We live in a time when the latest iPhone gets us excited, but that’s nothing to the last decades of the 1700s, when flutes went from having almost no keys to having eight. And anyone who could afford it bought the latest, greatest invention: the piano.
This week, the Salish Sea Early Music Festival brings that invention heyday to life in Tacoma, Seattle and Vashon Island with a program of music for fortepiano (Henry Lebedinsky) and flute (Jeffrey Cohan) on original and replica instruments, highlighting both the elegance and virtuosity of that time.
“Everybody wanted a brighter, more brilliant sound,” explains Cohan of just why both instruments saw such technological leaps between 1750 and 1800. Although the pianoforte (the term was then interchangeable with fortepiano, which is what we now call instruments made before 1830) was invented back around 1700 by Bartolomeo Cristofori, it didn’t really catch on until the mid-1700s, when makers improved it with more tuneable strings and pedals for different tone colors. Composers such as J.S. Bach’s sons Carl Philipp Emanuel and Johann Christoph Friedrich jumped on the new possibilities for expressive dynamics and louder sounds, and composers such as Mozart and Beethoven went even deeper.
For the Salish Sea concerts, Seattle keyboardist Henry Lebedinsky will perform on his own restored square piano (so-called because of the desk-like shape popular in the 1770s). Made in London in 1799 by George Astor (whose brother would go on to become America’s first multimillionaire), the mahogany instrument is 66 by 20 inches, has five octaves of keys and sits on a Sheraton-style stand.
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“It’s easier to transport than a harpsichord,” says Cohan.
At the same time, flute makers were discovering that if they added some holes and a key system, the instrument could not only play louder and more brilliantly, but could play in many more keys, thanks to the elimination of cross-fingering for sharps and flats. Cohan will play replicas of both a one-keyed Rottenburgh flute from around 1760 and an eight-keyed flute from 1807. Both are made of wood. The contemporary metal flute, with its complicated key system, wasn’t invented until 1847.
With Lebedinksy, Cohan will perform works for flute with both obbligato keyboard and figured bass, both still being in use during this transition between baroque and classical music. Composers include virtuoso French flutist François Devienne and Mozart’s publisher, Anton Hoffmeister. Lebedinsky will also play music by rarely heard Ukrainian classical composer Dmitry Stepanovich Bortniansky.
The concert is a chance for audiences to hear the elegance and charm of classical music on the delicate instruments for which it was written.
“I really love this music and rarely have a chance to do it,” Cohan says.
Fortepiano and Flute
Who: Henry Lebedinsky, fortepiano, and Jeffrey Cohan, flute, for the Salish Sea Early Music Festival.
When/where: 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Christ Episcopal, 4548 Brooklyn Ave. NE, Seattle; 7 p.m. Monday at Bethel Church, 14736 SW Bethel Lane, Vashon Island; and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Mason United Methodist Church, 2710 N. Madison St., Tacoma.
Suggested donation: $15-$25; 18 and under free.
Also: The next Salish Sea concert in Tacoma will be “A Musical Offering” at 7:30 p.m. on April 16 (harpsichord, baroque violin, baroque flute).