The son of a shoemaker and amateur clarinetist, Philippe Gaubert first studied the violin. After moving to Paris with his family at the age of seven, he switched to flute, studying first with Jules Taffanel, then with Jules’ son Paul Taffanel. Gaubert won First Prize for flute at the Paris Conservatoire in 1894 and joined the orchestra of the Paris Opéra three years later. He also studied composition and conducting, and ultimately excelled in all three areas. A renowned soloist and teacher, he collaborated with Paul Taffanel on a flute method and became professor of flute at the Conservatoire, where Marcel Moyse was one of his students. He also became principal conductor of both the Société des Concerts and the Opéra (and later artistic director of the Opéra), leading the premieres of major works by Albert Roussel, Gabriel Fauré, Jacques Ibert, and many other French composers, and making prize-winning recordings in the 1920s and ’30s. As a composer, he wrote operas, ballets, songs, and orchestral works, as well as a large body of music for the flute.
He composed the Aquarelles (Watercolors) in 1915, while serving in the French army. These gracefully transparent pieces reveal nothing of the horrors of trench warfare, however. “Par un clair matin” (On a Clear Morning) presents cascading sunlight in piano arpeggios, and robust tunes from the flute and cello, in a harmonically delightfully wayward stroll. A gentle melancholy is apparent in the expressive “Soir d’automne’” (Autumn Evening), the textures clear and the colors distinct. The dashing “Sérénade” has the exotic modal cast and dancing rhythmic urgency of so many French evocations of Iberian music.