Author Archives: Robert de Bree

Practise: The never-ending story

Practise: The never-ending story

Recently my wonderful colleague Susan Williams asked me to be her ‘public guinea pig’ for her PhD defence on Quality Practice. This inspired me to dive into the literature again to look for interesting ideas for practice. I’m hoping to keep up an overview of interesting ideas and books here.

A little note for application: it is important to practice practising. Just like with learning an instrument, don’t right away spend hours on trying to change or improve your practice. Start with a small analysis of your current practice and needs and try out a technique or idea found in one of the books below.

Click the images or the title to go to the link.

Quality Practice – Susan Williams

This wonderful free PDF brings together a lot of ideas about practice in a very concise way. There are practice cards, exercises, charts and enough ideas for the next couple of years.

The book is divided in several areas of practice and can both be ‘read’, but also opened at a random page to immediately apply this practising technique.

My biggest take aways: you must practice practising, and practice should be as fun, creative and musical as you want your music to be.

The Perfect Wrong Note – William Westney

I met this book in the middle of a whirl of improvisation workshops and this changed my entire idea about teaching. I love his image of being a student himself and his teacher flailing arms passionately and never getting him to actually play the way the teachers is hoping for.

My biggest take aways:
– Make juicy mistakes, i.e.: play with full conviction, even when perhaps a mistake might happen. That way potential mistakes will be much clearer in the mind.
– The practising musician must become their own teacher, eventually it is about your body, your music, your ideas.

Black Box Thinking – Matthew Syed

This book takes a similar premise as Westney’s Perfect Wrong Note: why are we so afraid of mistakes? Bringing together stories and research in different fields, Syed makes a good case for embracing our mistakes.

Improv Wisdom – Patricia Ryan Madson

I must include this book in all my lists. A very easy, funny read, with great jewels like “Just be Average” and “Just Show up” (i.e. sometimes practice is just about getting to your room and starting to do SOMETHING).

Error Management – Silke Kruse-Weber

This article is all about error and risk management with a specific focus on performance strategies. Lots of great links to scientific research and wonderful ideas.
Great take aways for me: without risks there is no innovation, but with risks there is more chance for errors or nervousness on stage.
Taking risks is something that needs to be practised as well: how far can I go with this particular piece, when I feel this way, etc.?

Surely there is more to come. At the moment I’m investigating the use of storytelling in teaching improvisation; soon more about that!

Let me know if you have any questions, remarks or if there are any mistakes in the text. You can contact me here.

Improvisatiecursussen 2019-20

Improvisatiecursussen 2019-20

Improvisatie was en is nog steeds voor mij de sleutel om mijn muzikaliteit te ontketenen, het is de speeltuin waar ik me kan blijven ontwikkelen.

Improvisatie hielp me om beter te luisteren, minder met mezelf bezig te zijn, de muziek meer te begrijpen, beter te stemmen. Als ik een nieuw instrument pak, vind ik via improvisatie een weg.

Dit wil ik heel graag delen met iedereen. Het belangrijkste is eigenlijk de eerste stap te zetten. Komend seizoen geef ik cursussen over ostinato’s, versieringen en “wat is nou een akkoord”?

12 Mei 2019 – Proeflokaal – Akoesticum, Ede
Probeer verschillende cursussen uit voor een uurtje! Onder andere mijn nieuwe cursussen “Barokke Ostinato” en “Wat is een akkoord”, een cursus die ik samen met Wilko Brouwer ga geven!
Geef je hier nog op.

24-25 Augustus 2019 – Mechelse Blokfluitdagen
Verschillende workshops inclusief improvisatie!


8 September 2019 – Barokke Canto Ostinato Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ, Amsterdam
Ostinato’s uit de barok, de chaconne en passacaglia zoals gebruikt door Bach en Purcell, zijn tot op de dag van vandaag nog geliefd.
In deze cursus leer je de basisprincipes van het improviseren via speelse en meeslepende ostinato’s. We leren enkele basis-ostinato’s uit de barok, maar ook hoe je zelfstandig te werk kunt gaan als je een jou onbekende ostinato tegenkomt. Musiceren aan de hand van een ostinato is de ultieme training om (beter) te leren improviseren! 

