The documentary ‘BLOCKFLUTE MASTERS’ demonstrates the surprising ways in which the blockflute (recorder) tradition of Amsterdam has developed, from Frans Brüggen in the 1960s until today. Throughout this film, we get to know a range of Dutch blockflute icons, and their own visions for this hugely versatile instrument. The stories of eminent teachers and musicians such as Walter van Hauwe, Kees Boeke, Jorge Isaac and composer Roderik de Man are reflected in performances and rehearsals of Baroque and contemporary blockflute repertoire, combined with unconventional instrumental settings, dance and live electronics.
INTRODUCTION BY JORGE ISAAC:
The question will never be why you play the blockflute - almost everyone has played the instrument at least once - but rather, why didn’t you ever stop?
Like many other children, I started playing the blockflute in primary school, at the age of four. When I turned twenty, I decided that I wanted to study the instrument professionally, in Europe. I asked my teacher in Venezuela (Hannah Schwarz, a fervent devotee of the instrument): Where would be the best place to study? She answered without hesitation: Amsterdam.
After meeting Walter van Hauwe back in 1995, I knew that Amsterdam was the place to be. From my first year of study, I got to experience the Amsterdam Blockflute School first-hand. The professors at the time - Walter van Hauwe and Paul Leenhouts - were excellent professionals. The highly demanding atmosphere and study system (the so called BLOK-system) were striking. Both this healthy competitive atmosphere within the student population, and the open-minded approach to instrumental playing were extremely inspiring.
One aspect struck me the most: how could such a small country have such a strong tradition towards this particular instrument? I began to research this myself, talking to a range of players, composers, instrument makers and programmers of concert venues. For the first time, I noticed the enormous importance of players for the development of an instrument.
The development of the blockflute over the past 60 years has been truly fascinating.
In the 1950s, professional blockflute playing was an empty shell; there were a considerable number of amateurs, semi-professionals and pedagogues, but the standard of professional playing that we know today simply did not exist. Prior to the 1960s, composers treated the blockflute as a simple melody instrument, neither having a clear idea of its capabilities nor its distinctive and unique sound qualities. Even Stravinsky, when asked to write a new piece for blockflute, thought it to be some kind of clarinet…
A hugely important phase of development began during the avant-garde period of the 1960s, when innovation began to discard the blockflute's historical associations as well as its conventional techniques. In fact, blockflute repertoire of a higher quality only began to appear when the instrument's image as a quieter, less-flexible flute had disappeared. This was strengthened by an exploration of its fantastic contemporary capabilities, including its pure sound character, the endless possibilities of glissandi, micro-tones and articulation effects.
In the 1960s, Frans Brüggen was the catalyst for an essential turning point in modern blockflute history. He achieved this by not only raising the standard of playing, but by commissioning composers of calibre, avoiding the danger of becoming a composer-performer limited by his own instrumental skills and tastes. This philosophy resulted in the creation of the first two milestones of blockflute repertoire: Sweet by Louis Andriessen (1964) and Gesti by Luciano Berio (1966). The latter is considered as ‘year 0’ of the modern blockflute, due to its enormous importance for the instrument. Gesti would have been Berio’s Sequenza VI, but even for this ground-breaking composer, the experience was so unique that he decided to put it in a category of its own, naming it after the Italian gestures. When sending the original manuscript, he indicated in a letter to Brüggen: I realise now that you are responsible for one of the strangest ‘gestures’ of my life.
Inspired by the efforts of Frans Brüggen, this new drive towards professionalism accelerated steadily with the emergence of each new generation of vigorously ambitious young players. From this point onward, Amsterdam came to be known as a centre of progressive blockflute thought; a rich environment of pioneers setting new playing standards with a non-stop chain of innovative developments.
First Brüggen, followed by Walter van Hauwe and Kees Boeke, acted as the major protagonists for the re-emergence and development of an instrument that had fallen into disuse for around 150 years. Walter van Hauwe comments: "Brüggen forced us into an unknown region, full of problems, far beyond the reach of a common technique. He would not simply show us the way out, we always had to find the way out ourselves. As a logical consequence, a systematic discredit of blindly believed technical conventions appeared".
The Amsterdam school not only produced pioneers in the field of soloists, but also remarkable blockflute ensembles such as Quadro Hotteterre (Walter van Hauwe & Kees Boeke, 1969), Sour Cream (Kees Boeke, Frans Brüggen, Walter van Hauwe, 1972), and the Amsterdam Loeki Stardust Quartet (Daniël Brüggen, Bertho Driever, Paul Leenhouts, Karel van Steenhoven, 1978). The importance of these reformers resided not only in their skills but also in their mentality, having breathed new life into the stagnating ways of ‘blockflute practice’. The most comprehensive professional method ever written for the instrument (Van Hauwe’s 'The Modern Recorder Player', three volumes, 1984-1992), the largest blockflute catalogue worldwide (www.blokfluit.org, on-line since 1998) and the International Blockflute Festivals have been all a product of the Amsterdam Blockflute School.
