Saxophonist And Teacher
June 24, 1901 - December 19, 2001
The information on these Marcel Mule pages are intended to aid researchers looking for information about Marcel Mule's life.
National Conservatoire National Supérieure de Musique
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Le Maitre est mort, mais le saxophone vive
By Eugene Rousseau
Born in Aube, Normandy June 24, 1901, Marcel Mule died peacefully in his sleep on December 19, 2001 at age 100. He is survived by two sons, Pol and Jacques. His wife, Pollete, his equal as a person, and a constant in their long and devoted marriage, preceded him in death.
It was in the spring of 1947 that I heard, for the first time, Marcel Mule's recording of Jacques lbert's Concertino do Camera. I was 14 years old. That hearing was a defining moment in my life. For while I had had an affection for the saxophone from my introduction to it in 1940, I had never before heard it played so artistically, and with such a marvelous tone. It was stunning. From the time I heard that recording I nurtured what seemed to be an impossible dream; to study with le Maltre. Thirteen years later, in 1960, my vision became a reality. It was an unforgettable experience that changed my life.
As a young man Mule saw the classical potential of the saxophone, and was truly a pioneer in the development of the instrument as a classical medium. Virtually without a mentor, he was the one who would lead the way for others; he had no idea how profound and widespread his influence would be.
In 1942 he was appointed Professor of Saxophone at the Paris Conservatory, a position first held during 1857?1870 by the instrument's inventor, Adolphe Sax. Many of his students went on to develop influential careers; the list includes Serge Bichon, Daniel Deffayet, Georges Gourdet, Ruben Haugen, Frederick Hemke, Guy Lacour, Jean?Marie Londeix, Michel Nouaux, and Leo Potts, Mule remained Professor at the Paris Conservatory until his retirement in 1968. His classes were notable, quite apart from the knowledge and insights he shared, due to his gentle manner, clarity, and quiet way of expressing his valuable opinions. He set an impeccable example as both artist and human being; he was a magnificent role mode!.
In 1917 he enrolled in the Ecole Normale, pursuing a course that would enable him to teach in the public schools. In 1921, after teaching for only six months, he was called to military service and became a member of the Fifth Infantry Regiment Band. Following his discharge from the army he played frequently in dance bands, and during this same period had occasion to hear many Americans playing jazz in the night clubs of Paris. This exposed him not only to a different tonal concept, but also to the use of vibrato, inspiring him to experiment with and to develop the vibrato for use in classical performance.
In 1923 he won a place in la Musique de la Garde Republicaine, France's most prestigious military band, where he formed a quartet that soon became famous, and was to continue in its fame for some 40 years. In 1936 the ensemble was known as the Paris Saxophone Quartet until 1951, when, at the urging of Georges Gourdet, it became the Marcel Mule Saxophone Quartet.
At the time of his appointment to the Conservatory in 1944, it was indeed one of the most difficult periods in the history of France, for Paris was occupied by the Germans. Mule, while serving in the French military in 1939, became a prisoner of war. It is difficult to imagine, but the artistic life in Paris continued to thrive throughout the German occupation. As Mule himself related, "Upon my release I was freed because my duty was as a medical corpsman; I returned to Paris. In that great city even during this difficult period of occupation the artistic activity kept going at the insistence of the Germans. The intensity of the artistic life and concert?going was perhaps at a higher level than during peacetime, partly because of the German dictates, but also due to the spiritual needs of the French people. I became extremely busy."
Mule was active as a soloist throughout Europe during the 1920s, and in 1935 had the distinction of being the first to appear as a soloist with orchestra, performing the Vellones Concerto with the Pasdeloup Orchestra in Paris, His long career as a soloist is perhaps most notable by his performances of Jacques Ibert's Concertino da Camera, a work that he first recorded in the 1930s for RCA Victor, Philippe Gaubert conducting.
Marcel Mule's career culminated in 1958 when he was invited by Charles Munch, Musical Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, to be featured soloist in a twelve concert tour of the United States. This was indeed high recognition for the classical saxophone, and for this historic occasion Mule chose the lbert Concertino, which had been composed only twenty three years earlier, and Henri Tomasi's Ballade.
