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Here are some ways that you can play music from the Classical Era that honor the customs of the time.

Play Like the Piano

Though the harpsichord was certainly still used during the Classical Era, the piano was a rising favorite. Unlike the harpsichord, which by its nature produced separated notes, the piano was capable of connected sound.

To blend with the connected piano sound, technical flute lines became much more connected. Consider using “d” instead of “t” to create a quick and gentle articulation that allows the tone to connect quick sixteenth notes.

Lightness of sound

The flute of the Classical Era had some advancements compared to the Baroque flute, but it was still much closer to the Baroque flute than our modern flute. Performing ensembles were smaller than modern ensembles as well.

Both of these considerations mean that Classical Era music would not have had the loudness that our modern ears are used to hearing. When I perform Classical Era music, I often think of the loudest dynamic in the piece as being where my “normal” mezzo-forte would be (comfortable, without overblowing). Think elegant and refined, or light and fun.

Choose Articulations Wisely

During the Classical Era, as in the Baroque Era, composers often did not include many articulations – this was left to the performer. In the realm of Classical music wisely chosen articulation patterns can make technical passages sound light and with ease. The two-slur, two-tongue pattern that was avoided in the Baroque Era is often used during the Classical Era.

Modern flutists employ double tonguing quite regularly to achieve faster, cleaner articulation. Double tonguing was not used nearly as frequently during the Classical Era. Consider a tempo that allows you to single tongue, and explore different syllables (such as “d” and even “l”) that allow you to single tongue more quickly.

Decorate, But Maybe Not as Much

The Baroque Era saw ornamentation and improvisation fully utilized as a performance practice. Though the Classical Era features a return to simplicity, ornaments and improvisation did not completely disappear. Cadential trills starting on the upper appoggiatura and simple ornamentation are still fair game. Short cadenzas were used in concertos.

Allow the decoration to add freshness, energy and life to simple melodies rather than overshadow them.

Energy from Vibrato

Modern flutists tend to use vibrato as a regular part of the sound – that is, vibrato is used nearly the entire time a modern flutist plays. Vibrato on a Classical flute was used more like an ornament rather than as a regular part of the sound.

One reason for this is that vibrato was sometimes done by finger motion rather than as a function of air. The finger motion, or flattement, would be too difficult to do on every note. It was instead used to add emphasis or energy to a specific note, often a longer note.

When performing Classical music on a modern instrument, it is important to consider what sounds good on the instrument that you are playing. A good compromise is to use a subtle vibrato throughout and reserve a wider, more expressive vibrato for notes that would have been emphasized in a historic performance. This approach allows the modern flute to sound good throughout while maintaining a more Classical Era use of vibrato.

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