Last week I gave my final Masters recital – it’s been whirlwind in preparation and after the rectial – so please accept this 25 minute video detailing the process of planning, prepping, and challenges along the way of making my recital possible in lieu of a linear blog post.
The week this post will be live is also the same week I will be performing Frank Martin’s Ballade for my final Masters’ recital. Given the priority of recording – over live rehearsals – I have been able to be much more detail focused on this piece than I could have ever been in ‘normal’ times. This is not an easy piece by an means; if you are not familiar with the work allow me to break down the sections and shed some insight on what I’ve learned over the past few months.
Let’s start with the composer: Frank Martin. He is a Swiss composer who lived from 1890-1974 and he studied piano and composition with J. Lauber. Early on he was influenced by French composers – in the early 20th century, the distinct impressionist style of French music such as by Faure. Around the 1930s he also studied with Arnold Schoenberg; the culminating of these contrasting composing styles finally came together in the late 1930s. Gerhard Braun’s notes in the Universal score put it best, “these compositions blend twelve-tone technique and functional harmony, frequent use of ostinato and pedal point, the incorporation of perfect major and minor triads and exploitation of the melodic and harmonic tensions generated by the leading note and the tonic.”
Frank Martin’s Ballade was originally written for flute and piano when composed in 1939; it was composed to be premiered at the Geneva International Music Competition of that same year. Several years later, in 1941, the Ballade was adapted for flute and orchestra.
Before getting into the piece, and honorable mention is Paula Robison’s Masterclass: Frank Martin Ballade pour flute et piano. This book – as the title would suggest – workshops the Ballade and is a great resource for anyone who either loves to listen to the piece or intends on performing it. I won’t recap much of what she says within my own analysis because I think Robison writes so concisely; however, the use of medieval poetry (speech patterns) is something worth looking into when studying the Ballade.
The first question is: how do we section the Ballade? Generally the tempo markings indicate a change in texture, timbre, or color; the ones that I regard as significant are as follows:
What interesting is that when broken up into 6 sections of similar lengths the form resembles in a warped mirror.
Like an: A B C-C B’ A’
The material from the Allegro ben moderato returns at the very end in the Meno mosso – slightly distorted; the material in the Molto Vivace comes BEFORE the Meno mosso with a varied version of the original Vivace motives. The Cadenza and the Lento / Con moto sections act as the mirror or the axis for the larger A and B themes to reflect.
A: Allegro ben moderato (m. 1-43)
The work opens with the conversational eighth note motive. There is no real tonal center – a la Schoenberg – however, this is NOT a tone row either… so what is it? There are three 2 bar sets within the opening: (1) G A Bb F#; (2) F# E# G# A (3) B# B A# Gx. The only discernible pattern is that each time there is a move upward by a half step such as from G to G# to Gx.
The cyclic eighth notes are broken by a register change – which is another trademark of the piece. And you will notice that following that break that the beaming changes from 6 to two groups of 3. Where Martin is setting up the 2 v 3 (and 3 v 2) between the flute and piano early on. In measure 11, there is a ‘new’ beginning on new pitches, however, this does not proceed the same way we heard it the first time because another set of two groups of 3 interrupt the motive and propel the flute line into a syncopated, extreme interval idea.
One more time we get a ‘new’ beginning, this time a half step higher than the last (m. 11) and now the roles are reverse where the flute is playing the 2 while the piano has 3.
We get more intervals mixed in with short 2 bar snippets of the transposed opening motive before our first set of sixteenth notes ascends to the climax of the opening which falls down with syncopations into the Piu Tranquillo. The piano is back to playing 2s (more of a 6/8) while the flute is playing in 3/4 on a single note that is syncopated, maintaining that conversational element from the very opening of the section.
B: Vivace / Half = Dotted Half (m. 44-153)
This next section is interesting, mostly because of the Half = Dotted Half section which is simultaneously stable and unstable. At first glance it may seem odd to roll that section into B however it juxtaposes the section to create this contrast to the high energy; the calmness/song-like line of the Half = Dotted Half is like a delayed echo to the abundance of material the Vivace throws at us. This echo is reinforced too, by m. 147-148, which is a transposed version of the Vivace‘s m. 62-63.
