This semester my university’s flute choir is splitting into separate quartets: one of which is the Quartet for Diverse Flutes. Which, as the name suggests, calls for alto (flute III) and bass flute (flute IV) in addition to the C flute.

On tricky/deceiving thing about this score is that flute IV is actually the 3rd staff and flute III is the 4th staff. Throughout the piece this is something to be conscious of especially because the alto flute (flute III) is the only transposing flute. Whereas bass flute the pitch drops an octave, but remains the same letter – alto flute sounds a Perfect 4th lower than written. Therefore, the initial G4 sounds as a D4.

One last thing: because of the strange times of remote learning, our quartet is working asynchronously which can be tricky with the fermatas – to work around this (to have a steady opening) I’ve notated some modifications our group has been given by our coach to better suit the remote classroom. The initial 4/4 becomes a 6/4 and stays through the 1st measure of 5/4; finally, on the second stave the 2/4 is prolonged to a 3/4.


Composer and Piece Background

Peter Bacchus (1985-2016) was an American flutist and composer born in New Jersey. His journey on flute started with inspiration from listening to Herbie Mann, a jazz flutist, play in a live concert. He worked in New York – studying and earning his BFA from SUNY Purchase and Masters from City University of New York. The Barcelona Metropolitan did an interview with him in 2009 that goes more in-depth on his life as a composer and his development.

Quartet for Diverse Flutes was composed in 1990 and is divided into 3 movements (1. Andante molto rubato con espressione, 2. Allegro Molto, and 3. Cadenza). I couldn’t find a list of composed works or much in general about Peter Bacchus while he was alive – most of the search results yielded in memoriam and tributes to his work.


1. Andate molto rubato con espressione

One of the most helping and responsible parts of participating in chamber music is being aware of the other parts. What role does your line play? Who are you playing with/Are you playing alone? Are there sections that dove-tail/connect parts?

Especially in this opening (very slow and tolling) it is paramount to be aware of who enters when. First, the alto flute has a measure alone on a low D4 (written G4). Then, flute II comes in to start the next measure – it is important that flute II takes the low D set by the alto flute (slightly louder since the dynamic is set mp), but intonation is foremost. The bass flute follows with an A4 – tuning this Perfect 5th so that it doesn’t not tend too low (towards a tritone) or high is very important especially because this is the first note that is not a D. Finally, flute I enters on beat 3 an octave above flute II on D5 (again, listening down to flute II is very important). And so the process continues – flute I starts to take the leading role in the opening section and flute II, III, and IV are varied in their entrances so being aware of who enters on which beat (and on what pitch) can help alleviate any potential ensemble issues.

In this movement, there are many parts where the flutes are in their own mini choirs. In the example above, flute I and II are their own choir and flute IV and III are a separate choir.

In m. 35-38 flute I and II are in rhythmic unison. They start of a Perfect 5th apart, and then split in m. 36 to contrasting movement (ascending and descending) 4ths that shift to 5th halfway through m. 37 (returning to 4ths in m. 38).

In m. 34-36 flute IV and III are setting up that contrasting movement that the flute I and II are about to do. Flute IV and III are playing contrasting 5ths (rather than 4ths) that always end by a 1/2 step movement (still in contrasting direction). In m. 37-38, the flutes expand the contrasting 5ths excerpt by making a shift to 4ths (when flute I and II change to 5ths).

Both choirs end with the contrasting 4ths in m. 38.

Here is another example to reinforce the separation of the choir into smaller choirs (still flute I and II; and flute IV and III).


What’s your favorite flute quartet? Have you played this quartet before? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Approach

The first time I see an excerpt I have never played before the first thing I do is look into the composer and work. I look for specific details that will help inform how the excerpt should be performed, here is a very basic outline of what I research:

  • WHEN the composer was alive (What musical era and style were they studying)?
  • WHERE the composer lived or frequently traveled (Regions play a large role in performance style, so this will directly play into the “when” through a better understanding of the era and style).
  • WHO the composer listened to, worked for, or was close to (Who influenced this composer)?
  • WHAT were this composer’s notable works (Is the excerpt being requested well-known and/or frequently heard)?

You can look at the wikipedia page for a preliminary search, however, I STRONGLY recommend looking for reputable sources to verify any claims. Academic journals like JSTOR, Google Scholar, EBSCO, ProQuest, or your own school’s library can be used if you are not familiar with music history or have resources on hand to verify what you see on the wiki page.

After researching the context, I will collect recordings and gradually sift through them to determine which ones reflect either my own or one of the faculty’s preferred interpretations. I listen for things like:

  • Tempo – this is a big one, you want to get your goal tempo in your ears if you are listening to 2 very different recordings (one that takes the minimum and one that is pushing the max) it will make it more difficult for your to internalize the pulse.
  • Balance/ensemble – how clearly can I heard the solo in my excerpt AS WELL AS the accompanying voices. Or rephrasing that: can I determine my own role in relationship to the other instruments?
  • Tone/intonation/quality – is the recording something I want to emulate? Does it sound good?

