Like atoms in a collider, science and art merged in the 19th century with energy sufficient to define modernity. For musicians, physics multiplied the materials available, provided devices for precise measurement, widened the understanding of acoustics, sound and light and even the neurological understanding of perception. Coincidental symbol of that collision was Albert Einstein, visionary scientist and quasi violinist who was born in Ulm. That was near where scientists found history’s first musical instrument, the 35,000 year-old vulture bone drilled with two finger holes. Past and future sprang from Ulm.
From hollowed bones to metal cylinders shaped with subtly varied thicknesses, exactly placed finger holes, and studied resonance, the flute entered modernity in German states and blossomed artistically in France. The beautifully crafted wooden flutes of the baroque era gave way to the more stentorian silver flutes, instruments capable of pure overtones, even tone quality from the lowest C to the stratosphere and brilliance. The modern instrument invited virtuosity, quickness of execution, tonal variety, eloquence and non-traditional scales and intervals.
Flutists in Germany and France were quick to compose works to codify the flute’s expanding capacities and their own rapidly advancing virtuosity. All thee composers on this disc were born in the 19th century but preserved their particular skills for 20th-century and 21st century players. Francois Borne, Theobald Boehm and Franz Doppler were all better known as flutists, yet their Fantasies have stayed in the repertoire into their third century. Paul Taffanel, storied flutist in Paris, expanded flute technique, as can be heard in his Fantasie on Themes from “Der Freischuetz,” and codified modern technique in his method books.
Borne’s Carmen Fantasy is the only composition known by the composer. The work contrasts the sensuous songs Carmen sings in the opera with breathtaking technical flourishes _ rapid octave leaps and embellishments and flashing passage work.
Cecile Chaminade was not a flutist, but her Concertino Op.107, from 1902, is at the center of the flutist’s repertoire. Its lyrical flow is based on memorable melodies, and she asks playing that glows with color and beauty. It was composed as a test piece for the Conservatoire’s annual Concurs, but has long outlived its work-a-day beginnings.
Ms. Choi has a childhood memory of a recording of Albert Franz Doppler’s Fantasie Pastorale Hongroise Op.26. Like the other works here, it sets a mood with Hungarian rhythms and gestures, then opens the way for brilliantly executed runs and leaps. The variation possibilities seem endless as the composer illustrates how high and far the flute can fly.
Interestingly, Doppler never played the Boehm system flute, the instrument that exemplified the basis of modern performance. Georges Enesco, violinist, conductor and composer, was encouraged by modern flute technique to apply his violin sensitivities to music for flute.
Paul Taffanel wrote his work as a summation of what he taught at the Paris Conservatory. The variation midway is a sea of thirty-second notes, writing that demands split-second breathing as the notes rush by. He espoused a whole new technique, and flutists study his method books as well as his music.
Boehm’s Grand Polonaise Op.16 _ a title no flutist can resist _ is part of a repertoire that grew from Chopin’s use of Polish dances in epochal music. This piece builds on the elegant rhythms of the Polonaise and offers windows of virtuosity and lyricism.
The world of musical fantasy is gathered together in this recording. Each of the works grew from the expanding capacity of the instrument _ and its players. Composers were liberated by how the flutes were made; players by the imagination of the composers whose sense of fantasy was given free rein in that heady time. Welcome to modernity.
- Daniel Webster