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The Yale Musical Instrument Series: The Flute

by Ardal Powell

Yale University Press London; and New Haven, CT, USA May 2002

352 pages 20 colour plates 45 b&w illustrations

ISBN 0-300-09498-1 (paper) £19.95 US$20.00 9.80 x 6.76 inches

ISBN 0-300-09341-1 (hard cover) £35.00 US$35.00 9.96 x 7.04 inches


Ardal Powell is President of Folkers and Powell, flute-makers in Hudson, New York, USA. He studied at Cambridge and Koninklijk Conservatorium, the Netherlands.

I thought I would just leaf through this book and put it aside, but surprisingly found myself reading carefully through it. It is one of those wonderful books we hardly see any more with an astonishing density of facts presented in such a clear and economical writing style that you find out far more than you could ever remember about the flute; more than I ever thought anyone even knew about the flute. The authorís dedication and enthusiasm are infectious. And I never once had to go back to read a sentence twice to get the sense of it. The organisation of the material is mostly in historical sequence, with only slight deviations to group material on a single topic together, which makes the book useful as a reference work which is what it will be to most of its intended readership. We begin in 900 BCE and end up the day before yesterday. Every historical source known to the writer is presented, discussed and analysed to determine its trustworthiness, with all objections elaborated and discussed. A number of ancient and medieval drawings, for instance, are for various reasons dismissed as mere legend or decoration. There is an extensive discussion of tuning systems, modern playing styles and the tiniest details of the construction of modern instruments. I had no idea that the concept of equal temperament was as critical to flute design as it is to keyboard design, or that it affected so many other areas of musical art.

This book will prove to be an indispensable reference for students of the flute, composers, players and conductors, musicologists, ethnomusicologists. Ordinary music lovers such as my self will probably be content to get it at a circulating library and read as much as patience allows, and maybe go back and refer to it from time to time as questions come up in listening. There are many illustrations and they are all directly to the point. I was particularly interested in the portraits of people like Quantz who Iíve naturally read much about but never knew what he looked like. The photograph of dignified Adolphe Hennebains as a piping Pan, wearing only an animal skin and hiding in a bush with leaves on his head is certainly the camp highlight of the book. The seating plan of the Dresden orchestra for performance of operas by Hasse in 1764 was of great interest when I showed it to a musicologist/conductor friend of mine. And here is a group photograph of the first chair wind players of the Philharmonia Orchestra in 1950.

The book observes academic political correctness in that all indefinite pronouns are of the feminine gender.

We are fortunate here to have a local flutist who gives regular recitals on the modern flute, recorder, and wooden transverse flute and next time I can ask her some intelligent questions the book has raised about what she does and how and why she does it.

Some interesting quotations: "...the Late Victorian decline of the traveling virtuoso permitted early twentieth-century stars of the flute, such as Moyse and Jean-Pierre Rampal, to believe they were presenting the flute as a solo instrument for the first time. In reality it was only the first time in living memory." And another, "Records and rapid travel have helped to ensure the prevalence of a certain view, that of the post-war French school, which is dominated by Jean-Pierre Rampal."

Paul Shoemaker



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