg told this story: Moyse was playing some recordings and made a comment to Goldberg something like “That is the school of Taffanel!” Goldberg responded: “No, that is the school of Moyse” and Moyse thought about that and said with a smile  “Yes, I am a better teacher than Taffanel was”. Goldberg impressed upon me how much Moyse knew about flute playing. He quotes John Wummer as saying that Marcel Moyse knew more about the flute than anybody in the world.

Why did I write these [the 24 Studies]? “We have not enough music to learn musical language, we are not lucky about repertoire…” With these simple melodies “I try to help the young boy go inside the music. Somebody said it is much better to start with Handel and Bach, I don’t think so… My opinion is this: your stomach is not enough strong to absorb this. It is much better to take something nice and open your mind, little by little… Each melody, you learn something about musical expression.”- Marcel Moyse[7]

“Although he wrote countless etude and exercise books, I never heard him stress anything but 24 Petites Etudes Melodiques and De La Sonorité. Expression and meaning, always; speed and virtuosity for their own sake, never.”[8]

One aim of this project is to take the wealth of musical wisdom inspired by these etudes and by Moyse’s legendary teaching and apply it to flute literature, including solo repertoire, chamber music, and orchestral literature.

There is simply no substitute for hearing Moyse play and watching him teach. We are fortunate to have videotapes of masterclasses he taught in Vermont. Material has been drawn from them in this writing and podcasts, but anyone truly interested in learning the art of expression must watch the man in action. To purchase these DVDs, go to the Moyse Enterprises website:    To purchase CD recordings, especially of Moyse playing many of these etudes (The French Flute School at Home) contact me at As membership secretary of the Marcel Moyse Society I handle the Moyse Society CDs, etc.

Material included here is from flutists I either met with individually or witnessed teach classes where the etudes were the focus. These flutists are respected performers and teachers who had extensive time studying with Moyse. Additional material is drawn from articles written by other Moyse students and those influenced by his teaching. I also draw extensively from sessions I have had exploring these melodies with Burton Kaplan.

Primary Sources:

Marcel Moyse – from the recording “The French School at Home”. Goldberg asked Louis Moyse (Marcel’s son) what the circumstances were of the recording of the 24 Etudes. Louis said something to the effect that he didn’t know, maybe in the kitchen or in the barn…(Bennett said the kitchen).  Goldberg believes Moyse was in his early 60’s when he recorded them. I also have used videotapes of his Seminars in Vermont (1975) when he taught several of the etudes, as well as a documentary about his life and teaching: Marcel Moyse “Grand Old Man of the Flute” (1984)

Francis Lapp Averitt – notes from personal interview, Shenandoah University (7/16/03).

Dr. Averitt attended Moyse’s flute and woodwind quintet seminars as well as studied with him privately. This occurred between the years of 1967 when he was 78 and 1983 when he was 94 (excluding 1971 when she was studying in Italy and 1976 when Moyse was ill and canceled his teaching). This equals 15 summers of study, plus 1 Christmas visit for lessons and a visit to St. Amour for lessons.

William Bennett – notes from a two-day masterclass devoted exclusively to the 24 Etudes in Cedar Falls, Iowa (April 2003); and Toledo, Ohio (March 2005).

Bennett heard Moyse play and teach these melodies at the Boswil summer school sessions.

Bernard Goldberg – notes from personal interviews and lessons, Brooklyn College of Music (summer 2004). Mr. Goldberg studied off and on with Mr. Moyse from 1955 until 1969, and then occasionally went up to Brattleboro to attend his seminars to study “his incredible pedagogy”. He also studied with other flutists from the “French School” of playing, Georges Barrère and Lucien Lavaillotte, and they are occasionally quoted. Mr. Moyse considered Goldberg a successor in the pedagogical lineage he taught. When Goldberg toured in his position as principal flutist of the Pittsburgh Symphony, he used these 24 Etudes and Taffanel-Gaubert daily exercises to stay in top playing condition.

