Agricola (1529) characterised the wind-player’s vibrato as “trembling breath” describing it as “a special grace”. He writes:
“If you want to have a fundament, learn to pipe with trembling breath, for it greatly embellishes the melody.”
However, it is not clear if he is referring to the use of aspirated tremolo/vibrato or diaphragmatic vibrato, as opposed to finger vibrato:
|"Auch sey im Pfeiffen darauff gsind|
Das du blest mit zitterdem wind
Dann gleich wie hernach wird gelart
Von der Polischen Geigen art
Das zittern den gesang zirt
Also wirds auch alhie gespürt.".
|When playing remember that you know
Into the flute with trembling breath to blow
As shortly we shall learn awhile
Of Polish violins and their style
That trembling ornaments the song
Thus must we sense it all along.
Praetorius (1619) described a vibrato produced by the action of the diaphragm, and Mersenne (1636) referred to “certain tremolos which intoxicate the soul”.
Nowadays, vibrato is considered as being on both sides of a note or on the sharp side. This can be produced on reed instruments by manipulating the muscles of the lips and jaw as well as the diaphragm, but on the recorder only by allowing breath pressure to fluctuate in a regular manner controlled by the diaphragm. The production of vibrato in this way on the recorder is the subject of an article by Davis (1974) who recommends its application to music of the baroque period. Played slowly this gives a wide vibrato but, as we have seen, as its frequency is increased the extent of the pitch change automatically decreases until it becomes an aspirated tremolo. Since it involves a very noticable oscillation in volume as well as pitch, a slow diaphragmatic vibrato on both sides of the note tends in practice to become a distressing warble. Thus its use on the recorder is probably best avoided, despite historical evidence in support of its use on the baroque flute Sterne (1977).
A vibrato performed by finger movements alone on a wind instrument is always on the flat side. Although this was possible on baroque flutes and oboes it is not, for the most part, on their modern descendants. The recorder is one of the few wind-instruments on which this style is still feasible, and it should be used wherever stylistically appropriate, and not just in the performance of French baroque music and its derivatives in other countries. Indeed, it is called for in treatises by Ganassi (Venice 1535), Blanckenburgh (Amsterdam 1654), Hudgebut (London 1679), Salter (London 1683), Loulié (Paris 1694), Hotteterre (Paris 1707), Corrette (Paris 1740), Mahaut (Paris & Lyon 1759), Quantz (Berlin 1752) and Tromlitz (Leipzig 1791). See Brüggen (1996), Dickey (1978), Haynes (1997), Lasocki in Hotteterre (1968: 66, footnote), Mather (1972: 65-66), Mather (1972: 65-66), Neumann (1978: 511-522), Neumann & Stevens (1993), Veilhan (1979: 36-37) and Zimmermann (1994).
The table of fingerings for these flattements, as they are called, which I have adapted from Hotteterre (1707) to suit modern (neo-baroque) recorders, may be of interest; it will certainly convey some idea of the complexity of this style of playing. Note Hotteterre’s indication that a flattement is done with the technique of the trill, but that only the edge of the hole is struck.
These notes concern both alto and soprano recorders with modern (‘English’) fingering systems. For a given fingering the note produced on an alto will be indicated first followed in parenthesis by that produced on a soprano (or tenor, although it will sound an octave lower).
Fingerings will be indicated as follows:
|thumb and all fingers on|
|second finger of left hand on alone|
|finger 6 half-holed|
|finger 2 partially closed|
|trill with this finger|
|bell hole closed against one's knee|
Thus / 123 45/*- indicates the fingering for a flattement on a” on an alto and e”’ on a soprano, made by striking the edge of half-hole 6 with the finger.
|f’||c”||Not feasible. See below.|
For f’ (c”) and f#’/g♭’ (c#”/d♭”) Hotteterre recommends shaking the instrument. It is hard to see what this could achieve in itself other than what might be termed “visual vibrato”, a cue to the audience that a vibrato is intended. But perhaps here is an authentic use for the so-called “lip vibrato” described by Brüggen (1996) in which the fluctuation of breath pressure is generated by arm movement, “by pressing the mouthpiece (ie windway entrance) slightly to the side or toward the upper lip, temporarily decreasing the amount of air going through the instrument.” One could, of course, use aspirated tremolo/vibrato instead.
Feldon (1997), presents evidence to the effect that the placement of flattement in French baroque music was deployed to articulate key rhetorical elements in a musical structure in a flexible manner. Thus it was applied to heighten the expression by signalling a change, high point, instability, or ambiguity or used to lend emphasis to contrasting or shifting movements of rhythmic stress.
Contemporary composers for recorder have sometimes made use of a vibrato effected by shading the window of the recorder with the palm of the lower hand. This is termed “labium vibrato” by O’Kelly (1995: 96-97), Bowman (1997) and Brüggen (1996). By this means the fluctuations of pitch can be over a very wide range, though one is limited to the notes available to the upper hand alone (unless one enlists the aid of an assistant, perhaps). If the air flow remains constant then the overall pitch is lowered. Thus the effect of labium vibrato can be very dramatic since it tends to be combined with a powerful tone. Examples of its use include Hans Martin Linde’s Music for a Bird and Marcus Zahnhaussen’s Viva Vivaldi.
