JOHN AMADIO - Virtuoso Flutist.
By Ann Cecil-Sterman

Few flutists in America have heard of John Amadio, a surprising fact given
the extent and influence of his pioneering career as a flute soloist in
Australia, Great Britain and North America. Born in 1883 in Christchurch,
New Zealand, the life of this remarkable virtuoso flutist spans the
introduction of sound recording, the advent of radio and television, and
reaches into the 1960s.

Amadio was one of the world's first acclaimed flute soloists at a time the
flute was rarely considered a solo recital instrument. In the 1920s, 30s
and 40s he was a household name in Australia and Great Britain and enjoyed
great fame in the United States. In the press he was hailed as "one of the
world's greatest living flutists." Toscanini is reputed to have asked for
more after hearing him play Bach. Here in America he was known as the "Pied
Piper from the Antipodes." But perhaps the greatest complement ever paid
Amadio came from the legendary Marcel Moyse who held Amadio in great esteem
and once said that Amadio was the greatest flute player who ever lived.

Amadio toured the world both as a soloist and as the associate artist of his
second wife, world-renowned Wagnerian soprano, Florence Austral. Recordings,
interviews and reviews of his performances reveal him to have been an
extraordinarily charismatic and artistic performer of breath-taking
technical ability. At the age of ten he performed as soloist with a full
symphony orchestra in his native New Zealand. He moved to Australia in 1898
with his family. In 1902 at the age of 18 he was appointed principal flute
of the Italian Opera Company in Melbourne, where he was discovered by Nellie
Melba who invited him to tour the world with her as associate artist. He
went on to tour with the other great sopranos: Luisa Tetrazzini, Emma Calve,
Amy Castles, Freda Hempel, Lily Pons and Amelita Galli-Curci. In the US he
often shared the platform with Tito Shipa, Richard Crooks, Alfred Campoli
and Ezio Pinza.

Amadio's first taste of the United States came in 1925 when Sir Edward Elgar
recommended Austral be invited to sing the Brahms Requiem at the Cincinnati
Festival. In an era of touring virtuosos, Amadio was one of the first
flutists to hit the road. From 1925 to 1936, Amadio spent six months of each
year solidly touring the United States, appearing in countless cities
including Washington DC, Chicago, Cleveland, Boston, Evanston, Louisville,
Kansas City, Minneapolis, Detroit, Indianapolis, Buffalo, San Francisco and
New York City. He also toured extensively in Canada with Tito Schipa and
signed touring contracts annually in Great Britain. In late 1928 he and
Austral toured twenty-four cities in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales in
eight weeks, with concerts in the Royal Albert Hall and Queens Hall. From
1929 Austral began singing in the Paris Opera and at Bayreuth, leaving
Amadio free to make more appearances without an associate artist. During at
least one of Austral's absences he appeared at the New York Flute Club and
shared a program with Georges Barrere. Occasionally Amadio and Austral
would sail to Australia for "a holiday"where they would tour frantically
from coast to coast with piano in tow. In the US, Australia and England
they were commonly met by crowds of thousands. They would consistently sell
out the choir lofts and require extra seating on the stage. The critics
raved. A concert of 1928 in which Amadio and Austral shared the stage with
Tito Schipa is referred to in this somewhat amusing article in the American
periodical, The Flutist:
Two glorious weeks, January 16th - 30th ...Will I ever find their equal! It would hardly seem possible, for seldom, if ever will one find so many musical stars of the first magnitude appearing before the public in so short a space of time. Heifetz, Kreisler, Casals, Gabrilowitsch, Amadio, Schipa, Austral and .......Rachmaninoff. It seemed a century between the 25th and the 30th, so anxious were we to hear John Amadio, the flutist. The advance advertising, stating that he stood
alone in his field, proved quite true... There is no denying that John Amadio is one of the very greatest flutists of his generation. Tito Schipa is a fine artist and he drew a bigger crowd
than did Heifetz, yet Amadio and his flute quite completely over-shadowed Schipa during the first half of the program. He was awarded four recalls. His playing of the Andante, Minuetto and
Allegrofrom Bach's Sonata no.4 was an education to any flutist. This was positively the first time the writer has ever thoroughly enjoyed a Bach number. He played it superbly. He used a silver
flute (on account of the American climate, so he said). On a wooden flute in F he played a whirlwind of a composition by Frank Bridge and as an encore gave the Carnival of Venice
Variations that recalled Heifetz's scintillating bow. It was just devilish, to one who understands a brother flutist; such rapidity and clean staccato were a treat to hear. (The Flutist, Feb 1928, p.43).

On 28 January 1928 Amadio made his Carnegie Hall debut. Amadio and Austral
would return there every year playing to capacity crowds until their final
departure from the States in 1941.