Finally, I will start to analyze the score (similar to how I was critically listening to the recordings) and determine my role in the excerpt. Having an understanding of music history (and the theory concepts that were used during that era) help immensely.


Peter and the Wolf

Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) was a Russian pianist, conductor and composer. At this time, the music produced was heavily restricted/moderated by the government. Prokofiev wrote for a wide array of music genres: Ballets and Operas, Symphonies, Concertos, Piano Sonatas, etc. And some of his most known works include “The Love for Three Oranges”, “Lieutenant Kijé”, “Romeo and Juliet”, and “Peter and the Wolf”.

Peter and the Wolf was commissioned in 1936 to be a musical symphony for children. In this work, the flute plays the role of a bird; the other instruments take on the role of Peter and the other animals. The REH. 2-4 excerpt the first time the bird is featured, and is frequently requested in auditions. The narrator says, “”All is quiet,” chirped the bird…”

Below the flute solo is highlighted in yellow while the reduction (violas and oboe) is on a grand staff.

The 4 measure, opening bird call is completely alone. The solo repeats from REH. 2-3 to 3-4 with only one small difference in the flute part, but the real change happens in the accompaniment. The chords and tonicization aren’t of major emphasis in this solo, however, Prokofiev does ends each section of the solo with a prolonged G Major 7th chord. The G Major chord is reinforced by the accompaniment which places G on the stronger beats (1 and 3) while adding chromatic neighboring tones such as Ab and F# to lead back to the note G.


Leonore Overture No. 3

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) was a German composer and pianist. When talking about Beethoven, scholars refer to his music and life within the boundaries of 3 distinct periods shaped by life events and can be tracked through Beethoven’s compositions. The years are estimated, but have been though to be as follows: Early Period (ending 1802), Middle Period (1802-1812), and Late Period (1812-1827). Beethoven was an influential Classical composer, however, as he matured be began pushing the boundaries for his time (for example, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was not well received by early audiences – particularly for the use of the choir in the final movement). And the year of his dead informally marked the switch between the Classical and Romantic eras.

The Leonore Overture No. 3 was composed c. 1805 for his only opera, Fidelio which had 4 overtures (3 Leonore overtures and 1 Fidelio). The Overture No. 3 is placed before the curtain rises, overshadowing the plot before the final scene. This work fits into Beethoven’s middle period which is also referred to as his “Eroica” or heroic period as referenced in his 3rd (Eroica) Symphony. In Leonore Overture No, 3, the flute has 2 commonly requested excerpts in this one being the opening while the other is m. 328-360.

The first 4 bars of the overture are tutti – it is essential to be aware of the context since intonation, dynamics, and control are on full display here.

Skipping ahead to the 2nd excerpt, the use of tonic (G Major) versus dominant (D) is on full display – which was common during the Classical period to use the I to V/ V to I progression. The flute solo is highlighted in yellow while the response/answer from the bassoon is highlighted in purple.

Leading up to the flute solo, Beethoven creates tension with tutti Major 2nd (C to D) before the flute ascends with eighth notes from D4 to G5. The pedal D from m. 324-329 (as seen by the Ds placed on beat 1 and 3) switches to the “tonic” G pedal from m. 330-339.

Briefly, m. 340-341, the pedal goes back to the dominant as flute restates m. 336-337 up a Perfect 5th. Then, returns to G pedal as the solo line transitions to the triplet section. Similar to the Peter and the Wolf excerpt, Beethoven uses neighbor tones to lead up and down to the tonic and 3rd (G and B).

To end the solo the flute has to hold D6 for 8 measures – whilst maintaining good intonation, tone, pp, and minimal vibrato. The line highlighted in purple, are predominantly strings which take over the melody as the flute tapers off the solo.


How do you approach orchestral excerpts? What are your favorite excerpts to study or play? Share in the comment section below!

On May 13, 2020, I gave my first ‘recital’ as a Masters student. My recital was initially planned for April 1st and the repertoire was WAY different I had a lot of chamber music programmed that couldn’t happen given the COVID-19 pandemic – all the music learned in my recital was done in less than a month (minus the Honegger).

Here we will be looking at excerpts from the 4 pieces on my program and how I approach theory and analysis – especially with an very short time frame to research, analyze and really take in the framework of these pieces. The 4 pieces being J.S. Bach’s Partita in a minor I. Allemande, Jacques Ibert’s Pièce for solo flute, Arthur Honegger’s Danse De La Chèvre, and Paul Hindemith’s Acht Stücke.

