The Flute Player
It is a balmy summer evening in the Dutch city of Utrecht in 1649. At the Janskerkhof, that old Utrecht cemetery in the middle of town, the trees rustle gently in the breeze and the birds chirp all around. Respected citizens, strollers and young couples wander on the paths between rose beds and well-tended graves, enjoying the romance of the place. A flute raises a gentle tone through the green, mingles with the birdsong, tentatively blows one sound after another through the evening air. A little tune unfolds, sometimes clearly audible, sometimes only to be guessed for the passing hearer. A young couple, strolling arm in arm along the narrow gravel path, turns around, looking for the origin of the lovely sounds. After a few steps, behind a spreading lime tree on a small paved square, they behold the flute player-there all by himself, eliciting the sweetest sounds from a small, intricately carved instrument. He is completely absorbed in his playing, at one with himself, the birds and the music. His fashionable garments mark him a nobleman but something in his posture doesn't quite match his lofty appearance. The young couple, enchanted by the jubilant flute, now high and fast-apparently in response to a perky throttle in the garden-becomes aware of the flute player's eyes gazing into the void. It seems that he doesn't look at anyone, doesn't even see the garden, the passers-by, nor the sun above him.
The man is blind. It is Jacob van Eyck-the flute and carillon player, who is known all over Utrecht for his playing and acute hearing. Already as a young man, he entered the service of the city of Utrecht as a chimer, and over the years more and more musicians from all over the Netherlands came to him to learn from his deep knowledge and understanding of the bell's sound. His acute sense and above all his enchanting flute playing soon became known and revered in Utrecht, and in 1649 the city raised his salary on the condition that he would continue playing for the passers-by at the Janskerkhof from time to time. That same year saw the publication of the ‘Fluyten Lust-hof', a comprehensive collection of tunes that Jacob van Eyck played on evenings like this on the cemetery. Since he was blind, others had to note down and collect his songs and compositions for him. The result of these transcriptions was -back then - the largest ever collection of printed tunes for a solo instrument. But despite his success and appreciation, one thing was denied to van Eyck: to see the world around him with his own eyes. For him there was no light, no sun, not the green of the trees-and yet his melodies sparkle with life, trail off into silver shimmering patterns and earth brown depths, once tracing the cheerfully fluttering birds, then again the deep silence of the walls of the Utrecht cathedral.
The magic of his music, which profoundly touched his audience, perhaps arises precisely from the fact that he perceived the beauty of this world through all his senses-all but the sense of sight-and that he animated his inner images and thoughts by his breath and this way created a world of perfect beauty. He, thus, created a light of great clarity and force from the darkness of his life that shines a path in earthly life, not only for his contemporaries but to anyone who listens to his music today.
- Jonas Niederstadt, February 2011
On the evening of the second recording day of the ‘John come kiss me now' chamber music album in August 2008, I was practicing the recorder by myself in the church, preparing for the next day, while Jonas, the producer, was storing away a bunch of cables. Then, it was all quiet. At some point, I took a break to make myself some tea. Jonas was still standing around in front of the church, absorbed in thought. Seeing me coming, he said he had heard me practice and thereupon come up with an idea for a van Eyck recording: during my play he had been hearing the Lachrymae variations of van Eyck in his mind's ear. I was utterly puzzled- it had been Jacob van Eyck, and in particular his Lachrymae variations, which had moved me deeply as a child, such that I had become determined to become a recorder player. Thus, spontaneously, this solo album came about in a single night at the end of the chamber music recording.
Since the repertoire of the album ‘Engels Liedt' is so central and familiar to me, I could play it anytime, without special practice. At best, I thought to myself aloud, I would use only few instruments which I have been working with for years, and pick those great and major pieces by van Eyck that I had been practicing the most. Again, Jonas surprised me with a completely different idea: ‘Precisely because you build recorders yourself, you should use these instruments, and bring forth all facets of the sound of the flute as you imagine it!'
A recording full of shades emerged.
Under the sign of flute and bell.
To be blind, so that you can see with your ears, the shades of the sounds, the tones. To behold their coming with the wind that has long animated those who lived before us. For the wind is breath and voice of beauty. Once he bestowed the flute to the human beings as a sign of eternal bond. The bell - it strikes the hours, reminds us of the finiteness of earthly life. It cautions us to leave time, just as the stroke of the bell retires into the distance, back to its origin. The recorder, widely spread yet little regarded in our times, with van Eyck's music reveals to us an ineffable beauty, a luminous silence-similar to the one found in the paintings of his contemporary Jan Vermeer. The things we humans create and succeed in, are the result not only of our own efforts but foremost of the efforts of those who lived before us. Hence, I am thankful to my former teachers Adrian Wehlte, Ulrike Volkhardt, Kees Boeke, Walter van Hauwe and to those who came before them. I am especially thankful to Marion Verbruggen who I was lucky enough to meet at the age of seventeen. Her flute playing and music teaching deeply impressed me, and shaped my musical development. I also feel joined with Jacob van Eyck's spirit and being which mysteriously shine through his works. One can only imagine the way he himself played but the profound strength that hides behind the printed scores of the ‘Fluyten Lust-hof' reaches far beyond his life and era.
Gerald Stempfel, February 2011