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Eminent flautist breathes his last

Claude Monteux, flautist and conductor, died on Friday, aged 92. A son of the great conductor Pierre Monteux, he played solo on numerous recordings. His death is reported by Elizabeth Gaston on the Flute List:

Claude Monteux… died peacefully near his son, in Sacramento,

Claude was born in the United States in 1920. The first years of his
life were spent in Paris where he became an accomplished pianist. His
mother, browsing through a Readers Digest, saw an advertisement for a
new music program at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. It is
there that he heard the flute solo from Brahms 4th for the first time,
when his father, Pierre Monteux, toured with the Boston Symphony. He
was so moved by the solo, he decided to play the flute.

He studied flute exclusively with George Laurent, Principle Flute of
the Boston Symphony. Claude’s flute is one the very first handmade

After working as a translator during WW2, Claude settled into the life
of a working musician. He was the principal flute in many symphony
orchestras, worked in NY shows, was the assistant conductor of the
Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo, Conductor and Artistic Director of the
Hudson Valley Symphony, soloed with the London Symphony and St.
Martins in the Fields, taught at the New England Conservatory of Music
and at San Diego State University, hosted summer flute retreats in
Maine, and made some of the first recordings ever…on wax. Claude was
the first person to bring Jean-Pierre Rampal to New York in 1963.


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  1. Bob Summers says:

    Dear Mr. Lebrecht,

    I thought we banished the incorrect term “flautist” in a previous post. I “googled” Claude Monteux and the first 30 references referred to him as a flutist not “flautist” except one, your post today. Please refrain from using this term again. It is very irritating!!! Claude Monteux refers to himself as a “flutist” Let us bury this dead horse of a term.

    Thank you.

    • How many people does this really matter to?

    • Oh dear me, a wonderful flute player and contributor to the profession has died, and the first comment on this article is depressingly about the equally valid terms flutist, flautist and flute player, and there are of course many more terms in other languages which are also equally valid.

      Surely what is important is the music, our common love of the instrument and in this case, the contribution made by this gentleman.

      Rather than stand Canute-like against time and the tidal waters of our ever evolving language, perhaps Mr Summers would like to read this article on the terms:

      We flautists have lost a colleague. He shall be remembered. Thank you Mr Lebrecht for an interesting article about Claude, and a life clearly dedicated to music.

      • Bob Summers says:

        My comment in no way disparages the reputation of the great flutist Claude Monteux. His legacy is a mighty contribution to the genre. My mother worked on Merriam Webster ‘s Third International Unabridged Dictionary to completion and her name is listed in the credits. She always emphasized to me that language is a living thing and is constantly changing. What was most important was the usage of a word. Proof readers spend an almost infinite number of hours reading publications to determine the sense, meaning, and frequency of usage. After looking over the first 30 references to Claude Monteux on google, the only reference to “flautist” was by Mr .Lebrecht in the article in question. I am not trying to make a “big deal” of this issue but I can not be silent. Possibly in the UK some people use the antiquated OED word “flautist” as a preference. There is no such word as “flaut’ in the OED. Mr. Claude Monteux called himself a flutist.

        • John Parfrey says:

          I live in Colorado and host a FaceBook page related to the Colorado Symphony. When I put up a post about one of the “flutists” in the orchestra, I was taken to task for my usage of the term by several “flautists”, several of whom belonged to a flute ensemble. So I guess we need to count Colorado along with the UK as a place where “flautist” is still being used.

          Years ago I caught the great flutist/flautist Julius Baker on the Tonight Show. Johnny Carson asked him which he preferred, and he said that either one worked for him. My Dad played the instrument and felt the same way.

          Note: Just as there is no word as ‘flaut’, there is also no such word as ‘flut’. Different strokes for different folks in this living thing called language. I’ve gotta go now. Bye, Bob

        • A Flautist says:

          On the contrary, one can be silent on such things. Such things DO NOT matter. At all. No one will die if I choose to call myself a flutist or a flautist. There are bigger issues in life that people with sufficient energy to worry about such matters could devote themselves to, maybe supporting a local charity?

          The fact that the word flautist is common usage and in the dictionary should be enough for you. Give in with good grace. There may be words you do not like in the dictionary, but does the world really need to know? This is not a concern for most of us, and has no place in comments on the death of a great musician.

