Welcome to a new Flute Friday/Saturday! I have started a new series on my Twitter page called Dr. G’s Daily Flute Tips. Please check it out @RTGeier and subscribe to receive my daily inspirational flute advice.
Today’s flute blog will not be as deep or informative as some of my previous blogs. Sometimes it is meaningful to simply step back and appreciate the beauty that others have found in our art. The flute and flute playing has been represented in countless paintings created by world renowned artists throughout the ages. Below are some of my favorite works of art presenting the flute in different performance scenarios under a wide range of interpretations. Use these images to inspire your flute playing. Find the beauty that exists on the other side of the stage.
Flute Concert with Frederick the Great in Sanssouci, 1850-1852 by Friedrich von Menzel
This painting was produced by Friedrich von Menzel for Franz Kugler’s History of Frederick the Great series. The flutist depicted in this painting is Friedrich II, or as he is also referred, Frederick the Great, who reigned as the King of Prussia from 1740-1786. Frederick the Great, known as a flutist and composer, is depicted here performing a flute concert on the occasion of a visit from his sister, the Margavine of Bayreuth. What is most notable in this scene is the very high placement of the music stand, preventing the King from making eye contact with the ensemble (I know a few band directors that would have a huge problem with this stand placement but I guess when you are the King you can basically do whatever you want. Please nobody give Donald Trump a flute…..). The King is also performing with his back to the audience. Is this a rehearsal or a performance? Whom is Frederick the Great really performing to in this painting?
The Fifer, 1866 by Édouard Manet
The Fifer was created by the Realist painter Édouard Manet in 1866 and is presently displayed at the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. This painting, created with oil on canvas, features a young boy dressed in a military uniform playing a fife made of dark wood and silver keys against a stark background. A brass carrying case for the instrument is placed on the figure’s right side. The head-on angle of the performer gives the painting a photographic style (as if the fife player was taking a selfie). This painting is often interpreted to be “cartoonish” but I think the starkness of the work suggests a great heaviness associated with performing as a role in warfare rather for enjoyment of the instrument.
The Flute Player by Charles Bargue (1880)
Created by Charles Bargue, who was known for his academic and dry approach to drawing, this painting features a flute player in a long white coat practicing the baroque flute with his back to the viewer. The focal point of the painting of course is the score, giving us the impression that we are reading the music along with the figure. We are both just spectators of the score. There is no audience in this painting suggesting that it is a portrayal of a practice session (and the music laying on the floor next to the instrument case would confirm this interpretation). What is the piece that he is practicing? If this is a baroque piece we can see that the ornamentation has been written out rather than improvised. This work shows the side of performance that the public does not get to see – the toil, planning and solitary hard work that goes into performing.
Orchestra at the Opera by Edgar Degas
This painting is the most important to me from this collection as it features Joseph Henri Altes, whose work I analyzed in my cumulating DMA paper, playing in the pit orchestra at the Paris Opera. Composed in 1870 by Edgar Degas, the space in the painting is divided into three zones. The bottom of the painting features the edge of the pit, the center the musicians of the pit, and the top the stage where ballerinas dance to the music performed by the pit musicians. The focal point of the painting is the musicians which are traditionally hidden from view during an opera performance but whose role is seminal to the performance on stage. Legend has it that Degas knew many of the musicians in the portrait personally including Désiré Dihau, the bassoonist featured at the center of the painting (who, as we know, is not seated in the traditional position that the bassoonist sits in an orchestra). Like The Flute Player, this painting depicts the side of performance that the audience does not often get to see and the toil of performance.
The Snake Charmer, 1907 by Henri Rousseau
Henri Rousseau once remarked to Pablo Piscasso, “Basically, you do in an Egyptian style what I do in the modern style.” The Snake Charmer, commissioned by Robert Delaunay’s mother, features the figure of a snake charmer in a creepy Garden of Eden on a dark evening charming a terrifying snake by playing the flute. This painting has been linked to Surrealism as the dense colors create an other-worldly atmosphere (Voldemort would be shaking in his boots). I love this painting because it shows the mythological ties to the flute and the darkness that the instrument may portray under a different light. The flute is not always the light, shimmering silver lining on the clouds above but may also represent hidden melodies and the darkness between day and dusk.
Do you have a favorite painting featuring the flute or a flute player? How are you inspired by the paintings above? Do you have an interpretation of these works that connects to your flute playing? Please comment below!