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From the Preface

(c) 2001, Ardal Powell

Since the late Philip Bate wrote his study of the flute a generation ago, a vast body of new knowledge has come to light about the instrument and the people who made it in earlier times, as well as about those who wrote, played, and heard its music. This new information and the fresh perspectives it brings have altered some of our most basic assumptions about the flute, along with all the other instruments.

Perhaps the most powerful new idea in music, one that emerged as more details about musical life in the past became known, is that repertoire, instruments, and playing style are--and always have been--inextricably woven together: that works conceived with a certain set of performing and listening conditions in mind lose much of their intended impact if those conditions alter, as they almost always do with time. As so many of the pieces we play and hear today were composed in ages before our own, this point has led a growing number of people to recognize that we must grasp the ideas and practices of those eras if we are to lay claim to their musical material. The tone, tuning, and character of instruments have changed so much even in the recent past that the special sound and feeling of music that moved our parents' and grandparents' generations is all but lost to us. Thus earlier instruments, so distinct from their modern forms, often hold the key to understanding the particular qualities of pieces they were meant to play. And so the history of musical instruments and performance styles, once the dusty pastime of antiquarians, has now become part of a fascinating inquiry that holds vital importance in today's cultural life.

This volume, a sort of progress report on a part of that inquiry, presents a survey of what is now known about the flute and flute-playing in the past and in the present. It is not an encyclopaedia, and does not set out to extend the boundaries of scholarship any further by contributing new material: in fact information is so copious that I have been at constant pains to find ever more drastic ways of summarizing it. The accelerating pace of discovery in recent decades makes this a dynamic and fast-changing field, so that a single definitive account lies no more within reach now than it ever did, despite all the new facts and insights we possess. But if a survey like this cannot delve deep into detail or answer all the questions it raises, I have tried to make it comprehensive enough to explore the subject in the new light in which our generation now sees it.

The invitation to write a book for this series came with a proposed structure that began with the flute of today and worked backwards, in a logical sense, from there. But I saw two objections to this quite conventional plan. The first is that it would require the reader to know something of the modern flute, whereas I think the instrument's history is far too interesting to exclude all the potential readers who could not pass this test. Secondly, since all artistic endeavour depends--knowingly or not--upon what has gone before, I think the best perspective to take on the modern flute and flute-playing is a historical one--that is, a view that tries to see events in the light of their own times rather than with indiscriminate hindsight. For these reasons my preferred chronology begins at the beginning and, as far as possible, works towards the present.

This book will be of interest in the first place of course to flutists, flute teachers, and flute students. Since most in the last group are young people, I planned the book to be accessible to the attentive and curious among them, as well as to musicians in general and to academic readers. That is not to say that I have felt it necessary to skip over areas where little is known or to oversimplify complex topics out of a fear that some readers would lack the patience for detailed discussion; on the contrary, I find that areas that demand critical attention always prove the most interesting to explore. But I have not assumed any specialized knowledge of music history, and where necessary have presented brief summaries of certain crucial aspects of musical theory, discussions of terminology, and similar special subjects in sidebars as an aid to non-specialists. Nonetheless, a certain amount of general familiarity with geography, history, and music is expected of all readers, and so younger ones who encounter unfamiliar names of people, places, and things may find it helpful to keep an atlas and a musical dictionary at hand. I hope that any questions that remain will, as one young person put it after reading an early draught, 'provide a spark of curiosity, leaving them wanting to learn more about music in general.'

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