Léon Goossens, Oboist

Marian Wilson




Léon Goossens is one of the most significant figures in the history of the oboe. He was an orchestral player, teacher and concert artist with a career which spanned more than half a century. It was Goossens' talents and efforts which helped broaden the literature of his chosen instrument. This paper will examine Goossens' life and work, and discuss his influence on oboe-playing and oboe literature.

Léon Goossens was born in Liverpool, England on June 12, 1897, into the third generation of a musical family. His grandfather, Eugene Goossens (1845-1906) was a Belgian violinist and conductor who immigrated to England in 1873 to find work. He played with the orchestra of the Covent Garden Opera House and gradually began conducting operetta. By 1883, he was assistant conductor of the Carl Rosa Opera Company and became principal conductor in 1889. Léon Goossens' father, Eugene II, played violin in the Carl Rosa. He, too became conductor of the opera company and held the post from 1899 to 1915. Léon's mother was the company's contralto soloist, who married Eugene in 1892. The couple had five children: Eugene 111 (1893), Marie (1894), Adolphe (1896), Léon (1897) and Sidonie (1899).

When Léon was born, his family was living in a large house in Liverpool with grandfather Goossens. At that time Eugene I was the conductor of the Goossens Male Choir which often rehearsed at his home. Léon's eldest brother recalls the oboist's earliest days:

My earliest memory... of my whole childhood , is of my fattier telling me in a quite matter-of-fact voice - probably assumed for the occasion - that I had suddenly acquired another small brother. This, to me, somewhat mystifying piece of news heralded Léon Goossens' arrival into the world, a source of much eventual gratification for all lovers of the grand manner of oboe-playing. Apart from his being probably the noisiest and worst-tempered baby I've ever heard, and a serious competitor of the Goossens Choir in its loudest moments, his arrival must have complicated the question of "Lebensraum" for Eugene 11 and his steadily growing family... for a few months later, my father decided to move his family from the city to the countryside.[1]

Young Léon, like his brothers and sisters, was destined to be a musician. He was surrounded, from his earliest years, by a musical environment, and he began his training early. His father, when not touring with the opera company, was Léon's piano teacher. Léon began more formal instruction with a Miss Perris at the age of five. The three Goossens brothers also sang in the choir at St. Anne's Benedictine Church, Edgehill, which was rigorously rehearsed by their grandfather. Eugene I had a major influence on his grandson's musical career, since he suggested that his grandchildren should play unusual instruments. He pointed out to Léon's father that pianists and violinists faced severe competition, and that it would be advantageous for the children to select different instruments.[2] Grandfather's advice was well taken, and though Eugene III studied violin, Adolphe played French horn and the Goossens sisters became harpists.

Eugene II selected the oboe for his youngest son and rather slyly prepared him for it. When the Carl Rosa's tour brought their father back to Liverpool, the Goossens children were taken to see him conduct. Van Noorden, the second conductor, was sent to their box to subtly point out to Léon the solo passages of the oboe. When he wasn't conducting, Léon's father took over this role himself. By the time the oboe was suggested to eight-year-old Léon, he was already completely entranced by it.

Léon was supplied with the best instrument available, an oboe by F. Loree of Paris, with serial number AA89. When it arrived, Léon carved his initials in each joint of the oboe. Despite the fact that Loree oboes have been much improved since Goossens acquired the open-hole, thumb plate system oboe, he continned to play the same instrument throughout his career. (The only exception was a period in the 1920s after Goossens' oboe was stolen, but an anonymous phone call two years later revealed its location in a pawn shop.) In fact, in later years the wood was so worn away by his right thumb that a "patch" had to be applied to that section of the oboe.

With his new oboe and a copy of the Salviani method book, Léon began lessons with Charles Reynolds, principal oboe of Manchester's Halle orchestra. Léon's brother Eugene has called Reynolds "the only great English oboe player of his generation" and attributed Léon's distinctive tone to his influence.[3] In his childhood years, Léon and his brothers also studied piano with Charles Ross at the Liverpool College of Music. After he began playing the oboe, Léon was inducted into the student orchestra there, which was conducted by Carl Courvoisier, leader of the Liverpool string quartet. The orchestra read different pieces every week, so Léon was exposed to much of the orchestral literature at a young age. The Goossens children continued to perform at home as well as at school. Léon and Adolphe would read Spohr trios adapted for oboe and horn, accompanied by their father at the piano. At the age of ten, Léon made his first professional appearance. Léon, Eugene III and Adolphe were hired as part of twenty-five piece orchestra formed by John Blamphin to perform at the Winter Gardens, New Brighton, a small seaside resort. They were paid one guinea a week for their labors. Eugene recalled these concerts:

We played light music in the Kursaal on the Pier and enjoyed it enormously. My brother Léon surprised us all one day by playing the 'Ranz des Vaches' from William Tell on an English horn which he had acquired only two weeks before. Another time, the three of us played a movement from a Reinecke trio. This imparted a decided ,tone' to the Pier concerts.[4]

Eugene III played in Liverpool's amateur orchestra, the Societa Armonica, which was conducted by Vasco Akeroyd, concert master of the Liverpool Philharmonic. After their brother left to study at the Royal College of Music in London, Léon and Adolphe became members of the Societa Armonica. At one point Léon was engaged as the third oboe in the Philharmonic for a concert conducted by Thomas Beecham. Charles Stuart describes what occurred:

During a rehearsal... the great man noticed the third oboe in knickerbockers. He stopped the orchestra and asked "Who is this little boy?". The leader of the orchestra explained that it was Master Goossens. Beecham, referring no doubt to regulations restricting the appearance of infants on the English stage, inquired jocularly whether Master Goossens had a licence. Master Goossens was too shy to answer. The rehearsal was resumed. Léon acquitted himself well.[5]

In 1912 the Goossens family moved to London and Léon entered the Royal College of Music. Here he studied oboe with William Malsch as well as piano and harmony. The first piece he studied under Malsch was a Handel sonata. Léon was quite successful at the RCM and quickly found himself in the orchestra there. Meanwhile Léon's brother had fallen in with some of the great musicians of the day at the studio of Muriel and Paul Draper. Eugene III played viola in all-night chamber music marathons with the likes of Pablo Casals, Jacques Thibaud, Fernandez Arbos, Alfred Cortot, Eugene Ysaye and Arthur Rubenstein, to name a few. Léon was also a participant in these musical revelries, playing the Mozart oboe quartet. By the age of sixteen, Léon Goossens had acquired a considerable foundation in both orchestral literature and chamber music.

Eugene III's first major orchestral job was with the Queen's Hall Orchestra. In 1915, principal oboist Henri de Busscher resigned from the orchestra for a position in America. At Eugene's suggestion, an audition was arranged for Léon, who had recently graduated from the Royal College of Music. Wynne writes "Of course, the whole thing was preposterous. Principal oboists were men seldom beneath the age of forty, but Eugene had great faith in his brother."[6] The audition took place after a Sunday afternoon concert at Queen's Hall. Léon performed a virtuosic concert piece by Charles Colin for the conductor, Sir Henry Wood, and the concert manager, Robert Newman. He was also required to do extensive sight-reading, during which he "showed no trace of nerves and also a bewildering accuracy,"[7] according to Eugene, who was listening behind a curtain. Léon was offered the position for a ten day tour of Wales, which he declined on the basis of his lack of experience. But the Queen's Hall management pursued him. Four months after he returned from the tour, Léon Goossens, age seventeen, was engaged as the Queen's Hall Orchestra's principal oboist. Eugene recalls that even in his early years Léon performed professionally.

Sitting in the same orchestra with Léon, I remember marvelling at his sang-froid and musicianship when, confronted by a succession of new works (many unrehearsed) he would give an immaculate account of all of them. Knowing the repertory, I always anticipated with some trepidation his first encounter with the oboistic high spots of the standard orchestral literature... In those first three months of the season, Léon laid the solid foundation of a great career.[8]

Léon Goossens' professional beginnings were cut short after only one concert season, when he enlisted in the army in World War 1. He placed his oboe in storage at the Midland Bank in Pall Mall, where it remained for the next three years. Adolphe had enlisted earlier and was killed in France at the age of eighteen. Griefstricken after his brother's death, Léon transferred to the Infantry and served in the 8th Royal Fusiliers, 12th division, in Etaples, France. In mid-1917 he returned to England for training and commission as an officer. While Léon was home on leave, Eugene III gave him a silver cigarette case he had received from the composer Ethyl Smyth for conducting her opera, The Bosun's Mate, the previous year. Soon afterward, Léon found himself in France again, in the same company where his brother had died, led by a platoon sergeant who boasted he had never brought back an officer alive. During a battle on November 5, 1918, Léon was hit above the heart by a high velocity machine-gun bullet at a mere forty yards range. The silver cigarette case and shaving mirror in his breast pocket deflected the bullet, which cut a superficial wound across his ribs, thus miraculously saving his life.

Léon left the hospital in late December and soon began playing the oboe again, free-lancing in London. While his original intention was to earn boat fare to join a friend on a South American ranch, once he began performing again, the plans never materialized. Goossens loved horses and in later years bought a twenty-six acre farm.

