The Beginnings of Music:
The Opposites in the Flute
(Part 3)
by Barbara Allen

An Aesthetic Realism Consideration

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

The Flute Encourages Us to Put Opposites Together

     Throughout Boehm's descriptions of both the sound of the flute and the science of its construction, we see the opposites. In this passage from The Flute and Flute Playing Boehm describes the tone we look for as at once "brilliant and sonorous." We can feel both bright and deep playing or listening to the flute. And he says the way this tone can be produced is through the successful junction of air and the flute tube—air and matter "mutually assist one another," he says—even molecularly.
That the tones of a flute may not only be easily produced, but shall also possess a brilliant and sonorous quality, it is necessary that the molecules of the flute tube shall be set into vibration at the same time as the air column, and that these shall, as it were, mutually assist one another. [p.53 the italics are mine.] 
     The beauty of the sound depends on how well air meets matter. Success for the self depends on how well we meet the outside world. Musicians need to see how much the attitude we have to the outside world affects the sounds, the technique we have as musicians. Aesthetic Realism gives people the means of studying this. In The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, [#138] Eli Siegel writes: 
     In every person there has been a fight between contempt for what is outside oneself and respect for this. And it should be remembered that one definition of the world is all that a person sees as outside of oneself.
     The place a flute player most intimately meets the instrument is with the mouth. The formation of the mouth is called the embouchure. The way the lips are formed has a great deal to do with how precisely and how richly the air meets the instrument. When we are in a debate between having contempt for the outside world—sneering at it, which is done with the lips—and having respect for it, this debate will affect the sounds we make. And I think the effect of contempt and anger with the world is what Theobald Boehm is documenting when he writes this:
Experience shows that all wood-wind instruments are affected by the manner of blowing so that they become either better or worse with regard to the tones and their production .... The reasons for this have never yet been satisfactorily explained .... The best flute loses an easy speech by overblowing and its bright clear quality of tone by a bad embouchure, and conversely gains in speech and tone by a correct handling and good embouchure. [p. 114]
     And we can ask: Is "overblowing" related to anger? Technically what occurs is too much air is blown across the mouthpiece of the flute so that the note breaks to a higher note. [Demonstrate] We have heard the expression, "He is a blow-hard." This expression stands for a certain angry pomposity a person has. 

     In 1856 Hector Berlioz expressed gratitude to Theobald Boehm who had just invented the first silver flute, because now the flute could "play as true and as evenly as can be desired." And then Berlioz said:

...if one studies the flute closely, one discovers that it possesses an expressiveness of its own, and an aptitude for rendering certain moods that no other instrument can compete with .... Only one master seems to me to have fully availed himself of this ... coloring: I mean Gluck.
     Berlioz here is talking about one of the most beautiful melodies in the world, "The Dance of the Blessed Spirits" to be found in the opera Orfeo by Christophe Willobald von Gluck." What arrests us about this melody is that in the opera, after swirling strings, cymbals, drums, brasses, the flute enters with a simple string accompaniment, and it sounds so calm, deeply at ease in the world. The music represents Orpheus coming finally to the Elysian fields where his love Eurydice is.

[Play first phrase]

     Then this is followed by a great melody which expresses a most beautiful and heart-rending relation of passionate closeness and painful distance, nearness and separation. This is the central thing in Orfeo as he is hoping to bring Eurydice back from the underworld to life, and it is given form in these notes as they waver, but surge forward, are sustained and fall back. Uncertainty and majesty, closeness and distance are all in this short figure. [Play] 

     So in the way the instrument joins with the rising and falling of notes, the self also rises and falls, expands and falls back, with great precision and passion at once. Now we will play the "Dance of the Blessed Spirits," which represents a culmination of sounds in music and affects the beginning of ourselves; stands for the beginnings of the world; and the music resulting is the successful oneness of the two. And I feel this music in its depth and sincerity stands for the large emotion every person feels meeting the explanation of art and life which Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism so magnificently give.

[Play Gluck's Dance of the Blessed Spirits]  

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