Jean-Pierre Rampal

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Jean-Pierre Rampal

Also Known As: "The Man with the Golden Flute"
Birthdate: (78)
Birthplace: Marseille, Bouches-du-Rhone, France
Death: May 20, 2000 (78)
Paris, Île-de-France, France (Heart Failure)
Place of Burial: Paris, France
Immediate Family:

Son of Joseph Rampal and Andrée Rampal
Husband of Françoise Rampal
Father of Isabelle Rampal and Jean-Jacques Rampal

Occupation: French flautist
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Jean-Pierre Rampal

Jean-Pierre Louis Rampal (7 January 1922 – 20 May 2000) was a French flautist. He has been personally "credited with returning to the flute the popularity as a solo classical instrument it had not held since the 18th century."

Born in Marseille, the only child of Andrée (née Roggero) and flautist Joseph Rampal, Jean-Pierre Rampal became the first exponent of the solo flute in modern times to establish it on the international concert circuit, and to attract acclaim and large audiences comparable to those enjoyed by celebrity singers, pianists, and violinists. As it was unusual for solo flute to be featured widely in orchestral concerts, this was not easily done in the immediate years after World War II; however, Rampal's flair and presence—he was a big man to wield such a slim instrument—paved the way for the next generation of flautist superstars such as James Galway and Emmanuel Pahud.

Rampal is best known for popularising the flute in the post–World War II years, recovering a vast number of flute compositions from the Baroque era, and spurring contemporary composers, such as Francis Poulenc, to create new works that have become modern standards in the flautist's repertoire.

L'homme à la flûte d'or

As the owner of the only solid gold flute (No. 1375) made, in 1869, by the great French craftsman Louis Lot, Rampal was the first internationally renowned "Man With the Golden Flute". Rumours of the survival of the 18-carat gold Lot had been circulating in France for years before the Second World War, but no one knew where the piece had gone. In 1948, almost by chance, Rampal acquired the instrument from an antiques dealer who had wanted to melt the instrument down for the gold—evidently unaware that he was in possession of the flute equivalent of a Stradivarius.[nb 8] With family help, Rampal raised enough funds to rescue the precious instrument, and went on to perform and record with it for 11 years. In interviews, Rampal said he thought the gold—by contrast with silver—made his naturally bright, sparkling sound "a little darker; the colour is a little warmer, I like it". Only in 1958, when presented during his debut US tour with a 14-carat gold instrument made after the Lot pattern by the William S. Haynes Flute Company of Boston, did Rampal stop using the 1869 original. After one final recording in London, he consigned the golden Lot to the safety of a bank vault in France, and thereafter made the Haynes his concert instrument of choice.


Throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, Rampal remained especially popular in the US and Japan (where he had first toured in 1964). He toured America annually, performing at every leading venue—from Carnegie Hall and Avery Fisher Hall to the Hollywood Bowl — and was a regular presence at the Mostly Mozart Festival at the Lincoln Center in New York. At his busiest, he performed between 150 and 200 concerts a year.

His range extended well beyond the orthodox: alongside the outpouring of classical recordings, he recorded Catalan and Scottish folk songs, Indian Music with sitarist Ravi Shankar, and, accompanied by the distinguished French harpist Lily Laskine, an album of Japanese folk melodies that was named album of the year in Japan, where he became adored by a new generation of budding flute-players. He also recorded Scott Joplin rags and Gershwin, and collaborated with French jazz pianist Claude Bolling. The Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano (1975), written by Bolling especially for Rampal, went to the top of the US Billboard charts and remained there for ten years. This raised his profile with the American public even further and led, in January 1981, to a TV appearance on Jim Henson's The Muppet Show, where he played "Lo, Hear the Gentle Lark" with Miss Piggy—and, suitably attired, "Ease on Down the Road" in a scene loosely based on the folktale of the Pied Piper.

Back on the classical stage, he was not afraid to be, as he put it, "a bit of a ham"; when performing Scott Joplin's Ragtime Dance and Stomp as a concert hall encore, for example, he provided extra percussion by stamping his feet rhythmically on stage in time to the music. Meanwhile, Bolling and Rampal came together again for Bolling's Picnic Suite (1980) with guitarist Alexander Lagoya, the Suite No. 2 for Flute and Jazz Piano (1987), and also to perform the instrumental theme song "Goodbye For Now" by Stephen Sondheim for Reds, Warren Beatty's Oscar-winning 1981 movie about the Communist revolution in Russia. His reputation as a celebrity soloist in America became such that, as Esquire reported, one critic dubbed him "the Alexander of the flute, with no new worlds to conquer." Following a performance of Mozart's Concerto for Flute, Harp, and Orchestra with the New York Philharmonic in 1976, New York Times critic Harold C. Schonberg wrote "Mr. Rampal, with his effortless long line, his sweet and pure tone and his sensitive musicianship, is of course one of the great flutists in history." Throughout these years of mounting celebrity, Rampal continued to research and edit sheet-music editions of flute works for publishing houses including Georges Billaudot in Paris and the International Music Company in the US.

Family life

Rampal and his harpist wife Françoise, née Bacqueryrisse, were married on 7 June 1947. They made their home in Paris, living in the appropriately named Avenue Mozart. They have two children, Isabelle and Jean-Jacques. Each year they holidayed at their house on Corsica, where Jean-Pierre was able to indulge his passion for boating, fishing and photography. Well known for his love of good food, he liked to maintain a private rule wherever he went on tour that he would eat "only the cuisine of the country" he was in,[9] and he looked forward to his post-concert dinners with relish. He developed a particular fondness for Japanese cuisine, and in 1981 wrote an introduction to The Book of Sushi written by a chef and a master sushi teacher. Rampal's autobiography Music, My Love appeared in 1989 (published by Random House).

After Rampal died in Paris of heart failure in May 2000 at age 78, French President Jacques Chirac led the tributes, saying "his flute spoke to the heart. A light in the musical world has just flickered out." Isaac Stern, who had collaborated extensively with Rampal, recalled: "Working with him was pure pleasure, sheer joy, exuberance. He was one of the great musicians of our time, who really changed the world's perception of the flute as a solo instrument." Flautist Eugenia Zukerman observed: "He played with such a rich palette of color in a way that few people had done before and no one since. He had an ability to imbue sound with texture and clarity and emotional content. He was a dazzling virtuoso, but more than anything he was a supreme poet." The trustees and staff of Carnegie Hall in New York, where Rampal had performed 45 times over a 29-year period, hailed him as "one of the greatest flutists of the 20th Century and one of the greatest musical spirits of our time." The obituary in Le Monde claimed him to be no less than "L'inventeur de la flute" and celebrated all the musical characteristics that charmed audiences worldwide: "la sonorite sublime, la vivacite des phrases, la virtuosite laissaient une impression de bonheur, de joie a ses auditeurs".

Jean-Pierre Rampal is buried in the Cimetière du Montparnasse, Paris.

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Jean-Pierre Rampal's Timeline

January 7, 1922
Marseille, Bouches-du-Rhone, France
May 20, 2000
Age 78
Paris, Île-de-France, France
Paris, France