While in the U. S., Mule visited the Selmer factory in Elkhart, Indiana, where he presented a recital with the collaboration of pianist Marion Hall that was for most saxophonists the highlight of his American tour. He declined many offers for future appearances in the U.S. and Canada, preferring a more tranquil life in France with family and friends.
It was also in 1958 that, in recognition of his outstanding contributions to his country, Marcel Mule was made a Chevalier de la legion d'honneur, the highest distinction awarded to a French citizen. On June 24, 2001, the day of his 100th birthday, former students and friends paid hommage to him with a visit and a commemorative collection of memorabilia.
It is a simple matter to list the accomplishments, honors, and awards that Marcel Mule earned in, his lifetime, but those facts by themselves do not depict the enduring, qualities of warmth, enthusiasm, and encouragement that were always evident in his performances and pedagogy. He had great depth of character. Le Maitre justly earned the profound respect and affection of his colleagues and students while making inestimable contributions in establishing the saxophone as a viable voice for musical expression. It remains for all those whose lives he touched (directly and indirectly) to uphold the principles for which he stood. Le Maitre est mort, mais le saxophone vive.
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Le Maitre: Memories Of The Master Teacher/Musician, Marcel Mule
By Frederick L. Hemke
Almost 50 years ago, when I was a high-school student in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, my saxophone teacher, Eddie Schmitt, introduced me to a recording of Marcel Mule performing Jacques Ibert's Concertino da Camera for alto saxophone and orchestra. The sound of his instrument was like nothing I had ever heard coming from a saxophonist. His control and technique were impeccable, and he performed with a degree of sensitivity I was not accustomed to hearing from a performing saxophonist.
The record jacket of Marcel Mule's said that Marcel Mule taught at the Paris Conservatory of Music, and on a whim I wrote to him. Much to my amazement, he answered my letter and, in the warmest and kindest manner, suggested it might be possible for me to study with him in Paris. No one in my family had ever ventured much past the borders of Wisconsin.
I started dreaming about traveling to Paris and studying with Marcel Mule at the Paris Conservatory of Music. In the fall of 1955, during my junior year in college, I left for France. Marcel Mule was beginning his 13th year of teaching at the Paris Conservatoire National de Musique et de Declamation when I met him. I had arrived in Paris without a place to stay, but in the space of a few days, Mule found me temporary living quarters, heard me play, and invited me to join his class of twelve students.
The man changed me both as a person and as a musician. Marcel was a caring person, a man with a huge and giving heart, who loved teaching and took great joy from making music. At a time in my life when I was naive, uncertain of myself and lonely, the Mules made me feel like a member of the family; a second son. The Mules were quiet people whose fierce loyalty to each other, along with their shared love for music and students, aroused a sense of awe. As students, we always referred to him as Le Maitre (the Master) and this applied to him both as person and as a musician.
After his retirement, Mule invited me and my family to visit him often at his retirement home in the south of France (Sanary, France). By that time I had come to know him as Papahou and his wife as Papette. I recall with pleasure the many lunches and dinners with the two of them. We talked about the conservatory, the state of contemporary music, and life in general.
When Mule retired, he put his saxophone in the closet and did not take it out again. It was a time, said Mule, for the younger performers and teachers to have their chance. It was time for him and Papette to bask in the mild breezes from off the Mediterranean and simply enjoy life. This sensitive, accomplished and forceful artist had reached a wise conclusion that often eludes many great performers and teachers.
In 1979 Northwestern University hosted the sixth World Saxophone Congress. Marcel Mule was the honored guest, and during their stay, the Mules lived at our home. I remember him as a simple, genuine, and humble man who commanded respect not by pompous and outrageous behavior, or boasting, or arrogance, but rather by expressing his love and passion for music, his saxophone and for life itself.
Marcel Mule had studied clarinet and saxophone with his father as a child. As a young man of twenty-two he became a member of France's most illustrative wind, brass, and percussion ensemble, the band of the Garde Republicaine. He served as a member of this ensemble for thirteen years. It was here that he formed his outstanding Quatuor de Saxophones de Paris and gained renown as a soloist and ensemble performer.
