On Playing the Flute: Chapter 11

On Playing the Flute, or Versuch einer Anweisung die Flöte traversiere zu spielen is an historical treatise written by Johann Joachim Quantz in 1752. Quantz was a first-rate composer, flutist, luthier, theorist, and teacher. He enjoyed an exalted and well-connected position at the court of Frederick the Great of Prussia (think northern Germany), as Frederick himself was an avid musician and flute player. Quantz's treatise is not just for flutists - the majority of the work concerns musical taste and execution, and the flute-specific information is limited. It's entertaining reading, and just packed with useful tidbits, filtered through Quantz's clear voice. Here I'm recapping and discussing Chapter 11. I'm experimenting with a formatting scheme where

recaps look like this

and discussion / reaction looks like this. The section titles are mine. All recaps

Of Good Execution in General in Singing and Playing

Music can be compared with oration. The goal in both is for the performer to influence his listeners. The performance matters - as in public speaking, two different performers delivering the same material can produce very different effects.

I've heard the music = rhetoric connection before and have a feeling I'll hear it again, and again. Add Quantz to the "rhetoric" bandwagon.

How to do it

In oration, each word must be spoken with an appropriate inflection - loudness, tempo, and speed are constantly adjusted to produce the intended effect. Same thing goes in music. The performer is almost as important as the composer in the success of a piece of music.

I like Quantz's little "almost" in that last sentence - coming from a man who composed 500 concertos and sonatas, it's understandable that he'd subtly place the composer at the top of the totem poll. The point remains, though - the performer is essential.

Watch out

Don't crowd slow works with too many embellishments, and make sure, when embellishing a melody, to pay attention to the bass line. Don't play in such a way that only connoisseurs or professionals can understand - be intelligible to all.

I think it says something about Quantz's personality that this enthusiastically-written, but very negative passage comes so early in the chapter. I can just imagine that there's some young upstart at court ornamenting the hell out of slow movements, and receiving approval from the other musicians, while Quantz looks on from the side with a raised eyebrow thinking, "I can't wait to write about this idiot."


Almost everyone has an individual musical personality. Even after studying with the same teacher, different students will progress in different directions according to their personalities, some better than others.

This little digression into performers' personalities is kind of hilarious. Again, Quantz changes the whole mood of a passage with a single "almost." Pity the soul who somehow has no personality. And again, with the discussion of different students of a single teacher, my 21st-century sensibilities are blindsided by Quantz's postscript - this is not a man who believed everyone was a special snowflake. I'm a little scared of him at this point.

In this rather famous Adolph Menzel painting of Frederick II's court, Quantz is the character glowering in the right corner. One wonders if Frederick (playing the flute) was disappointing Quantz with an insufficient personality.

In this rather famous Adolph Menzel painting of Frederick II's court, Quantz is the character glowering in the right corner. One wonders if Frederick (playing the flute) was disappointing Quantz with an insufficient personality.

How to do it right

First priority - intonation! Then comes tone - as beautiful as possible. Next, articulation - watch out that you don't sound like a bagpipe with the notes glued together. Instead, articulate with a variety of strokes. Please separate different thoughts, but don't separate within a single thought. Play with correct rhythm and tempo - "Many players" don't do this.
Distinguish between important and unimportant notes. Play the quickest notes unequally, so that the first, third, and fifth notes are slightly longer than the second, fourth, and sixth notes. If the tempo is too fast to do this cleanly, stress only the first note of a group.
Match your execution with the affect of the composition. Allegros lively and not slurred or gentle, Adagios delicate and not too attacked. Performer should appear at ease and never grimace, but should experience the passions he wants to convey. Keep it varied - continually alternate between strong and weak. Do justice to the intentions of the composer. When embellishing, only seek to enhance the prevailing affect. When the affect changes frequently, the performer must imagine that their own temperament changes.

OK - there is a lot of info here, both explicit and between the lines. If "many players" don't play with what Quantz considers correct rhythm and tempo, shouldn't that become a potential element in rhetorical style, no matter how much our conservative Mr. Quantz might wag his finger? The second paragraph, according to a helpful footnote, is "probably related to notes inégales." I agree that Quantz's description seems to match modern execution of inégale pretty well:

These days, the jaunty inégale technique is used almost exclusively for French baroque repertoire. I find it interesting that Quantz makes no such specification. Certainly he was familiar with French style, but why would he describe this technique without specifying "French style" unless it was more generally-applicable than is currently accepted? Hmmm...

Two more quick observations: the thing about not grimacing hits home (I personally have trouble controlling my face when playing and have largely given up attempting to do so). Then again, Quantz played the flute, and a grimace on the face of a flutist is catastrophic to their technique in a way that isn't true on the violin, thank goodness! Finally, did you catch it? There's another "intention of the composer" moment. Bruce Haynes might call Quantz a Romantic!

