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The Flute in Scotland from the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Century


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 7 The flute in Scotland today: Not Scottish enough?


Chapter 7

The flute in Scotland today: Not Scottish enough?

This book set out to explore the role of the flute in eighteenth-century Scotland, and to restore its place in Scottish music history. By first dispensing with William Tytler’s origin myth regarding the flute in Scotland, and then re-examining evidence from the primary sources, it has been revealed that Scotland in no way lagged behind the rest of Europe in flute-related activities. Having considered surviving records of flute players, repertoire, manuscripts, and instruments, a fuller picture of the flute’s role can be seen. The picture that emerges of the flute’s role in musical life in eighteenth-century Scotland is that it was significant and popular. The tendency to ignore the flute in favour of the fiddle or the bagpipes when studying Scottish music has led to scholarly neglect.

The assumption that the flute was not nearly as popular as the violin/fiddle or the bagpipes is difficult to dispense with entirely, as far more information survives regarding the other two instruments. The idea that the flute was only a concert instrument and had no place in traditional music comes directly from the assumption that it was only played by rich men. Players such as Robert Tannahill and William Nicholson played Scottish traditional music on the flute and many publications of traditional Scottish music included special arrangements for the flute, demonstrating that it was common for it to be played in this repertoire. This notion, however, remains...

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