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Well-Tempered Woodwinds: Friedrich von Huene and the Making of Early Music in a New World

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Friedrich von Huene (1929– ) is arguably the most important manufacturer of historical woodwinds in the 20th century. Since he began making recorders in 1958, von Huene has exerted a strong influence on the craft of building woodwind instruments and on the study of instrument–making, as he has helped to shape the emerging field of Early Music performance practice. Recipient of lifetime achievement awards from the American Musical Instrumental Society, the National Flute Association, and Early Music America, he has remained at the forefront of research and design of historical copies of recorders, flutes, and oboes. In a compelling narrative that combines biography, cultural history, and technical organological enquiry, Geoffrey Burgess explores von Huene’s impact on the craft of historical instrument–making and the role organology has played in the emergence of the Early Music movement in the post-war era.

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1 Childhood in Paradise

ePub

Figure 1.1. Advertisement in the American Recorder (1960).

When Wesley Oler saw this announcement in the first issue of the American Recorder (February 1960) he wrote to von Huene excitedly: “It looks as though you are really in business!”1 The previous year, the Washington MD, recorder amateur, and collector encountered a von Huene recorder for the first time. The instrument was only the third that von Huene had made, delivered in June 1958 to the preeminent New York player Bernard Krainis. Oler immediately recognized it as the best recorder that could be had, and ordered one for himself. He quickly became one of von Huene’s most ardent supporters, and enthusiastically spread the word through the Washington chapter of the American Recorder Society (ARS).

Friedrich von Huene’s journey to this point in his career had been long and convoluted. It began on 20 February 1929 in Breslau (then part of Germany, now Wrocław in Poland). Only after escaping from East Germany, immigrating to the United States, attending college in Maine, serving three years with the U.S. Air Force, then completing college, and taking up an apprenticeship in Boston did he establish his recorder-making business in Waltham, Massachusetts.

 

2 Flight from Eden

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Exhausted from the difficult night, we took a long lunch break in a farmyard near the road. After our rest, we discovered that one of our bicycles had been stolen. . . . My brother Maik and I headed further west to try to regain our bike. We latched onto a truck, which went very fast, through muddy potholes and puddles. One hour later, we soon saw a soldier in a brown uniform, familiar from our noontime stop, approaching with our bicycle. The scene of the women and children, me, the eldest, just sixteen years old, confronting this soldier is unforgettable. He must have had a guilty conscience because he had stripped everything identifiable (like the lamp, markings, etc.) off the bike except the seat, which was green corduroy. We asked him to get off it so we could verify that. The man was reluctant, so we asked other soldiers to help, but they didn’t move. In retrospect it is amazing that he did get off the bike and continue westward on foot.1

This incident, as recounted here in the transcript of a talk presented at Brookline’s Thursday Club in 1998, became a pivotal event in the most traumatic episode of Friedrich’s life—his family’s flight from north-eastern Germany at the end of World War II. As he looked back over his life, he would revisit this seemingly insignificant event involving the theft of a bike, retelling it on numerous occasions. In strict chronology it occurred only after the family had weathered other hardships.

 

3 Training in a New World

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On 26 July 1948, Friedrich, Michael, Christian, and Brigitte arrived in New York harbor aboard the S.S. Marine Flasher, one of the refitted troop ships put in service to ferry uprooted Europeans to new lives in America. It had been the same vessel that transported their mother and younger sisters eight months earlier. The reunited family was treated to a holiday at a relative’s summer house on Mason’s Island off the Connecticut coast: a much-needed reunion, but necessarily brief as all hands were required to prepare their new home for the season ahead.

By the time the older children arrived, their mother had already established a base for the family’s new life. Her first task had been to find a college where her “enemy alien” sons would be welcome. Recalling the last summer vacation she had spent with her mother at Bar Harbor, her instincts took her to Maine. She heard that Bowdoin College in Brunswick (at that time a men’s college) had special funding to support foreign students, and she arranged to meet with the dean, Nathaniel Kendrick. He indicated that there would be place for her sons if they met the admissions requirements. As it turned out, Maine was particularly tolerant of postwar European refugees, and Aimée came to rely on assistance from politicians, Bowdoin professors, and immigration specialists to disentangle her family’s convoluted naturalization process. The chairman of the House Subcommittee on Immigration, Maine congressman Frank Fellows, had sponsored the Displaced Persons Act. Robert Hale, another Maine representative, helped Aimée apply for visas for her older children on the basis of their being orphaned in Germany. Even once they arrived in America, there would be a protracted tussle with the U.S. administration to find a means of keeping the family together.