How to tell the affect

First, major or minor. Major is gay, bold, serious, sublime. Minor is flattering, melancholy, and tender. Many exceptions, though. Close note intervals indicate flattery, melancholy, and tenderness (same list as minor). Wide intervals indicate gaiety and boldness (major mode characteristics). Relation between close intervals and connected, slurred stroke, and vice versa - wide intervals align with separated, accented strokes. Also, consider the number and types of dissonances. Finally, consider the tempo marking - if the composer took care with his indications, the words chosen reveal much about the character. It takes a lot of work and experience to be able to discern the affect from all of these clues.
When realizing an affect, take care to compensate for your natural temperament - a hot-tempered person must be careful not to let that character show in an Adagio, for example.

There's a lot of good stuff here, although I wonder if it's intelligible to a non-musician. Being a good Quantzian, I might try to put a little video demonstrating some of these ideas.

On performing

You must add graces (embellishments) to the music, but not too many - it becomes offensive to the ear. Take care not to use too much "shake" (vibrato!?) - some singers are "badly addicted" to it. Instrumentalists should imitate the cantabile of singers. Singers should imitate the lively fire of instrumentalists.

For the first time, the controversial question of vibrato rears its ugly head. I think I'll tiptoe past this one for now...

Poor execution

Probably disapproves of you.

Probably disapproves of you.

Avoid all the following: bad intonation, forced tone, indistinct articulation, indiscriminate slurs or attacks, incorrect tempo and rhythm. Avoid too many embellishments in Adagio, or graces that conflict with bass line. Avoid working too hard or blundering in the passagework - and avoid grimacing. Avoid unvaried dynamics, or performing without considering the passions, or without feeling those passions yourself. The listener to a performance with these characteristics "will be glad when it is over."

Oh my, what a way to end the chapter. Thanks for putting all of that negativity in my head, Quantz - now I'm really motivated to go out in the world and share my art! And again with the grimacing. I'm sorry, alright?

Source: http://www.amazon.com/Playing-Flute-Johann...

The End of Early Music: Chapter 2 (part 2)

The End of Early Music is a 2007 book by the late great historical oboist Bruce Haynes. Subtitled "A Period Performer's History of Music for the Twenty-First Century," this book was in many ways the inspiration for Musicker. In this series of blog posts, I'm re-reading the book, offering chapter-by-chapter recaps as well as some of my own thoughts and reactions. The subsection titles are Bruce Haynes's. This fourth offering covers the second half of chapter 2. All Recaps

Mind the Gap: Current Styles

Prophets of the Revolution: Dolmetsch and Landowska

After the disorienting and wonderful dive into Romanticism, the second half of this chapter explores the roots and initial flowering of Rhetorical style. Two iconoclastic early-20th-century musickers laid much of the groundwork, but are sadly neglected today: Arnold Dolmetsch and Wanda Landowska

Wanda was a world-class keyboardist, and starting in 1905 performed mainstream repertoire (Bach, etc.) on a Pleyel harpsichord. Haynes cleverly points out that the Pleyel was a decent metaphor for Wanda herself - concerned with honoring the spirit of the past but not overly interested in recreating it. The sturdy metal frame and long sustain of the Pleyel were distinctly inauthentic and give it a metallic 20th-century sound. Listen to Wanda performing part of Bach's Goldberg Variations:

Arnold, on the other hand, was much more concerned with authenticity and much less concerned with practicing. He seems to have been a Renaissance man - a Google image search turns of photographs of him playing keyboards, lutes, and wind instruments, and he not only performed but built all of them. With his interest in the instruments and performing styles of the past, he was a spiritual successor to the later HIP pioneers. It's too bad that Arnold and Wanda didn't get along - they would have made a formidable team.

The Authenticity Revolution of the 1960s

In the post-war era, revolution was in the air across wide swaths of society, and music was no different. In 1950, the well-known composer Paul Hindemith wrote that

Bach felt quite comfortable with the vocal and instrumental types that were available to him, and if we care about performing his music as he himself imagined it, then we ought to restore the performance conditions of his time.

Hindemith specifically mentions constructing wind instruments with historical tunings, gut strings, etc. and given what subsequently happened it's easy to miss how revolutionary this idea was. Finally, Dolmetsch's ideas were coming to fruition. The 1950s and early 1960s seem almost like a space race - ideas and instruments were appearing left and right, and the effect was profound. Listen to Gustav Leonhardt perform that same bit of the Goldberg Variations that we heard from Wanda Landowska - the first of these two recordings is Gustav in 1953, the second Gustav in 1965:

The first version, to my ears, is following in the footsteps of Landowska - rather sincere, profound, heavy, even. The second version is much lighter, free-er, and lilting - almost dancing. This is the result of 12 years of Leonhardt's personal experimentation and growing, but also the publication of primary source research such as Dart's Interpretation of Music and Donnington's Interpretation of Early Music

Chain Reaction

As the "authenticity" movement swept the musical scene in the 60s, and historical instruments became more widely available, it became practical to apply the concepts to larger forms requiring more musicians: orchestra and opera. The first recording to really break that barrier was Nikolaus Harnoncourt's performance of Bach's St. John Passion with the Concentus Musicus of Vienna (1967). This performance all but settled "HIP 1.0" - most of the common elements that dominate Rhetorical Style to this day can be heard, at least a little bit, in this recording. Here's the opening:

