The baroque flute was a popular instrument among composers from JS Bach to Handel and the young Mozart in the 18th Century. So why are we still playing it today when we have new and improved modern flutes? Rosie Bowker writes about why she loves the baroque flute, about her time on the Handel House Talent scheme – a year-long residency for young baroque music performers at the beginning of their careers – and about her group, Pocket Sinfonia, which plays on both modern and historical instruments.
Why the baroque flute?
I have always been drawn to the warm sound of the baroque flute. It is a very different sound from that of the modern flute. Playing baroque music on the instrument it was written for gives a real flavour of what the composer intended the music to sound like. Even before I started learning the baroque flute, I generally preferred listening to period instrument recordings of music from the baroque, classical and early romantic eras rather than those played on modern instruments.
I didn’t know of many flute players who performed professionally on both modern and historical instruments (there are some notable exceptions!) but I thought that I would give the baroque flute a go as a hobby. However, after participating in projects with the Historical Performance Department at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama while I was a student, I decided to make the baroque flute (and other historical flutes) part of my professional portfolio.
The baroque flute is a wooden flute. My baroque flute was made by Martin Wenner and is a replica of a flute by the Turin maker, Carlo Palanca. It is made out of grenadilla wood which is the same material that many modern piccolos are made of. The fingerings used on the baroque flute are different from those used on the modern flute. On the baroque flute, there are only six holes and one key (for Eb/D#) so many of the chromatic notes have to be obtained by using forked fingerings. Forked fingerings, or cross-fingerings, are when the player closes one or more holes below an open hole. Nowadays, the baroque flute is played at standard baroque pitch: A=415Hz.
The Handel House Talent scheme
I auditioned for the Handel House Talent scheme in 2017 and was delighted when I was accepted for 2017-18. The scheme has given me access to an incredible place. Not only does the House host each participant for two solo concerts per year (mine were in May and March 2018) but we are also able to practise and rehearse in a choice of three rooms at any time during the House’s opening hours throughout our year on the scheme and beyond. What a treat to be able to work in the place where George Frideric Handel lived and composed between 1723 and his death in 1759! You’ll often find me rehearsing in Handel’s Music Room with harpsichordist, Marta Lopez Fernandez, or with one of my chamber groups.
Handel & Hendrix in London is an intimate venue – concerts in Handel’s Music Room have a maximum audience of about 30 people – but the acoustic is wonderful. The House is well worth a visit to see one of the many concerts or events that are held there or just to explore the place where Handel composed some of his most famous works.
The Handel House Talent scheme has given me a huge amount of confidence as a performer on the baroque flute this year. While I had performed on the baroque flute a number of times before, I had never done a full hour-long baroque flute recital before my A Flautist in Paris programme in March and A Forgotten Master in May 2018. I was also lucky to have a masterclass from Stephen Preston in January 2018 at Handel House and, as a result of that, I have been invited to perform alongside Stephen at the British Flute Society’s ‘Future Flute Fest’ on 18 August 2018.
My next Handel House Talent scheme concert is the Christmas Showcase concert on Tuesday 18 December 2018 and features each member of this year’s scheme with a few Christmas carols thrown in. The concert will be at Handel’s ‘local’ church, St George’s Hanover Square, just around the corner from Handel House and one of the main venues for the London Handel Festival. It will include music for baroque flute, baroque cello, harpsichord, mezzo-soprano and tenor performed by the Handel House Talent scheme participants for 2017-18.
Both modern and historical
One of my chamber groups, Pocket Sinfonia, is trying to bridge the gap between historical and modern instruments by performing on both! Our line-up is flute, violin, cello and piano (or fortepiano). We have recently been accepted on the Brighton Early Music Live! scheme for 2018-19 and are finalists in The Early Music Shop’s Early Music Young Ensemble Competition in November 2018. We have also performed on modern instruments at festivals including Sherborne Abbey, East Devon Music and Petworth Festivals and for our Norway tour in December 2017.
I have had lots of encouragement to continue performing on both modern and baroque flutes from other historical instrument players for which I am extremely grateful. I have felt this especially from the Guildhall Historical Performance Department which gave me a Junior Fellowship in 2017-18 to develop my historical flute-playing while continuing my work on the modern flute. I would highly encourage any intrigued flute players to have a go at playing the baroque flute. At the end of the day, music is music, whichever flute you decide to play it on!
Header photo: Rosie Bowker at Handel & Hendrix in London © Sandra Vijandi
Catch Rosie Bowker at one of her selected upcoming events
Friday 17 August, 7.30pm, at St John’s Smith Square, London
British Flute Society ‘Future Flute Fest’
Gala Concert of Baroque Music
Saturday 18 August, 11am, at St John’s Smith Square, London
British Flute Society ‘Future Flute Fest’
‘Ecosonic workshop and ideas’ with Stephen Preston
Wednesday 22 August, 7pm, at Southwell Minster, Southwell, Nottinghamshire
Southwell Music Festival
J S Bach Mass in B minor
Wednesday 24 October, 1pm, at Wiltshire Music Centre, Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire
OAE Young Artists: Spinoza Quartet
Flute quartets by Mozart and Michael Haydn
Saturday 3 November, 3pm, at St Paul’s Church, Brighton, East Sussex
Brighton Early Music Festival Live! Showcase
Pocket Sinfonia performs works by Mozart
Tuesday 18 December, 7pm, at St George’s Hanover Square, London
Handel House Talent Scheme Christmas Showcase
Please click here for more details of Rosie Bowker’s upcoming performances.
About the author
Rosie Bowker is a versatile flautist who performs on modern and historical flutes.
Rosie has performed with many orchestras, including the London Symphony Orchestra, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra, and period ensembles, including the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Avison Ensemble and Oxford Bach Soloists.
As a soloist, Rosie has performed at Deal Festival (Mozart D major concerto with Academy of Ancient Music and Guildhall), Cambridge Summer Music Festival, Handel House (as part of the Handel House Talent scheme), in Milton Court Concert Hall and at Powderham Castle and has appeared on BBC Radio 3. Rosie is a committed chamber musician and has performed at festivals including Cambridge Summer Music Festival, Petworth Festival, Sherborne Abbey Festival, for City Music Society, Maidenhead Music Society and Purbeck Arts Weeks and at venues including Universitetets Aulaen, Oslo, and St Martin-in-the-Fields.
In 2016, she graduated with an MPerf (Distinction) from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama where she now assists David Dolan on the ‘Interpretation through Improvisation’ elective, teaching undergraduates and postgraduates. Rosie also enjoys taking music to children and vulnerable adults through her work with Live Music Now, LSO Discovery and OAE Tots and teaches the flute privately in London.
Rosie Bowker is a graduate of Christ’s College, Cambridge, with a degree in Music.