The following performance practices can help you play Baroque flute music.
Space Between Notes
The harpsichord was the main keyboard instrument used during the Baroque Era. You can think of a harpsichord like a harp that is turned horizontally and plucked by mechanical “fingers” called jacks. Like a harp that is plucked with the fingers, the sound of the harpsichord is very separated.
To match the harpsichord, and to create an energetic bounce in the sound, other instrumentalists would play staccato, or separate their notes. It is interesting to think about how string players perform this – they can literally “bounce” the bow on the string to produce an energy-filled note that is separated from the next.
The opening of Pierre Gabriel Buffardin’s Flute Concerto in e minor is a lovely display of the extensive use of staccato, or separated notes. You can also hear how well that style of playing matches with the harspichord.
I like to visualize the separation of notes in Baroque music as the look of lace. What makes lace so beautiful is not only the quality of the threads of the fabric – its delicate elegance comes also from the space between the threads.
Likewise with Baroque music, much of its dance-like and elegant quality comes from the space between the sound.
Again we look at the influence of the harpsichord, which was capable of playing at set levels of dynamics, but not moving gradually from quiet to loud or the reverse.
Terraced farming was used to grow crops on a hill. Flat levels were cut into the hill and crops were grown on these “steps” or levels. This worked because the rain would not wash the seeds or small plants down the hill. The term terraced dynamics came from this understood farming practice to describe dynamics where a performer could move from one level to the next, but did not gradually change from one to the other.
Embrace the Uneven – Varied Note Weight
The Baroque flute did not have the even tone of which our modern flute is capable. Some notes tended to be louder and more full, others were lighter. This was not seen as a flaw, but rather as something that provided unique characteristics to each key.
Rather than attempting to make each note even, some notes should have weight while others are lighter. To add weight to a note, do one of , or a combination of, the following:
- Make the note longer than surrounding notes
- Play the note louder than surrounding notes
Remember to Dance!
Keep in mind that much of Baroque music was influenced by dancing. When music is played for dancers, part of your job as a musician is to help the dancers know where they are!
Dance music often leads towards the first beat of the measure to help the dancers stay together. It might feel like you are exaggerating this idea in order to do it enough – remember, it has to be obvious enough that the dancers can feel where beat one is without thinking about it too much. Your phrasing should lead the dancers naturally to beat one.