          You say usage is what counts. Well usage is up to the person using it. If I want to call myself a flautist, or a flute player, or a flutist, that is up to me, and as a musician I should not have to debate, discuss, or defend myself to any pedant who chooses to take issue with it. Nor should the author of this article, or the author of the original article on Flute List. I know that if I go to America, many will call me a flutist. This does not offend me, I am proud to be a player of the flute, and to have so many flute playing friends and colleagues. Flautist is the predominant word used in the UK, in the US, the usage is more mixed.

          Your mother seems to have been a wise lady, why not accept as she did (in your words) that “language is a living thing and is constantly changing”.

          This debate is an irritation to most flautists / flutists / flute players, it makes us squirm whenever we speak to people, as wherever we are there is always some pedant around who will take issue which ever word we choose to use. All that matters is the music. I am a flautist, and I do not care one bit what term you call me, but allow us the freedom to use whatever word we choose when we play or write about our colleagues.

          All these words are equally valid, they are in various dictionaries, that is an end to it.

          Your insistence on this matter is rude and disrespectful to flute players – see, I feel awkward using the word flautist to you. Why! I am a flautist ! There is nothing wrong with describing myself as such, I am a flautist and proud of it ! Your comment is staggeringly out of place in an obituary.

          If all you can do when you listen to a piece of music, read the concert programme, or read a CD cover, read a review, or an obituary, is worry about whether they have spelled a word using your favourite equally valid variation, then you are missing a great deal of beauty in life.

          The flute is the oldest instrument we know of, dating back tens of thousands of years, it comes in many shapes and sizes, there are many words for it in many different languages, and these have changed over time, and will continue to change over time. This diversity reflects the importance of the flute and its ubiquity, and should be celebrated. It is a nonsense to try to suggest any importance should be attached to the choice of which equally valid term that one uses.

          It is interesting to note that the irritation and discomfort caused to flute players prompts many players to come up with their own term to avoid the debate, so it is stimulating neologisms. Over time, some of these may catch a wave and become accepted in the dictionary as yet more valid terms for a player of the flute. So pedantic conservative lexicologists may well serve their objectives best by being silent ! This would be a mercy to all of us.

          In the age of the internet, many people will come across articles written on the opposite side of the Atlantic where one variant predominates. If certain people do not like coming across the other variants, perhaps such keyboard warriors should turn off their computers and buy a newspaper!

  2. Jennifer Stinton says:

    I am a flautist and proud to use the term and this is how we are described in the UK and much of the world.

    Claude Monteux was a well-known and admired flutist particularly in the US, where this term for a flute player is more commonly used.
    Thanks Flute Chat for your intelligent observations. and thank you to Norman Lebrecht for posting the original article.

  3. Importance of this argument is debatable, but linguistically there is simply no justification for “flautist”.
    Changing ending of words is done all the time and is perfectly fine. For example: pianist, violist, oboist are all correct even though they do not play pian or viol or obo. Similarly, a cello (or ‘cello) player can be called cellist (or, if you insist, ‘cellist). In case of lute, an “n” is added in lutenist in order to avoid the confusion with flute players, but the accented syllable in the primary part of the word remains identical in both pronunciation as well as spelling. The “e” in flute, on the other hand, is not only just an ending , i.e. a secondary part of the word, but it is silent too – so omitting it does not change either the sound or the spelling of the word’s main part (which in this case is its accented syllable) at all.
    If you know of any other instrument’s name in English language where the main accented syllable is changed when describing those who play that instrument, please let me know. For now, my opinion remains the same: as long as the instrument is called flute, the word “flautist” makes no sense, and the most logical way of describing the musician who plays that instrument is FLUTIST.

    • Jennifer Stinton says:

      Are you a flautist, Mark?
      Most flautists like using this term, so please drop this subject as it is becoming exceedingly tedious.

      If American players wish to be known as flutists, that is fine with me, but here in the UK we like the
      description, flautist.
      As in Flauto traverso n Italian etc….

      The original article by Norman Lebrecht was to draw attention to Claude Monteux.



    • Mark,

      The justification is that it is the predominant usage, and has been so in British English for a very long time. It is in the dictionary. Quod erat demonstrandum

      In English musical terms often derived from the French and Italian.

