J.S. Bach Flute Sonata in B Minor (Bwv 1030): the Development of the Baroque Flute, the Flautists and the Music

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J.S. Bach Flute Sonata in B minor (BWV 1030): the development of the Baroque Flute, the flautists and the music
Johann Sebastian Bach (J.S. Bach) is no doubt one of the greatest composers of all times. He composed many works for flute including works for solo flute, flute with harpsichord and/or continuo and, two flutes and harpsichord. However, there has been a controversy, over the flute works, whether they were composed solely by the composer, assisted by someone or under the guidance of J.S. Bach. In addition, some scholars doubted that some of works are not written for flute and they are actually transcribed for flute by the composer. Especially, the Sonata in B minor (BWV 1030) raises most number of controversies. The J.S. Bach flute compositions are standard repertoire for the flute even today. As a professional flute player, it is very important to have comprehensive knowledge on the background of these works because they directly affect the way of interpreting them. By reviewing the development of Baroque flute and analyzing the time period of the compositions would greatly help flutists to have a deeper understanding on these important repertoire in flute especially the B minor sonata (BWV 1030).

The development of the instrument, Baroque flute, plays no doubt very important role on influencing the work written for it. The difference in range, tonality, mechanisms greatly affect the compositions written for it. Unlike other wind instruments, the Baroque flute was developed later than others. Since it is made differently, it is definitely impossible to apply the styles of other instruments on the Baroque flute.

Some research suggested that J.S. Bach has little familiarity of the flute and flute players because, although the style of the compositions are similar to the other pieces of the composer, the flute works do not show that he understands the characteristic and the quality of the instrument.1 And, the lack of knowledge of the flute would probably be because the composer did not listen much works for flute and meet flutists in where he worked.

As mentioned above, the development of Baroque Flutes has great impact on how the pieces were written for it. Consequently, it is impossible to overlook this element when doing this research. “Flute” is a general term for a large and diverse woodwind instrumental family of which players blow air across the surface of any hollow object to produce sound. The appearance of the instrument, not only in western music, is found all over the globe like di-zi in China.2

In Western music, flute plays an important role from ancient Greek music to contemporary music nowadays. The design, uses and playing styles keep changing even today. As one of the oldest instruments in Western music, “flutes” first appear in a picture of a shepherd playing the flute from the sermons of St Gregory of Nazianzus in a manuscript of early eleventh century.3 It is mostly associated with nature and pastoral life. In Renaissance, flute was one of the instruments in mixed ensemble. More importantly, it played a notable role in sacred concerti or sacred symphonies. Johann Hermann Schein (1586-1630), one of J.S. Bach’s predecessors, composed seven ensemble works that featured a transverse flute which is always assigned to the second voice.

This tradition went on to the Baroque era and solo flute works became more popular from 1670. There were large changes in its mechanisms. The new instrument is now built in three or four sections instead of one piece; it is modified from a large cylindrical bore to a conical bore in which the diameter of the headpiece was greater than the foot piece which improves the tuning of the upper notes; most importantly, one key was added in the foot piece so there is an extra note which the little finger of the right hand cannot reach originally and it produces the new note d#’.4 These inventions are very important. However, there is a common misunderstand, however,...
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