This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
I’m not a fan of the flute and don’t get me started on the piccolo. I prefer instruments from the other end – cell, oboe, bassoon, French horn and so on.
However, I thought I’d try to overcome my antipathy to the instrument, and perhaps with some serious playing, get to like it. Or, at least, tolerate it. So here goes.
The obvious, and clichéd, place to start is with “The Magic Flute.” This is MOZART's last opera. Well, it’s usually tossed in the opera bag but to me it’s more akin to a musical. There’s a lot of recitative, that’s fancy talk for talky bits, too much if you ask me.
These are interspersed with some divine music. It’s also written in German rather than Italian, the language that Mozart used for his previous operas. The Italian language is just so suited to this sort of thing, even if they are just singing Don’t forget the carrots.
Actually, I don’t think that line was ever in an opera, but you never know.
Anyway, back to “The Magic Flute.” In this track we have Tamino, sung by Peter Schreier, playing the flute ecstatically because he’s just found out that Pamina is alive (I won’t go into the back story, there’s not enough room).
His playing draws to him animals of every description (not just rats as in another flute story) and Papagena and Pamina, although a long way away, hear him play and Papagena starts playing the bagpipes in response (although that’s not evident in the music) and then then...
Oh, it doesn’t matter, it’s just too silly for words. The music is great though. Here is Wie stark ist nicht dein Zauberton with some fluting going on as well.
The flute has only occasionally appeared in rock music, most notably in the works of Jethro Tull. I was really unfond of that group, probably due to the flute, so they won’t be appearing today.
Rather surprisingly, it turned up in some tracks from the BLUES PROJECT, the self styled “Jewish Beatles”. They were an influential band but not as influential as The Beatles.
One of their members, Al Kooper, went on to form Blood Sweat and Tears. He took guitarist Steve Katz along with him. In the way of these things, that band sacked Al after their first album.
Getting back to the Blues Project, they recorded only one studio album and from that we have Flute Thing. This has Andy Kulberg, normally the bass player, playing the flute and some fine guitar work from Danny Kalb. Al contributes on various keyboards and he also wrote and arranged the tune.
Mr. HANDEL liked to toss the flute into all sorts of his compositions.
That’s very handy for me today as there are any number of his works I could select. He also liked the trio sonata form and I’m quite fond of those usually. However, as I said in my introduction, I prefer those without the flutes. Not today though.
This is the first movement from his Trio Sonata for Flute, Violin and Continuo Op.2 No.1.
The flute is not often associated with BEETHOVEN but he wrote several pieces for the instrument.
These are all rather minor pieces but rather delightful, something else that’s seldom said about Ludwig’s music. This is the first movement of his Serenade in D major for flute, violin & viola Op.25.
ROLAND KIRK was most known for playing the saxophone. Indeed, for playing several at once.
He didn’t restrict himself to that instrument (or those, perhaps); he played the flute as well. Other instruments too, but they’re not relevant today.
There’s at least one album he recorded, “I Talk With the Spirits,” where he just played the flute, so it’s to that one I turn. The tune is Serenade to a Cuckoo.
Time for a couple of Bachs. First the big cheese, JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH himself.
This is a particularly interesting composition as it was the only one old Jo wrote for the solo flute. Whenever he wrote for solo instruments he usually churned out a bunch of them, but not this time.
This is the second movement of the Partita for Solo Flute in A minor BWV 1013.
The second Bach is one of Jo’s sons, JOHANN CHRISTIAN BACH.
This Jo was the youngest of Papa Bach’s sons, the eleventh son and eighteenth child. Old Jo died when young Jo was 15. One of his older brothers took him in and continued the musical lessons started by their father.
He was a good friend of Mozart and their musical styles are quite similar. He’s often called “The English Bach” as he settled in London and remained there composing for one of the King Georges who liked that sort of thing. At least George had good taste in music.
Jo junior is a bit of a favorite of mine too. His flute thing is the first movement of the Flute Concerto in D.
JEREMY AND THE SATYRS was the brain child of jazz flute player Jeremy Steig.
That’s Jeremy, I couldn’t find any pics of the band.
Jeremy and the Satyrs was a jazz/rock/blues band that was way ahead of their time. Too far ahead, as they lasted only a short time and recorded just one album.
Jeremy started out playing with Bill Evans and later Gary Peacock, Carla Bley and others. Also Tim Hardin, who always preferred jazz musicians in his backing band. Unfortunately, Jeremy had a serious accident that damaged his face so he wasn’t able to play for some time.
He eventually healed, but it changed the way he played the flute. It sounds more interesting to me but that’s obvious on other tracks from the album rather than this one, Superbaby.
I’ll finish as I began with MOZART. Why not go with the best?
This is one of his most famous concertos, the one for flute and harp. This was pretty radical for its time as the harp was still a rather experimental instrument and it hadn’t found a place in the orchestras.
Mozart wrote only a couple of concertos that included the harp; he did write a bunch of things for the flute though. Here is the second movement of the Concerto in C for Flute, Harp and Orchestra, K. 299-297c.