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ClassicsOnline Home » HOTTETERRE, J.-M.: Suites (Le Romain) (Les Inegales)
Hotteterre “Le Romain”
The Sun King of the Transverse Flute
Like architecture, music was one of the best means of propaganda that a Baroque ruler could use. In this respect, Louis XIV was no different from any other of the European monarchs, except for one crucial aspect, namely that no one before and no one after him had such perfect mastery of being able to set himself into the scene. The stage on which these magnificent spectacles of self-portrayal were held was called Versailles, the actors made up of thousands of lackeys who scurried through the hallways and parks.
The music resounding during these shows was written by France’s best composers—names that back then were famous throughout the entire world. But only few of them mean something to us nowadays: Jean-Baptiste Lully, Marin Marais, father and son Forqueray, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Jacques-Martin Hotteterre and many more. Thanks to the fact that foreign monarchs or their ambassadors visited the court of Louis XIV frequently, the people in Germany, Italy and England always knew exactly what was en vogue on the music scene in France. All of Europe swayed to the cadence of French suites, chaconnes and sarabands, allemandes and courantes, and admired the virtuosity of a Forqueray or Hotteterre. Oh, the heady feeling one would get from a minuette or air de cours, similar to eating a delectable French dessert made of the finest of chocolate or biscuit that was served to the guests at the end of a sumptuous feast.
The Hotteterre family had served French kings for two generations when their most famous prodigy Jacques-Martin Hotteterre, dubbed “Le Romain,” entered into the service of Louis XIV in 1705. Like many of his fathers before him, he became a member of the “Musique de la Grande Ecurie” (“Music of the Royal Stables”) playing the “Basse de hautbois” (bassoon) and “Basse de violon” (bass violin). This was the beginning of one of the most illustrious careers of any musician in France, throughout the course of which Hotteterre ascended to one of the highest posts that Louis XIV awarded to any musician, that of “Ordinaire de la Chambre du Roi,” a life-long member of the King’s chamber musicians. Until then, the members of the Hotteterre family only partly owed their good reputation to their ability as musicians; their true renown came from their expertise at the craft of building musical instruments, especially wooden wind instruments.
The family hailed from La Couture-Boussey, a small town near Paris, where Loys de Haulteterres, the progenitor, worked as a wood turner. His eldest son, Louis, is regarded as the first member of the family to get involved with instrument building. And Louis’ son Jean proved to become the first great master of this craft. In 1630, he set up shop in Paris and became an oboist and musette player in the “Grande Ecurie,” royal stables, at that time under Louis XIII.
Extremely popular at the time in France, the musette was a sort of French bagpipe having several chambers and drones, with the wind being supplied by a bellows rather than a blowpipe. Together with his son Martin, Jean developed this instrument to perfection. Characteristic of the dance of the same name was the low-pitched tone or bourdon typical of bagpipes. The musette and its dance were chiefly used to represent naive bucolic frivolities. The musette was one of Louis XIV favorite instruments. He liked to present peasant comedies for his own entertainment and that of his royal household. During these theatrical events, he himself would assume the role of the peasant. This motif is often depicted in paintings by the French painter Jean-Antoine Watteau like the one here, showing French nobility out in the countryside dancing to the music of such a musette. Martin Hotteterre expanded the scope of the musette by adding a second pipe, thereby making it possible to play the instrument chromatically.
In the meantime, a cousin of Jean Hotteterre, Nicolas, also started up a business building musical instruments in Paris. During this period, another two members of the family, also named Louis and Nicolas, became famous builders of musical instruments, with Nicolas probably playing in the operatic orchestra of Lully’s “Académie Royale de Musique.”
Somewhere between 1680 and 1684, Jacques-Martin Hotteterre was born the son of Martin Hotteterre in Paris. However, how he came to be called “Le Romain” (The Roman) remains a mystery. It is suspected he was given this nickname because he had spent time in Italy before entering the service of Louis XIV. From the very beginning of their instrument building profession, the Hotteterres specialized in another instrument beside the musette and oboe: the transverse flute, in its original form. Jacques-Martin “The Roman” also learned the handcraft of instrument building, producing musettes and transverse flutes. However, he was much more interested in the music of this instrument than his relatives and forefathers.