Whether chalked up to coincidence or destiny, within a relatively short period of time all the main instrumental settings of solo, duo, trio, quartet and surrounding literature were covered by these Dutch pioneers. New instrumental technique, new ideas for instrument making, a new education system, and fresh approaches to the research and generation of new repertoire: it was all initiated by the school of Amsterdam. I have always found this part of the blockflute’s history fascinating: it is a story that I simply had to tell.
In the 1970s, Walter van Hauwe and Kees Boeke founded a controversial education system: the BLOK. This block system has since become a core concept for numerous blockflute players from around the world, and is still central to the Blockflute Department of the Amsterdam Conservatory. Over time, the faculty has changed – Kees Boeke taught there until 1980, with Paul Leenhouts later joining in 1993. Leenhouts paid special attention to ensemble playing, historical development and methodological aspects of the instrument. In 1997, he founded the 'Royal Wind Music', a unique consort of renaissance recorders. All members of this ensemble have studied at the Amsterdam Conservatory.
In 2007, after a thirty six-year stronghold as a professor in the BLOK, Walter van Hauwe chose to retire from blockflute teaching, to pave the way for a new generation. I had the honour of being appointed as his successor in 2006. In 2010, Paul Leenhouts ended his teaching activities at the Amsterdam Conservatory and re-located to the USA as head of the Early Music Department at the University of Northern Texas. Erik Bosgraaf joined the department in 2010, succeeding Paul Leenhouts.
The development of the blockflute just keeps on going, and Amsterdam continues to produce great and innovative players. Globally, the instrumental level is ever rising: the involvement of the instrument with electronics, music-theatre and multimedia continues to deepen, varied ensemble collaborations are being explored in many different ways, and new young stars from all corners of the world are emerging, brimming with their own unique ideas.
Now, the newest generation of players can profit from a wonderful heritage, passed down from these past generations. The infrastructure is there to achieve amazing results, both in early and new music, celebrating one of the oldest instruments in the history of music.
ABOUT THE NAME
Traditionally called the ‘recorder’ in English, Walter van Hauwe introduced the term blockflute in 1984 in order to distinguish the instrument from similarly named electronic devices. The double meaning of the word ‘recorder’ has grown to become confusing, especially in the field of contemporary compositions, electronics and multimedia, nowadays often referring to a recording device - CD recorder, DVD recorder, video recorder, digital recorder, voice recorder, tape recorder, camcorder, the list goes on. Therefore, many ambassadors of the instrument use the term blockflute when speaking in a contemporary sense. This initiative is being followed by an increasing number of composers, arrangers, scholars and players worldwide.
VisiSonor Foundation – The Netherlands
Director, camera, editing: Andras Hamelberg, Franjo Studio Amsterdam
Director, interviews, sound: Minou de Leeuw
Walter van Hauwe
Roderik de Man
Ensemble Black Pencil
Blockflute - Jorge Isaac
Panflute - Matthijs Koene
Viola - Esra Pehlivanli
Accordeon – Marko Kassl
Percussion - Enric Monfort
Violin – Maartje Kraan
Violin – Helena Druwe
Cello – Mette Seidel
Double Bass - Jelte van Andel
Dance - Gilles Viandier
Video Cloud Messenger - Jasper Kuipers
Music fragments from:
Flauto Dolce (2013) by Roderik de Man (1941)
Farfanesque (2011) by Nico Huijbregts (1961)
Hari-hana-suta (2010) by B.C. Manjunath (1976)
Cloud Messenger (2012) by Fred Momotenko (1970)
Gesti (1966) by Luciano Berio (1925-2003)
Les Moutons de Panurge (1969) by Frederic Rzewski (1938)
Austro (1991) by Giorgio Tedde (1958)
Doen Daphne d'overschoone Maeght, d'Lof-zangh Marie, Gabrielle Maditelle (Der Fluyten Lust-Hof, 1649) by Jacob van Eyck (c1589/90-1657)
Prélude (Lentement) from Suite V (Pièces en trio pour les flûtes et dessus de viole, 1692) by Marin Marais (1656-1728)
Orgelpark Amsterdam, De NWE Vorst Tilburg, Conservatorium van Amsterdam, Studio de Generator Amsterdam, home of Mr. van Hauwe in Gorssel, home of Mr. Boeke in Amsterdam.
All filming and recording sessions took place between March 2012 and May 2013.
Quadro Hotteterre: Frans Hals Museum/Haarlem (1979)
Sour Cream: University of East Anglia/Norwich (1980) and Noordeinde Palace/The Hague (1987)
Frans Brüggen: Amsterdam (1967)
English and Dutch (English subtitles)
Conservatorium van Amsterdam
Otto van Boetzelaer
With the support of:
Amsterdams Fonds voor de Kunst