Amadio had a flair for publicity and stagecraft. He was always flamboyantly
dressed and was ever the debonair charmer. He dazzled, he was handsome. He
was a true soloist and yearned for the introduction of television where he
could be a showman for the masses. In the early days of recording, when the
gramophone was being castigated for jeopardizing the future of live
performance, Amadio embraced it whole-heartedly as a means to a cultural end
and spoke of the expressive challenges of non-visual performance. When music
was still being recorded by the "acoustic process" where the performer
plays into a metal horn attached to a diaphragm which engraved the signal
onto a disc, Amadio was enthusiastic about exploring the new medium and was
one of the first flutists with a major record deal, cutting his first disc
in 1920.

Amadio, as we say in Australia, was "a character." He was addicted to the
thrill of performance, the adulation of his audience (he was a keen seducer
of women), but above all else, he hungered for the adrenal hit of playing
fast. He even managed to play the (six minute long) first movement of the
Mozart D major concerto fast enough to fit on the old four minute shellac
discs. Listening to Amadio's original recordings, one stands in awe at his
technically mastery. An obvious negative criticism from the perspective of
today is that Amadio tended to the frivolous, more popular repertoire, and
his concern with speed diminished the emotive content of his performance.
These criticisms, along with the notion that Amadio was simply a showman,
seem not to be the opinion of the press at any time in any country during
his career.

Amadio did not record the Bach sonatas he was so passionate about (although
he did broadcast them all live on radio in the 1950s), nor did he record
much material demanding long cantabile lines, although he would play a Bach
Sicilienne, Air on a G String or the Schubert Cradle Song as an encore. His
touring repertoire would include his own florid compositions which he often
played on piccolo, including The Wren and a Fantasia of Scottish and Irish
Airs. Typically he would also choose from the Chaminade Concertino, a
Koehler study he called The Butterfly, Briccialdi's Carnival of Venice,
Rimsky-Korsakoff's Flight of the Bumble Bee, Chopin Nocturnes and Waltzes,
Paganini's Moto Perpetuo, Ravel's Habanera, the Doppler Fantasy, music by
German, Reichert, Andersen, Krantz, Bridge and the Handel and Bach Sonatas.
With voice he would almost always perform the Mad Scene from Lucia. As
soloist with orchestra there is only one account of his performance of the
Mozart Flute and Harp Concerto. Every other documented performance was of
the Mozart Concerto in D, for which he always carried a full set of parts.
All this repertoire, including the Mozart, Amadio played at lightning pace.
The fingerwork is flawless and dazzling. Nobody for whom I've played the
recordings has heard anything akin to this seemingly super-human agility.
This is especially poignant when one remembers that the recordings were done
in one take. One wonders how it is humanly possible to achieve what Amadio
does in recordings such as that of Briccialdi's Carnival of Venice, in which
he picks out the melody in the middle to high register and is able to
immediately drop to the sixty-fourth note accompanying figure in the low
register, accessing it with no loss of clarity or volume at a speed of
eighth note equals 208. Much of the repertoire Amadio chose to play allowed
him to demonstrate this incredible ability.

Amadio even liked to be a showman in the studio. In his recording of the
Keel Row he changes instruments very quickly twice, beginning on what he
called the alto flute, changing to C flute and then in a space of three
seconds changing to piccolo with the aid of an assistant. The sound heard on
the recording from the alto flute is almost nasal but the piccolo playing is
extraordinary, displaying the same amount of agility and expression as he
did on C flute which he was able to play at extreme dynamics with no loss of
tonal quality.

Amadio's technique, combined with his stage presence had the effect of
raising the level of acceptance of the flute as a solo instrument. In 1928
the American Flutist magazine wrote:

Brave old Bach never sounded so glorious as under
Amadio's skilful fingers. His phrases were marvels of
taste and smoothness; his shadings were astonishing. If
you ever thought the flute a cold, unsympathetic
instrument, John Amadio cured you of that mistake.

Amadio had an extraordinary capacity for legato playing, particularly within
wide intervals. He made runs sound like glissandi, playing the notes with no
separation. His performance of The Keel Row is a great example of this. The
melody is ornamented with two octave scale runs which make the flute sound
like a slide whistle! Amadio also had astonishing agility when playing
octaves. The Tulou Studies in which octaves are worked and reworked have
gone out of fashion now, but were assiduously practised earlier this
century. Amadio would practise octaves like a singer, listening for all the
pitches that were present in between. Amadio held that one must always start
playing the next note in the middle of the note before so that mentally and
physically one is ahead. Listening to Amadio with this in mind, one can hear
that he very slightly bends the end of a note upwards, easing it into the
next, giving a seamless legato line.

