quarta-feira, 11 de julho de 2012

The history of the transverse flute: The Baroque Era (part one)

In Music History, the Baroque Era lies between the years 1600 and 1750. Throughout the Renaissance, the transverse flute was used in two important contexts: in military music and in consort music (check the post on the renaissance flute to review this subject). By the end of the 16th century, things started to change in music making. Consorts that consisted of instruments of the same kind lost some of their popularity to consorts of mixed instruments: violas, fiddles, recorders, flutes, cornetts, as well as the harpsichord, the lute and the theorbo.

The preference for this new kind of music will be, in Italy, the origin of a new musical form: the sonata for soloist. The sonata consisted of a musical composition in which one instrument was treated like the soloist, receiving most of the attention of the composer and the audience. The soloist could be accompanied by one or two instruments - a low-register instrument like the viola da gamba or the basson, playing the bass notes, and a harmony instrument such as the harpsichord or the theorbo. This new musical form brought new musical exigences to the instrumentalists. To fulfill those new demands, they had not only to rethink their instrumental techniques, but they also had to find other ways to make their instruments.
Paulo da Mata (playing the traverso) and Guilherme de Camargo (playing the theorbo) playing a piece by Michel Blavet, a French composer of the 18th century. This video is a good example of the new role of the flute during the Baroque Era, even though it is a late example if we consider that this kind of music started to be played in Italy by the end of the 16th century.

The court of Louis XIV, the Sun King, was very favorable to the development of this new kind of music and other more elaborated instrumental forms. While the music employed in solemnities and official royal events was rigidly taken care of by Jean-Baptiste Lully, the music played in private parties had a more inventive character. Talented instrumentalists were invited to such occasions and the preferred instruments were, at that time, the theorbo, the harpsichord, the viola da gamba and the flute. This kind of music provoked another great change: instrumentalists that used to play two or more instruments professionally started to specialize in one instrument, aiming to achieve a high degree of virtuosity on the chosen instrument. 

The transverse flute of the Baroque Era (known simply as traverso) acquired a more or less definite form around the year 1670. Some differences are noticeable when comparing a traverso and a renaissance flute: the traverso was divided in more pieces (the renaissance flute was divided in two pieces or wasn't divided at all, while the baroque flute could be divided intro three or even four pieces); the bore changes from cylindrical to conical; a new tone hole is added and it remains closed by a key that, when pressed by the little finger of the right hand, opens the hole.

The Hotteterre family became famous as an important family of wind instrument makers. The most famous among the Hotteterres is Jacques-Martin Hotteterre (1674-1763), nicknamed "le Romain". His fame - both while alive and posthumous - is due to his treatise "Principes de la Flute Traversiere" (1707). His treatise has directions on how to play the traverso, the recorder and the oboe. However, the thought that he was the one who 'invented' the baroque flute is not accurate. Some researchers point out that the key on the foot of the flute might have been invented around the year 1670, four years before Jacques-Martin was born.
A flute maker from Japan talks (in Japanese) about his replica of a Hotteterre traverso found in Graz. Even being unable to understand Japanese, that's a very interesting video: the craftsman shows to the camera all the pieces of the traverso in different angles.

The Hotteterre flute found in Graz may have been made by Jacques-Martin or his father Martin. That flute is considered the best example of the early French baroque flute. This was probably the instrument that Lully had in mind when he wrote what researchers consider to be the first apparition of the transverse flute in an orchestra: his opera-ballet "Le Triomphe de l'Amour", from 1681. Instruments thought to be made by the Hotteterres were also found in Berlin and Saint Petersburg, but it was found out recently that they are replicas made in the 19th century. Those last two are pitched in A=400hz, while the flute found in Graz is in A=392hz. All the three flutes have a rich and smooth tone.
 The sound of a Hotteterre flute. This piece was written by Michel de Labarre (1675-1745).

A few paragraphs ago, I wrote that the baroque flute could be divided in three or four pieces, contrasting to the one-pieced (or, sometimes, two-pieced) renaissance flute. This division is due not only to the ease to carry a disassembled instrument, but also to tuning issues. The pitch adopted in a determined city could be different from the pitch adopted in other cities. One way to make tuning easier was to make flutes in four parts and to provide the flutists with upper-bodies of different lengths: the bigger the upper-body is, the lower is the tuning. Those extra upper-bodies were known as "corps de rechange" (something like "exchangeable bodies"). 
A four-piece flute by Carl August Grenser (1720-1807), with six "corps de rechange". The foot of that flute also has a tuning mechanism: when pulled out, it makes the foot longer and, therefore, lowers the tuning.


Now that this little historical contextualization was made, it is time to start writing about the flute publications that I have in my personal library. We have stopped at the time when the one-keyed flute was invented - then, the following posts will deal with the methods and treatises written until that point in history. When I'm done with this, I'll continue our little historical contextualization (The Baroque Era - Part II).  Some of the publications that I plan to discuss  at the moment are the treatises written by Hotteterre, Quantz and Tromlitz, among many other methods and writings.

POWELL, Ardal. The Flute. New Heaven and London: Yale University Press, 2002.
SOLUM, John. The early flute. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.