The Golden Age: An Examination of American 20th Century Flute Literature

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Arts and Humanities | Music


Bruce Thornton, Music


Musical evolution and technological advances have wielded a strong influence on the flute's development, and the French ideology of flute performance has molded the modern flute's identity. The flute has a long-standing history; the use of flutes can be traced as far back as the pre-historic era as instruments of bone. But today's flute bears little resemblance to these ancient flutes. In examining the development of the flute from these bone flutes to the modern model, the impetuses for the modern flute's construction reveal the underlying shifting priorities of flute performers, music audiences, and flute manufacturers. The resulting construction then also affects the literature written for the instrument. During the recent history of the 20th century, American literature reflects a shift in the flute's identity and a change in the definition of the utilization of the flute. In fact, many referred to the 20th century flute movement as the "Golden Age" of the art. Julius Baker, flutist of the Chicago Symphony and New York Philharmonic, suggests as early as 1959, "Perhaps we are entering a golden age of flute playing" (Baker, "Flute Playing in the United States"). Time magazine reiterates this same clain in 1966 (March 11, 1966). When one uses the term "Golden Age," one denotes a particular time period in which an art form or age of discovery "peaks." In essence, 20th century American flute literature - in combination with American performers and flute-makers - reflects more truly the capabilities of the modern flute and rightly ushers the flute into its Golden Age.