Goossens' professional career, begun at the age of ten, had a remarkable span of over sixtyfive years. It included not only orchestral playing, but also teaching and performing as a concert soloist. In June of 1921 Léon was part of the "Goossens Orchestra," conducted by his brother, which gave the historic first concert performance of The Rite of Spring in England. The concert, attended by Diaghilev, Massine and Stravinsky, was a tremendous success and was repeated several days later. The orchestra gave four more performances of important new twentieth century works by Debussy, Ravel, Honegger and Schoenberg, before it was disbanded due to lack of funds.

Léon returned to his post with the Queen's Hall orchestra, and then joined the Covent Garden Orchestra in 1924. He remained there for three years, playing under the batons of Walter, Kleiber, Reiner and Krauss. Goossens' reputation blossomed during this time, so much so that an Italian opera house's oboist is reported to have said "I am willing to break my instrument over my knee after listening to such perfection."[9] In 1927 Léon became a member of the Royal Philharmonic Society's orchestra. When the London Philharmonic Orchestra was founded in 1932, Sir Thomas Beecham called on Goossens to help recruit the woodwind section. Goossens played principal oboe till 1939 and sometimes assisted Beecham in rehearsals. He remembers: "Sometimes he just didn't turn up, and left a message for me to conduct the wind rehearsal, all the woodwinds, brass, etc. It was quite fun, and I think I followed them quite well."[10]

During World War II, Goossens was a member of the British Broadcasting Corporation's Salon Orchestra, which was based in Bristol and conducted by Leslie Bridgewater. This was one of the musical groups in the "Forces Programme," which traveled throughout the country playing for the British troops. The groups also gave "Pubs concerts" for factory workers and the general public in improvised concert halls. In 1942 Goossens also worked for the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts which sponsored musical activities with government subsidies. After the war, he abandoned orchestral playing, and emphasized his solo career.

Goossens, as the leading oboist of his day, was also influential as a teacher and the major proponent of the British school of oboe playing. It has been suggested that Goossens was personally responsible for the development of vibrato among English oboists.

It was he who, greatly daring, developed oboe vibrato. Some of the older practitioners said that vibrato on woodwind instruments was all wrong... Young Goossens stuck to his guns. The Goossens vibrato... is one of the more precious ornaments of contemporary music.[11]

Goossens' playing is perhaps best known for its "bright" tone color and for what has been called a "light, limpid and seemingly breathless style."[12] The oboe reed type used by Goossens is created by a short U-shaped scrape, which provides little resistance to the player's wind and is controlled predominantly by the lips. This light reed is a central factor in production of the Goossens tone color.

Goossens' playing style has been perpetuated among his students. Goossens taught for many years, at both the Royal Academy of Music (1924-35) and the Royal College of Music (1924-39). Supposedly the heads of these two institutions, Sir Alexander Mackenzie and Sir Hugh Allen "realized that in this way neither would lose their best pupils to the other place."[13] The Goossens "stamp" was obvious for many years in England's leading orchestras. Goossens' students included Peter Graeme, Terence MacDonagh and Sidney Sutcliffe, all leading British oboists, and composer John Addison. By far his most famous pupil was Evelyn Rothwell (Lady Evelyn Barbirolli), who was well known as a soloist, chamber music player, recording artist and author of works on oboe, throughout the world.

While most of Léon Goossens' solo career took place after World War 11, it began much earlier. In 1928 he made his American debut, in New York at the Guild Theater. The program included the Mozart and Arthur Bliss oboe quartets, and a new sonata by Harvard music professor David Stanley Smith. In January of 1929 Léon returned to New York for several more concerts, concluding with a concert at Jordan Hall in Boston where he performed his brother's new oboe concerto. Goossens next returned to the United States in June of 1939 to play in two concerts sponsored by the British Council for the World's Fair. Adrian Boult conducted the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in Carnegie Hall. The audience was enthusiastic and Goossens received multiple curtain calls.

Léon Goossens' solo career took him all over the globe. In the summer of 1954 he and Eugene III gave a series of concerts in Sydney and Adelaide, Australia. The rigorous programming included performances of the Mozart, Strauss and Goossens concertos. The reviews which followed were nothing short of ecstatic.