Iedereen kan meedoen! Alle instrumentalisten zijn welkom. Dit alles doen we in ensemblevorm en stap voor stap: muzikaal, gezellig en makkelijk

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11 Januari 2020 – Wat is een Akkoord – Akoesticum, Ede
Denk je ook wel eens bij het horen van het woord “akkoord”, waar hebben ze het over? Vraag je je af hoe akkoorden werken in een muziekstuk en waarom dat zo is?
In deze cursus gaat het over harmonieleer, ofwel over samenklanken, over drie- en vierklanken, over dissonanten en consonanten, over voorhoudingen en oplossingen, en over doorgangstonen. De deuren van de muziektheorie gaan voor je open door eenvoudige opdrachten te doen in het ensemble.
De cursus is voor iedereen, zanger en/of instrumentalist, die graag wil weten hoe akkoorden in elkaar zitten en hoe ze met elkaar verbonden kunnen worden. Je leert de theoretische basis van de harmonieleer en kruipt in de huid van de componist door in de praktijk met akkoorden te spelen.

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19 Januari 2020 – Barokversieringen – De Kom, Nieuwegein
In de baroktijd werden niet alle noten die moesten klinken ook daadwerkelijk in de bladmuziek genoteerd. Muzikanten wisten zelf welke versieringen ze toe mochten voegen en konden op die manier hun creativiteit laten zien. 

Versieringen aanbrengen in de muziek is geen eenvoudige zaak, daarom pakken we het in deze workshop stapje voor stapje aan en creëren zo een stevige basis. 
Aan de hand van korte stukjes ensemblemuziek die je vooraf bestudeert, leer je in deze cursus al spelend en onderzoekend verschillende manieren om muziek te versieren. Hoe versier je renaissancemuziek, hoe barokmuziek? Kunnen we zelfs aan muziek van Mozart versieringen toevoegen? Wat zijn de verschillen, de overeenkomsten? Hoeveel schrijf je van tevoren op? Waar vind je je opties? 

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Pastorales in the Recorder Repertoire

Pastorales in the Recorder Repertoire

Article to come soon

Early music:

Jacopo Peri – L’Euridice (1600)

Arcangelo Corelli (arrangement anonymous) – Concerto grosso in G minor ‘Fatto per la Notte di Natale’, Op.6 No.8 for two recorders and basso continuo
& Johann Christoph Pez – Concerto grosso

Vestiva i colli / selma y salaverde/ bassano

Joseph Bodin de Boismortier – 6 Pastorales / Charpentier – Messe du Minuit

Georg Fridrich Haendel – Atis & Galatea & Jean-Baptiste Lully – Atis & Galatée

Modern music:
Rob du Bois – Pastoral VII

Kikuko Masumoto – Pastorale for recorder solo (1973)

Bohuslav Martinu – Stowe pastorals (1951)

Edmund Rubbra: Cantata Pastorale, Op. 92 (1957)

Armin Knab: Pastorale und Allegro (1939)
two recorders in f and guitar or lute.

A Shepherd’s Journey

A Shepherd’s Journey

Learning about the pastoral in music and recorder ensemble playing in the Apollo Summer Academy

Elegant Shepherdess Listening to a Shepherd Playing the Recorder in an Arcadian Landscape
Govaert Flinck

This august I’ll be teaching a lovely chamber music course in Holland, which includes a daily recorder ensemble session. This year I wanted to focus on a specific genre: the pastoral. The pastoral genre and its musical properties have been used throughout time, starting with some of the earliest music we still have and is still being used today.

Join the course here:
Recorder ensemble, chamber music coaching and lovely surroundings!
Here is a playlist with lots of different pastorales to get in the mood.

The pastoral was often used to allude to the “Arcadian” or utopian, to a sense of harmony with nature, to a “garden” often inhabited by shepherds and to a perfect, simple, natural life.

