In case you missed it, yesterday we posted a fabulous new essay on The Avid Listener. This week’s beauty, by Andrew Dell’Antonio, asks us to think about to to “authentically” perform music of the past when directions from the composer are unclear at best. Andrew looks specifically at the issue of “echo flutes” in Bach’s Brandenburg concertos, and shares glorious examples of how modern performing ensembles have “solved” this historical “problem”. (Spoiler alert: I’m qualifying these terms because the full story is delightfully complicated.)
Here’s a teaser: “What Bach might have meant by two “echo flutes” has mystified modern musicians, since he doesn’t use that indication anywhere else in his music, nor does the term appear reliably in the works or writing of any of his contemporaries. Presented with the quandary of how to deal “authentically” with this indication, musicians have tried a number of different strategies. As a first step, a consensus has built around the fact that when Bach called an instrument “flauto” he was referring to what in English we call the recorder—an instrument of the woodwind family that is played parallel to the performer’s body. (Bach and most of his contemporaries reliably called “traverso” a woodwind instrument that is played perpendicular to the body, what in English we call the flute.) So Bach almost certainly had in mind instruments of the recorder family. But the consensus stops there.”
Want to know more about this instrument and its adaptations? Read the full essay here. And if you are collecting Avid Listener essays about early music, be sure to check out Andrew’s other essays on the site (like this one about tailor-made operas in the 18th century, or this one about one of the top-10 hits of the 17th century and its many permutations.)
Join us next week for an essay by Rebecca Cypress about about one of the most important forgotten musicians/salonnieres of the 18th century: Sara Levy.