Find out more about some of the instruments played by our ensemble in our new series, Bach’s Band. Our latest newsletter is by Yu-Wei Hu on the flute! (Main image by Aiga Ozo)
What are the essential features and sound of the flute?
The Baroque flute is made of various hard wood (boxwood, ebony or granadilla etc.) with one key. The conical bore creates much more mellow and gentle sounds than metal modern flutes. The basic scale/fingerings is in D major and we use cross fingerings for the notes outside D major scale. In this case, the flute has naturally strong D-major notes and weaker cross-fingering notes which gives the instrument beautiful colours.
How has the flute evolved since the Baroque era?
The one-keyed conical-bore flute has evolved into more keys and narrower bore in order to accommodate more complex music as well as bigger venues during the classical periods. During the first half of the nineteenth century, flute makers tried out all kinds of designs with various combinations of materials (such as porcelain, ivory, glass and metal), bores (conical and cylinder) and key systems. In 1860 Paris Conservatoire officially took up the silver Boehm-system flute, which has prevailed for most of the modern musical world today.
How did Bach write for the flute?
Bach wrote wonderful instrumental pieces for the flute such as sonatas, trio sonatas and orchestral suites, in which he explored both technical and musical aspects of the instrument. In his cantatas, on the other hand, Bach sometimes used the flute for setting the most gentle moments (such as Benedictus in the B minor Mass or Aus Liebe in the St Matthew Passion) and sometimes for the most glorious ones such as doubling the trumpets in Magnificat and Gloria!
What are the biggest challenges as a flautist when performing Bach’s repertoire?
Although wonderful, Bach’s flute repertoire is very much “testing its limit”! As most compositions kept within 2 octaves of the best range for Baroque flutes, Bach wrote his A minor partita BWV 1013 with the highest note A as well as a low middle C (presumably on a C-foot flute)! He is never afraid to use tricky tonalities or chromatic scales either! Furthermore, Bach is not a wind player himself and seldom considered places for breathing…! Flautists always debate fervently about where to breath within his gorgeous patterns and sequences without disturbing the music.
What’s your favourite part about being in an ensemble like OBS?
My favourite music making has always been playing with wonderful singers. I love to set the scene in the introductions and then follow the singers as an absolute shadow once they have started! Smaller choir allows layers of voices to come through much more clearly; in an ensemble like OBS, everyone is a soloist and has to work very closely together at the same time!