      Thus we have in British English flutist from flutiste (Fr) and flautist from flautista (It). We also have fluter which probably predates both.

      There is nothing wrong with using the word flutist, but equally, there is nothing with using the word flautist, or indeed fluter, or flute player.

      The word flautist is not an affectation, it is just one of the words for someone who plays a flute, which has equivalent heritage in the words used for a flute in various european languages.

      It is certainly not wrong for people to use it in the USA, as its first documented use in print was by an American author, although it is perfectly possible it had been used in Great Britain for a long time before this.

      In any event, irrespective of how and when it derived, it is a recognised word, and entirely appropriate if people choose to use it. I cannot understand this apparent inverse snobbery about a pronunciation.

      I am not quite sure why people think there is only one correct word to use, particularly when numerous words are in the dictionary. Language evolves people!

      Perhaps it is evolution which is the issue here? Might there be some expectation in the “land of the free” that all instruments were created with one name by which they will be known !?

      The land of the free doesn’t seem all that free by this example! People certainly dont seem free to use words that are in the dictionary without someone jumping up and having a pop at them!

      Perhaps some folk should re-read the First Amendment!

    • Bob Summers says:

      Thank you Mark.

  4. Peter Klatzow says:

    “He studied flute exclusively with George Laurent, Principle Flute ” – principal flute I think. Although, hopefully with principles.

  5. Bob Summers says:

    All you “flautists” out there should read the works of Plato, especially “Sophist”.

    The attack on myself and Mark has been reported to the proper authorities.

  6. It is true that neither word is officially considered wrong, but that fact of official acceptance is a “legal” justification only and not a linguistic or logical one. Language is indeed a living thing that is changing constantly and it’s up to all of us to see that it evolves toward making more sense rather than in the opposite direction. In this case, we are dealing with two words one of which makes perfect sense (flute player = flutist) while the other does not. So far no one here has shown any evidence to the contrary.

    • Bob Summers says:

      Thank you Mark. In spite of all the posts by “flautists” they presented absolutely no support that “flautist” is an “accepted” word generally used by English speaking peoples. As I originally said “flautist” is an affectation. Claude Monteux called himself a flutist and it was extremely inappropriate to call him a “flautist” in his obituary. The only justification for using “flautist” is the inclusion of the word in the OED. There are many words in the OED that are archaic and not used in contemporary English.

      • I think we have given you substantial proof that flautist *is* used in contemporary English – at least in the seven-eighths of the world beyond the USA. The discussion is now closed.

        • You are absolutely correct – it is used (unfortunately); otherwise we wouldn’t be having this discussion. But the only possible reason for continuing using such nonsensical word is: Bad Habits Die Hard.

          • A Flautist says:

            There are none so blind as those that cannot see.

            It seems there are two people here who wish to ignore the fact that flautist is a long established word, that is in the dictionary, and that most flute players in the UK, and many around the world call themselves flautists because it is a valid term.

            Flutist is also a valid term, and is one I like, but I dislike any who wish to denigrate others, and to bully others into not using the term of their preference. To me such behaviour seems like cultural bigotry.

            It seems the erroneous basis for misguided people to believe that the word flautist is a “bad” word (of course there is no such thing, a word is a word, particularly if it is validated by the OED) is that they feel flautist should derive easily from the word flute, where in fact it derives from the words for flute such as flaut and flauta and the words for flute players such as flautist and flautista in other languages. It may have been first written down by Hawthorne in the Marble Faun, but the cross fertilisation of ideas around Europe, and the playing of much flute music written by many European composers in Britain would have led many to call themselves flautists simply by dropping the a on the end of flautista, as they did when calling themselves flutists by dropping the e from the french flûtiste. Both of this words derive from European languages, the English word that predates both is fluter.

