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

Review of 4th seminar: Instruments of Status – the Flute in Eighteenth-Century Scotland

Seminars will resume on Wednesday 17th January 2018, email [email protected] to be added to the mailing list for these events.

The final seminar of Michaelmas Term took place on 29 November 2017, and was given by Dr Elizabeth Ford (University of Glasgow), who discussed the role of the flute amongst gentleman amateurs in Scotland.

The German flute was first encountered in Scotland in 1702, and became an extraordinarily popular instrument amongst gentlemen amateurs in the early eighteenth century, prefiguring its popularity in England in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Portable, yet easier to play in the early stages than the violin, the flute became a symbol of status for wealthy amateurs: not only did the instrument display their masculinity, but also their financial status.


Many expensive instruments in exotic hardwoods with ivory mounts and silver keys were bought and sold, and some players ordered instruments from well-known London makers including Bressan and Schuchart. By the late eighteenth century, four-keyed flutes had appeared in Scotland, but the instrument ceased to be in common amateur use by the 1820s. Eighteenth-century flutes from the Bate Collection were available for examination.

The flute was taught to schoolboys in the 1720s and considerable evidence exists (including poems) to show that the German flute was also played by women, particularly in the domestic setting.

Scottish composers (including Oswald and McGibbon) contributed a repertoire, including trio-sonatas for flutes, violins, and continuo.

Dr Ford’s paper brought eighteenth-century Scotland into the musical limelight: the extensive musical life of Edinburgh is often overlooked, and few perhaps perceive the importance of woodwind instruments as significant symbols of wealth and social status. In themselves, expensive flutes are artefacts of considerable aesthetic value, and the integration of the instruments and their music with social status in lands north of Hadrian’s Wall provided a fascinating discourse – and it is rumoured that even Bonnie Prince Charlie played the flute!

Douglas MacMillan
St Cross College, Oxford

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