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The Flute in Scotland from the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Century

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Elizabeth C. Ford

It is a generally accepted truth that the flute was unknown in Scotland prior to 1725, and that it was played exclusively by wealthy men. Upon examination, these beliefs are demonstrably false. This book explores the role of the flute in Scottish musical life, primarily in the long eighteenth century, including players, repertoire, manuscripts, and instruments. Evidence for ladies having played the flute is also examined, as are possible connections between flute playing and bagpipe playing. Reasons for the flute’s disappearance from the pantheon of Scottish instruments are considered, and interviews with contemporary flute players in Scotland depict flute playing in contemporary Scotland. This work fills a major gap in knowledge of Scottish musical life and flute history.

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Chapter 1 The flute in Scotland in the sixteenth century

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Chapter 1

The flute in Scotland in the sixteenth century

Iconographical evidence for the transverse flute in Scotland goes back to at least the sixteenth century. The fountain at Linlithgow Palace, one of James V’s additions to the courtyard, dates from 1538,1 and among the carved creatures depicted on the fountain is a satyr playing a transverse flute.2 The flute is an accurate representation of the one-piece instruments of the sixteenth century.3

Figure 1. The Muses’ Ceiling, Crathes Castle, The National Trust for Scotland.

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The earliest picture of a flute in a Scottish source is painted on the ceiling at Crathes Castle, Banchory, Aberdeenshire, and dates from 1599 (see Figure 1).4 The ceiling in the Chamber of the Muses depicts seven of the nine muses in a broken consort;5 Euterpe holds an unusually shaped flute in playing position. The inscription on the ceiling near her describes it as a ‘quhissile,’6 but the instrument is undoubtedly meant to represent a transverse flute. This flute is unique in the western world: instead of the long cylindrical shape of the Renaissance flute, the end flares into a wide bell. No evidence that this flute had a model in real life exists; all indications are that this was probably a case of artistic license: the top of the instrument is clearly a transverse flute, but the bottom more closely resembles a recorder or a shawm. While the hand...

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