            A quick look on google translate for the word for flute player in various languages shows the prevalence of flautista as a term, and therefore shows to anyone with any common sense that it was inevitable that flautist would become a recognised English word over time:

            fluitspeler (Afrikaans)
            flautist (Albanian) their word for flute is a flaut!
            flütçü (Azerbaijani)
            flautista (Catalan) their word for flute is flauta
            flautista (Croatian) their word for flute is flauta
            flétnista (Czech)
            fløjtenist (Danish)
            fluitist (Dutch)
            flöödimängija (Estonian)
            huilunsoittaja (Finnish)
            flûtiste (French)
            Flötist (German)
            flautist (Icelandic) their word for flute is flautu
            fliúiteadóir (Gaelic)
            flautista (Italian)
            flautists (Latvian) their word for flute is flauta
            fleitininkas (Lithuanian)
            flautist (Macedonian) their word for flute is flawt
            fløytisten (Norwegian)
            flecista (Polish)
            flautista (Portuguese)
            flautist (Romanian) their word for flute is a flaut!
            flétnista (Slovak) their word for flute is flauta
            flavtistka (Slovenian) their word for flute is flavta
            flautista (Spanish) their word for flute is flauta
            flöjtist (Swedish) their word for flute is flöjt
            flütçü (Turkish) their word for flute is flüt
            ffliwtydd (Welsh)

            Any further comments on the subject from these two to me just looks like “internet trolling” designed to wind people up by saying night is day, as on this blog, such discussion should be at an end: Norman Lebrecht has spoken. His view in this place should be respected.

  7. A Flautist says:

    Of course, the actual quote is there are none so blind as those who WILL NOT see, which is rather the point

  8. Since no one has said it, I say RIP and all the best wishes to his family and friends. A great loss.

  9. Proud to be a FLAUTIST says:

    “A Flautist” has summed it all up very eloquently. Thank you.

    As an amateur flautist and someone who was born and educated in Britain (and therefore a speaker of British English and user of British spelling) — and also as someone who makes a living out of the written word — I’ve found the discussion very entertaining and even hilarious.
    I am, however, a little puzzled by the arguments put forward by Bob Summers.

    As far as I can make out, his objections to the word “flautist” seem solely based on the fact that:

    1) He is American and prefers American spellings/usage
    2) He views the Oxford English Dictionary — widely accepted in Britain as THE authority on the English language — as “outdated”, “archaic” and “antiquated” simply because his mum worked on Merriam Webster (a dictionary of AMERICAN English)
    3) out of the first 30 results of a random Google search, only one contained the word “flautist” rather than “flutist”

    None of these premises stand up to even the flimsiest scientific examination.

    But what confuses me most is that Bob Summers himself delivers the very argument that goes against his objection to the word “flautist” in the first place when he states that language “is a living thing and is constantly changing. What was most important was the usage of a word.”

    So usage by millions and millions of British people over the centuries for some reason doesn’t count.
    But usage by his mum and 29 out of 30 Google results do.
    Go figure (to use an American phrase).

    At the end of the day, as a purely amateur player, I’ll happily and proudly join professionals like Jennifer Stinton in calling myself a FLAUTIST.
    And I certainly won’t lose any sleep whatsoever over whether the likes of Bob Summers or MarK object to that or — and now I’m really quaking in my boots — “report me to the authorities”.

    Deal with it, guys.

  10. Dear Mr Lebrecht,
    I also want to thank you for your acknowledgment of Claude Monteaux, citing Elizabeth Gaston’s very eloquent obituary, and to offer my sincere condolences to Elizabeth and many more who knew him well. He was a strong personality with and without a flute. I am sure he will be sorely missed.
    Thank you for including Claude in your blog!
    (who happily refers to herself as a flute player, and couldn’t care less about what other people choose to call that)

  11. Thanks, everyone, for responding, and especially to “A Flautist” for listing so many examples from other languages. As one can see, in most of those that have “au” in the player, they also have “au” in the instrument, which is precisely my point. The name of the player comes from the name of the instrument, not the other way around. If the instrument was called “flaut” in English, no one would have any problem with the player being called “flautist”.
    Languages change at various speeds, partly because of different degrees of “linguistic conservatism” in populations. There is no doubt in my mind that some day all English-speaking flute players will join other musicians in respecting their favorite instrument and its English name so much that they will no longer want to be called by the word that makes it look and sound as though they play some other instrument.
    Once again, thank you very much for reading and responding. But, by the way, if we really wanted to respect the way other people prefer to be called, as i believe we should, then this blog item should have been about an “eminent FLUTIST”.

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