Early Music Montreal

Friday, September 16, 2005

Travels with Bernhard Böhm

The Montreal Recorder Festival has begun. The first concert was billed as Wind instruments from the Stone Age to the Baroque.

Bernhard Böhm took us on a voyage across centuries and to many places from European villages during the Renaissance to the Himalayan mountains, from a battlefield in Renaissance Germany to the court of Louis XIV. Through stories, talk and music he demonstrated the history, colours and variety of early wind instruments. Some instruments made people dance, others seduced ladies, scared lions and terrorized enemies. While the evening was billed as a concert, it was more of a lecture-demonstration. Böhm gave each instrument and musical piece a context before playing. He spoke of how composers and musicians expressed their feelings through music. Parts of flutes have been found in caves, some from about 45000 years ago. As early as 500 BCE a Greek author wrote about the flute.

A piece from the Renaissance from Parsifal on transverse flute demonstrated the plaintif sound; the flute was used to express Parsifal’s pain. Böhm played a flute made from yak horn which is from the Himalayas. It had quite a loud sound for the flute and was used by shepherds. We heard the pan flute, crumhorn, rauschfeife (a capped reed instrument with a very loud sound), shawm, recorders and transverse flutes. Böhm explained that during the Renaissance there was the largest variety of wind instruments with the greatest diversity of colours. He bemoaned the fact that the recorder was so often associated with shepherds but found out in the Andes, that the high pitches frightened the mountain lions and kept the flocks safe. He even delighted us with beyond baroque - a rendition of Schubert's "The Trout" on the smallest ocarina I have ever seen.

Böhm plays beautifully. His playing was expressive with very clear articulation. It was a delightful and informative evening.