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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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Turning a thesis into a book can be a dreary enterprise, but not when the subject is as significant and surprisingly neglected as this one, and when the account is written with life and clarity.

The place of the flute in Enlightenment Scotland should have been an obvious subject of interest, but until now it has commanded only limited attention. The flute is, after all, the instrument which Mozart chose to assert the rights and power of nature in the Masonic Temple of The Magic Flute, and Scotland’s contribution to the marriage between the classical and the traditional, between artifice and nature, was seminal during this period.

Dr Ford has provided us with the first proper study of an important aspect of eighteenth-century musical life which, though concerned with Scotland, has significant implications for the study of European music. Her narrative is clear and clearly organized; her scholarship is excellent, and her style is thoroughly approachable. In the process, fascinating light is shed upon Scottish society, with many entertaining, even juicy details, on occasion observed with wry humour.

Dr Ford is herself an accomplished flautist specializing in baroque flute, and this gives her assessment of the material a necessary authority. She is in a position to assess the technical demands of individual pieces, as well as their musical appeal, and can elucidate some of the more arcane aspects of flute nomenclature, construction and playing technique.

All this, however, is contextualized...

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