Review of our third ‘Instruments of the Eighteenth Century’ Seminar.

Apologies to all for the delay in posting this blog, which took place on Wednesday 16 November 2017.

Review: Instruments of the Eighteenth Century, seminar 3

The Recorder as an Instrument of Love
Isobel Clarke and Douglas MacMillan

RECSO’s 6th week seminar in the series ‘Instruments of the Eighteenth Century’ appraised the recorder as an instrument of love. This interesting paper began by considering definitions of love, reminding us that the English language uses one word for a range of different types of love. In other languages these different types are expressed by separate words, and C. S. Lewis described four types of love.

The recorder was also defined and we were given a brief history of the use of the instrument in English music from its introduction in the fourteenth century to its rise in popularity in the sixteenth to seventeenth centuries. It evolved in France where it was known as la flûte douce and was often referred to in England as the flute.

Isobel and Douglas then considered how the recorder was used in opera and theatre to express different themes such as the supernatural, the ceremonial, the pastoral, romantic scenes and bird song. In this context different recorders were used for different purposes: the soprano was often used to evoke water and the alto recorder for absent love. Illustrative examples from Purcell, Handel and others were presented, including Handel’s Acis and Galatea. By the end of the seventeenth century the ‘flute’ or recorder was established in the works of Purcell and Handel as an amorous instrument.

It was lovely to hear some of these examples played by Isobel and Douglas; in one case on the eighteenth century Bressan recorder belonging to the Bate collection.

Domestic use of the recorder was discussed. At a time when it was only in live performance that music could be heard, amateur players wanted to be able to play sonatas and arias from opera and theatre in their music-making at home. To meet this demand, John Walsh produced transcriptions of this music for the recorder which were printed and sold. It was fascinating to hear that Samuel Pepys was inspired to learn the recorder having heard an aria which he felt evoked the sound of an angel.

Isobel and Douglas concluded that even if the recorder was not the instrument of love, it was definitely an instrument with amorous connotations.

Fay Linacre, Oxford, November 2017

Our final seminar of term took place on Wednesday 29th November, 1-2pm at the Bate Collection on St Aldates, and features Dr Elizabeth Ford from the University of Glasgow, speaking about ‘Instruments of Status: the flute in eighteenth-century Scotland’. Blog to follow.

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