In 1707, the publishing house of Christoph Ballard in Paris published Hotteterre’s “Principes de la Flûte Traversière” (Principles of the Transverse Flute), the first textbook on the flute in the history of music. The suites contained therein were taken from the “Livres de Pièces pour la Flûte Traversière” (Books of Music for the Transverse Flute). Jacques-Martin Hotteterre published the first volume of flute music (“Premier Livre de Pièces pour la Flûte Traversière,” First Book of Music for the Transverse Flute) in the year 1708 and dedicated it to Louis XIV who around this time appointed him royal chamber flutist, thereby elevating him into the ranks of “Ordinaire du Roi.”
The second volume (“Deuxième Livre…”) followed in 1715. Hotteterre’s flute playing was described as pure and of bold clarity. A look at the composers whose music he played shows how expressive and rich in nuances his playing must have been and reveals the brilliance of his technique. Furthermore, Hotteterre—together with Michel de la Barre—was one of the first French Baroque composers to write music that was originally intended for the transverse flute and did not just consist of re-mixing dances or marshes. Hotteterre started a boom that in principle has continued on to this day.
Towards the end of his century, during the Age of Sensibility, the transverse flute had for the most part supplanted its greatest competitor, the recorder. The transverse flute was regarded as the ideal instrument for giving musical embodiment to the aesthetic demands of that era that craved emotive and subjective expressiveness. Jacques-Martin Hotteterre was not only a superb flutist, but at least as equally adept at playing the musette for which in 1738 he wrote special instructions (“Méthode pour la musette,” Method for Playing the Musette).
At the pinnacle of his fame, he belonged to the most prestigious musicians of France. Musical scholars and enthusiasts from all over Europe came to Paris to experience the wonder of Hotteterre. These included the German nobleman Johann-Friedrich A. von Uffenbach who visited Hotteterre in Paris in 1715—the year in which his second volume of flute music was published. Uffenbach was mesmerised by Hotteterre’s playing of the musette and impressed by his collection of valuable instruments. But Uffenbach was even more impressed when Hotteterre told him what an instrument built by him cost, including the fee for an hour’s music lesson.
In his diary, Uffenbach penned these comments about his visit to Hotteterre: “From here (after visiting a lute maker whom Uffenbach had given one of his own instruments to repair) [I] went to Monsieur Hauteterre, Royal Flutist, who, although kindly inviting me to his quarters in the Rue Dauphine, offered me somewhat of a pompous reception, giving off aristocratic airs, he led me to a tidy room and showed me very many beautiful transverse flutes he builds himself (…), then he brought out his musical writings, 5 of which he had published with great success, one of which I bought for 2 pounds being about instructions on [playing] the flûte traverse; thereupon he showed me another curious instrument that he himself had improved, a musette or a type of bagpipes, but that could be tuned to all keys and was very pleasant and which is also very much in fashion here. It was very valuable, the bag being covered with velvet and having a wide gilded border with fringes, also with very many pipes, all wound and with many silver keys, able to produce semitones. He played along with another musician, accompanying him on the piano, a sonata incomparably wonderful and very pleasant, including such well-studied agréments, that I could not stop listening to it, and soon, I experienced the desire to own such a bagpipe myself, although this wish quickly transpired as he announced the exact price, namely 10 pistoles, and at the same time that he had produced others without ornamentation for 5 [pistoles]; his lessons he gives mostly in his own home, and would charge for one hour therefore one pistole, as if speaking of a triviality (…).”
– © Katrin Herzog 1999
Translation: Janet & Michael Berridge
A Brief History of the Transverse Flute
For a very long time, the transverse flute remained in the shadow of its much more popular brother, the recorder. The first European transverse flutes have been traced back to Germany at the end of the 12th century. There it appears that the transverse flute was played quite often; as late as up into the 18th century, the transverse flute was still called the “German flute” or the “Flûte Allemande”.