Thus for the recorder player there are four kinds of vibrato, each with its own particular character:
- labium vibrato
- finger vibrato
- diaphragmatic vibrato
- aspirated tremolo/vibrato
From the Introduction to this article it can be seen that there remains the possibility of a fifth kind of vibrato not mentioned elsewhere in the literature on the recorder, namely that involving phase shift. This is known as the Doppler Effect. The so-called “Leslie” of a Hammond organ (much-loved by Blues musicians) creates a phase shift in the sound by means of a rotating drum speaker system. The result is a vibrato on each side of the note, rising in pitch as the speaker travels towards the listener, and dropping in pitch as it travels away from the listener. Note that the effect is not the result of an actual change in the frequency of the source. It is simply the case that each consecutive disturbance has a longer or shorter distance to travel before reaching the listener and thus occurs more or less frequently for that observer. On a non-amplified recorder such phase shifts could only be achieved by gross movement of the player and their instrument with respect to the audience, perhaps by seating the player on a swing or roundabout.
Vibrato effected by periodic fluctuation of timbre seems to have attracted no particular name. It has been given little more than passing mention in the literature on the recorder, e.g. by Brüggen (1996) who nowhere states quite how such an effect might be achieved. As the quote from Donington at the head of this article hints, and as Brüggen himself concedes, it is inevitable that slight changes of timbre are coupled with vibrato or tremolo however these are achieved. Indeed Toff (1996), writing about vibrato on the flute, equates timbral vibrato explicitly to fluctuations in pitch + fluctuations in intensity. Bania (2008) refers to timbral vibrato on the flute as component in flattement, particularly when fingerings are used in which there is little or no pitch change. But since such “timbral vibrato” can hardly be independently controlled, it need not concern us further, though it is important to be aware of its co-existence with other forms of vibrato and tremolo. Greater possibilities for timbral vibrato might be offered by the manipulation of tonal colour possible with innovative instruments such as Michael Barker’s “MIDIfied recorder”, Cesar Villavicencio’s “Bird Cage”, Philippe Bolton’s electro-acoustic recorder, or Mollenhauer’s Elody recorder.
References cited on this page
- Agricola, Martin. Musica instrumentalis deudsch ynn welcher begriffen ist, wie man nach dem gesange auff mancherley Pfeiffen lernen sol, Auch wie auff die Orgel, Harffen, Lauten, Geigen, und allerley Instrument und Seytenspiel, nach der rechtgegrüdten Tabelthur sey abzusetsen [A German Instrumental music, in which is Contained: How to Learn to Play Many Kinds of Wind Instruments from Vocal Notation, and also How to Set Music into the Appropriate Tablature for the Organ, Harp, Lute, Fiddle, and all Kinds of Keyboard and String Instruments]. Wittenberg: George Rhau, 1529.
- Blanckenburgh, Geerbrant Quirinjnszoon van. Onderwyzinghe Hoemen alle de Toonen en halve Toonen, die meest gebruyckelyck zyn, op de Hand-Fluyt Zal konnen t’eenemael zuyver Blaezen, en hoe men op yeder ’t Gemackelycks een Trammelat zal konnen maken, heel dienstigh voor de Lief-hebbers [Instructions for How One Can Learn to Play all the Most Usual Tones and Semitones On the Recorder in Tune, and How One Can Make a Trill in the Easiest Way on Each One – Very Useful for Music Lovers]. Amsterdam: Paulus Matthysz, 1654.
- Brüggen, Daniel. “Das Vibrato im Blockflötenspiel [Recorder Vibrato].” Tibia, 1996, 21 (1): 23–27; (2): 116–23.
- Corrette, Michel. Méthode Raisonnée pour apprendre aisément à jouër de la Flûtte Traversiere, 1740.
- Dickey, Bruce. “Spieltechnik und Repertoire der Blasinstrumente vom 16. bis ins frühe 19. Jahrhundert. II. Untersuchungen zur historischen Auffassung des Vibratos auf Blasinstrumenten. [An investigation of the historical use of vibrato on wind instruments].” Basler Jahrbuch für Historische Musikpraxis 2 (1978): 77–142.
- Ganassi, Silvestro. Opera intitulata Fontegara. La quale i[n]segna a sonare de flauto cho[n] tutta l’arte opportuna a esso i[n]strumento massime il diminuire il quale sarà utile ad ogni i[n]strumento di fiato et chorde: et a[n]chora a chi si dileta di canto [Work entitled “Fontegara”, which Instructs in Playing the Recorder with all the Proper Art of this Instrument, Especially the Creation of Diminutions that will be Useful for all Wind and String Instruments as well as those who Practice Singing]. Venice: Silvestro Ganassi, 1535.
