The world premiere of J. S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 4, performed on the original instruments listed by Bach in his original manuscript. HD Video by the Early Music ensemble Voices of Music. Update: the 4K UHD version of the complete concerto is here:
The fourth Brandenburg concerto is unusual in that Bach specifically calls for “echo flutes”, or “fiauti d’echo”. For many years musicologists have debated what an “echo flute” exactly is, and have also uncovered a great deal of historical detail, but the work is usually performed with two alto recorders.
In his autograph manuscript of Brandenburg 4 (BWV 1049), Bach writes the title as follows:
“Concerto 4to à Violino Principale, due Fiauti d’Echo, due Violini, una Viola è Violone in Ripieno, Violoncello è Continuo.”
Our reconstruction of Bach’s echo flutes for this performance and video recording is based on a number of key historical facts. First, the diarist Samuel Pepys details on several occasions his visits to the shop of Drumbleby, who sold wind instruments. Here is the excerpt from January, 1668:
“20th. Up, and all the morning at the office very busy, and at noon by coach to Westminster, to the ‘Chequer, about a warrant for Tangier money. In my way both coming and going I did stop at Drumbleby’s, the pipe-maker, there to advise about the making of a flageolet to go low and soft; and he do shew me a way which to do, and also a fashion of having two pipes of the same note fastened together, so as I can play on one, and then echo it upon the other, which is mighty pretty.”
Other historical accounts refer to a number of virtuoso players of the echo flute in different countries, and describe the instrument as two recorders or similar wind instruments, one of which is voiced softer than the other. Surviving echo flutes, consisting of a pair of recorders joined together, show that instrument makers of the time were keenly aware of how to voice the two instruments to create differences in sound.
The baroque echo flute solves a fundamental problem with the recorder and other wind instruments which is that as the player blows softer, the pitch goes lower. Since both echo and dynamic effects were essential to baroque music, the echo flute is a recorder that can play dynamics—and play them well in tune.
For our recording, we have chosen recorders that have a difference in color and articulation as well as in the volume of sound. We believe that Bach, who played the double-manual harpsichord as well the organ, would have been drawn to an instrument that could realize a rich palette of colors for the performance of his work, just as the harpsichord, which has two complete sets of strings, provides contrasts in color and articulation as well as in dynamics. Recorded in surround sound to recreate the experience of hearing the music as part of the ensemble.
The musicians and their instruments
Carla Moore, solo baroque violin by Johann Georg Thir, Vienna, 1754
Hanneke van Proosdij and Andrew Levy, echo flutes, recorders.
Echo flutes by Peter van der Poel and Von Huene workshop, based on instruments by Thomas Stanesby Jr, London, 1725 & J.C. Denner, 1720; research and design by Hanneke van Proosdij, David Tayler & Thomas Winter.
Kati Kyme, baroque violin by Johann Gottlob Pfretzichner, Mittenwald, 1791
Gabrielle Wunsch, baroque violin by Lorenzo Carcassi, Florence, Italy, 1765
Lisa Grodin, baroque viola by Mathias Eberl, Salzburg, Austria, 1680
William Skeen, five string baroque cello, Anonymous, Italy, c1680
Farley Pearce, violone, George Stoppani, Manchester, 1985, after Amati, 1560
Katherine Heater, double manual harpsichord by Johannes Klinkhamer, Amsterdam (1996), after Ruckers-Goujon, Neuchâtel, Switzerland, 18th c.
Recorded at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Belvedere, California