Review of Johann Joachim Quantz, On Playing the Flute, translated by Edward Reilly (London: Faber, 1966)

By: Rosalyn Tureck

From the Rosalyn Tureck Collection,
Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University

The genius of Johann Joachim Quantz emerges with full clarity in the complete translation of his famous essay “On Playing the Flute”. The work was written at the age of 55 from his rich experience as an instrumentalist and a composer and was first published in 1752.

Quantz has long been a favorite source for quotations an the performance of eighteenth-century music. The work in itself is a monument of sensitive perception, erudition, sound judgment and breadth of experience in composition and performance plus a fine a understanding of a good many instruments besides the flute. It is a joy to read the full exposition of his material, for here one recognizes immediately a superior mind which is incisive, uncompromising and one which has trained itself to the very highest standards. These standards will remain for all time, and every musician of every era may learn and be inspired by Quantz's precise demands and artistically judged recommendations.

The actual value of this historical material far us today is great, without a doubt. But one must be a musically literate person, well versed in historical practices of earlier periods, and well informed about works of other authors of the eighteenth century in order to understand how this particular storehouse of historical information was employed, its particular applications in its own time and how best to interpret and apply it today. Mr. Reilly has obviously been deeply involved with this work for a good many years, both in mind and spirit. The love for his task emerges clearly and this quality has added to my own appreciation of his accomplishment which is of prime importance in the field of musical translation.

Generally the translation reads beautifully, but there are now and then certain uses of terms which the performer of today will find disturbing. One is the use of the word ‘flattery’ in connection with the German term ‘das Schmeichelnde’. Mr. Reilly has tried very hard to find an appropriate translation for this term, which has at times different nuances of meaning, and he has settled on this word after a great deal of deliberation and consultation with others. Although ‘flattery’ is eminently correct as a synonym and does express the quality of the German word, it is not musically apt in English, despite the fact that we are dealing with eighteenth-century usages. ‘Flattery’ means nothing to performing musicians as an interpretive direction. Other synonyms exist which are more descriptive and useful, for instance ‘caress’, ‘cajole’. These terms evoke an image of meaning for the interpreter which is capable of being musically transferred in performance with immediacy of feeling.

The translator has gone to great trouble to attempt the utmost clarification of Quantz's instructions. This is a positive quality of the book. But since Quantz's essay is one which viii be read by historically minded and musicologically oriented performers, one could expect a degree of literacy which would obviate the necessity of explanations on an elementary level. Although Quantz himself deals at times with the utmost in elementary values, such as note and time values, the reader of today who goes to Quantz for enlightenment is more likely to be seeking his more sophisticated information, and is already equipped with a fair musical background. On the other hand, it is better to lean this direction for the sake of those who need this level of educating.

Mr. Reilly has written an excellent introduction on Quantz's life and musical development. The effort and care expended in his task have produced a result that is notably worthwhile.