Art, creative or reproductive, must be convincing, and Léon Goossens' playing was convincing above everything else. The concerti he played on various occasions with the orchestra and the programmes of his two solo recitals, with the excellent Henri Penn at the piano, were all pronouncements of deepest musical truth and noblest beauty ...[14]

Léon also performed in New Zealand and Singapore, and he toured Yugoslavia the same year. The following year he visited Turkey and Austria. In 1956, Goossens toured the Soviet Union with a British music delegation headed by the Master of the Queen's Musick. The group consisted of many other notable musicians, such as Sir Arthur Bliss, David Oistrakh and Gerald Moore. Goossens' subsequent tours included a " coast-to -coast" tour of Canada in 1957, and performances in Scandinavia and Portugal in 1959.

Another notable Goossens family musical effort took place in February of 1958 at the Chester Town Hall. Eugene III conducted the Chelsea Chamber Orchestra in his Concert Piece for two Harps, Oboe and English Horn, with his siblings Marie, Sidonie and Léon as soloists. The last movement of the work contained quotes from the symphonic literature to depict the different backgrounds of the soloists. One reviewer commented on the fact that Eugene 11, then ninety-one years of age, was in the audience. "I cannot say what was passing through his mind. Unadulterated pride would be pardonable."[15]

On the evening of June 25, 1962, Léon Goossen's career was dramatically halted. While driving home following dinner with some friends, he was injured in a head- on collision with another car. His injuries included a four inch gash through the tissues of his chin into his mouth. He lost all of his incisor teeth and damaged many of the remaining teeth. Even after a great deal of dental surgery, he was still unable to play the oboe. A neurosurgeon who examined Goossens wrote:

Although he practices and tries, he feels that he has no muscles in his lower lip sufficient to press the lower lip up against the reed and sustain the embouchure... Owing to the anaesthesia of his lip and impairment of muscle power, Mr. Goossens feels that he cannot be certain of giving an adequate performance.[16]

Nerve fibers gradually returned in Léon's healing lip and he began to play, but only for short periods. He did some playing in film music recording sessions, and gave lectures to music clubs and gramophone societies. In struggling to recover his previous abilities, Goossens was forced to overcome severe depression and to modify his embouchure, developing muscles that he had never used before.

Gene Forrell, an American film music conductor and good friend, suggested that Goossens work toward a comeback in America. It took several years, but on April 25, 1965, Léon performed several Baroque concertos in New York's Town Hall. Forrell conducted a group formed for the occasion, called the Master Virtuosi. The following day the New York Times had this to say about Goossens:

His marvellous tone and impeccable technique are as freshly preserved as his unerring sense of style... Before he played a note it was obvious that he was a man who had come to enjoy himself... The instrument was not merely played - it fairly sang. Trills and ornaments were executed with such an air of spontaneity that they served only to embellish the pleasure of the music, not to call attention to the difficulties that, for Mr. Goossens, apparently never existed.[17]

The incredible physical and emotional hurdles overcome, Léon Goossens continued his solo career well into his later years. He made his return to the English concert scene in October of 1966 with the Pro Arte Orchestra in Festival Hall. In 1972 Goossens performed the Mozart concerto on one of London's Promenade concerts, and he appeared at the Nottingham festival in 1973. Other performances took place in Munich in 1971 and in St. Moritz and Aberdeen with the International Youth Orchestra in the early seventies. Goossens continued to give recitals in Malta, where he often vacationed, as late as 1977, when he was eighty years old. A book about the oboe, which he coauthored with composer and oboist Edwin Roxburgh, was published the same year.

Léon Goossens also had a distinguished recording career. His first recording, of a Concertino by Colin, was made for Edison Bell in the twenties. Over forty years later, EMI issued a selection of Goossens' recordings in its "Great Instrumentalists" series, in honor of the oboist's seventieth birthday. In Goossens' favorite story about his recording experiences, he confesses to "one of the greatest clangers in the history of recorded sound."

We were in the studio to record Schumann's Cello Concerto with Piatigorsky as soloist. Like all artists he was capable of having an off-day, and on this occasion he was dissatisfied with his performance of the cadenza. I felt sympathy for him. After several attempts he finally decided to break and try later. When we had assembled again the recording producer recommended we do a rehearse run before making the recording. The tension was high and Piatigorsky played brilliantly, throwing off the cadenza with superb artistry. I was so carried away that I could not restrain myself from shouting "Bravo" in a very loud voice. All was silent for a brief second. Then the producer came into the studio ashen-faced and full of despair. They had recorded it!