In this post I want to give a very short, general overview of the pastoral in music through history. Then I will make a few stops at some of the compositions I want to dive into in the upcoming course and I will give you a little information on what I plan to do in the course and of course how you can join!

Let’s start our journey!

From the dawn of civilisation, shepherds have roamed the lands. In some of the oldest texts still extant there is already reference to the God Dumizid or Tammuz, a shepherd God. This Summerian God had a flute as one of his divine objects and in this text he is described playing it:


“Oh, my only brother, do not let me perish!
On the day when Tammuz plays for me on the flute of lapis lazuli, playing it for me with the porphyry ring.”

From Ishtar’s Descent to the Netherworld
Presumably the flute was a reed instrument, but we are not sure. Read a blog post about these mysterious flutes here.

We are making a bit of a step to the Ancient Greek civilization, but then again, some theorise that there may have been much more cultural hybridization between these cultures than we currently learn in school. Also Dumizid became known in Greece under the name Adonis!

In Ancient Greece, the typical instrument for shepherds was the syrinx, a type of pan flute. Shepherds playing those instruments can even be found in Homer’s Iliad (xviii, ll.525–6). We also find the first reference to pastoral music (although sadly no notation is extant): according to Aelian, Stesichorus was the first to compose ‘pastoral songs’ (boukolika melē) in the 6th century BCE.

The first literary texts we still have are from the third Century BCE. Theocritus wrote a collection called “Idylls”, which contain several pastoral texts and themes. These pastorals were probably performed in a semi-dramatic setting.

In Ancient Rome, the pastoral was usually separated from music, but Virgil’s Eclogues (or Bucolics), were performed as sung mime!

The opening lines of the Eclogues in the 5th-century Vergilius Romanus

The Pastoral reenters the western arts in the 8th Century. The earliest musical sources we have are the settings of pastoral poetry by Troubadours, who were composer-musicians, often of high birth. One of those pastoral settings is the Jeu de Robin et Marion, possibly set by Adam de la Halle:

In the age of the madrigal, the pastoral, both in text and as an idea, roots itself firmly in the minds of composers. One could argue most madrigals deal with pastoral themes of love and Arcadia. One such example is Vestiva I Colli by G. Palestrina.

Luister hier naar Palestrina met geimproviseerde diminuties van The Scroll Ensemble.

Johann Schein published a collection of Diletti Pastorali, which includes an “Amarili”, a title we are probably all familiar with from Jakob van Eyck’s collection.

Jakob van Eyck’s collection of tunes includes several pastoral elements, like the song for Daphne and the Echo fantasia. The Echo was a very typical element of pastorals.

The pastoral is also to be found in the first operas. Although music, theatre and dance had been combined before, in the 16th century an interest in the Ancient ways of the Theatre started to inspire a new kind of performance. One where the text was leading, and slowly but surely, one of the vital dichotomies of Opera started to take shape: the recitative versus the aria. Also the subject matter for the libretti was inspired by topics from the Ancient Greek writers and their mythology.

For example, many of the first operas took the story of Orpheus and Eurydice as their theme. Peri’s Euridice is supposedly the earliest surviving opera, first performed on 6 October 1600.

This particular Opera is also special to us recorder players, as it has a fascinating ‘aria per tri-flauto’, a triple-recorder aria, to evoke the old shepherd syrinx no doubt. This is some of the earliest music designated for the recorder specifically (much music at the time may have been played on recorders, but was originally conceived for voices or as ‘generic dance music’).

Several 16th-century writers were also inspired by the old texts, which resulted in two texts that were used endlessly as (the basis for) opera libretti in the 17th and 18th century:

Il Pastor Fido by Giovanni Battista Guarini and Aminta by Torquato Tasso. Examples of 18th-century opera using these texts can be found with Georg Friedrich Haendel. His Acis and Galatea, which uses a sopranino recorder, is also a clear example of the Pastoral.

In later centuries opera composers will use elements of the pastoral to envoke the old, the mystical, the folk culture or the simple, such as Le Devine de Village by Rousseau.

