Georges Longy

by Barbara Jeskalian San Jose, California

In the initial pamphlet describing the aims of the Longy Club, Georges Longy tells his readers and listeners:

'I propose to give a series of public concerts in Boston, at which a number of works especially written for wind instruments will be performed. These will consist of solos, duos, trios, quartets and the like. The public hitherto has had little opportunity to hear such works performed; and yet the great masters, Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms and others, wrote highly interesting compositions for these instruments ... At the present time the array of artists composing the BSO makes possible any desired combination of instruments, and the obstacles formerly existing have been obviated.

The principal instruments which will form the fundamentals of these concerts will be the Flute, the Oboe, the Clarinet, the Horn and the Bassoon..."

There would be a different configuration of the ten performers that comprised the Longy Club throughout the years, but its one constant would be Georges Longy. In the fourteen years of its existence, founded in 1900, the Longy Club would change personnel a number of times, but two additional constants would be the quality of musicianship of the players as well as a catholic taste in the Club's programming.

Before he joined the Boston Symphony for the 1898-99 season as first chair oboe, an event that would be precursor to the establishment of the Longy Club, Georges Longy had had a distinguished career in Paris. He was a section player with the Opera Comique and the Lamoureux, and the principal oboe with Colonne's Follies Bergere. While he received distinction with these orchestras in the country of his birth, he would exceed the name he developed there by his success and reputation with the Boston Symphony.

Georges Vital Victor Gillet was the oboe teacher at the Paris Conservatory where Longy received first prize for playing the oboe. He was eighteen years old at the time. He would re-establish the "Societe de Musique de Chambre pour Instruments a Vent" in Paris in 1895 and in that same year he was appointed Officier d'Academie by the French government. Born in Abbeville, France on August 29, 1868, Longy did not return to France permanently until some 57 years later where he'd live for the remainder of his life, living on the farm where he spent summers while still a resident of Boston, and there devoting himself to the land his estate "Cornemuse" in Abbeville-and not the oboe raising poultry and herding his 200 cows.

There are some 'firsts' to his credit on a number of levels. In 1908, Longy, under the organization of Mrs. Richard J. Hall, conducted a series of orchestral concerts which were not at all parochial in their programming, and three years later, following his appointment as Officer d'Academie by the French government, he was appointed Officer de l'Instruction Publique.

Olin Downes, in eulogizing him, claimed that Longy influenced the musical life of Boston more than any other man, a statement not only left unchallenged, but passionately agreed with at Longy's memorial concert.[1] In 1913, he founded the New York Chamber Music Association, and for ten years conducted the MacDowell Club Orchestra, from 1915 to 1925. In 1916, he was the conductor of the Cecilia Society, and the following year took on the MacDowell Club Chorus, as well. Continuing with his intense Boston loyalties, he founded and directed the Boston Musical Association in 1919, and, at that point, would be with the Boston Symphony for only six more years.

In the midst of all this active musical life of playing and conducting, the year 1915 would be very significant both to Longy and the musical life of Boston. He founded the Longy School of Music in the hope of providing a musical education for students similar to that which was being taught in France, allied with the French Conservatory approach. The School, to put it in the vernacular, took off like a house on fire, and Georges Longy had one more feather with which to grace his cap.

The end of the 44th season of the Boston Symphony was also the last season for Longy as principal oboe. He received a noble tribute from the audience for his years of service to the BSO and to the musical life of Boston. The Boston Globe reports that '. . . there was prolonged applause for Koussevitzky at the beginning and end of the program. Just before the intermission the conductor took occasion to show his esteem for George Longy, the veteran first oboe player, who is retiring from the orchestra, by walking over to him and shaking his hand. Orchestra and audience rose to their feet and applauded long and loudly.[2] The Boston Globe, however, does not report that a significant factor in the retirement of Georges Longy in 1925 was due to a contentious relationship between himself and Koussevitzky during his first season as conductor of the Boston Symphony.