Eleanor Lawrence – notes from her video teaching the 24 Etudes in a masterclass at her summer classes on Cape Cod in Massachusetts as well as articles she wrote for Flute Talk magazine (“Exploring Moyse’s Exercises” July/August 1998, pp. 6-8. “Moyse’s 24 Etudes for Flute” May/June 1999, pp. 12-15). She studied with Mr. Moyse in the late 1960’s.

Goldberg shared the following with me via email before I began lessons with him on the etudes: “When I first went to Marlboro in 1955 Mr. Moyse was not doing many of his own works other than De la Sonorité, but a few years later I decided to see what reaction I would get from him if I brought him the first melody. He seemed pleased and had me play it at flute class that afternoon and asked the class to identify the composer. He was not very happy that no one could guess it was he. From then on he used them very regularly with flutists at every level, as I do, with entering first year or graduate students.”

Please note that what is posted here is not the only way to interpret these musical symbols.  Whenever possible material that came directly from Moyse will be identified, as much as can be recalled from each individual. I will also include other sources of musical inspiration for the following reason: Moyse’s overall aim was to get musicians to play with expression and beauty. If those who studied with him have found alternate routes to achieve that aim, I trust that his inspiration has guided them. As Bennett succinctly put it: “It’s how we use the study that matters”. Indeed, in some studies there are contrasting ideas, or a slightly different focus on what is important. Experiment with these to understand the musical intent. In the article about Moyse’s “50 Variations on the Allemande of Bach’s Sonata for Flute Alone”, Trevor Wye writes:

I will set out below how I use each of them, which may not be exactly how “The Master” taught them, but I am sure each of his students acquired something different from him. I once listened to Geoffrey Gilbert teaching from one of my books and was amazed. It was not how I had envisaged them to be used. Each of us sees the same picture in a different light according to our experience, intellect, perception and character, so I make no apology for my deviation from “The Way of The Master” of teaching these studies. But, as Moyse often said, “There are only two ways of playing a piece of music; yours and mine!”[9]

At times there is a clear difference of opinion between how some trained musicians might interpret a notation and how Moyse would. For example, some musicians would teach that the second note of a slurred couplet should be short, especially in some baroque and classical interpretations, and Moyse insisted that it not be clipped (these couplets abound in music like the Mozart D Major Flute Quartet Adagio). The more informed we are as musicians about how and why something is done, the more freedom we have to choose what we feel is the most effective.

[1] Nancy Andrew, “The Boswil Classes: The Beginnings and the Atmosphere,” The Marcel Moyse Society Newsletter, Volume 14, January 2005: 3.

[2] Marilyn Shotola, “The Genius of Moyse’s Melodious Studies,” Flute Talk, November 1991, 15.

*[3] Joachim Andersen – Danish flutist and composer, lived 1847-1909.

[4] Trevor Wye, Marcel Moyse: An Extraordinary Man, Edited by Angeleita Floyd (Cedar Falls, Iowa: Winzer Press, 1993), 45.

[5] Trevor Wye, “Excerpts from “Marcel Moyse: An Extraordinary Man”,” The Marcel Moyse Society Mewsletter Volume 4, No. 1 (July 1993): 4.

[6] Grand Old Man of the Flute, VHS tape, Moyse Enterprises, West Brattleboro, VT, 1984.

[7] Marcel Moyse Seminars, Tape #6: Marcel Moyse’s “24 Small Melodic Studies”, VHS tape, Moyse Enterprises, West Brattleboro, VT, 1975.

[8] Michel Debost, “Reflections about Marcel Moyse,” The Marcel Moyse Society Newsletter Volume 6, No. 1 (July 1995): 5.

[9] Trevor Wye, “50 Variations on the Allemande of Bach’s Sonata for Flute Alone of Marcel Moyse, Commentary by Trevor Wye,” The Marcel Moyse Society Volume 14 (January 2005): 5.

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