Ever charming, Amadio had a keen sense of how to win an audience over, often
addressing them directly and giving jovial, explanatory talks about each of
the flutes he had with him along with the music on the program. He loved to
explain that the Bach sonatas called for wooden flute. The talks were
particularly enjoyable for Australian audiences who, at the time, were
accustomed to a staple diet of Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn, Brahms,
Beethoven, Dvorak and Strauss. Amadio introduced baroque flute music to
that country and further intrigued audiences by playing Bach, Handel, Gluck,
Mozart and Purcell on alto flute (which he called bass flute). Amadio was
famous for carrying with him a large collection of flutes of various
materials and pitches. At one point The Sydney Morning Herald reported that
Amadio had arrived home with 33 flutes. Generally, Amadio toured with six
instruments, three of which are now in the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney: a
Radcliff System silver flute in B flat (Flute d'Amour), a Radcliff System
alto flute in G (his "bass" flute) and Radcliff System flute in F in four
pieces, made of cocus wood. This last one was his favorite, and is actually
a soprano flute in E flat, the name being derived from a period when a
flute's given key was determined by the note formed when the first three
fingers of each hand were held down. It therefore sounded a minor third
higher than the concert flute in C. Amadio regularly used the alto flute at
recitals, especially in slow, popular pieces such as Drink to Me Only and
The Keel Row. For the purposes of changing color he would play the flute in
B flat. With one exception, he played flutes of the Radcliff system,
usually made by Rudall Carte & Co, the premier London maker which was
founded in the eighteenth century. Early in his career Amadio played wooden
flutes but his orders to Rudall Carte in 1923 and 1924 were for silver. At
that time flutists in Australia and England were playing on wooden
instruments whilst those in the United States were beginning to change to
silver. The French had been playing almost exclusively on silver since the
1870s. There is no record of Amadio's reason for changing from wood to
metal, but once he recalled an occasion in New York when the only flute he
was carrying split as he took it from the cold air into a heated hotel room.
A New York maker made him another in silver and guaranteed it against
changes of temperature. Even long after changing to silver, Amadio used wood
in preference to silver when he felt it suited the repertoire.

Amadio played with a typically English sound which is normally characterized
by an inflexible core. It has a trumpet-like solidity about it and is quite
thick, produced with a tight embouchure and by blowing a lot of air. The
French sound is markedly different because it was adapted earlier for silver
flute which responds to a flexible, open, supple, embouchure and a less
rigid airstream. Being a player of the English style, Amadio did not employ
the French style vibrato in use today although he did occasionally play with
a little slow vibrato. By the early 1960s he was only using slow vibrato.
One can often hear in Amadio's early performances, a shaking of the tone
which he generated in the throat. This was common practice at the time and
was primarily used as an ornament. It was considered expressive and was
identifiably English but has now disappeared in favor of the vibrato of the
French. In France, Hennebains had used the throat-based technique, but the
modern French school, founded in the 1870s on the teaching of Taffanel and
Gaubert, favored vibrato not created in the throat, and it is this technique
to which players all over the world aspire today. Indeed, on recordings,
Gaubert still sounds like a modern player. Vibrato was not introduced to
Australia until the 1930s long after Amadio had left, when Richard Chugg
brought back from Paris what was then called in the Antipodes, the French
Singing Vibrato. To today's ears, Amadio's tone seems to be produced by
perhaps too forceful an airstream but it has to be remembered that a strong
airstream was necessary on the old wooden flutes. In that style of playing
the lips were drawn back a long way so that the corners of the mouth met the
sides of the molars.

Amadio and Austral embarked on their last US tour together in 1936. This
was a marathon five month tour from coast to coast which included
performances by Amadio with the NBC orchestra. During that time Austral was
diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and the pair decided to return to their
London home. Amadio played with the BBC orchestra but his fondness for the
States soon drew him back. In 1939, two months after the outbreak of World
War II, and after dodging submarines in the Atlantic, he was back, this time
with the famous soprano, Lina Pagliughi. They too proved an extraordinary
success at Carnegie Hall, so much so that they signed a five year contract
with NBC. Pagliughi went to Italy to see her husband just before the
contract was due to commence and was unable to leave until 1945. Hence the
contract was not started. Undeterred, Amadio embarked on a long tour of
Canada and returned for yet more US touring, making his final departure in
1941 when he went to England to perform with the Russian and International
Ballet Companies. He performed at gunsites, in factories, on war ships, and
in the munitions factories. Upon landing in England he applied for passage
to Australia. His application took six years to be granted and he finally
arrived "home" in 1947.

Amadio died while playing his flute on the stage at a rehearsal in Melbourne
on 4 April 1964. He was eighty years old, still wore his black lace up ankle
boots and still drew a crowd.