I vividly recall attending rehearsals of the Mule saxophone quartet and attending a quartet concert as his guest. That evening, his quartet performed the Quatuor of the French composer Florent Schmitt, who was in attendance. Mule took the time to introduce me to Schmitt after the concert. We spoke together about the music he had written and about his appreciation for Marcel Mule and the saxophone. That was in 1956. Schmitt was already an aged man at that time and he passed away two years later. Those are memories that linger for a lifetime.
Mule was born on June 24,1901, just 74 years after the death of Beethoven, 63 years after the birth of the invention of the saxophone, and 32 years after the death of Hector Berlioz, the first and principal supporter of Adolphe Sax and his new instrument.
Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone, had been the first professor of his new instrument at the Paris Conservatory of Music. In 1870 the class was eliminated, along with several other instruments, on the basis of financial constraint. Not until 1942 was the saxophone class reinstated at the Conservatoire by Claude Delvincourt, and Marcel Mule, by then an esteemed saxophonist and teacher, was selected to succeed Adolphe Sax.
The recordings of Marcel Mule remain a standard for all saxophonists who take up the instrument. While Mule's use of vibrato reflects the character style of other French wind instruments of his day, none can deny that his interpretation of the musical phrase, the musicianly conception of his melodic line and the sheer beauty of his sound have yet to meet a serious challenger.
The pedagogy, writings and arrangements of Mule, by now translated into dozens of languages, have served as a basic framework of instruction for generations of teachers and performers. His impact continues to influence the musical lives of a countless number of saxophonists and other musicians throughout the world.
The master of the saxophone has departed from us after 100 wonderful years of enjoying life and making music. Rather than lament the passing of Marcel Mule, we must celebrate and enjoy his life; a life dedicated to the making of great music, a life of commitment to our instrument, and to a life centered on the close relationships of family, friends, and students. Those of us that have had the honor and privilege of knowing and studying with Le Maitre, recall a man who was warm, personal and always caring. If each of us could every day put into practice even a small portion of the goodness and compassion that Marcel Mule projected in his teaching and in his interactions with people, all of us as teachers and persons would be ennobled.
I personally am so very proud to have been a student of Marcel Mule. It is not only because of the inspiration that the French School of Saxophone performance and pedagogy provided to me and which is his legacy to us all, but the magnitude and depth of his humanity as a person. Marcel Mule was a masterful music maker who possessed neither guile nor arrogance, who happened to select the saxophone to make music and who could both perform and teach with excitement, precision, and knowledge. Let us rejoice and celebrate in the good fortune that he did this all so very well indeed and that he was able to pass his virtues, talents and pedagogy to so many aspiring musicians in the United States and around the world. In the intimate world of the Saxophone, the name and accomplishments of Marcel Mule will transcend us all. While he has passed from our now seeing and knowing him, he was and remains Le Maitre of the saxophone. Vive Le Maitre! Vive Marcel Mule!
Dr. Hemke is the senior associate dean for academic affairs at the School of Music, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois. "Originally printed in part in he NASA Update. Used by permission."
Bonjour Maitre, Je suis prêt
By Paul Brodie
In 1957 I was completing my masters degree in woodwinds at The University of Michigan. I found a 14 inch LP at a record shop in Ann Arbo, Michigan of Marcel Mule performing the Concertino da Camera by Ibert and the Debussy Rhapsody. His performance with orchestra on that LP was mind boggling to me. I had never imagined that anyone could a saxophone so magnificently.
I immediately contacted a recording engineer in Ann Arbor and went to a basement recording studio that he had in his home. Wich my piano accompanist I made a thirty minute audition tape of my saxophone playing. I mailed the recording to Marcel Mule on February 18, 1957 indicating my great desire to study with him in Paris. I anxiously awaited his reply, which arrived a couple of weeks later accepting me as his student. I was on cloud nine, and without hesitation started to make travel plans to arrive in Paris in late December, 1957.
