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Sine Waves

I enjoyed quite a bit of flute listening over the last couple months, during my so-called process of writing That Concertino. It’s my due diligence, of course, and for a non-flute-o-phile, I believe I’ve done a fair job of negotiating quite a variety of Flute Features. My several trips to the NYPL score library were fruitful, yet results were mixed. Nothing ever come close to the recent pleasure of discovering Diana Krall’s Joni Mitchell cover on her Live in Paris CD, but I did find some very good stuff.

Rated very high on my listening list are Toru Takemitsu-san’s I hear the water dreaming, Henry Brant’s Angels and Devils for “massed” flutes, and Maestro Corigliano’s Voyage for flute and string quintet. The Corigliano is stunningly beautiful of course, but that’s no big surprise. If John were incapable of anything, it would be writing bad music. The Takemitsu brought me right back to my days of inhaling his music like it was glue, and the piece is just as gorgeous as everything else. His stuff is always jam-packed with compositional goodies, and this one does not disappoint. I found myself taking this score with me while I travelled, just to keep referring to it and maybe soak up some of the loveliness. The Brant is a well-known work—it often comes up when his name is mentioned—but I had never actually heard it. It’s a fascinating thing, this piece, but it might be one of those where the idea of the work is more enjoyable than the music itself.

Unfortunately, the Melinda Wagner Concerto for Flute, Strings, and Percussion, the Nielsen Flute Concerto (best with the Norwegian title of Koncert for fløjte og orkester), and Bernstein’s Halil, all left me underwhelmed. The Nielsen sports a gorgeous section around the B-theme area in the first movement, but it’s very very brief, and as far as I could tell never comes back, and I found those 30 seconds or so to be the only ear-raising moments of the piece. I became aware of Wagner’s concerto when it won the Pulitzer a few years ago, but this was my first listen, and (probably) because of its pedigree I gave it a good go. A solid piece, definitely. Some excellent orchestration, good pacing on the flute solo. But I never fell in love, which, y’know, happens. As far as Halil goes … suffice to say … not his best piece, nope.

The clear winner of all Flute Listening was the Dutilleux 1943 Sonatine. If I wasn’t already attached, I’d marry this piece. Simply. Perfect. The score never left my piano for 2 months straight.

Then there were the obvious re-listens, of course. The ubiquitous Varese Density 21.5, and Debussy’s Syrinx … two works seared in my brain after years of required analysis (it’s Music School Law), but for this project they demanded a return visit. A friend posits a theory that every solo flute piece written today ends up sounding like Density, and he’s kind of not wrong about that. The patented original is definitely hard to top.

In fact, when prepping for this piece, I was actually thinking that I’d warm up first with a solo flute piece. (One of the first pieces I ever wrote was a solo flute piece. They like you to write solo flute pieces when you’re 18. It’s kind of like stretching when you first get to the gym.) My intentions were good on that, but the execution was poor. The idea was that I’d start Thinking Flute, but the results were thick and harmonic, vertical rather than horizontal, and after struggling with it for a couple of weeks I realized that what I was writing was the concertino itself. Work not wasted, of course, but it goes to show. Just Do It, as The Man says.

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