Flutes, old and new

by Alison Young, Minnesota Public Radio
June 24, 2009

St. Paul, Minn. — Imagine prehistoric humans, living in caves, hunting giant beasts, just trying to survive. Though life may have been "nasty, brutish and short," early man's mind must have been filled with curiosity, wonder and awe at her surroundings.

Paintings, sculpture and music were all part of the tapestry of early man on this earth. It seems our ancestors had highly sophisticated means of artistic expression, and took this know-how with them as they migrated into Europe.

This past Wednesday, archaeologists in southern Germany dug up the oldest instrument ever: A 35,000-year-old bone flute that was most surely well-loved and played regularly.

It is remarkable how similar this flute looks to its successors from many millenia in the future, though this archetype would have been played vertically.

In spite of that, the mechanics of making music on these two flutes are precisely the same. A player brought the carved lip plate to her mouth and blew across the opening, its sharp edge splitting the airstream and causing the instrument to vibrate.

The lovely, tuneful, bird-like sound that resulted was much louder and in a greater range than the human voice. The five holes could be covered partially or fully by her fingers -- to change pitches, trill, slide, quaver and make any number of melodies, ones we can only guess at.

Though hardly as ancient in any anthropological sense, the Dorian Wind Quintet has been around for a good long time, founded in 1961 by five young musicians studying at Tanglewood in eastern Massachusetts.

The Dorian came to St. Paul in the dead of winter to play a recital as part of the Music in the Park Series.

Click the audio links on the right to hear the concert, and listen to the flutist who plays three different instruments -- piccolo, alto flute as well as the C-flute.

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Dorian Wind Quintet Recorded: January 11, 2009 at St. Anthony Park United Church of Christ

Wind Quintet in E-flat; Anton Reicha

A set of variations by various composers on a theme from the Reicha Quintet

Six Bagatelles, Gyorgy Ligeti

Aires Tropicales; Paquito D'Rivera

Encore: Jacques Ibert; One of 'Three Short Pieces'

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