This semester my university’s flute choir is splitting into separate quartets: one of which is the Quartet for Diverse Flutes. Which, as the name suggests, calls for alto (flute III) and bass flute (flute IV) in addition to the C flute.
On tricky/deceiving thing about this score is that flute IV is actually the 3rd staff and flute III is the 4th staff. Throughout the piece this is something to be conscious of especially because the alto flute (flute III) is the only transposing flute. Whereas bass flute the pitch drops an octave, but remains the same letter – alto flute sounds a Perfect 4th lower than written. Therefore, the initial G4 sounds as a D4.
One last thing: because of the strange times of remote learning, our quartet is working asynchronously which can be tricky with the fermatas – to work around this (to have a steady opening) I’ve notated some modifications our group has been given by our coach to better suit the remote classroom. The initial 4/4 becomes a 6/4 and stays through the 1st measure of 5/4; finally, on the second stave the 2/4 is prolonged to a 3/4.
Composer and Piece Background
Peter Bacchus (1985-2016) was an American flutist and composer born in New Jersey. His journey on flute started with inspiration from listening to Herbie Mann, a jazz flutist, play in a live concert. He worked in New York – studying and earning his BFA from SUNY Purchase and Masters from City University of New York. The Barcelona Metropolitan did an interview with him in 2009 that goes more in-depth on his life as a composer and his development.
Quartet for Diverse Flutes was composed in 1990 and is divided into 3 movements (1. Andante molto rubato con espressione, 2. Allegro Molto, and 3. Cadenza). I couldn’t find a list of composed works or much in general about Peter Bacchus while he was alive – most of the search results yielded in memoriam and tributes to his work.
1. Andate molto rubato con espressione
One of the most helping and responsible parts of participating in chamber music is being aware of the other parts. What role does your line play? Who are you playing with/Are you playing alone? Are there sections that dove-tail/connect parts?
Especially in this opening (very slow and tolling) it is paramount to be aware of who enters when. First, the alto flute has a measure alone on a low D4 (written G4). Then, flute II comes in to start the next measure – it is important that flute II takes the low D set by the alto flute (slightly louder since the dynamic is set mp), but intonation is foremost. The bass flute follows with an A4 – tuning this Perfect 5th so that it doesn’t not tend too low (towards a tritone) or high is very important especially because this is the first note that is not a D. Finally, flute I enters on beat 3 an octave above flute II on D5 (again, listening down to flute II is very important). And so the process continues – flute I starts to take the leading role in the opening section and flute II, III, and IV are varied in their entrances so being aware of who enters on which beat (and on what pitch) can help alleviate any potential ensemble issues.
In this movement, there are many parts where the flutes are in their own mini choirs. In the example above, flute I and II are their own choir and flute IV and III are a separate choir.
In m. 35-38 flute I and II are in rhythmic unison. They start of a Perfect 5th apart, and then split in m. 36 to contrasting movement (ascending and descending) 4ths that shift to 5th halfway through m. 37 (returning to 4ths in m. 38).
In m. 34-36 flute IV and III are setting up that contrasting movement that the flute I and II are about to do. Flute IV and III are playing contrasting 5ths (rather than 4ths) that always end by a 1/2 step movement (still in contrasting direction). In m. 37-38, the flutes expand the contrasting 5ths excerpt by making a shift to 4ths (when flute I and II change to 5ths).
Both choirs end with the contrasting 4ths in m. 38.
Here is another example to reinforce the separation of the choir into smaller choirs (still flute I and II; and flute IV and III).
What’s your favorite flute quartet? Have you played this quartet before? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!