My parents flew to New York. from Regina, Saskatchewan so we could spend a few days together before I sailed on The Queen Elizabeth ocean liner to Cherbourg, France. We stayed at the Taft Hotel near Times Square. At exactly the same time that we were in New York Marcel Mule was on tour in the United States as saxophone soloist with the Boston Symphony. A few weeks later, when I met Marcel Mule in Paris, we discovered that we were both staying at the Taft Motel at precisely the same time and our rooms were only one floor apart!
After arriving in Paris, and eventually finding a place to live, I traveled to the southern part of the city, to Rue Bezout, where Marcel Mule and his family lived in a very charming apartment. He greeted me warmly at the front door and I quickly realized that he spoke just about as much English as I spoke French. In spite of this, we communicated with each other perfectly for the next six months.
We went directly into his music studio and I nervously put my alto saxophone together. He looked through the music I had brought with me and he asked me to play the Concerto by Glazounov. I got through to the end of the first section and he gently said, "Tres bien, now I would like to suggest a few little changes." Within minutes some of these "little charges" would include a new metal mouthpiece, a different position for my embouchure, a complete altering of my concept for my vibrato and different ideas about the way I was breathing. He also began to suggest a new approach for me to developing much more facility on the saxophone to improve my technical ability, and he even introduced a new position for using my tongue. I was given several study books to work on and many saxophone compositions by French woodwind composers.
With all these changes I almost sounded like a beginner again and I struggled considerably for several weeks to try and alter my style of playing. My Selmer alto saxophone was in need of serious repairs. Marcel Mule reached inside a cupboard in his studio and pulled out a beautiful silver lacquered Selmer alto saxophone and said to me, "I will take your instrument to the Selmer factory for a complete overhaul and in the meantime, here is one of my own saxophones to practice on, while your instrument is being repaired." I was overwhelmed by his generosity and great gesture of kindness to me.
He encouraged me to register at the Paris Conservatory as a foreign auditor because I was nearly twenty-four years of age, too old to be a regular member of his saxophone class, which included about a dozen people. The saxophone students had lessons with Mule on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, from 9:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. He asked me to come to his conservatory studio three times a week at about 8:00 a.m. and offered to give the private lessons until 9:00 a.m. or later, when his other students would arrive. After that, I could audit everyone's lessons until 1:00 p.m.
For the next several months, when Marcel Mule opened the door of his studio at the Paris Conservatory, I always greeted him with "Bonjour Maitre, Je suis prêt" (Hello Master, I'm ready). He was delighted and surprised to see me there, even during poor weather conditions. His 9:00 a.m. students were often delayed because of bad train and subway connections, so when this happened, I benefited by having much longer lessons then usual. I was very excited about my progress, and his continual encouragement only made me want to work even harder and longer.
At my lesson one day Marcel Mule invited me to a concert in Paris that featured his saxophone quartet. I was thrilled to hear this remarkable ensemble of French saxophonists. When I heard Mule play the soprano saxophone that night I knew that I had to buy one immediately. He selected a beautiful instrument for me at the Selmer factory. It was such a fine saxophone that I performed on it for over thirty years.
At the end of June, 1958, I told Mule that I wanted to return to Canada to try to establish myself in Toronto and that I wanted to come back to Paris for further studies with him in a couple of years. As a going away present I gave him the largest scrap book I could find in Paris, in order for him to someday find the time to put his extremely large collection of concert reviews and programs from a lifetime of extensive concert activity as a saxophonist.
Several years later my wife Rima and I visited Marcel Mule and his wife in the town of Sanary, France were he retired from his teaching duties at the Conservatory in Paris. For about the next 35 years, we corresponded semi?annually. I always sent him my latest recordings and he would write back indicating that certain selection on the recording or CD would have "Good audience appeal and that I should keep up the good work."
Being able to study with Marcel Mule was a major influence on my life and I was very fortunate indeed to have had him as my mentor. He was not only the greatest saxophone virtuoso and teacher in the world, but a wonderfully kind, gentle and generous person. He made an indelible impression on me.
Marcel Mule Remembered
I eventually found my own solution, though it involved more work: while
continuing to learn new repertoire for my lessons, I began to schedule
recitals every few months at some of the student houses of the Cité
Universitaire where I was living, at which I would play the repertoire
we had worked on earlier in lessons.