The Pastoral also became related to Christmas. The earliest surviving collection of Christmas pastorals in Italy is the Pastorali concenti al presepe of Francesco Fiamengo (1637), written for the domestic Christmas Eve celebrations of his patron at Messina. You probably know the two famous pastoral movements in the Messiah and Johann Sebastian Bach’s Christmas Oratorio.

Arguably, the most famous use of pastoral elements at the time was by Arcangelo Corelli, in his Christmas Concerto Grosso. Corelli’s music was so famous at the time, that several of his works were arranged already back then. Did you know about the version of Corelli’s Concerti Grossi for two recorders and basso continuo? This perhaps also fits the pastoral trio sonatas written by composers in the Vienna area, like Fux, Schmelzer and others.

This is a mixture of the original for strings, but with recorder players as soloists:

Purely instrumental pastorals can already be found in the 17th century, like for example this Capriccio by Frescobaldi.

In the 19th-century Beethoven’s 6th symphony stands out as the most well-known example of the genre. Beethoven adopted many of the clichés and conventions, but in his own words wanted ‘more the expression of feeling than [realistic] painting’.

In the 19th-Century a solo instrument with irregular melodies, like a lone shepherd in the mountains, becomes another cliché, such as in the opening of Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique’s Scène aux champs:

Franz Schubert is inspired by the beautiful poem by Goethe in his Schäfers Klagelied. It was the first of Schubert’s songs to be publicly performed. Here we find again the inspiration that the shepherd and his music can give and the idealisation of Nature, that inspired a lot of 19th Century art.
Read an analysis of the Lied here.

Moving on towards the 20th century, we find the fabulously nebulous melodies of Debussy in for example L’après-midi d’un faune, Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé or Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. In these works the sound world of antiquity and pagan ritual is evoked.

In the course we will also look at Cesar Franck’s Pastorale. A wonderful work for organ, which brings together many of the elements of the pastoral that we have discussed above, but ALSO has a fugal episode in the middle, which is relatively rare for a pastoral.

Following up on conversations from last year, I’m introducing also a very unknown composer, the Dutch Dina Appeldoorn. She lived in Den Haag (where I live!) and even wrote a few songs in Esperanto. The pastorale that we will be playing in the course is seen as her most important work.

Journeying through this pastoral world, meeting these musical shepherds and their musical flocks, I also got inspired. In the Apollo Summer Academy we will look at music from all ages, but what about the earliest songs, and vice versa, what about the now? After having arranged music by others for amateurs for a while, I thought it was time to write a (short) piece myself. I take my inspiration from the Sumerian God Dumizid and Ancient Sumerian. My main aim is to write in such a way that even with no experience, recorder players can get a feel for this very different repertoire.
Hopefully I can invoke the colours and smells of the Mesopotamian Shepherds and thus we come back to the beginning of our journey.

Approach in the Course
As you will be able to see from the repertoire list, we won’t be looking at each piece in great detail. My main aim is to give you an overview of different styles of music through the lens of this single genre: the pastoral. At the same time, this will give us a simple way into analysing the music, because we have a sort of template to compare pieces through. How does the composer use the clichés of the pastoral, where and when does he or she leave it and what does that mean for our performance?
Using different approaches from my various backgrounds, like the theatre, baroque improvisation and orchestral playing, I think we will have a very rich experience!
Of course, since we have a week playing together, we will also focus on one or two of the pieces in detail, for the concerts at the end of the course.

Repertoire in the Course:
Adam de la Halle – Jeu de Robin et Marion (1285)
Jacopo Peri – Triflauto aria from Euridice (1600)
Johann Schein – O Amarilli Zart from Diletti Pastorali (1624)
Johann Sebastian Bach – Pastoral Symphony, from the Christmas Oratorio (1734)
Franz Schubert – Schäfers Klagelied (1814)
Cesar Franck – Pastorale (1860)
Dina Appeldoorn – Pastorale (1934)
Robert de Bree – Dumizid the Shepherd (2019)

All works arranged by me. Are you interested in the playing the arrangements yourself? Get in touch with me here.