- Haynes, Bruce. “Das Fingervibrato (Flattement) auf Holzblasinstrumenten im 17, 18. und 19 Jahrhundert, Teil I & Teil II [Woodwind Finger Vibrato (flattement) in the Seventeenth, Eighteenth, and Nineteenth Centuries].” Tibia, 1997, 2: 401–97; 3: 481–87.
- Hotteterre, Jacques. 1707. Principes de la flûte traversière, ou flûte d’Allemagne, de la flûte à bec, ou flûte douce, et du haut-bois diviséz par traitéz [Principles of the Flute, Recorder, and Oboe, Divided into Treatises]. Paris: Christophe Ballard.
- Hotteterre, Jacques. Principles of the Flute, Recorder & Oboe, Paris 1707. Edited and translated by David Lasocki. London: Barrie & Rockcliff / Cresset Press, 1968.
- Hudgebut, John. A Vade Mecum for the Lovers of Musick, Shewing the Excellency of the Rechorder with Some Notes and Directions for the Same. Also, Some New Ayres Never Before Published. London: N. Thompson for John Hudgebut, 1679.
- Loulié, Étienne. “Méthode pour apprendre à jouer de la flûte douce [Method for learning to play the recorder].” Paris, c. or 1701 1694. Fonds fr. n.a. 5355, XIX-XX. Bibliothèque Nationale de France.
Mahaut, Antoine. 1759. Nouvelle Méthode Pour Ap[p]rendre En Peu de Tem[p]s а Jouer La Flute Traversiere. à l’Usage Des Commençans et Des Personnes plus Avencees, Suivie de Petits Airs, Menuets, Brunettes, &c Accomodés Pour Deux Flûtes, Violons, et Pardessus de Viole [A New Method to Quickly Learn to Play the Transverse Flute for Beginners and Those More Advanced, Followed by Little Airs, Minuets, Brunettes, etc. Arranged for Two flutes, Violins and Pardessus-de-viole]. Paris & Lyon: De La Chevardière.
- Mather, Betty B. Interpretation of French Music from 1675 to 1775 for Woodwind and Other Performers; Additional Comments on German and Italian Music. New York: McGinnis & Marx, 1972.
- Mersenne, Marin. Harmonie universelle, contenant la théorie et la pratique de la musique, où il est traité de la nature des sons, et des mouvemens, des consonances, des dissonances, des generes, des modes, de la composition, de la voix, des chants, et de toutes sortes d’instruments harmoniques [Universal harmony, contaning the theory and practice of music, in which is treated the nature of sounds as well as tempos, consonances, dissonances, genres, modes, composition, the voice, songs, and all kinds of musical instruments]. Paris: Sébastien Cramoisy, 1636.
- Neumann, Frederick. Ornamentation in Baroque and Post-Baroque Music, with Special Emphasis on J.S. Bach. 3rd ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978.
- Neumann, Frederick, and Jane R. Stevens. Performance Practices of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. New York: Schirmer, 1993.
- Praetorius, Michael. Syntagma musicum ex veterum & recentiorum ecclesiasticorum authorum lectione, polyhistorum consignatione, variarum linguarum notatione, hodierne seculi usurpatione, ipsius denique musicæ artis obsrvatione: in cantorum, organistarum, organœoporum, cæterorumque; musiciam scientiam amantium & tranctantium gratiam collectum; et secundum hunc generalem indicem toti operi præfixum, in quatuor tomos distributum, à Michaele Praetorio Creutzbergensi … A musical treatise gathered from a reading of old and new ecclesiastical authors, from the teaching of learned men, from writings in various languages, from modern usage, and finally from observation of the art of music itself: for the benefit of signers, instrumentalists, instrument makers, and others who love and deal with the science of music; arranged in four volumes according to this general index prefixed to the whole work by Michael Praetorius of Kreuzburg …. Vol. 2: De Organographia [On musical instruments]. Wolfenbüttel: Elias Holwein, 1619.
- Quantz, Johann J. Versuch einer Anweisung die Flöte tranversiere zu spielen [Essay on How to Play the Flute]. Berlin: Chrétien Frédéric Voss, 1752.
- Salter, Humphrey. The Genteel Companion: Being Exact Directions for the Recorder: With a Collection of the Best and Newest Tunes and Grounds Extant. London: Printed for Richard Hunt & Humphrey Salter, 1683.
Tromlitz, Johann George. 1791. Ausführlicher und gründlicher Unterricht die Flöte zu spielen [A Complete and Thorough Method for Playing the Flute]. Leipzig: Adam Friedrich Böhme.
- Veilhan, Jean-Claude. The Rules of Musical Interpretation in the Baroque Era. Translated by John Lambert. Paris: Leduc, 1979.
- Zimmermann, Manfredo. “Messa Di Voce on the Recorder—a Mere Wish.” ERTA Newletter (UK), no. 6 (1994).
Cite this article as: Lander, Nicholas S. 1996–2019. Recorder Home Page: Technique: Tremolo & Vibrato. Last accessed 22 February 2019. http://www.recorderhomepage.net/technique/tremolo-and-vibrato/