This blog is dedicated to the sublime instruments called nose flutes and which produce the most divine sound ever. We have chosen to discard all the native models from S. Pacific and Asia, for they need fingering to be played. We'll concentrate on "buccal cavity driven" nose flutes : the well patented and trademarked metal or plastic ones, plus, by a condemnable indulgence, some wooden craft or home-made productions.

Jun 6, 2012

Hall of Fame : Ezra Pound

Ezra Pound’s one-act opera Le Testament de Villon is a setting of selected poems from a long poem of the same name by the french cursed poet François Villon (1431-?). Scene One opens on a square fronted by a brothel, a bar and a church in Paris, circa 1462. Condemned to death and with a warrant out for his arrest, Villon sits before the tavern writing his « last will and irrevocable testament.»

Pound began the writing of his opera in 1919, completed it in 1923, and it was first performed in 1924 in Paris. Virgil Thomson wrote about it : « The music was not quite a musician's music", he wrote, "though it may well be the finest poet's music since Thomas Campion... Its sound has remained in my memory. » and Robert Hughes remarked that (...) Le Testament explores a Webernesque pointillistic orchestration and derives its vitality from complex rhythms.

In the libretto, the list of instruments include this :

Indeed, Pound's Le Testament is the first (and unique?) opera including a nose flute! And it was in 1919-23 ! OK, let's keep our calm : there are only 3 x 4 glissandi notes of nose flute in the whole piece. But they are the 12 first notes, after some rhythm played on small African drums. The opening scene takes place in a bordello, and is called Inside Brothel or Brothel Music.

The nose flutes notes are on the bottom part :

And here are they (the 12 notes:) [you can listen to the other pieces, buy this mp3 or the whole opera there]

In his book Untwisting the Serpent : Modernism in Music, Literature and Other Arts, Daniel Albright wrote this text, in which he traces a parallel between the Pound's opera and the Picasso's painting Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907), notably in the way both artist created a (shameful!) link between brothels, African music and... noses!

Here is the Picasso's painting Les Demoiselles d'Avignon :

Despite this « familiar racist model of sexual squalor » and the link with our noble instrument, as the first opera-with-nose-flute composer, Ezra Pound deserved to enter the Nose Flute Hall of Fame. There had been a serious discussion about his case, since he was a Mussolini admirer and wrote antisemitic propaganda... There are similar questions with many others (Karajan, Heidegger, L. F. Céline...) who were great writers, musicians or philosophers, but had really dirty pants. Even Voltaire was involved in slave trading... So what to do? Real ethics would have lead us to refuse to open Pound the doors of the NFHoF. With decided however to induct him, because of this opera and nothing else. I just hope nobody reading these lines will feel shocked. If so, please write to me.


  1. Wonderful stuff from an amazing era in the arts!

  2. Hello Maikel,
    Yes, you're right... the ebullition of creation of the Avant-Gardes ...

    All the best,