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A digression: English, German, wooden, silver, conical and cylindrical flutes

The only type of instrument which has ever been generally known as the 'English flute' is the one we know as the recorder. At the end of the seventeenth century it was known in England simply as the 'flute' but the adjective was added in the first half of the next century to clarify the meaning while it fought a losing battle against the 'German flute' or transverse one-keyed conical-bore wooden flute. By the time the 'English flute' returned from its 150-year slumber the 'German flute' had been simply the 'flute' for a century. The early music revivalists therefore settled on an even older English name for the rediscovered instrument and it has been the 'recorder' ever since.

In the middle of the nineteenth century Theobald Boehm took the conical-bore wooden flute (which by then had six or more keys) and redesigned it as a cylindrical-bore instrument with very large finger-holes all covered by keys. He made most of his instruments in silver because he was a gold- and silver-smith by training and metal came naturally to him. Others then made flutes to the same design in wood -- because they were used to working in wood, because they thought it affected the sound, or because traditionally-minded customers demanded it.

Silver became the norm, with wood retaining some popularity rather longer in England, as Redgate says, than elsewhere. But (and it's a big 'but') the material a flute is made of is far less important to the sound than its design. Given similarly-designed instruments, differences due to the player are demonstrably far greater than the differences due to the material. (I know that statement may be contentious but will direct readers to my article Does it matter what it's made of? rather than replicating its arguments here.) Very many listeners fail to notice even the much greater difference between cylindrical (Boehm) and conical (baroque) flutes.

Back to Redgate's 'English Flute' ...

The point I want to make regarding this disc is that very few flautists and virtually no non-flautists will perceive any difference between wooden and silver Boehm flutes in the hands of any one player, even under ideal listening conditions, so the fact that Celia Redgate's flute is wooden is almost completely irrelevant.

Listen -- Stainer: Etude in D minor
(track 16, 0:00-0:56) © 2008 Divine Art Ltd

That brings us back to the real distinctiveness of The English Flute: the music, which is attractive and unusual (the Tavener alone would justify the purchase), and its performance, which is splendid. Highly recommended.

Copyright © 15 May 2008 Malcolm Tattersall, Townsville, Australia


The English Flute

dda25061 DDD Stereo NEW RELEASE 73'04" 2008 Divine Art Ltd

Celia Redgate, flute; Michael Dussek, piano

Edward German (1862-1936): Suite for Flute and Piano (Valse Gracieuse; Souvenir; Gipsy Dance); Christopher Redgate (born 1956): Three English Folksongs (Barbara Ellen; Green Bushes; The Wraggle Taggle Gypsies, O!); Michael Head (1900-1976): By the River in Spring; Arnold Cooke (1906-2005): Sonatina (Allegro Moderato; Andantino; Allegro vivace); Edwin York Bowen (1884-1961): Sonata for Flute and Piano Op 120 (Allegro, non troppo; Andante piacevole; Allegro con fuoco); John Tavener (born 1944): Greek Interlude (Interlude I: Passing Pilgrims in Bulgaria - Interlude II: Calling at Rhodes - Interlude III: Lament at Casos - Interlude IV: Convivial Occasion at Aegina - Interlude V: Party in Greece - Interlude VI: Passing back through Bulgaria); Frederic Griffith (1867-1917): Danse Nègre; Charles Stainer (1874-1947): Etude in D minor Op 26




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