After the initial dismay had passed, Piatigorsky said: "I can't play it again. " But he held a simple solution: "Simply put on the label 'CELLO - PIATIGORSKY, BRAVO! - GOOSSENS'."[18]

Léon Goossens achieved international stature as a concert artist early and maintained prominence in the musical world throughout his career. As early as 1928, the Musical Courier called him "the world's greatest oboist" and soon afterwards the New York Times hailed him as "a master of the instrument."19 Not only have reviewers and audiences recognized Goossens' talents, but fellow musicians have also indicated their respect. Fritz Kreisler said, "If there's one thing more than another I enjoy playing in the whole violin literature, its the andante from the Brahms concerto with Léon Goossens playing the oboe."[20] Yehudi Menuhin said, "I am extremely grateful to have been allowed to live and work and play with so dear a colleague."[21] Goossens was recognized by Great Britain when he was awarded the title "Commander of the British Empire" in 1950.

Goossens was a major force in the elevation of the oboe to a solo instrument. In Léon's early years, critics and audiences were surprised to hear an oboist as a major soloist. The music critic of the London Observer wrote "There is no musician of our time whose genius has had so radical an effect upon the status and fortunes of his chosen instrument."[22] Other writers have compared the influence Goossens had on the future of the oboe, to that which Segovia had on the guitar.

Probably the most significant influence Goossens has had on the history of oboe-playing stems from the fact that all major British composers of his time wrote music for him. In this way Goossens is singlehandedly responsible for a large quantity of twentieth century oboe literature, much of which is very significant.

The greatest classicists and romantics of the nineteenth century neglected the oboe apparently because they had no Léon Goossens to compose for. Our contemporary composers seized the opportunity to make good use of his virtuosity, or perhaps it would be better to say, they were challenged by his virtuosity to widen the scope of the instrument far beyond the limit set by their seventeenth and eighteenth century forebears.[23]

Not only did Goossens inspire the composition of many works for oboe, but he actively commissioned new works of his own accord.

The piece most associated with Léon Goossens throughout his career was the Concerto, Opus 45 composed for him by his brother Eugene. Originally written for Léon's American debut, the work also received performances in Australia and England. In 1931 Goossens performed it at the ninth Festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music in Oxford. Léon writes:

My brother Eugene's Concerto is, in many ways, more apposite for the oboe than the Strauss... Using a full orchestra... the work contains some very delicate writing for percussion. In fact, the whole of the cadenza is accompanied by the sustained sound of a tam-tam with marvellous effect. The oboe is always audible above the rich textures. Today, the piece stands as a rewarding and effective work for the medium.[24]

While not incredibly well known, the Goossens concerto has remained in the oboe repertoire.

The best known oboe concerto dedicated to Goossens is that by Ralph Vaughan Williams. It was the suggestion of the management of the BBC which brought the oboist and the composer together. Goossens was responsible for some editorial changes in the oboe part, and the composer made some last minute changes in the score. Here is what he wrote to Léon:

Dear Goossens:
I hear from the B.B.C. that they have asked you to play my new concerto at the Proms. I need hardly say I am pleased at the prospect, if you are also pleased - but you had better see it before you make up your mind! I hope to send you the oboe part and a pianoforte reduction of the score in about a fortnight. Of course, I shall welcome suggestions from you as to making the part more "oboistic".[25]

Two weeks later Vaughan Williams wrote:

Herewith the score of the concerto. Don't blame Mullinar for its untidy state - I altered it all after he had made it![26]

The concerto was to be premiered in London at a Promenade Concert on July 5, 1944, but the concert was cancelled due to bombings. The first performance took place in Liverpool on September 30, the same year, with the Liverpool Philharmonic conducted by Malcolm Sargent. Goossens performed the concerto in London for the first time on May 4, 1945, with the Bromley and Chislehurst Orchestra. The concerto has three movements: Rondopastoral, Minuet and Musetta, and Finale (Scherzo). Its pastoral mood did not prevent the inclusion of some extremely difficult passages for the oboist. (These remain after Goossens' editing, a testament to his abilities.)

Gordon Jacob also wrote several pieces for Léon Goossens. His Concerto No. I for Oboe and Strings was originally commissioned by and dedicated to Evelyn Rothwell. Jacob has stated that when Goossens found out about the dedication he was outraged and complained, "Here am I, the leading oboist in the world, and you are going to write for one of my pupils!"[27] Apparently Goossens convinced Jacob to dedicate the work to him, and then stole the first performance from Rothwell. She performed the concerto at the Ballet Club Theater of Notting Hill, February 26, 1934, but the first major performance was given by Goossens. On March 1, 1935 he played the piece with Sir Thomas Beecham conducting at Queen's Hall, and received excellent reviews.