J.S. Bach Partita in a minor, Allemande

Recital notes: I will only be playing the first movement, the Allemande, from Bach’s Partita in a minor. However, each movement of this work refers to a dance. The allemande being a German style dance… Bach did not actually give a specific tempo as the performer would be very familiar with the dances during the Baroque period and would be able to play in that style. As this piece is for solo flute, the demands of the music are to act as the melody, harmony and bass all in one. There are also no rests or places to breathe marked by Bach, so the phrasing utilized in shaping the melody, harmony, and bass are imperative in creating natural space to breathe.

As the title would suggest, the Partita is in a minor. The first page of the Allemande uses the root (A) and third (C) on the stronger beats 1 and 3 to outline the minor tonality. Because the piece is for solo flute, the flute is acting as the melody, harmony and bass. Therefore, one of the compositional techniques Bach uses to keep momentum and engagement is through sequences. Sequences are taught to young children as a math principle: find the pattern and figure out what comes next. Musical sequences work similarly, they can be seen as a repeating pattern between intervals (melody) or rhythm units. In this excerpt, although there are repeated 16th notes (as seen throughout the entire movement), the motive is bracketed in green. From m. 14-15 the intervals are very similar (not always exactly, but the motive is still distinguishable) denoting a mostly chromatic sequence. The motive in the first group is G-F#-E-G, goes down to F#-E-D-F#, down to E-D-C-E, and ends on D#-B-C-A. By the end group, the intervals have strayed from the original group, but the placement of the notes G, F#, E, and D# on the strong beats (1 and 3) are prominent enough to draw the ear to their downwards motion. A similar sequence happens in m. 16, but is much more concise. The ascending chromatic pattern in m. 16 is G-G#-A-A# on each beat in the measure. Finally, a new pattern emerges m. 16-17 where the final 16th leads to the first 16th of the next beat. The E resolves down to D#, D natural down to C#, C natural to B, and finally Bb to A.

In this next excerpt, the tonality has shifted. It is common in Baroque music to modulate from the tonic to the dominant key, and then to eventually return to the tonic (the dominant in a minor is E Major). This excerpt is fully in the dominant (E Major) section: note the V4/3 over IV (which translates to a E seventh chord in 2nd inversion moving to an A Major chord) which is the pivot from em (denoted by the i) to EM. 

Like in the first excerpt, there is another sequence feature – this one is directly related to the Circle of Fifths. Measure 23 starts the sequence in E Major (1), m. 24 moves to A Major (IV), m. 25 is d minor 6/5 (vii6/5), m. 26 D Major 7 (VII7) LET’S PAUSE… I provided the Roman Numerals in parenthesis to denote the chords’ function in the dominant E Major. However, look at m. 25 and 26, the first red flag should be the different qualities of the 7 (D). In Major chord progressions, the 7 is usually fully-diminished so the fact that is is minor and then Major should be getting those alarm bells going. Hence, why this section can be looked as a sequence within the Circle of Fifths: E to A to d (D)… rather than a common chord progression. Continuing our sequence, m. 27 is in G Major which is extended all the way to m. 29 until our sequence ends in m. 30 in C Major. The sequence ends there because if you look at the following measure, the harmonic rhythm (or the rate at which the harmony changes) drastically increases and moves to a tonal area that does not fit in the Circle of Fifth sequence. 


Jacques Ibert Pièce for solo flute

Recital notes: Coincidentally, Ibert’s Piece for solo flute was composed in the same year as the Hindemith Sonata I mentioned earlier. This piece starts with a cadenza-like introduction that centers around the note “D”. Like Ibert’s well known Flute Concerto (composed 2 years prior), this piece is good for demonstrating virtuosity and freeness in playing. Despite studying at the Paris Conservatory, Ibert didn’t emulate any of the popular genres during the early 20th century, and in this piece you can hear how he’s style transforms multiple styles rather than honing in on just one.

Ibert was an early 20th century composer – a time were tonality was less rigid, an the exploration of serialism and atonality were becoming commonplace. The Pièce for solo flute goes through many tonal areas – like mentioned in my recital notes the opening is a cadenza-style featuring the note “D”; and the remainder of page one doesn’t strictly follow a traditional key/tonal center. In this first excerpt, the 9/8 “Vivo” is the first time in the piece that Ibert emphasizes a tonal area -in this case Db Major (the diatonic notes are Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb C). Here I used green to visualize all the notes that were diatonic (in the key of Db) and any non-chord tone or chromatic note is highlighted in orange. By doing this, it is very easy to see the patterns within what may look daunting at first glance, especially in a key of 5 flats.

