The Beginnings of Music:
The Opposites in the Flute
(Part 2)
by Barbara Allen

An Aesthetic Realism Consideration

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

A Closer Look at the Flute

     The history of the flute is evidence that people have wanted to be in a greater, more accurate, deeper composition with the world, while better and better able to express oneself as "individual, separate, free." A wonderful example of this is in the opera—The Magic Flute of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. We can hear the simplest, most rustic form of the flute, the syrinx, and the more richly expressive 18th century wooden flute in the same opera. We can hear a great difference between the ancient instrument and the one of Mozart's time. The difference is in how much a person is able to represent the variety, the depth, the intricacy of the world of sound and of his own emotions through each instrument.
pan pipes
 A Relative of the Syrinx from the Andes

      With the Syrinx [picture above] played by Papageno in the opera, we hear five notes played with speed, going higher as the pipes are shorter. He can only play five notes, at pretty much the same volume, in one octave. As Papageno plays he is putting together opposites — high and low; energy and delicacy; slowness and speed—but the size of the relation of these opposites is limited. In other words this instrument, though delightful does not have the capacity to express the large range of emotions he has. Here, Papageno has lost his lovely Papagena, and he calls for her three times with his pipes to see if she will come. If she does not come, he will have to hang himself. 

[Play this section from The Magic Flute: "(He pipes) Eins! (He pipes and looks around.)—Zwei! (He pipes a very long and sad pipe.)—Drei!" No answer.]    

We don't have to worry. Papageno is saved. 

     Now we hear more of what the flute can do. The sound of this wooden flute has the richness of the opposites more the way the world is and our emotions are. Tamino's short flute solo can cause tears. The trills are bold and hesitant at once; the sound is tearful and luminous; the motion is both restrained and free. Listen:

[Play Tamino's solo from The Magic Flute.]

     Even with this beautiful sound of the wooden flute, people wanted something more. Musicians had found new freedom and new expression through this instrument—and because of it, the self was joined more comprehensively to the world. There was still more to be done, however. The wooden flute was a very difficult instrument to keep in tune. One almost had to be an acrobat with difficult finger combinations, moving the flute in and out, this way and that in order to play a swift moving passage of notes. 

     It is amazing the music for the flute was as complex and played as well as it was. From the Syrinx, a series of reeds tied together, to the wooden cylinder with 8 holes, we reach the year 1832 and Theobald Boehm's new way of making all flutes. His discoveries arose from his desire to be as exact as possible about sound, the instrument, materials—the world itself—and they were so true to the nature of all three that the present day flute I am holding here is, with only a few changes, the flute he came to. 

     One of the big changes he made in order to have the instrument more flexible, more in tune in every key was to place 17 holes into the instrument at acoustically correct intervals that could be opened and closed by mechanical means instead of the traditional 8 holes — the number determined by how many fingers the musician had available. And the result is he created an instrument that puts together the opposites more richly than ever before. 

Continued -- Part 3 click here
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