The success of the concerto over the years prompted Goossens to commission another from Jacob, the Concerto No. 2 for Oboe and Orchestra. The piece was completed in February of 1956 and given its first performance by Goossens in April in Leningrad, Russia. Goossens also performed the work in England, provoking these comments by a reviewer: "...it is a work which adds a great deal of poetic invention to Dr. Jacob's usual mastery of instrumentation. The slow movement, especially, is strikingly imaginative..."[28]

Composers were still writing substantial works for Léon Goossens in his later years. Wilfred Joseph's Concerto for Oboe, Percussion and Small Orchestra, Opus 58 was composed in honor of the oboist's seventieth birthday. Goossens premiered the work in May of 1967 with the London Bach Orchestra as part of the Camden Festival. The distinctive five part work is described by Denby Richards:

A feature of the concerto is the very effective use made of the soloist and the two oboes in the orchestra, while the percussion part involves a battery of 16 instruments, and includes a cadenza. There is a very musical use of the vibraphone, which at one time has a beautiful melodic figure over a sustained chord on the three oboes... Yet it is the oboe which is predominant, and Goossens reigns supreme.[29]

Many other concertos were dedicated to Goossens, including Malcolm Arnold's Concerto for Oboe and String Orchestra, Opus 39. Francesco Ticciati, Ralph Nicholson, Arnold Cooke and Rutland Broughton also composed oboe concertos with Goossens in mind. Goossens was particularly fond of the concerto composed for him by Cyril Scott, and pointed out that Percy Grainger called it "the greatest Oboe Concerto ever written..." after its premiere.[30]

Léon Goossens also had a significant impact on chamber music literature for the oboe. As early as 1930, Walter Wilson Cobbett wrote

I have enjoyed the advantage of an instructive conversation with Léon Goossens, an oboe player of unquestionable authority, of whom British musicians are very proud, and am glad to hear from him that the oboe as a chamber instrument "has advanced a hundred percent in popularity". One can see for oneself from recent programmes that its inclusion in the wind ensemble is more frequent nowadays. Mr. Goossens himself has been the moving spirit in inducing... composers to write for his instrument.[31]

One of the earliest chamber works composed for Goossens was Sir Arnold Bax's Quintet for Oboe and String Quartet. Composed in 1923, it was dedicated to Goossens. The piece is in three movements, pastoral in mood and shows the influence of Irish folk music. Townsend states "the last movement is in the nature of an Irish reel, in the middle of which Bax introduces (as a countermelody), what appears to be a bona-fide folksong."[32]

Sir Arthur Bliss had already written chamber works which included oboe and English horn when he composed his Quintet for Oboe and String Quartet in 1927. Léon had played the first performance of his Conversations and the Goossens Orchestra had premiered several other of Bliss's works. The oboe quintet was suggested by Mrs. Elizabeth Sprague Collidge who wanted a work for Goossens to play at an international festival. The first performance took place with the Venetian Quartet on September 11, 1927 at the Conservatorio, Benedetto Marcello in Venice. Bliss wrote "I particularly recall the pleasure of the rehearsals which took place in the Lido and to which we went by gondola from our hotel in Venice."[33] Goossens also performed the quintet with the Vienna quartet the following year on a BBC concert at the Arts Theatre Club in London.

The work is in three movements, the first two of which require great breath control from the oboist. The third movement calls for technical virtuosity and also includes a folk tune. Bliss describes its origin:

When I had worked halfway through this finale I mentioned to the music critic, Edwin Evans, that what I was looking for at this point was a really good "catchy tune". He said "Why not borrow one? I have a traditional one for you that I found in a book of old Irish dances. Have a look at Connelly's Jig." So in gratitude to him, in went Connelly's Jig ...[34]

Probably the most played work of all the chamber pieces composed for Goossens is an early work by Benjamin Britten, the Phantasy Quartet for oboe and strings. Composed when Britten was only nineteen, the Phantasy Quartet was premiered by Goossens and members of the International String Quartet in 1934 at the International Society for Contemporary Music festival in Florence. The one movement work combines ternary variation and sonata form. Hamburger writes:

Written at a time when Britten's compositions were by no means flawless, this work's invention and form are yet completely mature; with the proviso that about its invention there exists a quality which... can be called "youthful maturity"... the oboe cadenzas would not have been written by an older composer although they youthfully fit the context. The form, on the other hand, would do credit to a composer of any age if, indeed, an older man could bring off' this combination of sonata form and phantasy with so unconsciously secure a grasp.[35]

The quartet has been much performed and recorded by oboists, due less to its superiority than to the continued fame of its composer.

Gordon Jacob considered the Quartet for Oboe and Strings he dedicated to Léon Goossens one of his finest works. The piece received its first performance by Goossens at Aeolian Hall in London, November 3, 1938. The work is in four movements and is about twenty minutes in length. While the oboe part is only of moderate difficulty, the string parts are more complex. The work contains rhythmic obstacles for the ensemble in the form of mixed meter, implied polymetry and syncopation.