Both the tempo and rhythm contrast the opening A section. The tempo increase is initiated by the piano and then the flute spring boards with new (small unit) rhythms. Compared to the A section which heavily used eighth notes, the B section as sixteenths and an abundance of triplet figures.
The Half = Dotted Half section may seem calm (notated ‘dolce cantabile’) compared to the first half of the B section; however the 2 over 3 (flute in 2/4 and piano in 3/4) is just a small sample of Martin playing with polyrhythms.
And the B section ends with a return to the primary material – the eighths [rest] sixteenth figure – that leaps to the high E6.
Cadenza (m. 154-193)
The cadenza restates the resonant E octave leap that ended the B section. A similar style reminiscent of the A section is recycled in the initial ‘moderato’ – this time playing with the interval of a half step reinforced as a sort of palindrome (reinforcing the mirror analogy).
This introduction intensifies and then suddenly steps back at the second ‘moderato’ with a contrasting piano dynamic a tritone lower than the opening E6. This new section is a sort of ‘haze’ or smoke and mirrors – at least in a tonal sense – as Martin reinforces the pedal Ab as well as (one half step down) G while altering the subsequent pitches. The pitches held on fermatas may indicate some type of stabilizing the tonal center, however, it is an illusion – as Martin does not feature one area for too long. One of these illusions is the recurring A – C – F:
As you can see from the score, this instances are fleeting.
C: Lento / Con moto (m. 194-272)
If you thought Martin may finally resolve to F… you’d be close, he choses to start the Lento on F#… but then of course if you refer to the piano score he writes a G# (a M2) to shatter any tonal security.
This is all new material both the Lento and Con moto contrast everything from the A and B sections by providing a moment of stasis in the music; and this works – or at least is able to hold interest – because of the diverse array of pitches he is using in the flute and piano lines. And corresponding, once the tonal center is more stable, Martin returns (briefly) to the A material where he expands the eighth note patterns in several ways (1) articulation patterns (2) intervals and (3) rests/syncopations.
This section ends with lively triplets (used in a different way than they have been in the B section) as they are constant, in a chromatic pattern rolling upwards to a high C7 on the downbeat of the Presto.
B’: Presto / Molto Vivace (m. 273-323)
The piano responds to the high energy, before scaling back and bringing us around to the reflection of the mirror B’ or the Molto vivace.
The first difference is the flute entrance in m. 287-290 on the tied notes and with the graces. Then, Martin alters the articulation pattern for the triplets and abridges the pattern so that the climax arrives at the peak of the energy of the triplet section.
And this climax is amazingly simple – just B Bb and A – in different rhythms.
A’: Meno mosso / Presto (m. 324-358)
Finally, the B Bb A resolves to a G# continuing the downward half step trajectory; and after a brief sequence, the introductory theme comes back in a new ‘key’ with the transformative elements from the C section of articulation and intervals. In the ‘animando’ Martin blends the triplets from the B section into the texture continuing to play with intervals. Again, we see the tritone – Ab to D this time.
What do you think of the Ballade? My recital will have a live premiere on Sunday April 18th at 5PM – feel free to stop in to hear the Ballade which is on the first half of the program!
As an undergraduate student there was a time that I was playing bassoon and brass (trumpet and trombone) all in one semester… how do you maintain a solid flute embouchure going back and forth?
General Observations and Thoughts
You may have heard this before, but the flute is very similar to singing. When you break it down – the mouth shape (or vowel), tongue position, resonator or power source (diaphragm; chest; throat; head), etc.
Having knowledge of what you are doing to achieve an ideal sound on not just the flute, but all your other instruments will enable you to switch between them with more ease.
I always found that I learned so much more about my flute playing by playing other instruments. The idea of doing the extreme opposite really reinforced specific flute concepts for me – for example, the low, tall embouchure required to play bassoon compared to the higher jaw and tongue position needed for flute.
Strings, Percussion and Keyboard
Given the non-windness™️ of these instruments there is not really any challenge transition between these two instrument families to the flute.
The benefit of these instruments – in my own experience – has been the visual conception of range and intervals. If we are being honest FLUTE FINGERINGS MAKE VERY LITTLE SENSE… when playing a stringed or fretted instrument or a keyboard the distance between larger intervals is a tangible thing.
