A Flute for All Seasons

Classical music has a long history of instrument-swapping. Lute tunes transcribed for guitar. Harpsichord pieces performed on piano. Since guitars and pianos are easier to come by these days than lutes or harpsichords, this is a good thing for modern performers.

Sometimes it’s clear the transcription is simply to allow a performer to indulge in a work written for an instrument other than the one the play. Wynton Marsalis playing “Flight of the Bumblebee” on trumpet comes to mind.

One of the first compact discs I bought when they became commonly available was Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” which had long been a favorite of mine. Rather than the traditional violin, this was arranged for flute and performed by James Galway.

It’s a very different sound, of course, and Galway makes it work. The flute isn’t quite as delicate as a violin can be, but a skilled flutist can make us forget that during the peaceful movements. When winter arrives, though, it seems to have been written for the instrument. The biting winds of winter are colder in a flute than a violin.

I no longer own that copy. These days, my favorite recording of the Seasons is Lorin Maazel’s arrangement and performance on the traditional instrument.

But when winter comes, I always miss the flute.

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