A comparison of the baroque and modern flutes

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A comparative study of the use of the barqoue and modern flute in composition, with specific reference to V Sonata IV for flute and continuo by J.S Bach, and Sonata for flute and piano by HindemithThe baroque, or transverse flute is of great interest to me, mainly because of my own flute playing experience. Since listening to a concert which included both a modern orchestra and a baroque orchestra playing together in a specially written composition, and separately, I have considered the baroque flute a much softer and more beautiful instrument, in construction and sound.

It is because of this interest that I have decided to carry out my investigation upon the difference between the two flutes, particularly in composition. Firstly, I plan to study the development of the baroque flute, as it is my main focus for this project, and what its capabilities were for composition. Then I will compare the flutes, using the pieces I have chosen, one written for a baroque flute, and one for a modern flute. From this investigation, I hope to be able to draw some conclusions about the better of the two flutes. At the moment I prefer the baroque flute to the modern flute, and I would like to prove that it is indeed the better flute.

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The earliest record of a flute is in a ninth century BC Chinese poem Shih Ching, but the first pictorial evidence of a transverse flute did not appear until the second century BC, on an urn in Italy. The recorder was the predecessor of the transverse flute, but gradually, the flute became the more dominant instrument. During the baroque period (between about 1650 V 18th century), four main flutes were in use. These were the treble, the alto, the tenor and the bass. Each was pitched a perfect fifth apart (apart from the alto and tenor, which were very similar), and had a range of about two octaves.

The bass flute was usually replaced by a sackbutt in wind ensembles, as it had a small range and a weak sound. The baroque flute V which later was developed into the Boehm flute, was in fact the descendent of the tenor flute. This was noted to have the range of the early female voice in 1619,Certain instrumentalists are of the opinion that the pitch of the transverse flute (and the recorder) is that of a true tenor. Yet if one plays this note against an organ pipe, then it is in fact a true treble The material used to make the transverse flute in the 17th and 18th centuries was boxwood, but ivory or ebony flutes were also available.

Quantz (more to come on Quantz)was an important person in the development of the baroque flute, as a flautist and author of flute instruction books and flute music. In 1660, he added the Dq key, because the 7th hole was too far from the 6th for fingers to reach with ease. The most obvious change in the 17th century was the shape of the flute. In the 16th century it was cylindrical, and by the 18th century, it had become more or less conical. (More to come on this impact)The addition of more keys was a slow process, as many professional players resisted the change.

The reasons for resistance were that the keys make more slurs impossible, they leak, and although they were useful for solos, the orchestral parts written for the flute were too easy to require them. By the beginning of the 19th century, flutes only had six keys and eight finger holes. The flute was still made of wood, with the keys being of brass. However, within 20 years, in 1820, two more keys had been added. Hotteterre played a large part in the development of the transverse flute, and in 1707, published his book Principles de la Flute Traversiere. In this he showed how to distinguish between enharmonic notes. He showed how notes with a flat are actually higher than those enharmonic equivalents with a sharp.

He based intervals on compromises, his octave only had twelve notes, rather than using the pureness of the major 3rds in all keys, as had been done before him. (More to come on Hotteterre)Before the 17th century, all music for the transverse flute was played an octave higher than it was written. In the 17th century, instrumental music was becoming more widespread, but the flute remained largely ignored, and instead had to make do with violin or oboe parts.

Quantz said of his first flute lessons in 1719 Vwe only played fast pieces, for this was my teachers great strength K At that time there were few pieces that had been specifically written for the flute. On the whole one made do with oboe and violin pieces, which one adapted as well as one could. The recorder possessed sonatas by Jaques Paisible (c1650-1721) by 1698, but flute sonatas ony began to surface from 1715, the first by Johann Christian Schickard. In 1727, Robert Woodcock (London) published concertos for wind instruments with strings and basso continuo. He was followed by Vivaldi, who published 6 concertos in Amsterdam in 1730.

The obvious difference between the baroque and modern flutes, is that the material for the baroque flute is wood, and the modern is metal, mainly silver, or silver-plated. The baroque flute also is conical, so the end that is blown into or across is wider, while the modern flute is cylindrical. The production of sound is basically the same, though the baroque flute requires less breath, and responds to the breath slowly, resulting in pear-shaped notes, with mellow tones that blended with each other and with the strings. Fingerings outside of the D major scale were incredibly difficult, and were often out of tune.

The pitch was adjusted by turning the flute away from the mouth, as with the modern flute, and also by the embouchure, and control of breath. On the baroque flute there are two different sets of accidentals, as previously discussed with reference to Hotteterre (paragraph 4). The modern flute was designed with equality in mind, and also with attention to ease of fingering and tuning V as modern composers require, such as Hindemith, whose Sonata for flute will be looked at in greater detail later. However, with this gain of equality, the flute lost the quality of the difference between the sounds of each tonality. The baroque flute was capable of two and a half octaves, instead of around three for the modern flute.

Another difference between the flutes is that the baroque flutes upper notes were softer than the lower ones, and all the notes on the modern flute have equal importance. This, however, is not a downfall of the baroque flute, as it was interesting to hear the timbre produced by this difference in strength of notes. Because the notes were so soft, the dynamics had to be built into the melodic line. Another outcome of the soft notes was that the flute was only able to add colour to an ensemble rather than feature often as a soloist until later, Bach is an example of one of the first to use the flute as a soloist, and by then changes such as keys had already started to happen.

Composers gradually became aware of the sound of the woodwind instruments being so unique, and began to write specific parts for them, so they gained more individuality. As orchestras grew in size, and concert halls also grew larger, a much louder sound was required, which was not a quality of the wooden transverse flute. This led to the introduction of metal as the material for flutes, which enabled then to become much louder, as required.

However, with this change of material, the unique rich, rounded sound of the baroque flute was lost. The introduction of keys enabled players to explore tone colours much more and also made the sound of the instrument much smoother. This also meant that chromatic scales became much easier and equal. The flute gained many qualities that were and are useful and necessary for modern composition, but in the process lost many qualities that contribute to the character of the baroque flute. Some of these are things which I consider make it so beautiful, so there were as many losses as gains resulting from the changes. The flute blends less with the strings, and the contrast between tonalities that was so dramatic, either dark and closed or bright and open, was lost also. Principles de la Flute Traversiere – Hotteterre

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