Circular breathing: expanding musical possibilities for flute players and composers
McPherson, A and Philpott, C, Circular breathing: expanding musical possibilities for flute players and composers, Journal of Music Research Online, 7 pp. 1-11. ISSN 1836-8336 (2016) [Refereed Article]
Circular breathing is the technique of maintaining a continuous, unbroken sound on a wind instrument by periodically expelling air stored in the mouth and simultaneously inhaling through the nose. While it has long been an essential part of many wind instrument traditions, such as that of the Australian Aboriginal didgeridu, it has only been since the latter decades of the twentieth century that composers and performers have begun exploring the possibilities of circular breathing in Western concert flute playing. Due partly to the difficulty of mastering circular breathing, its adoption among flautists has been slow compared with that of other extended techniques, such as multiphonics or percussive effects. As a result, the literature concerning circular breathing in the concert flute repertoire has so far been limited to technical guides outlining methods for learning the technique. To date, there has been a paucity of scholarly work undertaken on the role of circular breathing in Western concert flute performance and composition. This is despite the fact that, since the 1970s, established flautist-composers such as István Matuz, Robert Dick, Ian Clarke and Gergely Ittzés, among others, have been employing circular breathing in their performances and compositions. Referring to works by the prenominated composers, this article will discuss the development of circular breathing as a flute technique and examine the ways in which it has been used to expand the creative opportunities available for composers writing for the flute. Each of these composers has found unique ways to explore the freedom that circular breathing makes possible, extending the capabilities of the flute, which will no doubt have significant implications for future composers and performers of music for the instrument.