Baroque interpretation and articulation for the modern flutist – Part 1
Ory’s Flute Tips
Baroque Interpretation and Articulation for the Modern Flutist – Part 1
I’ve decided to dedicate the next posts for baroque music, its interpretation and articulation, from the real basics to more complex concepts. I encourage you to follow the future posts in the order they are published, as each new post will be a continuation of the previous post.
Baroque interpretation and articulation are far more complex in order to sum them all into one post or even several posts. Nevertheless, there are few basic concepts that you can practice and integrate rather quickly that will make a huge difference to your interpretation.
🔊🔉 Not all notes are born equal – the concept of Micro-Dynamics
Since our early musical classes we are taught that every 1/4 note, every 1/8 note or every 1/16 note are equal and our teachers make sure that we execute these rhythms as equally as possible (whether rhythmically, length of the notes or dynamics wise). Year after year we are being trained to play each note as the one before or after it- as if notation would be just a mathematical issue: That’s a 1/4 note and it has this length, and an 1/8 note is exactly the half of the 1/4 note.
Playing in this manner might fit very well to romantic and modern repertoire but won’t serve well baroque and classical music. It will lead to a heavy interpretation and miss the fine details which are written (or not) in the music. In addition, the general lack of written dynamics doesn’t help the performer and doesn’t give us extra information about how we should play the music. Why was then the music written this way? Because the performance rules were known to the musicians and were widely accepted ( although there were of course some debates on various performance topics between the composers and musicians of the time).
Before I can discuss the topic of articulation, there are few basic ideas that have to be discussed and practiced, as the way we articulate should serve these ideas, and not the other way around.
🔢 The basics – The hierarchy in a bar
Each musical piece we know start with a very important piece of information written, that sometimes we tend not to respect or notice – the time signature: 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 3/8, 6/8 etc…Why is this information so important? Because a bar has an inside hierarchy, that is determined by this time signature:
If we are playing a 2/4 bar we should play the first beat of the bar heavier and the second beat lighter.
If we are playing a 3/4 bar, the first beat is the heavy beat and the 2nd and 3rd beats are lighter.
If we are playing a 4/4 bar, the first beat in the heaviest, 2nd lighter, 3rd a little heavy, 4th lighter.
How can we then create the differences between the heavy and the light beats? This we create by playing with Micro-Dynamics: the use of few dynamics inside one bar, in order to highlight the importance of certain notes (the heavy note/beat of the bar) and reduce the importance of other notes (the weak notes/beats of the bar).
Play the upper line with the same dynamics though. Then play the second line with the diminuendo, starting the next bar with the same forte as the first bar. Can you feel the difference? Can you feel the the importance of the first beat?
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🔇 What happens when dynamics can not be applied?
Now comes a bit of a tricky question: The cembalo/harpsichord, one of the most common instruments in baroque music, can not play any dynamics. Each note is equally loud. How can the bar hierarchy still exist then?
Harpsichord players had to find a different solution other than dynamics – time. They would play the heavy notes slower and longer and the weaker notes quicker and shorter. Instead of mixing various dynamics, they would mix various notes lengths.
Try the following examples and see if you can feel the difference between them:
Play the upper line rather equally, so each note has the same length as the note before/after it.
Play the lower line as notated. The first note of the bar is long, full length. The 2nd and 3rd beats are rather short and light.
➕ Combine Micro-Dynamics and mixed lengths of notes
Luckily for us flutists, we are able to play different dynamics and therefore we can combine both concepts into one, like in this example:
Play the lower line as a combination for both the previous exercises above: Use the Micro-dynamics together with playing the notes in different lengths as suggested in this example.
In the next posts I will discuss how you can integrate baroque articulation in your daily scales routine, practicing ‘Bell-like’ notes, the use and importance of legato and more….stay tuned!
I have created for you a FREE PDF file with these exercises, together with other time signatures and how to approach them (micro-dynamics and mixed lengths are written already together).
Try it out and let me know how it feels.
Ory Schneor is a principal flutist with the Munich Chamber Orchestra, Tongyeong Festival Orchestra and member of the Geneva Camerata. He is teaching masterclasses around the world and he is the founder and instructor at FLUTEinWIEN
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