Jacques Martin Hotteterre "Le Romain" [1673-1763]
Jacques Martin Hotteterre was a member of a large family, which had its roots in Normandy. Since the early 17th century most of the Hotteterres had devoted themselves to instrument-making. Some of them moved to Paris and from that vantage point had a strong influence on the technical development of wind instruments. They played a crucial role in the transformation of renaissance instruments into their baroque counterparts. Most of the Hotteterres also played instruments: at least six of them played under Lully's direction in the 1670s.
Jacques Martin was also active as a player: he received an important position at the royal court, granting him a high social status. Instead of making wind instruments, he concentrated on composition and on teaching the transverse flute. As a composer he was one of the first to write sonatas and suites for the instrument. One of the most important aspects of Hotteterre's playing and composing was the ornamentation. This is borne out by reports of his own performances as well as by the second edition of his 1er Livre. There is also a strong Italian element in his oeuvre, which is particularly demonstrated by the trio sonatas opus 3. The catalogue of his private library gives further evidence of his interest in Italian music. This could be the reason he was nicknamed 'the Roman'.
It may be a surprise that the music of a composer who has devoted most of his time to playing the transverse flute is performed here on the recorder, an instrument whose popularity was waning after 1700. However there is ample justification for this. First, most composers were rather flexible in regard to the choice of instruments in the performance of their compositions. The title pages often refer to several instruments, like the 2e Livre by Hotteterre: 'Deuxieme Livre de Pieces pour la Flute-Traversiere et autres Instruments avec la Basse' (pieces for the transverse flute and other instruments with basso continuo). And on the title page of the trio sonatas opus 3 the recorder is specifically mentioned: 'Sonates en Trio pour les Flutes Traversiere, Flutes a Bec, Violons, Hautbois etc'. Secondly, in his treatise 'Principes de la Flute traversiere' he devotes several pages to the recorder. He recommends transposition upwards if his music is to be played on the treble recorder. In this recording a voice flute is used; as this instrument is pitched a minor third lower than the treble recorder, all pieces on the programme are played in the original keys.
This disc is not the first devoted to Hotteterre's music, but in my opinion it is definitely the most interesting as far as performance practice is concerned. In his liner notes Michael Form underlines the emotional and expressive element of French music. Although a public display of human emotions was felt to be unacceptable in those days, the use of dissonances and rhetorical motifs to create a plaintive mood, for instance, shows that this music is more than just about pleasing the ear.
The expressive character is also demonstrated by the contrasts in tempo. For this recording Michael Form has looked into period publications which describe the original tempi in which dances at that time were played. "In his Elements ou principes de musique (1696), Etienne Loulie demonstrated how a pendulum can be used to determine and record musical tempi ... with far greater precision than with a modern metronome! It is astonishing how little tempo instructions for many dance movements varied over several generations". In particular the menuet turns out to be a dance which was played at a very fast tempo. It is only in the second half of the 18th century that the menuet begins to slow down. Another aspect of Hotteterre's playing - as mentioned above - is the extensive ornamentation, which has also been paid attention to in this recording.
The result is a very exciting performance, which reveals aspects of French baroque music, which too often remain underexposed. This approach is not entirely new, though. For example, Jed Wentz, with his ensemble Musica ad Rhenum, has paid attention to period writings about tempo. Listen, for instance, to their complete recording of Francois Couperin's chamber music. It is however encouraging when musicians do not just follow established practices, but show a willingness to study the sources themselves and take the consequences.
-Johan van Veen
Having just disparaged the baroque flute for its seeming resistance to intonationally accurate performance (type Q8911 in Search Reviews), along comes another recording of trio sonatas and other chamber works in which the flute is the star-and what a difference! Importantly, in these performances the expert flutist Michael Form employs not a baroque flute but a recorder-a "flute de voix in D", which is pitched a minor third lower than the more commonly used treble instrument. Yes, there are still sufficient under-pitch passages to make us wince, but overall the playing is impressively virtuosic, interpretively artful, and very sensitive to the accompanying instruments, and the music is appealing enough to keep even true flute-o-phobes interested for more than an hour.
Jacques Martin Hotteterre (1673-1763) not only was a noted flute player and composer, but he also authored detailed fingering charts for both flute and recorder and invaluable treatises on performance practice. His music for the instrument shows substantial stylistic refinement, prodigious understanding of the instrument's technical possibilities, and a rare gift for melodic invention, all of which must be executed by a performer well-versed in Hotteterre's carefully notated and/or implied ornamentation. Form and his colleagues know this music's every turn and understand how to integrate ornaments into the flow of the phrases by means of appropriate tempos and by allowing lines to "breathe" naturally. There are many highlights here, especially the many-faceted, tuneful, dark-colored Deuxieme Suite and the beautiful solo De mes Supires de ma langueur, but it's safe to say that whether or not you care about baroque flute (or recorder) music, this program and these performances rank among the best in the genre, as close to perfection as we probably can expect from this most untamable of instruments (well, that's not to mention the lute...).