 

4 Friedrich the Great: Founding an Empire

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In June 1960 von Huene finally left Powell Flutes and was “really in business” as a recorder builder. He had spent the preceding months setting up his new workshop, and delayed giving his notice until the last minute.1 From a business point of view his timing was opportune: he already had orders, and like the adolescent who rode on ahead of the family on the trek across Germany, he established himself as the forerunner in the field of recorder building and would soon ride the crest of the wave of the instrument’s meteoric rise in popularity.

Leading up to that time, von Huene had begun to make recorders on the Atlas lathe he had brought from Washington, D.C., set up in the front hallway of the Cypress Street home, separated from the living area with no more than a draped sheet. The going rate for Dolmetsch recorders was $60; von Huene undercut them by $10.2 His first attempt was a failure in his eyes, but Inge rescued it to keep for sentimental reasons. The next instruments went to friends and colleagues. Bernard Krainis got #3, Alexander (Lex) Silbiger #4 and his pupil Elaine Cuthbert #6, Friedrich’s college friend David Holmes #7, and the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) purchased #12 for the Camerata. A few were sold through the New England Music Center, operated by Robert Lander, in downtown Boston.

 

5 Trading Old Flutes for New

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Authenticity—that much-maligned catch-cry of the early music movement—came with mixed blessings. Up to the 1960s, historically accurate performance had hardly played part in the early instrument ethos, and as much as some welcomed the accurate rendering of the composer’s intention for expanding the horizons of early music, others saw it as a “powerful and jealous spirit” that threatened to overrun the endeavors of earlier generations.1 Up to this time, the recorder had to demonstrate its ability to hold its own against instruments that had been put through the paces of modernization. Now attention was turned to its distinctive qualities and historical playing techniques.

The consequences were manifold. The focus now turned to historical instruments or accurate reproductions played at historical pitches and temperaments. Meanwhile, the repertoire shifted to the High Baroque. From a historical point of view, this was a logical progression, but it came with its own challenges. The technical demands of Baroque music required a higher level of professionalism. Renaissance and Medieval music were open fields, but Baroque music, having a more continuous performance history, was already inhabited. To bring it within the Authenticity movement entailed tampering with the familiar and stepping on the toes of the famous. Historically informed performance (HIP) met resistance from the old guard. Established musicians who had learned their craft passed down through oral tradition resented their credibility being challenged by the young set, with a new set of rules. The new purist attitude, with its complicit exclusionism, further widened the rift between amateurs and professionals. Those at the vanguard—Frans Brüggen, Gustav Leonhardt, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, the Kuijken brothers, and Christopher Hogwood (to name just the most influential)—grounded the center of activities in Europe. Their fame, established through recordings and international tours, attracted students from all around the world, and notably from the United States.

 

6 Heydays

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Figure 6.1. Inge at her desk at 65 Boylston Street, Brookline, c. 1973.

In the 1970s the Von Huene Workshop continued to expand in response to the growth of interest in handmade recorders. On the production side, von Huene headed a team of four workers while Inge handled the company’s correspondence and finances with the assistance of a secretary. From the vantage point of her desk, Inge provided this thumbnail sketch of the bustle of workshop activity:

While our new man Tom [Prescott] does a lot of the turning, Bernard [Gibbons] is sandpapering altos, Dick [Palm] is finishing contrabasses, Laura [Beha] is doing repairs, odd jobs, and carving a soprano recorder. . . . Denner alto recorders at modern and old pitch are in production; Rottenburgh altos at old pitch. The girl [Susan Kaust-Farrell] in New York is doing the keywork on tenor recorders. Friedrich’s group [the Cambridge Consort] is playing a concert in Alice Tully Hall in February, in New York, and that will be a big event.1

 

