The Van Eyck soprano
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To judge by two publications of the time, the recorder seems to have flourished in the Netherlands in the middle of the 17th century, but of course we can in general speak of the golden age of the soprano. About 1646 “Der Fluyten Lust-Hof” by Jocob van Eyck (ca 1590-1657) was brought out in Amsterdam and in 1654 G. van Blankenburgh’s “Underwijzinge hoemen alle de Toonen de meest gebruyckelyck zyn op de Hand-Fluyt” appeared in the same city. The brief instructions given by both van Eyck and van Blankenburgh are similar. Instead of the usual chart of fingerings, the way to play each note is described in words. These descriptions can be easily converted into a fingering chart. This chart differs from all the others (Virdung, Agricola and even Ganassi) in its preference for half-covering to produce the semitones, rather than the more usual cross-fingerings. It also shows a difference between f.ex. d# and eb, the sharp in each case being the flatter of the two. The title page of ‘Der Fluyten Lust-Hof’ describes Jacob van Eyck as “Musicyn en Directeur vande Klok-wercken tot Uitrecht”. He was a skilled organist and flute player. He was paid an extra 20 guilders for entertaining ‘the people walking in the churchyard with the sound of his little flute’.
The Fluyten Lust-Hof contains about 150 pieces, most of them well-known tunes with variations.
A few of the pieces are duets for two recorders. The settings, which are for C instruments, give evidence of a fluent technique. The preparatory instructions show the Hand-Fluyt in C and the Dwars-Fluyt in G.
We know but little about Jonckheer Jacob van Eyck. From several dates on record, including that of his death, March 26, 1657, we can deduce he was born towards the end of the 16th century . In 1624 he was appointed ‘beiermeester’ (chime-master) of the Utrecht cathedral tower, but appears to have made a name for himself mainly as organist and flute player. As several documents show he was blind: cf. the facsimile from the Utrecht Gemeente Archief (Vol. 1, p. 6) as well as the title page of the 2nd edition of Der Fluyten Lust-Hof: “Den 2 Druck, op nieuws overhoort, verbetert en vermeerdert, door den Autheur…” (the 2nd edition, heard through anew by the author). In 1648 he was given a raise: in exchange he was required now and then to entertain visitors to the St. Jans churchyard with his flute playing. Van Eyck was obviously either an acquaintance or a friend of the famous Constantyn Huygens, secretary to the Prince of Orange; despite these connections and a noble parentage on his mother’s side, he appears to have lived very simply. Whether the success of the Fluyten Lust-Hof -printed several times during his lifetime- did anything to improve his finances is not known.
The two anonymous Fløyter af Eenhorn (recorders made of narwhale) from the art collection of the Rosenborg castle in Copenhagen (nrs 1.74 and 1.75) and the soprano made by Richard Haka from the University Collection of Historic Musical Instruments in Edinburgh (cat. nr. 1037) are good examples of mid-17th century handflutes or Van Eyck flutes. These 3 instruments are made of ivory and the Rosenborg sopranos have simple ornaments at the labium and foot. The Rosenborg narwhale instruments probably belonged to the Danish king Christian the 4th. Van Eyck recorders are a kind of transitional instruments. Some of their characteristics are typical for the renaissance (one-piece construction and a slight conical bore with a choke around the lowest fingerhole) but point already towards the baroque (the small ornaments and the range of two octaves). The van Eyck recorder speaks very easily in the upper register. The bottom notes are not very powerful and differ in timbre from the high notes, which fits the big leaps in van Eyck’s music beautifully. The instrument is in meantone temperament at a’ 440 Hz with modern fingerings and available in flamed maple or stained boxwood. On request I make the van Eyck recorder with double holes, although single holes are recommended. My van Eyck copy is a well-suited instrument to play music by Castello, Marini, Merula, Diego Ortiz etc…