THIS WEDNESDAY: “Instruments of Learning: guitar playing and music education 1750-1850”

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Instruments of the Eighteenth Century (Starting this Wednesday):

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Update: C18th Lit and Culture Seminar Hilary 2018


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Besterman Enlightenment Workshop 2018

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Maria Theresa (1717-1780): Tercentenary Workshop

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C18th Literature and Culture Seminar Hilary 2018


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Romantic Research Seminar Hilary 2018


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RECSO Presents RESTORATION TO REVOLUTION BINGO (23 January, 2nd Week, Wadham Room, King’s Arms)

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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 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

Posted in Events, RECSO, Seminars

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.

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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.Isobel.jpg

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.

Posted in Events, RECSO, Seminars