Less significant works associated with Goossens are the various pieces composed for the Philharmonic Trio. Goossens formed this trio early in his career with flutist Albert Fransella and pianist Francesco Ticciati. The Pastorale and Harlequinade of 1924 by Eugene Goossens was one of these works. Goossens and Fransella, with violist Harry Berly, also premiered Gustav Holst's Terzetto at the Faculty of Arts Gallery in London, in March of 1926. According to Imogen Holst, Holst was not sure whether or not he liked this trio and it has not found its way into the chamber music repertoire.[36]

Léon Goossens' playing also inspired a large number of solo compositions from many British composers of the period. The most significant of these composers was Sir Edward Elgar. Not only did Elgar admire Goossens' playing, but they were personal friends and it was Léon who taught Sir Edward how to drive a car. In 1929 Elgar began sketching a suite for Goossens, but unfortunately completed only the slow movement before sciatica made it impossible for him to write. This movement, entitled Soliloquy, was orchestrated in 1967 by Gordon Jacob and performed by Goossens on June I I with the BBC Television orchestra. Had Elgar completed this work, it undoubtedly would have been a significant addition to the oboe literature.

Another notable solo work composed for Goossens was Arnold Cooke's Sonata for Oboe and Piano of 1957. Cooke's interest in the oboe stems from his student days. He had said that his interest in woodwinds in general "was stimulated by Hindemith. He got each of his students to take up an instrument, and we occasionally played together in class. I tried the oboe for a time, not with much success."[37] The oboe sonata's three movements have a harmonic structure based on the conflict between the major and the minor third. Raymond Leppard has written that "Cooke creates out of it new, striking and highly individual ideas which are worked out intensively and without ever losing the lyrical quality which so well suits the combination and the composer's creative gifts."[38]

York Bowen's Sonata for Oboe and Piano was also composed for Goossens. Other composers who wrote solo or chamber works for him include Walter Stanton, Sir George Henschel, John Addison, Dame Ethyl Smyth, Franz Reizenstein, Thomas Pitfield, Somers Cocks, Gerald Finzi, William Wordsworth, Bernard van den Sigtenhorst -Meyer, Alec Templeton, Morgan Nichols, Thomas Dunhill and Edwin Roxburgh. Alan Richardson also composed numerous works for oboe, both for Goossens and for his wife, oboist Janet Craxton.

Léon Goossens was one of the most significant oboists of the twentieth century, active in England and around the world for over sixtyfive years. Not only was he one of the most outstanding performers on his instrument during his lifetime, but he exemplified the British school of oboe-playing. This style was passed on to his many students, and affected the reeds and tone quality of English oboists for some time. Goossens, one of the first obo 1 sts to have a long solo career, was part ally respons ible for the ri se of the oboe as a solo instrument ' His most significant contribution, however, is that he was a major force behind the composition of a great deal of the modern oboe repertoire. He leaves a legacy of concertos, chamber music and solo works for generations of oboists to come.



1. Eugene Goossens, Overture and Beginners, a Musical Autobiography (London: Methuen, 195 1), pp. 36-37.

2. Barry Wynne, Music in the Wind; the story of Léon Goossens and his triumph over a shattering accident, (London: Souvenir Press, 1967), p. 40.

3. E. Goossens, Overture, p. 55.

4. Ibid, p. 57.

5. Charles Stuart, "Léon Goossens, C.B.E.," The Canon; Australian Journal of Music 3 (January 1950): 340.

6. Wynne, Music in the Wind, p. 65.

7. E. Goossens, Overture, p. 109.

8. Ibid.

9. Wynne, Music in the Wind, p. 97.

10. James Brown, "Interview with Léon Goosens, Royal College of Music Magazine 79 (1983): 32.

11. Stuart, "Léon Goossens," p. 338

12. Jerold A. Sundet, -Léon Goossens - Master Oboist, " The School Musician, Director and Teacher 45 (November 1973): 23.

13. R. Wimbush, "Léonine," The Gramophone 45
(June 1967): 5.

14. "Léon Goossens,'' The Canon; Australian Journal
of Music 7 (July 1954): 521.

15. "The Family Goossens," The Musical Times 99
(April 1958): 207.

16. Wynne, Music in the Wind, pp. 82-83.

17. Ibid, pp. 117-18.

18. Léon Goossens and Edwin Roxburgh, Oboe, Yehudi Menuhin Music Guides, (New York: Schirmer Books, 1977), p. 162.

19. Wynne, Music in the Wind, p. 10.

20. E. Goossens, Overture, p. 109.

21. Wynne, Music in the Wind, p. 1.

22. Stuart, "Léon Goossens," p. 337.

23. -Léon Goossens," The Canon, p. 522.