Doubling on another wind instrument can be extremely fatiguing – this is true for woodwinds as well. The brass instruments produce sound in a more direct way than the flute, however, the mouthpieces do provide some resistance that you would not otherwise have when playing flute (especially HORN). The larger brass instruments (trombone, euphonium and tuba) – in my experience – would allow me to be much more flexible with my air.
Another note on fatigue is your lips after buzzing – especially if you don’t have the endurance to sustain it for long periods – will impact the balance between your top and bottom lip when playing flute. It can create tightness or the upwards lift of the corners of your embouchure when playing flute which you will need to actively keep an eye on.
One major pro that I experienced when doubling on brass was the resonance. My air flow was so much more open and connected between low-middle and high as a result of the buzzing. However, you can create the same effect by doing lip trills from singing.
Woodwinds: Single Reed
Out of all of the doubling pairs I found clarinet and saxophone to be the most difficult when trying to go back to flute. I believe this is for several reasons (1) the resistance on the single reed instruments is SIGNIFICANTLY more than the flute and (2) thus requires a different embouchure, tongue position, etc.
I can’t speak for the lower instruments – bass clarinet or bari saxophone – but definitely the Bb Clarinet and Alto/Tenor Saxophones are not so similar to flute… but also not contrasting.
Woodwinds: Double Reed
What is contrasting is bassoon, and even oboe to an extent.
The double reeds are more similar to flute than the single reeds; I find this mainly because both the top and bottom part of the lip are touching the reed are the air is being sent directly into the instrument. Yes, there is more resistance than playing the flute, but less resistance than the single reeds.
For bassoon – as mentioned – the embouchure is almost the exact opposite to the flute which (for some people) can make it easy to transition between the two because it’s such a stark contrast. The register difference also helps with your mind compartmentalizing the instruments.
For oboe, I’ve found pretty much the same in regards to set up. However, I find the roadblock with oboe is more so the technical end. Both the flute and the oboe are high maintenance instruments – the the oboe is EXTRA maintenance, which for me has always been a duality of either flute OR oboe, but trying to care and maintain both requires someone with a lot of money and patience.
Do you have experience doubling? How do you manage transitioning between instruments – let me know in the comments below!
Have you ever thought of why the flute is included in the woodwind family? Of course, there is a history of flutes made partially with wood. The real answer though is much more interesting: the woodwind family is actually classed by the way sound is produced an excerpt from WWBW “the way they produce their sound which is by splitting the player’s air stream on a sharp edge, such as a reed”. When looking at flute specs – especially for younger students – often you are dealing with a cheaper silver – usually nickel. Here is a comprehensive list of both flute specs and flutes for students:
There are so many variables with it comes to manufacturing a flute, this is no way a fully complete list (since there are a vast amount of custom variables), I have divided these specs into 6 common categories:
C foot v.
Open holed v.
Inline G key v.
Offset G key
Gizmo key (foot)
Bb side key (body)
C# trill (body)
Split E (body)
C# roller (foot)
D# roller (foot)
Brossa F# (body)
Nickel silver – sometimes with silver plating on the exterior
Coin silver OR Sterling silver
Gold – How many karats?
Combination of metals
ie. a sterling silver body with gold keys; OR a coin silver body with gold interior wall.
The riser is part of the embouchure hole and can be any metal (ie. silver, gold).
The wall thickness can impact the color of the tone (and the weight of the instrument).
Also as mentioned, the inner wall of the flute can be made of a different metal than the outer wall.
The thickness of the tube is important because flute players will often upgrade their headjoint (since it is less expensive than buying a whole flute) and the diameter of the tubing MUST match the body of the flute.
FLUTES – General Names to be aware of
Beginning Brands (can also be used for outdoor playing/marching band)
Conservatory Brands (get through Undergrad)
Azumi (by Altus)
Amadeus (by Haynes)
More specific – general specs and pricing
Beginner (Grades 4-6)
Selmer – FL711 Prelude
Gemeinhardt – 2SP
Intermediate (Grades 6-12)
Pearl – PF 500
Yamaha – YFL 222
Pearl – PF 505 RBE
Yamaha – YFL 262
Conservatory (Grade 10 upwards)
Yamaha – YFL 577(H)
Powell Sonare – PS 601
Muramatsu – EX
Azumi – AZ series (1, 2, or 3)
Trevor James – Cantabile OR Virtuoso Voce
What are your favorite student flutes and specs? Let me know in the comments below!