‘Like a kiss from the sixteenth century’: The technical and expressive capabilities of the ‘Warder’ flute

5 Jonty ODP

Jonty Coy

wind, voice
Keywords: flute, performance practice, organology, 16th century, hip
Duration: Started in 2023
Musician type: wind, voice
Host institution: Leiden University

In 2017, an archaeological diving team from the Rijksdienst voor het Culturele Ergoed (RCE) was excavating a shipwreck (labelled as site HE-11-53) off the coast of Warder (North Holland), when they made an extraordinary discovery. A complete, intact flute was found among the artefacts and debris dating from the early sixteenth century. The ship dates to the 1540s, and researchers believe it was sunk shortly after, making the ‘Warder’ flute easily the oldest surviving flute in the Netherlands. After the original flute was restored, two replica instruments were made by the Hague-based flute-builder Roberto Bando. These instruments were then displayed in a public presentation at the Rijksmuseum by Kate Clark, one of the world’s leading experts on the renaissance flute. After the presentation, they were returned to the Archaeological Museum of North Holland. In 2022, Jonty negotiated access to one of these replica flutes, which he currently has on loan from the museum.

Clark remains the only person to have played the original instrument and described the sensation of putting her lips to the flute as being ‘like a kiss from the sixteenth century.’ In some ways, this remark serves as the point of departure for Jonty's proposed research project. To date, all the research published within this field has attempted to establish the historical context in which the Warder flute operated, with relatively little being written about the sound of the flute itself or the embodied experience of playing this instrument. By contrast, Jonty proposes to examine, describe and (where possible) quantify the experience of interacting with this extraordinary instrument and to explore all the possible musical, artistic, and historical implications of this experience.

The research questions of this study can, therefore, be summarised as follows:

  1. How can the Warder flute be defined in terms of its technical and expressive parameters/capabilities? How can these be quantified?
  2. What do these parameters reveal about:
  • the instrument’s historical function;
  • its role in the historical development of the flute;
  • the technical and expressive capabilities of renaissance flutes more generally;
  • the renaissance flute’s unique capacity to imitate the human voice; and
  • its potential as an instrument for new music?

By asking these questions, Jonty hopes to establish a repertoire for the Warder flute and bring both this instrument and its repertoire to the broader public's attention.