24. Goossens and Roxburgh, Oboe, p. 159.

25. Wynne, Music in the Wind, pp. 104-5.

26. Ibid, p. 105.

27. Interview with Gordon Jacob, Saffron Walden, England, 15 December 1977, quoted in Robert Pusey, "Gordon Jacob: A Study of the Solo Works for Oboe and English Horn and Their Ensemble Literature" (D.M.A. dissertation, Peabody Conservatory, 1980), pp. 181-82.

28. John Fitzwalter Waterhouse, "Oboe Concertos at CBSO Concert," Birmingham Post Gazette, 16 November 1956, p. 5, quoted in Pusey, Gordon Jacob, pp. 195-96.

29. Denby Richard, "Concerto for Goossens," Music & Musicians 17 (July 1969): 64.

30. Goossens and Roxburgh, Oboe, p. 159.

31. Walter Wilson Cobbett, ed., "Oboe in Chamber Music, The," in Cobbett's Cyclopedic Survey of Chamber Music, 2 vols. (London: Oxford University Press, 1929), 2: 193.

32. Douglas Townsend, record jacket notes for Sir Arnold Bax's Quintet for Oboe and String Quartet, performed by Bert Lucarelli and the Manhattan String Quartet (Musical Heritage Society MHS 3521, 1976).

33. Sir Arthur Bliss, record jacket notes for Sir Arthur Bliss's Quintet for Oboe and String Quartet, performed by Bert Lucarelli and the Manhattan String Quartet (Musical Heritage Society MHS 3521, 1976).

34. Ibid.

35. Paul Hamburger, "The Chamber Music," in Benjamin Britten: a commentary on his works from a group of specialists, ed. Donald Mitchell and Hans Keller (New York: Philosophical Library, 1953), p. 212.

36. Imogen Holst, Gustav Holst (London: Oxford University Press, 1936), p. 114.

37. Michael Dawney, "Arnold Cooke in Conversation with Michael Dawney," Composer 45 (Autumn 1972): 8.

38. Raymond Leppard, "Reviews of Music: Oboe and Piano," Music & Letters 45 (July 1964): 300.


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______. "Bliss, Arthur." In Cobbett's Cyclopedic Survey of Chamber Music. 2 vols. London: Oxford University Press, 1929. 1: 127-129.

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______. Oboe and English Horn Works of Gordon Jacob. " The Double Reed 3 (December 1981): 17-30.

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Stuart, Charles. "Léon Goossens, C.B.E." The Canon; Australian Journal of Music 3 (January 1950): 337-341.

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Townsend, Douglas. Record jacket notes for Sir Arnold Bax's Quintet for Oboe and String Quartet. Performed by Bert Lucarelli and the Manhattan String Quartet. Musical Heritage Society MHS 3521, 1976.

Wimbush, R. "Léonine." The Gramophone 45 (June 1967): 5.

Wynne, Barry. Music in the Wind; the story of Léon Goossens and his triumph over a shattering accident. London: Souvenir Press, 1967.



Baker, George. "What are They Like at Home? 12. Léon Goossens, C. B. E." The Music Teacher and Piano Student 34 (March 1955): 132.

Brown, James. "Interview with Léon Goossens." Royal College of Music Magazine 79 (1983): 31-33.

Goossens, Eugene. Overture and Beginners; a Musical Autobiography. London: Methuen, 1951.

Goossens, Léon and Roxburgh, Edwin. Oboe. Yehudi Menuhin Music Guides. New York: Schirmer Books, 1977.

"Goossens, Léon Jean." In Who's Who 1985-1986; an annual biographical dictionary, p. 743. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1985.

Griffiths, Ann. "Goossens: (5) Léon Goossens." In New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. 20 vols. Edited by Stanley Sadie. London: Macmillan, 1980. 7: 533-534.

"Léon Goossens." The Canon; Australian Journal of Music 7 (July 1954): 521-22.

"Léon Goossens." The Canon; Australian Journal of Music 8 (August 1954): 34-35.

Stuart, Charles. "Léon Goossens, C.B.E." The Canon; Australian Journal of Music 3 (January 1950): 337-341.

Sundet, Jerold A. "Léon Goossens - Master Oboist." The School Musician, Director and Teacher 45 (November 1973): 22-25.

Wimbush, R. "Leonine." The Gramophone 45 (June 1967): 5.

Wynne, Barry. Music in the Wind; the story of Léon Goossens and his triumph over a shattering accident. London: Souvenir Press, 1967.

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