Longy was considered a musician of exquisite taste, but that in itself does not rule out the possibility of a less than amicable relationship with the conductor under whom one plays. Often, it is a matter of chemistry. Major Henry Higginson who was the primary benefactor of the Boston Symphony took a trip to Paris in 1912 to see Fernand Gillet, the first oboist of the Concerts Lamoureux and Paris Opera.[3] Gillet was confused by the visit, unclear as to why Higginson would want to see him. "I am worried about M. Longy, the first oboist of the Boston Symphony since 1898 and who plays so beautifully. He is getting so fat that I think he might burst. I would like you to come to Boston and play second oboe so that if he does, you will be there to take over." Gillet was unequivocal regarding the fact that he played first oboe only and should an opening arise, he'd consider Higginson's offer, but not until then.

Longy did not burst. He remained with the Boston Symphony for another twelve years, and left after Koussevitzky's first season. The relationship between them was not a love match, and Koussevitzky was impatient with Longy for not giving him the sound he wanted. Longy cannily had other irons in the fire so that his retirement from the BSO was not a heart-breaking event for either man. And, finally, Fernand Gillet then joined the Symphony.[4]

Georges Longy's legacy extends far past his years of active musical service both in France and Boston. At the time of his death, his memorial service on the 3rd of November, 1930 brought musician friends of Longy's, as well as, curiously, the attendance of Serge Koussevitzky. Members of the Boston Symphony performed, and Walter Piston conducted at this mammoth event-as there is no other word to adequately describe it.[5]

With an honorary committee for the memorial concert made up of Pablo Casals, Jacques Thibaud, Ignaz Jan Paderewski, Alfred Cortot, Maurice Ravel, Fritz Kreisler, Pierre Monteux, Ottorino Respighi, Vincent d'Indy and Walter Damrosch, Longy was even posthumously in the company of his peers.

The pianist, Heinrich Gebhard, who played with the Longy Club would be at his anecdotal best at the memorial service, talking about Longy, the impeccable musician, and Longy, the trickster. Gebhard, following his studies with Leschetizky, was invited by Longy to play with the Club. As is often the case with a pianist intent on establishing a solo career, Gebhard easily forgot that he was in an ensemble. Longy, with tact and grace, pointed out to him that he was drowning out the woodwinds. In subsequent rehearsals, the same problem occurred and Longy's patience was wearing thin, to a point where Gebhard, to his dismay, was asked to use no pedal at all.

These rehearsals with Gebhard and the Longy Club frequently took place at Longy's house in Roxbury, and the family dog would come in and listen, crouching down and remaining quiet. When the fourth rehearsal came about-the three earlier ones being problematical because of the balance of sound between the piano and woodwinds-the dog disappeared under the piano as Gebhard began to play, trying to keep the volume down and not succeeding as Longy would have liked. Again, his foot started for the pedal which seemed to be the culprit all along, but his foot didn't make it. The huge paw of Longy's dog was fixed in such a position that it was impossible to reach the pedal. Longy wore the face of perfect innocence, but his fellow woodwind players were sure that Longy had put the dog up to it.[6]

Longy's musical world had many dimensions to it. The school of music he established in 1915 continues to thrive, and is now housed in the Edwin Abbott Mansion on Follen Street, having moved from its earlier home on Church Street, off of Brattle. As it did at the time Longy established it, it continues to profoundly influence students from all over the world, as well as the Boston area and numbers Elliott Carter, Jerome Grossman and Anton Kuerti among its alumni.

Longy directed the school for many years with the assistance of his pianist daughter, Renee Longy-Miquelle. On retiring from both his directorship of the School and from the BSO, a touching tribute to him as man and musician, to the Longy Club which was so elegantly ensconced in the musical life of Boston, and as first oboe of the Boston Symphony, Longy was duly and justifiably honored his constituency.

The Longy School of Music while numbering first rank musicians among its graduates, has had over the years an equally distinguished faculty comprised of such luminaries as Peter Sykes, Jules Eskin, Malcolm Lowe, E. Power Biggs, and Victor Rosenbaum, who is now the Director. The school has always been able to attract world-class faculty no less in its earlier years than in the present day. Two of its most justifiably distinguished and wellknown faculty were Nadia Boulanger and Willi Apel.

In a letter dated 12/15/38 to Minna Franziska Holl, then the director of the school, Annette Dieudonne, companion, friend, colleague of Nadia Boulanger, wrote from the Rue Ballu confirming Nadia Boulanger's traveling plans which include staying with the Damrosch family in New York and Arthur Quimby in Cleveland before coming to Cambridge. Miss Dieudonne expressed concern that the letter may "miss the boat:' which again reminds us that the methods of trans-Atlantic communication then were notably less reliable than in this decade.