This next excerpt from Ibert’s Pièce is building a climatic resolution on the final page (visually, you can tell those tiny 32nd notes are going somewhere). Our last excerpt was in Db Major, this one has moved to a tonicization (not a fully-fledge modulation) of the IV (Gb Major) – this is clear because of the downward arpeggios (the yellow denoting notes diatonic to Gb). The ‘F’s are functioning as a supertonic or a 7th scale degree that is creating a rising tension. The swells on the 6s to 7s to 9s emphasizing the 7th briefly calm down for 2 measures before a sequence of minor 3s ascends to an E natural where the piece relaxes (and resolves) to return to a familiar theme stated in the beginning of the piece.


Arthur Honegger Danse De La Chèvre

Recital notes: This is the earliest 20th century piece on my program, composed by Arthur Honegger in 1921. The title Danse de la Chevre translates to Dance of the Goat. The piece starts very delicate with a series of tritone phrases – as if the goat is just waking up from a dream. Quickly, the “goat-like” or more active theme comes during the Vif or the 9/8 section with a skipping/dancing goat. At the end, the piece returns to the delicateness and serenity of the introduction, as the goat has tired itself out and is going back to sleep.

Important to note that there are several versions of Honegger’s Danse De La Chevre that are in circulation this particular score is from the 1932 edition. The piece was composed in the early 20th century and the intervallic relations (and lack of tonality) are indicative of Honegger embracing serialism.

The opening motive is highlighted in purple and it lasts 2 bars (each time it is restated it uses the opening 4 notes to lure you in before launching into a new idea). This motive starts with a tritone (TT) from C to F# and is followed by two Perfect 4s. And interesting discovery I made was how Honegger follows the motive, in phrase 1 (m. 1-2) note that the motive goes down a 2nd (E down to D). While in phrase 2 (m.3-6) note that the motive goes up a 2nd (E to F). Then in the phrases following the 1 bar Vif, phrase 4 (m. 8-9) the motive goes down a tritone (E to A#) whereas in phrase 5 (m. 10-13) the motive goes up a tritone (E to Bb). Wow. At a first glance it might just look like crazy, random music, but when analyzed critically it is actually symmetrical and systematic.

At the end of the piece, the motive comes back (note that it is an exact copy just shortened) before the B resolves to the C harmonic.

The slower section before the recap (Lent) is weaved throughout the piece each time it uses the echo effect – repeating material at a softer dynamic, but to keep the intrigue Honegger adds a tag at the end to differentiate the fragments. For example, m. 55 compared to m.57 (where Honegger presses on the breaks and starts to makes things slower and softer). And m. 58 compared to m. 59-60 (where there is one last – slower – iteration of the Vif theme).


Paul Hindemith Acht Stücke

Recital notes: One of Hindemith’s most well-known works is his Sonata for Flute and Piano which he composed in 1936. About ten years before he composed this Sonata, he wrote a piece for solo flute called Acht Stucke which translates to 8 Pieces or movements. These 8 movements are very short – some of the shortest movements in the piece such as the 2nd movement are only 40 seconds long. Also, these movements don’t have a stable tonal center and not all movements have an indicated meter so the motives and gestures within movements is what shapes the piece.

Welcome to Hindemith were key signatures don’t matter and the tonality is irrelevant. How does one cope? In my analysis for movement IV of this piece, I realized the rhythm was the true star of the piece so how did I learn the rhythm? By making a song:

Is it silly? Yes. But when the tonal patterns and rhythmic sequences are so brief there needs to be some way to connect ideas to form a coherent piece. I can’t be entirely sure if this what Hindemith intended when composing this movement, but if there is an evidence to suggest he DIDN’T intend this then send that my way. All jokes aside, let’s look at a more structural movement…

In movement VIII, there is some semblance of musical structure. The beginning is repeated at the end, and there seem to be two distinct sections (the presto and the offset section).

Both in the opening and end, the specific pitches aren’t so important (more so the intervallic relationships) it is clear with m.1-2 that 3-4 is similar while expanding the ‘motive’ by getting louder, faster and expanding the range. The F# don’t serve much tonal significance rather the note acts as an anchor to ground the piece as it ascends to A6 before dropping to D4.

The presto section beginnings suddenly quiet and with an indicated meter. There is a brief sequence with the downwards G-F#-F motion in m.8-9 and m. 11-12, but it is fleeting. There is more anchoring (similar to the opening) now on E as the melody ascends.

The register descends and the volume gradually diminishes. As a new section emerges, here the quarter note and eighth note are offset. The measures were the quarter note starts on beat 2 as a pickup are the string tying this section together. Note the pitches highlighted in yellow Eb D and the 3 repeated C#s (each C# rising more than the last). The rhythmic content for these highlighted pitches is all the same until the 3 C#s where the material is expanded yet again to return to a restatement of the opening.


Thank you for making it through this maiden voyage of explaining how my brain comprehends music theory. If you have any questions, additional thoughts or want to see the lyrics to the other Hindemith movements comment down below!