Jacob van Eyck Quarterly
2006, No. 2 (April)
The 'Fantasia & Echo' and recorder dynamics
According to the laws of nature, an echo occurs at the same pitch as the source sound, but softer. Musically, this can be translated into a dynamic contrast, in strong and weak. Organists and harpsichordists might have two manuals at their disposal in order to create this effect. It goes without saying that recorder players have to do without such a tool.
The instrument itself offers little opportunity to influence dynamics, unless alternative fingerings are used. Strong blowing makes the tone harsh and the pitch too high, blowing softly makes the pitch too low. Quirinus van Blanckenburgh ended his Onderwyzinge (Instruction) for the recorder (c1656) by saying:
In other words, if Van Eyck uses the indication 'forte' for the source and 'pian.' for the echo, this seems to refer to a trait of the seventeenth-century 'hand flute' (as the recorder was called in Van Eyck's time). It is not that simple, however.
Firstly, an echo effect created by a downward octave shift is at least partly based on illusion. Octave echoes seem to offer nature a helping hand. It is common to take the source high and the echo low, for the simple reason that high is associated with strong, and low with soft. A good example from Der Fluyten Lust-hof is the melody of 'Malle Symen' or 'Malsimmes', to which Van Eyck devoted two sets of variations [NVE 5 & 113]. The tune was also known as the 'English Echo'. An echo of the type highlow occurs three times. Obviously, this has nothing to do with the characteristics of a specific instrument.
Secondly, if the dynamics of a recorder cannot be influenced from a seventeenth-century point of view, why then are the octave echoes from the Fantasia & Echo explicitly marked with forte and pian.? And why do these markings fail to occur at the innumerable other locations in Van Eyck's works where octave echoes happen?
A plausible explanation is that Van Eyck or his publisher wanted to show what happens. The echo plays such an important role, that it is mentioned in the title. That the markings have a demonstrative function, more than that they are intended to prescribe an acoustic reality, is suggested by the echo section of measures 41-43:
The second echo is not fully realized, the deviation starts on the last quarter of measure 42. Although the composition occurs here in the lowest regions of the recorder range, the marking 'forte' is printed under the notes, obviously meant to state the closing of the echo section. (That this 'forte' is not an error, is proven by measure 40, where the marking also appears after an echo section.)
It is self-evident that the 'Fantasia & Echo' does not shed any light on the characteristics of the instrument; the low register of the hand flute is not soft by definition. There are several ways to suggest a dynamic contrast on the recorder. Excitement followed by some resignation is one of them. This can be achieved by retarding. Michael Praetorius (Syntagma Musicum, 1619, III, 132) makes a connection between 'piano' and slackening of the tempo:
Dynamic contrasts can also be suggested by varying the sounding length of the notes, or by alternating harsh (t) and soft (d) tonguing, the latter to be used for the echo.
No. 2006/3 will be available on 1 September, 2006
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