There were plans afoot for a memorial concert on March 6th of the following year for Mademoiselle's sister, Lili Boulanger. Neither the letter nor Nadia Boulanger missed the boat and the concert did take place at Symphony Hall, Boston on the date planned and Nadia Boulanger conducted. The Harvard Glee Club and the Radcliffe Choral Society participated in the Lili Boulanger Memorial Fund Concert in place of their yearly concert. The purpose of this notable event was to subsidize the future of worthy musical talent. The program was comprised of works by Bach, Beethoven and Lili Boulanger, and the committee that served with Nadia Boulanger to determine just who that worthy musical talent was going to be was Aaron Copland, Serge Koussevitzky, Walter Piston and Igor Stravinsky.

Nadia Boulanger's association with the school and with its subsequent director and her former student, Melville Smith extended for many years. Certainly having Mademoiselle on the faculty was a great drawing card for the school and to lose either her or her support would be at the least problematical. In a letter of clarification regarding Nadia Boulanger and the School, Melville Smith in May, 1942 wrote to Cyrus Durgin of the Boston Globe:

A news item which appeared on the Music and Amusement page in the issue of the Boston Globe for May 12th states that Mlle. Nadia Boulanger, now a member of the faculty of the Longy School of Music, is to teach at Peabody Conservatory, and the impression seems to be given that she will no longer teach in Cambridge, though this is merely an inference which many readers have drawn from the article.

The facts of the matter are that Mlle. Boulanger will maintain her connection with the Longy School, as in the past, on a part-time basis, and will go to Peabody Conservatory for a certain amount of teaching each week as well. I wonder if you would care to correct the impression created by this article since there have been many inquiries. If the impression became general that Mlle. -Boulanger had severed her connection with the Longy School, considerable inconvenience and even disadvantage to the School might result.

Throughout the years, whether Nadia Boulanger was present during a particular academic year or not, a lengthy correspondence developed with the Melville Smith family. It is important to bear in mind that while Nadia Boulanger was a great pedagogue though less distinguished as a composer, the imperious aspects of her personality manifested a vulnerable side. She was, in fact, a Frenchwoman and, above all, a deeply patriotic Frenchwoman. There was the formidable reality that a major World War was being played out in the Pacific and Atlantic theatres, as her undated letter to Melville Smith indicates:

. . . we are all tied up with a ... deeper love for France-we understand better was (sic) it is to be in one's own country-and we see her more beautiful than ever. Even if we are wrong-is it not what we ought any how to feel. It does not mean we are blind-No, we measure all the responsibilities our greatest traditions impose on us and see how many time we have forsaken them...

Thank you for your understanding-for all of us the price is terrible, sorrowful-but you too, in spite of all you (sic) strength have to defeat the power who in 70 years has three times brought war. We know it, but, what is thinking the boy who is giving his life, without understanding what is in question.

Despite, or perhaps because of Mademoiselle's humanistic world view, as well as her breathtaking pedagogic gifts, her value to the Longy School was incalculable. She was not without imperfection which, as with any renowned person, necessitates differentiating between myth and reality. What could be more human, less in keeping with her often archetypal persona than having the Registrar of the Longy School ask her to return Leichentritt's "Music, History and Ideas" - a book she had borrowed from the library and long overdue?

While the groves of academe were consistently receptive to Nadia Boulanger, particularly in her middle years, they proved somewhat more problematical for Willi Apel. A tenure track position at a university in this decade is not easily acquired, but the 30's and 40's of this century did not make the availability of such a post any less so, even with the resume-a paradigm. of academic qualifications and publications-of Dr. Willi Apel. The road to professorship while paved with good intentions is not now, nor was it then, without its ruts and detours.

Willi Apel taught at the Longy School beginning in 1936. In 1942, because of the 'distressed budget and change in educational conditions,' it was no longer possible to retain him. Melville Smith, well aware of Apel's worth, wrote to colleagues such as Otto Luening at Bennington College, Albert Riemenschneider at Baldwin-Wallace, Manfred Bukofzer at the University of California, Berkeley, Max T. Crone at the University of Southern California and John Beattie at Northwestern, to name just a few, to see if they had any openings for someone of his stature. They did not.