The Renaissance transverse flute consisted of a single-pieced cylinder, in other words, a straight tube. By virtue of its shape, and, in particular, by virtue of its very small blowhole, the instrument had a full, dark, warm and very soft sound. Martin Luther pronounced it to be his favorite musical instrument. In general, many flute instruments were used in the ensemble music of the 16th century. The most popular ones used were recorders and transverse flutes in entire chamber pieces, in other words, with all members of the instrument’s family playing the various parts.
As Michael Praetorius described in his essay “Syntagma Musicum,” the euphony of these instruments “fills rooms and halls with a very graceful, calm, sweet harmony.” In his classification, the family of the transverse flute consisted of three instruments—including what was called the “Schweizerpfeife” [Swiss pipe]—and the recorder family comprised eight.
When the trend of mixing ensembles started and flutes were combined with other wind and string instruments, the recorder with its penetrating sound gained importance over the transverse flute. While the recorder advanced to becoming a standard in operatic orchestras, the transverse flute remained an instrument reserved for chamber music. The transverse flute was unsuitable as an ensemble instrument not only because of the fact that its sound was less intense, but the musicians had trouble with the many tuning notes that were common at the time and had difficulty adapting the transverse flute to them.
Neither the musicians nor the composers were then happy with the actual sound of the flute, but expected it now to have a “clear, cutting, thick, round, masculine tone,” to quote Frederick the Great’s flute instructor, Johann Joachim Quantz, from his 1752 “Attempt to Teach Someone How to Play the Flûte Traversière.”
Since the external appearance of the transverse flute had hardly changed since the Middle Ages, it became necessary to give it a thorough makeover. This great revolution in the flute’s construction began in France in the middle of the 17th century. By 1650, French flute builders, including the cousin of Jacques-Martin’s father, Jean Hotteterre, began to measure them more exactly and to drill the tube in a conical way so that it tapered from the blowhole, narrowing towards the end of the instrument. The flute was additionally divided into three parts: the head, middle and endpiece. The transverse flute’s range of tone now only spanned two octaves. By implementing these changes, which included enlarging the blowhole, the flute was adapted to fit the clearer and more robust tone ideal which Quantz was later to demand expressly. Of course, this went to the expense of its previously fine, strong depth.
In the Berlin Museum of Musical Instruments, an instrument is displayed that was probably built by Jean Hotteterre at the end of the 17th century and is probably like the model played by Jacques-Martin “Le Romain.” It comprises a three-part instrument made of boxwood with a seventh fingerhole in the endpiece that was covered by a cap made of silver or brass. Now, an attempt was made to solve the problem of the tuning note. First, the middle part of the flute was divided into two parts, the upper piece having six interchangeable pieces of varying length. The head piece fit into the variously long middle pieces by means of an adjustable tuning cork connected at the end. Finally, the head and endpieces of the flute were also halved, which led to problem that thanks to the various middle pieces the already difficult tuning of the flute was made even more difficult in itself. These problems, in particular, affected the notes foreign to the basic D-major scale that were produced by complicated forked fingerings.
Although the addition of keys greatly improved the purity of tone, many flutists in the second half of the 18th century refused to have their instruments equipped with them, preferring to accept the odd impurity in order not to lose the diversity of its various timbres. Compared to notes belonging to the scale, forked fingering notes sound somewhat shaded and masked. These different keys are unfolded to the musician by the notes as well as to the listener. This is what lends an even more special quality to such music, when flute music of this period is played on original instruments.
In the 19th century, as the ideal changed from an uneven, colorful and distinct tone to a preferably evenly balanced and well-rounded sound, a German flute builder named Theobald Boehm came to completely mechanize the flute. This innovation not only enabled an even greater virtuosity in playing, but, more importantly, this modern version of the transverse flute, now preferably built of silver, with its more forceful and more resounding tone, could also compete in the large symphony and operatic orchestras of the Romantic era.
– © Katrin Herzog 1999
Translation: Janet & Michael Berridge
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HOTTETERRE, J.-M.: Suites (Le Romain) (Les Inegale...