The Dutch crew, Brüggen, Bijlsma, Kuijkin, and Leonhardt, along with Harnoncourt and others, took the new research and instruments and basically created Period Style. To a huge degree their influence can be found in period performances to this day, which is partly a testament to their genius but partly a matter of timing - José Bowen shares an insight into the development of the style of a jazz tune which is totally relevant:

Every musical performance makes us reconsider our concept of the musical work. The effect of each performance, however, grows smaller as the tune develops a tradition. The initial performances have the ability to shift the "center of gravity" farther than can later versions, which literally have more tradition to move.

Hard to argue.

Source: http://www.amazon.com/The-End-Early-Music-...

The End of Early Music: Chapter 2 (part 1)

The End of Early Music is a 2007 book by the late great historical oboist Bruce Haynes. Subtitled "A Period Performer's History of Music for the Twenty-First Century," this book was in many ways the inspiration for Musicker. In this series of blog posts, I'm re-reading the book, offering chapter-by-chapter recaps as well as some of my own thoughts and reactions. The subsection titles are Bruce Haynes's. This third offering covers the first half of chapter 2. All Recaps

Mind the Gap: Current Styles

Three Abstractions: Romantic, Modern, and Period Styles

There have been three dominant styles in the performance of rhetorical music in the 20th century. As the century began, Romantic Style held sway, but as the century ended, Romantic Style was all but extinct, and could be heard only on recordings. What evolved from and eventually replaced Romanticism as the musical mainstream? Modernism, with its emphasis on precision and relative emotional restraint. These days, if we go to a performance of Bach's Matthew Passion (canon, hello) we're likely to hear a Modern style or a Period style performance, Period style having splintered away from Modern style around the 1960s.

That's all well and good, but this is all crying out for musical examples. Luckily, I just learned how to embed Spotify tracks! Here are two representations of today's dominant styles:

Pretty different, right? The first track, by the way, was Sir Georg Solti with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, recorded in 1988. The second track was Sir John Eliot Gardiner with the English Baroque Soloists and the Monteverdi Choir, also recorded in 1988. Modern, Period. Cool. Now give this a shot:

The first two recordings are different from each other; this third sounds like it could be from another planet. That's Willem Mengleberg conducting Concertgebouw Orchestra and the Amsterdam Toonkunst Choir in 1939 - but the style goes back further than that. Mengelberg conducted the Matthew Passion every Palm Sunday starting from 1899.

Listen to as much as you can - personally, the further in I get, the less insane it sounds - portamento and wild tempo fluctuations seem to amplify the emotion of every. single. moment. Check out the lead-in to the recap ~4:20 - 4:52, and compare to Solti ~3:30 - 3:58. It's a style from another era, but it's certainly not bad.

"What unique importance it is to every musical message, that the melody shall hold us without cease." -Wagner

"What unique importance it is to every musical message, that the melody shall hold us without cease." -Wagner

In the next section, Haynes goes on to examine some of the characteristics of Romanticism and how it subtly influences musicians to this day. This is a luxury - for the first time, musicians of one period are able to closely examine music from an older, extinct style thanks to the advent of recording technologies towards the tail end of Romanticism (late 19th, early 20th century). He points out a certain melody-centrism that leads musicians to make decisions without fully considering the lower voices; particularly the bass line which is so vital to all rhetorical music. He also points out Werktreue, the idea that the true ideal performance is somewhere in the ether, and the related phenomenon of the transparent musician (the musician is only a vessel), and the reduction in improvisation.

OK, that got kind of wonky - sorry. On to more great Romantic wackiness:

Recordings That Document the Heart of Romantic Practice

Listening to these early 20th century recordings - especially those of musicians at the ends of their careers - is like a window into another world. In this passage, Haynes calls out a number of recordings of soloists, and it is initially confusing - these recordings sound so individual and free and expressive that the Werktreue philosophy seems unimaginable. It seems clear that "Romantic Style" wasn't a static thing, or perhaps that the ideals of the style were different for soloists than they were for orchestras. Joseph Joachim was probably the preeminent violinist of the second half of the 19th century, and staunchly anti-Wagner. Listen to his spare yet flexible performance of Brahms's Hungarian Dance #1:

Joachim's style reminds Haynes of another rarity - Alessandro Moreschi, the "last castrato" who recorded the Bach/Gounod Ave Maria in 1904. The extreme and obvious emotion in this performance is almost hard to listen to for modern ears:

Glenn Gould is perhaps the most "Modern" of all 21st century pianists. For reference, just listen to a few seconds of Gould's Bach:

Gould, predictably enough, opined about these old recordings:

how very high the level of whimsicality and caprice, how very flirtatious and extravagant the range of dynamics...

It certainly begs the question: What would Joachim and Moreschi have to say about Gould?

Source: http://www.amazon.com/The-End-Early-Music-...