Faà di Bruno, Giovanni Matteo [Horatio, Orazio] 83

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A kind of Duct flute: the term, a diminutive of the earlier flageol (flageot, flaiol, flajo, etc.), appears in French literary sources from the 13th century onwards and seems to have been used for a variety of ‘pastoral’ pipes, including panpipes and reedpipes, the three-holed tabor pipe (see Pipe and tabor) and other duct flutes that were not true recorders.

1. ‘Single’ flageolet.

The word flageolet had acquired a specific meaning by the 17th century. To Marin Mersenne (Harmonie universelle, 1636, pp.232–7) and Pierre Trichet (Traité des Instruments de Musique, MS, c 1640, F-Psg 1070, ff.27–33) ‘flageolet’ and flageolet simple implied a small duct flute in D with a ‘beak’ similar to that of the recorder, a flared foot, six finger-holes and a conical bore contracting slightly towards the foot. It was distinguished from the six-hole fluste by its very small size (Mersenne's flageolet measured 4½ pouces or old French inches) and the disposition of the holes (four finger-holes in front and two for the thumbs behind: an essential layout for such a tiny instrument. Mersenne produced the earliest known fingering chart, which was almost entirely diatonic; chromatic notes were to be obtained by half closing holes. He also included in his book a vaudeville by Sieur Henry le Jeune for four flageolets in three different pitches. Trichet himself owned a set of three different-sized ivory flageolets. The notated range of Mersenne's illustrated flageolet, using the bore exit as a seventh fingerhole, was c'–a'' but the instrument must have sounded at least two octaves higher. A relative of this type of flageolet was the arigot, a type of flajol described in Thoinot Arbeau's Orchesographie (1588, f.17v). It had a similar finger-hole layout to Mersenne's flageolet but a more piercing sound and was traditionally made from a bird or animal bone. A surviving instrument of this type just over 15 cm long can be dated to 1608, when it was presented to a Flemish guild by Archduke Albert and his wife. Flageolets were usually made of ivory, ebony or boxwood. Cocus wood was also used in the 19th century. The attribution of the flageolet's invention to a Sieur de Juvigny from Paris, who played it in 1581, is based on a misinterpretation of the relevant text: Juvigny was acting as Pan and the instrument he played was most probably a panpipe, which was called a flageolet a plusieurs tuiaux by Trichet.

By the 1660s the flageolet had become popular in England and two instruction books were published there in 1667: Thomas Swain's Directions for the Flagellett and Thomas Greeting's Pleasant Companion (fig.1). Two further tutors were cited in Latin by J.F.B.C. Majer (Museum Musicum; 1732), but one of these may correspond to Greeting's book. In contrast to Mersenne, Greeting proposed cross-fingerings to produce a fully chromatic range.A six-line tablature notation with dots was used in such books for amateurs. Both Pepys and his wife played the flageolet, the latter studying with Greeting. Pepys mentioned the flageolet frequently in his diaries, naming John Banister as a celebrated performer.

The earliest known use of the flageolet in Germany was at a concert in Nuremberg in 1643. In 1666, the Nuremberg city council decided that flageolets and other wind instruments could be made by members of both the turners' and the decoy- and pipe-makers’ guilds. Daniel Speer included a flageolet fingering chart in his Grund-richtiger … Unterricht der Musikalischen Kunst (Ulm, 1697, pl.IV). The flageolet was also to be found in the Low Countries in the 17th century. The instrument maker Richard Haka, who worked in Amsterdam in the second half of the century, is known to have made flageolets. The earliest surviving Spanish-language instructions were those published by Pablo Minguet y Yrol for the flautilla in 1754 but a late 17th-century literary reference to a flautica muy pequeña, used to teach birds to sing, may have been describing a flageolet.

In the 18th century composers occasionally scored for the flageolet, for example, Handel in Rinaldo (1711) and Rameau in Platée (1749 reduced score). It was mainly used to evoke birdsong or a pastoral setting. Meierott (1974, pp.247–9) has argued that the transposing flauto piccolo required in some works by German composers from the second half of the century (for example, Mozart in his Die Entführung aus dem Serail, 1782, and some of his Tänze) was a flageolet. The diminutive models of flageolet continued to survive throughout the 18th century as instruments for teaching birds to sing tunes. In the introduction to one such set of tunes, The Bird Fancyer's Delight (1717) the first mention is to be found of the sponge chamber, an oval or pear-shaped cavity located inside the instrument’s head between the ‘beak’ and the ‘window’. The sponge placed inside was to absorb the moisture from the player's breath and thus prevent condensation in the windway. From the middle of the century the beak of the flageolet was frequently replaced by a flat slender bone, ivory or mother-of-pearl mouthpiece.

The scarcity of scores and tutors from the second half of the 18th century suggests that the flageolet fell out of favour, possibly because of its comparatively weak tone and limited range. Interest revived at the end of the century when improved models, frequently with d'' as the six-finger note, began to be developed. An ‘English’ flageolet that retained the sponge chamber was developed at the end of the 18th century with all six holes at the front. Some were subsequently made with a thumb-hole at the back and a seventh finger-hole in front. Ivory or bone studs were frequently placed between the holes to guide the fingers. Models with one to six keys were made in the 19th century. One of the most innovative makers was William Bainbridge of London (see also §2, below), who also proposed a numerical system of notation for amateur players. (A numerical system, similar to organ tablature, had previously been mentioned by Trichet.) The flageolet could be heard in the Promenade Concerts at the Crystal Palace and Queen's Hall in London. Although the flageolets played in concerts in Germany at the beginning of the century were probably of the French style, catalogues show that English flageolets were actually made in Markneukirchen and other German centres from the mid-century onwards. An eight-hole ‘Viennese’ flageolet, akin in fingering to the Csakan, was known in Russia as well as German-speaking countries at the end of the century. Instruction books for the English flageolet were being published in the USA during the early decades of the 19th century.

