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Classical Notes

Bart Kuijken goes for Baroque

Posted at 3:56 PM on February 3, 2007 by Alison Young

I went to the most fascinating masterclass the other day. Barthold Kuijken, maybe THE foremost Baroque flute specialist in the world has been in the Twin Cities this weekend for a residency of classes, a lecture and a recital. His work with the young students at the University of Minnesota centered around correct performance practice of the Baroque. We don't have recordings to know exactly what was done, but what we do have are books and treatises, especially those like Johann Joachim Quantz's On Playing the Flute written during the early enlightenment, a time that was all about figuring out how things worked.

Kuijken emphasized that the sound ideal included uneven and colorful playing. The contemporary ideal is to create a beautifully in-tune, evenly vibrated and, for the most part, equally colored sound. In the Baroque, the instruments did not play with the same standards as those today and that was part of the charm of the period. As Kuijken descibed it, "less democratic."

Ironically, this also held over for vibrato. In the Baroque, vibrato was more rarely used and if so, as an ornament only, something added to the sound to emphasize or color the note. Seldom was the air pressure altered, the flutists actually lightly caressed the finger hole, almost trilling the note.

Part of the reason that people are interested in playing early, authentic, period instruments is to discover their inherent properties and determine what constituted good taste in that period. Barthold Kuijken was fortunate enough to receive a beautiful 18th century flute when he was a teenager, one that he said became his "best teacher" because the instrument taught him what it would do rather than allowing him to tell the flute what to do! But it was in this way that Kuijken says he came to understand the playing style of the period.

You can hear Barthold Kuijken in concert, Sunday, February 4th at 3:00 at the Landmark Center in St. Paul and discover for yourself some of the color and creativity he puts into his playing.