7 At the Hub of an International Network

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During the 1970s, research on historical woodwinds intensified. Von Huene found himself at the center of innovation and occasionally embroiled in debate. He gave illustrated talks on the history of flutes around the country at colleges, conferences, chapter meetings of the American Recorder Society, and for radio broadcasts. In Boston he contributed to WGBH’s German Hour with a talk titled “Die Blockflöte, Gestern und Heute.” In October 1970 he attended the Long Island Recorder Festival organized by Eugene Reichenthal, where Edgar Hunt, on his first tour of the United States, was also an invited guest. Three years later von Huene spoke at the symposium convened by Alan Curtis at the University of California, Berkeley, titled “Modern Makers of Old Musical Instruments.” Other panelists included Donald Warnock, the lute and viol maker; John Shortridge, who spoke on harpsichords; and Wilson Powell, who discussed violin restoration. Museums, collectors, and manufacturers called on his expertise. In addition to the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), Stearns, and Dayton Miller Collections, private collectors including Guy Oldham in England and Robert Willoughby, in Oberlin, Ohio, invited von Huene to carry out restorations and advise on the preservation of their collections. For Shelley Gruskin he made an alternate headjoint for an original August Grenser boxwood flute and repaired an ivory flute by J. Beukers using walrus tusk.

 

8 Cause to Celebrate

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By the 1980s, early music was emerging from the sidelines and inching its way slowly but perceptibly into mainstream concert life. It was a time of almost euphoric excitement. The beliefs, passions, and enthusiasms of its contributors gave the movement such momentum that those watching from the workshop, museum, or auditorium often stood dazed by its giddying progress.1 Although there was still plenty of active debate on questions of historical authenticity, early music had graduated from being a dry, musicological exercise to an inspirational enhancement to the classical music scene. As Boston harpsichordist Martin Pearlman affirmed, “what is important . . . is that we are not trying to be antiquarians: we are just trying to make music and to attract an audience that comes to hear a concert and not some kind of specialist event.”2 Recorders, harpsichords, and viols were no longer interlopers in modern-instrument ensembles; they could now be heard in international opera houses, and the fully equipped early-instrument orchestras that were proliferating around the world and progressively achieving technical proficiency alongside their mainstream counterparts.

 

9 The von Huene Legacy

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In the latter part of his career, von Huene’s achievements gained official recognition from numerous institutions and organizations (a full list is given as appendix 3). One of the first to be conferred was an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, Bowdoin College. The presentation speaker referred to von Huene’s pioneering work in the “reproduction and appreciation of historical woodwind instruments,” and commented that, “in honoring you, Bowdoin honors its own concern that the best in the past give shape and sound to the present.”1 When he was granted the title of Living Treasure of New England in 1985, reference was made to Michael Praetorius’s definition from the early seventeenth century of the quintessential instrument builder as a fitting allusion to von Huene’s skill and achievements (reproduced in the preface).2 Von Huene was the first recipient of a distinguished achievement award from the American Recorder Society, presented by his long-standing friend Shelley Gruskin at a ceremony at the 1987 Boston Early Music Festival (BEMF) (see figure 9.1). By 1996 von Huene was considered enough of a “native informant” for Professor Thomas Kelly to invite him to give the initial address to a class of Harvard University students preparing an ethnographic study of early music in Boston.3 At the presentation of the Arion Award in 1992, the flutist Christopher Krueger named von Huene “The Charles Darwin of Early Music.”4 Friedrich also received the Curt Sachs Award from the American Musical Instrument Society in 2003, not only in recognition of his personal achievements, but for the inspiration he provided “to the generations of performers, instrument makers, and researchers who have benefited from his knowledge, friendship, and teaching.”5

 

Epilogue: Amid the Mementos of an Active Life

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Stepping across the threshold of the von Huenes’ home on Oakland Road is like entering a European Zone where Old World manners temper modern American lifestyles with genteel civility. Traditions are preserved, albeit adapted to modern life. Guests and valued friends are greeted with charm and respect, and china and silverware are still in service at formal meals, but the ritual of grace is abbreviated to a perfunctory “Amen” to satisfy the urgency of grandchildren’s appetites.