In France a flageolet in A, known as the ‘quadrille’ flageolet, was widely used by professional musicians playing in dance bands but, according to the second edition of Edmonde Collinet's Nouvelle Méthode du Flageolet (early 19th century), French flageolets were made in all the natural keys between d' and d'' (grand en ré to petit en ré) as well as in b'. Several of the better-known instrument makers produced flageolets with the early Boehm system of ring keys. A wide range of models was still to be found in the catalogues of Parisian firms such as Besson and Ullmann at the beginning of the 20th century. As well as dance music – quadrilles, polkas, valses, etc. – and collections of short pieces for amateurs, some art music for the flageolet (see C.F. Whistling: Handbuch der musikalischen Literatur, Leipzig, 1817–27/R, 2/1828–39/R) was published in Paris and elsewhere. Some works, such as N. Pfeilsticker's Concerto pour flageolet principal, are both technically and artistically mediocre. In contrast, the solo études, duos concertants and thèmes variés contained in Carnaud's Méthode pour le Flageolet (op.56, c1835; also translated into Spanish) are competently written and require considerable skill by the performer. The flageolet was sometimes featured in the Jullien concerts in Paris (1836–8) and London (1841–59).

In 1843 an inexpensive version of the flageolet, known as the tin whistle or Pennywhistle was invented by Robert Clarke, and continues to be played in traditional music in many parts of the world. It has become especially associated with Irish music.

See also Organ stop and Zuffolo.

2. Double flageolet.

A double duct-flute with inverse conical bores, invented about 1806 by the London maker William Bainbridge (d c1831). He made his standard model in two sizes: the ‘Octave’ pitched in G, and the larger or ‘Tenor’ pitched nominally a fourth lower in D. It enables the non-expert, taught scales in the form of a sequence of thirds and sixths, to play in two-part harmony, requiring the fingers of a single hand only to service each side. An ivory beak mouthpiece inserts into a top joint that disperses the wind into six concentric channels; the ensuing resistance serves to conceal shortcomings of breath control on the part of the player. A second joint with circular cavity accommodates a sponge to absorb moisture. The third joint is a stock incorporating a labium and plug assembly at each side, each fitted with a manually operated ‘wind-cutter’ that can close off either at will. By silencing the right-hand flageolet, the left-hand pipe may then be played by both hands like a normal flageolet. Ivory studs between the finger-holes (six left-hand, four right-hand) guide fingers on to the holes, certain of which are part-plugged with ebony in order to tune the scale to the desired intervals and to act as speaker keys. On the standard seven-key tenor in G, the left-hand pipe has a range from written f (or c using both hands) to a'', the right-hand from d' to b''. Models with extra keys (up to 17 in all) have an extended range from b (right hand) to d''' (left hand).

The double flageolet capitalized on Bainbridge's 1803 model of ‘octave flageolet’ which, by changing the fingering of the tonic from six to three fingers, had allowed much of the range to be played by the fingers of one hand only, thereby enabling the other free hand to be usefully deployed. His first model had both windways drilled in a single cylindrical body. A rival maker Thomas Scott forestalled him in 1805 by patenting an instrument of somewhat similar design. However the fingering of this so-called ‘Delecta Harmonia’ lacked logic compared to Bainbridge's later model with separate flues, and this quickly outstripped its rival. Their fashionable success caused them to be widely copied by other makers in both London and Dublin, as well as in Germany and the USA. Bainbridge's firm remained in business until 1855, by which time demand had declined in England, although their manufacture continued abroad.

Two further models were developed by Bainbridge. His ‘patent double flute-flageolet’ (1819) was based on his ‘flute-flageolet’ (1807), a regular flageolet blown in the traverse position. In the mid 1820s he introduced his triple (or trio) flageolet; the upper three joints of the double flageolet were replaced with a single joint with ivory mouthpiece into the side of which the stopped third pipe is mounted. Working on the principle of the Ocarina, whereby in principle only one hole at a time is opened, and operated by the otherwise unoccupied left-hand thumb, its four closed keys sound a range of almost an octave. A wooden foot fitted at the base supports the instrument, the base of which is serrated to avoid slipping on the player’s knee.


J. Purkis: Scott & Purkis's Delecta Harmonia or Patent Double-Flageolet … a Complete Tutor for the Above Instrument (London, c1806)

J. Parry: ‘On Flageolets’, The Harmonicon, viii (1830), 499–500

T.E. Warner: An Annotated Bibliography of Woodwind Instruction Books 1600–1830 (Detroit, 1967)

L. Meierott: Die geschichtliche Entwicklung der kleinen Flötentypen (Tutzing, 1974)

H. Moeck: ‘Spazierstockinstrumente: Czakane, englische und Wiener Flageolette’, Festschrift to Ernst Emsheimer, ed. G. Hilleström (Stockholm, 1974), 149–51, 152–63

D. Linley: ‘A 17th-Century Flageolet Tablature at Guildford’, GSJ, xxxi (1978), 94–9

B. Kenyon de Pascual: ‘El Flageolet: el deleite del aficionado a los pájaros’, Ritmo, dlii (1985), 16–18

W. Köhler: Die Blasinstrumente aus der ‘Harmonie Universelle’ des Marin Mersenne (Celle, 1987)

B. Boydell: ‘The Flageolet in Ireland: Aspects of the Repertoire, the Instrument and its Makers’, Musicology in Ireland (Dublin, 1990), 150–68

W. Waterhouse: ‘The Double Flageolet: Made in England’, GSJ, lii (1999), 172–82


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