Instruments from the collection given to Duke University by G. Norman and Ruth G. Eddy are being featured in a series of recitals of which the first, entitled “The Early Flute,” took place on the afternoon of September 29 in the Bone Recital Hall of the Biddle Music Building on the East Campus. Duke faculty musicians were featured: Rebecca Troxler, flute, Randall Love, fortepiano, and Brenda Neece, who is also the curator of the collection, cello. The only instrument from the collection used, however, was the 68-key (5+ octaves) Clementi fortepiano built in Cheapside, London, ca. 1805, cat. No. 407. Yes, that’s right, it’s the same Clementi, Muzio, whose name is familiar as a composer, but he was also a pianist, music publisher, and owner of a piano manufacturing firm. Troxler’s flute, a six-key model made of Grenadilla, or African Blackwood., was a replica because none of the flutes in the collection, many of which were on display for the occasion, are in playable condition, although as funds become available, some that are restorable may be given new life. Neece played her own instrument.

The first three works on the program progressed backwards in time. It began with the Sonata in A for flute, (Op. 62 according to the printed program, but other sources give Op. 64) by Johann Nepomuk Hummel dating from 1814. For this, Troxler positioned herself to Love’s left beside the piano bench instead of in one of the usual spots to the fore either at the pianist’s right or in the piano’s crook, explaining that this produced a better balance of sound with the less powerful fortepiano, and that there is justification for this position in works of art from the period. This was followed by Franz Joseph Haydn’s Andante con variazioni , H.XVII:6 for piano, which dates approximately from the period of the instrument, according to Love, although a date of 1793 is given in other sources. Next we had a Sonata for solo flute published in 1763 by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, which is in the ” galant ” style, flamboyant, extreme, and chromatic, according to Troxler, and thus beyond the Baroque style often associated with him. He lived in the period of transition from Baroque to Classical, and this work has what is to this reviewer’s mind a kind of Rococo flair. The addition of keys to the flute occurred during C.P.E. Bach’s time. The hour-or-so-long intermission-less performance concluded with a return to Haydn for his lively and delightful Trio in D for flute, cello and piano, H.XV:16, composed in 1790. Neece held her cello between her calves, not extending its pin, in the style of the times. The work seemed made for these instruments, and they seemed just right for it.

There was an occasional clicking of the mechanism in the fortepiano, and moisture built up in the flute requiring an occasional “toilette,” as clarinets (to cite another instrument made of wood) still have to do, but none of this compromised the performance in any way, or, more importantly, the sound of the music, which had a warmth that, for this reviewer, easily compensated for the lesser force of volume. Banish the thought of “tinkly” pianos, for there was none of that from this instrument. Love had a book under his right heel, however, because the pedals are somewhat higher off the floor than on a modern piano and have a greater traveling distance when depressed, making the position of rest uncomfortable for the calf muscles. And banish the thought of unpleasant or shrill notes from the flute, for there were none of those either, although, unlike the pianoforte, it is clearly more difficult to play than its modern counterpart, and to produce a consistently good sound, which Troxler managed in spades, even in the virtuosic third movement of the C.P.E. Bach.

The printed program gave no information about the instruments, but Neece supplied oral commentary at the beginning, and after the performance she invited the overflow audience (some members sat on the floor of the risers) to look (but not touch) the piano for which a museum-style informational panel board (including photos) prepared by a student as a project was available to read. The audience was also invited to view others of the instruments in the collection in their display area in the main rotunda. Dates of composition of the works would have been welcome in the program, since the historical time frame was a crucial element of the performance, indeed part of its raison d’être. Artist bios were given, but no notes on the music.

There will be more events featuring instruments in the collection as the year progresses, the next with Don Eagle of the NC Symphony playing a cornet. Check our calendar for details.