Earlier on, a great many letters of negotiation passed between Apel, Melville Smith and Wallace Scudder, then Secretary of the Board of Trustees of the Longy School. Dr. Apel spoke articulately in his own behalf, especially when it came to promulgating his worth as a professor of music, as well as making a case for the courses he wanted to teach. To list the qualifications he cites concerning himself would be to belabor a point.

In a letter to Melville Smith, dated April 18,1941, clarifying his ability to teach classes other than those in musical notation and medieval music and using the fact that he was preparing a Dictionary of Music to substantiate as well as to illustrate his point, he showed perspicacity and shrewdness in quoting a paragraph from a letter he received regarding a lecture series he gave in 1941 at the Marblehead Art Association:

Failing an opportunity to speak to you last evening I would would (sic) like to tell you how much I enjoyed your four lectures. Many years ago I took a course in music appreciation given by Daniel Gregory Mason at Smith College, but his personality left many of us cold and I'm afraid most of his lectures descended on partially deaf ears. How different it would have been if you had given that course. I envy your students the opportunity of taking courses with you . . .

A few months later, Melville Smith received a letter from the Music Department at Harvard:

There is a good deal of regret that Apel is leaving Harvard and there appears to be a disposition on the part of a few people to contribute money to help make it possible for him to get along on his Longy School pay. At the moment I know that $300 has been subscribed and I am wondering if it would be possible without his knowing the source of the gift or that the money is contributed by an outsider, to add that sum to the salary for his survey course in History telling him perhaps that for this year it seemed possible to pay him $1,000 rather than $800 and that will certainly help him and he need not know but that it is a spontaneous act on the part of the Longy School. I don't think that the School ought to expect him to contract to give the Notation course for $100 a student. I think that it ought if possible to guarantee him $500 provided there is at least one student. I have been through all that work with him and I know how laborious it is from the teacher's point of view. Will you let me know whether the $300 can be surreptitiously tacked on to his survey course fee.

Even with the passage of some 50 years since this communication occurred, it gives one pause to consider the vicissitudes of both the man and institution as well as the process that brings the singularity of both into the present day. It is also gratifying to know that implicit in the robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul salary for Dr. Apel, his enormous musicological worth was even then a present consideration and time was not needed to bestow the mark of value on Willi Apel.

Both Nadia Boulanger and Willi Apel are cameo performances in the life of Longy and while their contributions added immeasureably to the credentials of the school, it was still the musical acumen of Longy that had the vision of what was possible and to put it into motion.

Longy was a brilliant oboist. He founded a school that thrives in this decade. He initiated a 'Club' that not only promoted wind instruments in ensemble as a viable configuration for an entire concert, but also premiered a number of new works, such as Enesco's "Symphonie" in February 1909, Debussy's "Clarinet and Piano Rhapsodie" in February 1911 and his "Sonata for flute, viola, harp" in November 1916.[6] While the Club only gave three concerts a year at long intervals, it performed a wide range of compositions, and was always open to broadening its repertoire. In the 13th series of the Longy Club concerts, the Club played Richard Strauss' Suite in B-flat for 13 wind in struments, which Strauss composed at the age of 20. It was the first performance in the United States, presented at Jordan Hall. Philip Hale called it "a concert of rare merit," and reported the event in the December 18,1912 Herald. As principal oboist, Longy introduced the American public to Debussy's "Afternoon of a Faun, " It is fitting and understandable that Longy would have a predisposition for his countryman, Debussy.

To measure Georges Longy's contribution to the world of music is a task not easily done. Perhaps in seeing the breadth of his contribution as well as its on-going manifestation so creatively exemplified in the Longy School of Music, it may give a small measure of all that he accomplished, both during his life and beyond.


1. Olin Downes. "Longy in Oddments." Transcript, November 1, 1930.

2."Final Concert of Symphony Season." Boston Globe, May 2, 1925.

3. Baker-Carr, Janet. Evening at Symphony. Page 121-2. Boston, Houghton Miflin, 1977.

4. New Grove Dictionary of American Music, v. 3, p. 105.

5. "Memory's Garland to Georges Longy." Boston Globe, November 3, 1930.

6. "Longy in Oddments." Transcript, November 1, 1930.

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