Joannès Rochut and “Bolero”

by Douglas Yeo

Joannès Rochut (1881-1952) is well known to trombonists as the arranger of three books of vocalises by Marco Bordogni, published by Carl Fischer in 1928. What many people don’t know is that Rochut’s three books of “Melodious Etudes” were published at the mid-point of Rochut’s five year tenure as principal trombonist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1925-1930. While the first edition of the “Melodious Etudes” clearly indicated Rochut’s affiliation with the BSO, that disappeared from subsequent printings to the point that today, Carl Fischer’s new edition has cast aside Rochut’s introduction to his books and most of his editing has been discarded.

Nevertheless, Rochut’s books have remained a steady influence in trombone pedagogy for nearly 100 years even as many today don’t know that he was an accomplished trombonist himself. And this fact leads to the logical question: Are there any recordings of Rochut’s trombone playing? To this follows another question: Is Rochut playing the trombone solo in the 1930 recording of Ravel’s “Bolero” with Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony?

Rochut graduated from the Paris Conservatory in 1905 with the first prize in trombone; the contest piece that year was Sigmond Stojowski’s “Fantasie.” He was a member of several French military bands including the Band of the Garde Republicaine and performed in the “Concerts Koussevitzky” organized by Serge Koussevitzky in Paris in 1921. Koussevitzy, who was Russian, made his reputation as a conductor in Germany and France and was hired as the Boston Symphony’s music director in 1924, succeeding Pierre Monteux.

For the 1925-26 season, Koussevitzky hired four new principal players to the BSO; all were from France and had worked with Koussevitzky previously: principal clarinet Edmond Allegra, principal oboe Ferdinand Gillet, principal viola Jean Lefranc and principal trombone, Joannès Rochut. His first concert with the orchestra was on October 9, 1925 and included a performance of Brahms’ Symphony No. 1. The trombone section was comprised of Rochut, Eugene Adam (assistant), Lucien Hansotte (second) and Leroy Kenfield (bass).

There are six known photos of Rochut that were taken during his tenure in the Boston Symphony; all of them show him holding his tenor trombone by Lefevre, a Paris based maker who was active from 1812 to at least 1911. Rochut owned two Lefevre trombones; a straight tenor trombone with a six inch bell and a bore of .480 and a tenor trombone with a piston valve activated F-attachment (with a stillventil that changed the attachment to E), six and one-half inch bell and the same bore. These instruments, owned for many years by Boston Symphony second trombonist William Moyer (he held the position from 1953-1966) and then by me, are now entrusted to current BSO trombonists Toby Oft and Stephen Lange.

While Rochut used his narrow bore Lefevre trombone while in Boston, it is interesting that a photo of him while he was living and working in France appears in the 1921 Holton Revelation Trombone catalog with a generous endorsement, “It is with pleasure I adopt your Trombone, for it is truly as the name implies, a ‘Revelation’ to me. The tone is superb, the highest tones as well as the lowest having great power and it is very easy to play. I extend my warmest felicitations.” Yet no photo has been found of Rochut playing this instrument that had a .500 bore and seven inch bell, and it is not known if he brought it with him from Paris to Boston.

When Rochut left Boston to return to France at the end of the 1929-30 Symphony season, he left behind his Lefevre trombones, having purchased a tenor trombone made by Vincent Bach, serial number 23; Rochut took delivery of the instrument on November 22, 1929 although no photos exist of him playing this trombone that had a dual bore of .514/.525 and an eight inch bell.

Enter now into the conversation, Jacob Raichman (1892-1982). Raichman was a Russian trombonist who studied with Vladislav Blazhevich at the Moscow Conservatory. Raichman knew Koussevitzky in Russia where they worked together and in 1927, Koussevitzky hired Raichman into the Boston Symphony trombone section, expanding the section from four to five players. Raichman’s first concert with the BSO was on October 7, 1927 and included Stravinsky’s “Petrouchka”, Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 and Berlioz’s Overture to “Benvenuto Cellini.” The roster of players given in BSO programs at the time did not give titles to players and they were simply listed by name; it is therefore not always possible to determine exactly what chair each player occupied. But for the 1927-28 season, the trombone section was listed in the following order: Rochut, Hansotte, Kenfield, Raichman, Adam.

A photo of the Boston Pops Orchestra from the summer of 1929 shows a young Arthur Fiedler presiding over the orchestra whose trombone section was Rochut, Raichman and Kenfield. Rochut is holding his Lefevre trombone and Raichman – who later in life played Conn trombones – may (the photo is not clear on this) be holding his Heckel trombone, given to him as first prize from the Moscow Conservatory.

The BSO trombone section remained the same, and listed in the same program order, for 1928-29 but the first program of the 1929-30 season has the section listed as: Raichman, Rochut, Hansotte, Kenfield, Adam. It is widely assumed that Rochut and Raichman shared the first trombone duties in that season although one should not read too much into the order of players in the program since they were not always consistently printed with the principal player listed first.

With this background of the players we can now address the question of who the soloist was on the BSO “Bolero” recordings with Koussevitzky.

The Boston Symphony’s first recordings were made in October 1917 for The Victor Talking Machine Company; no further recordings were made until November 13, 1928 when the orchestra recorded Stravinsky’s “Petrouchka” under Koussevitzky’s baton. The first of two recordings by the orchestra of “Bolero” with Koussevitzky was made for RCA Victor in Symphony Hall on April 14, 1930 following performances in Boston and Hartford, Connecticut; the second, also for RCA Victor, was recorded at the orchestra’s summer home at Tanglewood on August 13, 1947, following a concert performance there on August 10.

A comparison of the two recordings clearly shows that two different players performed the trombone solo. On the 1930 recording, the soloist would have had to have been Rochut or Raichman; in 1940, Raichman was the only logical candidate, with the section at that time listed as Raichman, Hansotte, John Coffey (bass), Josef Orosz and Vinal Smith (who also played some tuba). The 1947 recording shows the soloist struggling at times; he plays with a brash, articulated style, did not play the glissandi (not, in itself, a surprise, since even many French players at the time considered glissando to be vulgar and many American-trained players, including Henry Charles Smith on his recording of “Bolero” with the Philadelphia Orchestra, did not play the glissandi either), cracked one high b-flat, and exhibited a fast, non-slide vibrato. The 1930 recording is played in a much more reserved style; while also eschewing the glissandi, the player had a comfortable, easy manner of playing and the sound is considerably lighter than that in the 1947. Even accounting for improvements in recording techniques and the different acoustics for each recording venue, the differences in sound and style are so great between the two recordings that it seems most likely that Koussevitzky turned to his French trombonist, Rochut, to record “Bolero” in 1930, as one of Rochut’s final acts as a member of the Boston Symphony.

Can we know for sure? No. The Boston Symphony recording ledgers from the time do not list the names of soloists; in fact, they always list every member of the orchestra, often alphabetically by section. But by connecting the dots, we can say it is more than probable that Joannès Rochut is heard as soloist on Bolero in the 1930 recording, especially given his reputation as a light, elegant player who favored narrow-bore equipment. The 1947 recording is certainly Raichman, knowing that he had a fast vibrato and by that time in his career (he retired in 1955) his accuracy was suffering and his sound and articulation had become more harsh and direct.

These recordings may be heard on my website:

Douglas Yeo
Bass Trombonist, Boston Symphony Orchestra, 1985-2012 (retired)
Professor of Trombone, Arizona State University