While the essential character of the von Huene home remains intact, I realize that, like any inhabited space, it is in constant flux. Books are taken from their shelves for consultation, art works are sold, instruments loaned out, curios misplaced. The most significant change, however, is that the music room has become Friedrich’s around-the-clock living quarters. Too frail to negotiate the stairs to the bedroom on the second floor without assistance, he sleeps and wakes amid the mementos of his active life. A professional caregiver attends during the day; at night his children take turns. Grandchildren call by to report on music lessons, church choir, and gymnastics, but otherwise Friedrich’s and Inge’s attention draws inward as their movements are confined to the home (see plate 55). The vibrancy of Boston’s concert life—even the running of the workshop—that in past years had consumed their energies recede from the orbit of their lives. Dix Island, too, is increasingly out of reach: each excursion is treasured as possibly the last.

 

Appendix 1. Von Huene Family Tree

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Appendix 2. Friedrich von Huene Summary Chronology

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1929

20 February, born in Breslau

1931

Parents buy Blumenhagen farm

1938–1939

Lives in Dresden with his grandparents

1939

American Recorder Society (ARS) founded

1941

Death of father, Heinrich von Hoyningen-Huene

1945

27 April, departure from Blumenhagen

 

September, arrives in Großseelheim

1947

November, mother and two youngest sisters, Dorothée and Sigrid, arrive in America

1948

July, arrives in America with Michael, Christian, and Brigitte

1949

Summer, attends von Trapp Sing Week in Stowe, Vermont Freshman at Bowdoin College

1950

Fall, works in New York

 

December, joins U.S. Armed Forces; Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas

1951–1953

Plays flute and piccolo in U.S. Air Force Band, Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland

1953

First concert of the Camerata of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (MFA)

 

Foundation of the New York Pro Musica (NYPM)

 

Appendix 3. List of Honors

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1984

Honorary doctorate in Music, Bowdoin College
Honorary vice-president of the Galpin Society

1985

Living Treasure of New England

1987

Distinguished Achievement Award, American Recorder Society

1992

Arion Award, Cambridge Society for Early Music

2003

Curt Sachs Award, American Musical Instrument Society

2004

Lifetime Achievement Award, National Flute Association

2005

Howard Mayer Brown Award for Lifetime Achievement in Early Music, Early Music America

2010

Resolution of Congratulation on the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Von Huene Workshop, Town of Brookline, Massachusetts

 

Appendix 4. Recordings of J. S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos with Recorders, 1941–1993

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Versions Using Modern Instruments and Recorders

1941

Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, dir. Paul Schmitz (Lied der Zeit/Polydor 68191/93)

1942

Curtis Institute Ensemble, dir. Ezra Rachlin (Hargail 105-107)

 

Alfred Mann, Anton Winkler, recorders (Dolmetsch)

1950

Wiener Kammerorkester, dir. Josef Merten (Re-release: ORF CD 379 2000)

 

Elisabeth Harnoncourt, Jürg Schaeftlein, recorders

1951

London Baroque Ensemble, dir. Karl Haas (Whitehall WH200070-1, Westminster WG-W-18033)

1953

Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, dir. August Wenzinger (DG Archiv APM 14011-12)

 

Adam Zeyer, Gustav Scheck, recorders

1955

Instrumental Ensemble, dir. Jasha Horenstein (Vox; rereleased CDX2-5519 Vox, 2009)

 

Paul Angerer, 2nd recorder

1956

Chamber Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera, dir. Felix Prohaska (NIXA PVL 7016)

 

Karl Trötzmuller, Paul Angerer, recorders (Concerto IV); flute used in II

 

Appendix 5. List of Instruments Produced by the Von Huene Workshop

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Appendix 6. Recorders and Traversos Heard in Recordings by Frans Brüggen

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Appendix 7. General Discography

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The following list includes recordings of historic importance and representative recordings featuring von Huene’s work, as well as recordings referred to in the text. It would be impossible to construct an exhaustive discography of recordings of von Huene instruments. Often instrument makers are not acknowledged in the accompanying notes, so the number of recordings is potentially far greater. In addition to mentioning particularly noteworthy or influential out-of-print recordings, this discography is restricted to representative releases that are currently available. Arrangement is alphabetical by the name of principal artist or ensemble, and chronological within the works of each artist. Recordings featuring von Huene as a performer are marked §; those featuring von Huene instruments are marked *.

Abreu, Aldo.

* Telemann, G. P. Twelve Fantasias and other works. Aldo Abreu performing on eighteenth-century recorders from the von Huene Collection. Bressan Records 0901, 2009.

 

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