Philippe Gaubert was first and foremost one of the primary exponents of the French flute school, and throughout his long career he further distinguished himself as a conductor and composer. Born to a cobbler who was a good amateur clarinetist, at an early age Gaubert began private lessons with the great French flute pedagogue Paul Taffanel, and Gaubert joined him in Paris when Taffanel was named to a teaching post at the Conservatoire in 1893. Gaubert was not yet out of his teens when he took on the posts of first chair flute at the Concerts du Conservatoire and the Paris Opéra. He studied composition with Raoul Pugno and became an assistant conductor at the Concerts du Conservatoire from 1904. With the outbreak of World War I, Gaubert was mobilized into the French Army and fought at the Battle of Verdun, earning the Croix de Guerre. Discharged owing to chronic bronchitis, Gaubert returned to the Conservatoire where he was named a professor of flute; in 1918-1919, he made his first recordings and the only ones where Gaubert is captured in the role of flute soloist, though as a conductor his career on records stretched into the late '30s.
Gaubert was named musical director of the Paris Opéra in 1920 and ultimately began to teach at the École Normale de Musique. Although Gaubert practiced the flute for a half hour before each lesson given until the end of his teaching career, the demands of his various commitments impacted his flute technique and he ceded his flute teaching position at the Conservatoire to Marcel Moyse. In 1930, however, Vincent d'Indy yielded his own post as leader of the conducting class to Gaubert, who kept it until passing the baton to Charles Münch in 1938. Gaubert was still conducting with the Opéra when it was evacuated to his hometown of Cahors in June 1940, it returned to Paris at the end of the summer. Gaubert remained unflappable and optimistic even in the face of the Second World War, but died, suddenly, of a stroke just hours before he was to take the podium to lead the premiere of his ballet Le chevalier et la demoiselle.
Gaubert was a weekend composer who wrote, among his 80 or so works, several pieces for flute that have become an important part of the flute repertoire. Despite his prominence as a conductor and soloist and having left a generous bequest of recordings as conductor, it is his compositions for which Gaubert is best known in posterity. They are graciously written, fully idiomatic for the flute, and demonstrate a grasp of French impressionist harmonic language even though they tend to lack sophistication in formal development and, to some degree, taste.