Wednesday, December 21, 2016

264 Year Old Advice Rings True Today

With the stress level lower since securing a place within Switzerland for the next few years, I've committed myself to doing more regular reading on the topic of early music. The first first batch of books arriving in my mailbox this week contains J.J. Quantz's classic, On Playing the Flute (a translated version by Edward R. Reilly). While I have read numerous selections from the book before, I thought it would be a good time to go through it from the beginning to get a better overall view of the work. Funnily enough, it begins with an striking introduction: Of the Qualities Required of Those who Would Dedicate Themselves to Music.

In 15-odd pages, the author gives some fantastic advice for the budding musician which rings true today. Though I wish I could quote it all, a paragraph or two will have to suffice:
"Whoever wishes to apply himself to music profitably will enjoy a considerable advantage if he falls into the hands of a good master at the very beginning. ... The best master should be secured at the very beginning, even if he must be paid two or three times as much as others. It will cost no more in the end, and both time and effort will be saved...
Although... much depends upon a good master who can instruct his apprentices thoroughly, still more depends on the student themselves. ... Thus  special industry and attentiveness are also required of a student. ... No success can be promised to anyone who loves idleness, slothfulness, or other such futile things more than music. Many who dedicate themselves to music deceive themselves in this regard. They shrink from inevitable hardships. They would like to become skillful, but they do not wish to exert the necessary effort. They imagine that music is all pleasure, that to learn it is child's play, that neither physical nor mental powers are needed, that neither knowledge nor experience appertains to it, and that everything depends entirely upon inclination and good natural ability. It is true that innate ability and inclination are the primary foundations upon which solid understanding must be built. But thorough instruction, and, on the part of the student, much industry and reflection, are absolutely necessary to erect the entire structure."1
In my adult years, Quantz's writings have always been associated with the specialist musician: a baroque wind player, a conductor, a musicologist. Furthermore, only certain areas of the book are the focus of our attention - particularly chapters 6, 8-15, and 17 - but clearly we need to look again at the introduction. In fact, of all the material covered in his treatise, the introduction is what is most relevant today, don't you agree?


 1. Johann Joachim Quantz and Edward R. Reilly, On Playing The Flute, 2nd ed. (New York: Shirmer Books, 1985).

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