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Pipers, August 2004

Listening to Mr. Mashiro Arita, flutist and professor at Showa Music University.

19th interview in a series, interviewed by Shigeki Sasakl.

Sasaki: In your last interview, you told us all about how Böhm flutes had taken over the world. the metallic flutes were introduced in 1847.

Aria: 1847 was the year that brought an important change. That is when the shape of the flute changed from conical to cylindrical.

Sasaki: What was the purpose for changing the shape? Did it have to do with the amount of sound the flute could produce?

Aria: Yes. Renaissance flutes are cylindrical. They produce more quantity of sound than Baroque flutes. During the Baroque era there was a need for creating nuance with small sounds that had a wider register. The register became even wider. In Romanticism, they wanted both register and volume.

Is homogeneity a strong point or a weak point?

Sasaki: Most modern flutists don’t see homogeneity in the tone quality as a weak point, do they?

Arita: I don’t want to think it is a weak point. I think it depends on one’s values. The history of an instrument presents us with an important subject.

Sasaki: Let’s look at an example from Mozart’s horn concerto. Performances in the past with a “hand stop” created a variegated sensation, while modern performances have more homogeneity. These two values are quite different.

Aria: Yes. Music is a living thing. A musical performance is a living thing too. A performance evolves over time. There is a history to music. there is also a history to musical performance. We must have a keen eye to observe how things got passed on to new players from past traditions. In that sense, I think the history of flutes is very interesting.

What is the definition of the Böhm system?

Sasaki: There are instruments referred to as “the Böhm system” among clarinets and oboes. How do these instruments relate to the Böhm system?

Arita: I doubt the clarinet belongs within the Böhm system. In the Böhm system, fingers are put up and down to play all the scales.

Sasaki: The hole on each semi-tone in order opens up mechanically in order.

Arita: That’s right.

The Modern Traverso

Arita: Finally, I would like to show you something interesting. This is a creation by a Canadian today. This instrument is called the “Modern Traverso”; its inside diameter is 21mm. The head is conical, the middle is cylindrical. The traverso was based on the inside structure of the modern flute. Böhm invented the first modern flute; it had an inside diameter of 19 mm. This instrument was designed for increased quantity of sound with its big finger holes and big pipe. This resolved what until then had been a source of frustration with the traverso: low sound quantity.

Sasaki: Does it produce a big sound?

Arita: Yes, very much so!

Sasaki: What was the purpose of making this instrument?

Arita: It was designed to be performed in big halls. I have already given one concert with this flute. More people began to play ancient instruments nowadays. They study authentic methods of playing the authentic traverso, but in many cases the sound is not loud enough. What is the purpose of playing music? When I ran into this flute, I thought this was the saviour for traverso players. When I played the instrument, I thought, “Ahhh. this is the modern traverso!” I said that to the maker of this instrument. To my surprise, he gave it to me. You want to hear how it sounds?

           ...Arita then plays both traversos....

Sasaki: What a loud sound! Still it is producing the sound of traversos!

Arira: The sound is not bad at all, although it looks strange. From now on I will play this instrument whenever I have to play a traverso in a large hall. Incidentally, the other day, a Canadian film maker came over to create a documentary film on this instrument.

In between the past and the modern day.

Arita: Flutes in modern times are indeed excellent. I doubt that you can apply the theory of evolution to musical instruments. There is no theory of evolution in music, either. I think the best attitude is not deny either modern or ancient instruments. In order to affirm both instruments you must know what they are.

Sasaki: That resembles the situation for the cembalo in the past. The cembalo was denied because it could not create the loudness of a piano. The cembalo is very suitable for Bach pieces.

Aria: Modern times have made it possible to do both. When you study history, don’t just say, “Dear me!” Instead, be more curious, “What was it like in the past?” then just touch the instrument with your hands. This will lead to a big delight.

Interview with Masahiro Arita from Piper magazine