by Frederic Macarez
As a Jacques Delécluse student at the Paris Conservatory (1979–81), then as his colleague at the Orchestre de Paris (1987–99), and also as a friend, I have shared with him many great moments of percussion, of music, and of life during almost 30 years. I am very happy and proud of this, but I also know he is a great musician, a clever teacher, and a wonderful man.
I am happy to report that Jacques Delécluse is alive and well, and still involved in music and percussion. Born in September of 1933, he is now retired from the Orchestre de Paris and from the Conservatoire de Paris, but he is still composing music, giving master classes, and participating on juries of many exams, auditions, and competitions. He divides his time between Paris, his country house near Paris, and the south of France near the Mediterranean in summer.
Jacques Delécluse is the son of Ulysse Delécluse, who was a very famous clarinet player and teacher in France. Jacques first started to study piano and was a very gifted pianist, a very good student, and an excellent musician. He received the First Prize at the Conservatoire de Paris in 1950 (best of the competition), with better results than many students who became great and famous soloists, such as Philippe Entremont.
A couple of years before, Jacques started to study percussion with Felix Passerone, principal timpanist of the Paris Opera and teacher at the Conservatoire of Paris—the
master of an entire generation of famous French percussionists. In 1950, just one week before he got the First Prize for piano, Jacques also received the Second Prize for percussion. The other students at this time were Jacques Rémy (former principal timpanist of the Orchestre de Paris), Jean Batigne (who created the Percussions de Strasbourg), and Jean-Claude Tavernier (retired from Orchestre National de France and a famous author).
At the Conservatoire of Paris, Jacques also studied harmony, counterpoint, and composition, and he received the First Prize for percussion in 1951. It was then that he chose to become a percussionist and timpanist. He subsequently took part in the creation of the Domaine Musical with Pierre Boulez, and was appointed to the Paris Opera and the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire, which ultimately became Orchestre de Paris in 1967.
In this same year Delécluse left the Paris Opera to become a full member of the Orchestre de Paris—as a pianist! However, he started to play percussion again very soon and, returning to his first professional passion, he became timpanist of the orchestra in 1993—but he still played piano, too! He was probably the only musician able to perform perfectly both the timpani part to “The Rite of Spring” and the piano part to “Petrouchka”!
When he was teaching at the Conservatoire of Paris, he was playing all the piano accompaniments (and playing them much better than most of the pianists you have to play with in auditions!). Years after I left the Paris Conservatory, I sometimes asked Jacques to play the orchestra score reduced for the piano with me when I was preparing to play concertos with orchestras as a soloist. He was the best pianist and coach I could ever find!
Talent and a sense of music are the very special qualities obvious in Delécluse’s writing and teaching. The main reason why Jacques Delécluse’s etudes have been so popular all around the world for more than 40 years is because they have a musical sense: they are written not by only a percussionist but by a composer and a complete musician. As Eric Sammut says, “Delécluse’s etudes are real concert etudes. One can often see people in tuxedos playing some of them on stage!”
When Jacques started to write his etudes in 1964, there was almost nothing in the repertoire for snare drum in France: no methods, no books, no etudes, no solo pieces. Percussionists had to study from orchestral excerpts, military drum books, and a couple of low-level standard pieces. Delécluse did not merely revolutionize the pedagogical writing for percussion, he invented it! From nothing, he built a real school for percussion and created a pedagogical repertoire for snare drum, xylophone, timpani, and vibraphone. There is a good reason that most of these books are still in use today all around the world.
In 1964, Jacques released his famous 12 Etudes for Snare Drum
, published by Alphonse Leduc. Like many of his works, these etudes are inspired by the orchestral repertoire. But contrary to the majority of the other books, Delécluse’s studies are completely musical—no mindless technical patterns, no measures without artistic sense, but rather expressive dynamics, intelligent phrases, useful foundations from which to progress on the instrument, and a wonderful source for exams, auditions, and performance repertoire. These are the reasons for the success of his works.
As Jacques writes himself, “These etudes are difficult only as far as the metronomic markings, the dynamics, accents, and ‘connecting tissue’ are strictly observed.” This is why the famous “Etude #9” (based on Rimsky Korsakov’s “Capriccio Espagnol”) has a real interest if one plays it at the indicated tempo (mm = 66–69). Many players can play it slower, but the real pedagogical and musical interest is at the exact tempo. Each etude has its own musical character and has to be played not only with a perfect technique but also with a real musical expression. This is why Delecluse’s etudes are requested in many exams and auditions: they make it possibile to evaluate a player in a very short time.
Because of the evolution of technique and the rising level of modern players, and also to increase the repertoire, Delécluse published additional snare drum etudes: Keisleiriana 1
in 1987 and Keisleiriana 2
in 1990, both published by Alphonse Leduc. In these etudes, the reference to orchestral repertoire is even more evident. For example, No. 2 of Keiskleiriana 1
is inspired by Ravel’s “Daphnis and Chloé” and No.1 of Keiskleiriana 2
is inspired by Shostakovitch’s “11th Symphony.” In these etudes, Delécluse keeps the same main intent: “musical difficulties,” or how to progress in a musical way.
It’s the same with Jacques’s other books: timpani etudes, xylophone etudes, and various other pieces. The musicality is always the central point of the compositions, and this is why these books are so different and so appreciated all over the world.
Of course, like many percussionists in France and around the world, my own playing and teaching of percussion is inspired by Jacques’ sense of musicality. So when I wrote my own snare drum etudes (Snare System
), I was inspired by all I got from him during all these years, and I submitted my works to him before publication. He gave me very precious advice and suggestions. The first etude of these books is an homage to Delécluse’s etudes, and the books are dedicated to him. It’s the same in my teaching. I always keep in mind how Jacques taught me and so many students in France: “Don’t play percussion but play music—MUSIC—with phrases, articulations, dynamics, etc.
A few words about “Test Claire”: this piece is the finest example of Jacques Delécluse’s talent. Based on many orchestral excerpts, connected together with real musical phrasing, it’s a very substantial work. In only two short pages, it contains everything one needs to know about snare drum playing! This is why this piece is very popular and requested in many exams and auditions. I recommend to my students that they play it every day.
Jacques Delécluse brought a new dimension to percussion playing: to consider dynamics, accents, phrases, and musical expression. In short, he makes us think about “how to make music with a drum.” This idea took root more than 40 years ago and is still applicable today. Jacques truly created a “school of percussion” and has deeply influenced generations of percussion players and teachers not only in France, but all over the world.
, Monsieur Delécluse!