Join the course here:
Are your fingers feeling itchy? Come over to Drachten (Holland) and play this repertoire under my direction:
Here is a playlist with lots of different pastorales to get in the mood.

Let me know if you have any comments or questions!

Lelystadse Mozart Dagen – Don Giovanni voor Blokfluitorkest!

Lelystadse Mozart Dagen – Don Giovanni voor Blokfluitorkest!

Lelystadse Mozartdagen – blokfluitorkest met Don Giovanni!

Samen nieuwe muziek ontdekken is het leukste wat er is. Daarom heb ik voor de komende Lelystadse Mozartdagen op 3 en 4 November een paar delen uit Don Giovanni bewerkt!

Deze keer heb ik een combinatie gemaakt van makkelijke en moeilijke partijen. Voor alle basis instrument types is er dus een makkelijke en moeilijke partij, die bovendien alle hun eigen moment(en) hebben waarin ze een mooie melodie of een solo spelen.

Je kunt hier als voorbeeld de partituur en partijen bekijken van de ouverture en hier luisteren naar de bewerking in computerversie. Zie hieronder de flyer voor de Lelystadse Mozartdagen met meer informatie.

Geef je hier op!



Apollo Ensemble De Lelystadse componistendagen 2018 digitaal

Teaser cursus komende improvisatie cursussen

Teaser cursus komende improvisatie cursussen

Op 7 Mei 2017 vindt in Akoesticum (Ede) de open dag plaats van Stichting Huismuziek. U kunt daar twee van mijn cursussen uitproberen. Na meer dan 10 jaar improviseren op het podium en met leerlingen, het lezen van tientallen boeken en traktaten en uitwisselingen met andere improvisatie geïnteresseerden, kan ik niet wachten om via Stichting Huismuziek ook met u deze kennis en dit plezier te delen!

Er zijn twee cursussen in 2017/2018:


  1. All’Improvviso: Division Flute/Violin/Viol

In deze cursus gaan we bezig met de basisingrediënten van improvisatie in de Oude Muziek aan de hand van populaire improvisatie leerboeken uit het 17e eeuwse Londen! We kijken naar ‘variëren’, improviseren op een harmonie, hoe een solootje te improviseren, samen improviseren, opbouw van stukken en improvisaties en meer

2. All’Improvviso voor vakmusici / professionals.

Heeft u het gevoel dat improvisatie met klassieke muziek uw muzikale leven kan verrijken? Bijvoorbeeld in concerten, bij het studeren en/of met uw leerlingen? Of heeft u altijd geweten dat onze favoriete componisten ook geweldige improvisatoren waren, zoals Chopin, Beethoven en Bach en bent u benieuwd naar de link tussen improvisatie en compositie?
Improvisatie in de klassieke muziek gaat altijd uit van voorgeleerde formule’s die op allerlei manieren kunnen worden gecombineerd en veranderd. Vanuit deze formule’s (Partimento-leer), eigen repertoire en uw vragen en wensen gaan we in twee dagen aan de slag met improviseren.

Meer informatie hier.


Marcello Hobo Concert en BWV 32 in Noord Nederland

Marcello Hobo Concert en BWV 32 in Noord Nederland

Marcello Hobo Concert en BWV32

In het weekend van 21 en 22 januari voer ik een paar keer het mooie hobo concert van Marcello uit. Bovendien is het openingsdeel van BWV32 ook heel mooi voor de hobo!

Hopelijk zie ik jullie daar!

Meer informatie en kaartjes

Interview over Improvisatie

Interview over Improvisatie

Ik had de eer om geïnterviewd te worden voor de laatste editie van de nieuwsbrief van de “Netzwerk Historische Improvisation”.

In dit interview heb ik het over hoe ik begonnen ben te improviseren, over mijn project rond improvisaties geïnspireerd door Telemanns Fantasias, mijn werkzaamheden bij PI van het Conservatorium van Den Haag en mijn samenwerking met impro maatje James Hewitt.

De nieuwsbrief lees je hier via deze link.