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Jacques-Martin Hotteterre (1674-1761)

compiled by editors | November 2017

    Jacques-Martin Hotteterre le romain was born in Paris into a family of instrument makers. It is thought he may have lived in Rome for a few years – thus the reason for adding the nickname le romain to his name. Besides being an excellent flutist and composer, he wrote Principes de la Flûte, which was the first tutor written especially for the flute. He also wrote L’Art de Préluder sur la Flûte Traversière, sur la flute à bec, sur le Haubois, et autres instruments de dessus in 1719 and Méthode pour la Musette contenant des principes, par le moyen desquels on peut apprende à jouer de cet instrument in 1738.
    Hotteterre was also active as a court musician for the King of France. In 1707 he received the title of “Ordinaire de la Musique du Roi” and then was named “Flûte de la Chambre du Roi.”
    The Principes de la flûte traversière or Rudiments of the Flute, Recorder and Oboe (translated by Paul Marshall Douglas, Dover 1968) is a slim book with the section on the flute being approximately 42 pages. In the nine chapters, he offers suggestions on the posture of the body and the position of the hands, the embouchure, a fingering chart of the natural tones (the flute fingerings were based on a D major scale), trills, sharps and flats, trills with sharps and flats, comments on certain semitones and trills (he advocates a difference in pitch with enharmonic notes), tonguing, appoggiaturas, springers and terminated trills, and vibrato and mordents. In the first chapter on posture Hotteterre writes, “Whether one plays standing or seated, the body must be kept straight, the head high rather than low, turned slightly toward the left shoulder, the hands high without lifting either the elbows or shoulders, the left wrist bent in and left arm near the body. When in a standing position, one must be firmly fixed on one’s legs, the left foot advanced, the body resting on the right hip, all without strain…When this posture is achieved, it is quite graceful, and will gratify the eye no less than the sound of the instrument will delight the ear.”
    In learning to play Hotteterre suggests “only blowing into the mouthpiece…Then place the fingers of the upper hand, one by one, and continue on each sound blowing several times, until it comes with assurance. After this place the fingers of the lower hand in the same order as those of the upper hand.”
    On trills Hotteterre writes, “For the benefit of those who do not know what trills are, they can be described as an agitation of two sounds, either a step or a half step apart, which are played alternately in rapid succession. The trill is started on the higher note and finished on the lower. It is tongued only at the beginning, being continued only by the finger…The number of times the finger shakes is determined only by the value of the note.”
    When tonguing Hottettere suggests using tu or ru. (The editor’s note suggests the ru is similar to the soft d-sound.) For double tonguing, the two syllables may be alternated tu, ru, tu, ru depending on the passage. Other tonguing patterns are offered based on the passage at hand.
    The L’Art de Préluder sur la Flûte Traversière, sur la flute à bec, sur le Haubois, et autres instruments de dessus may be downloaded at: This work was written to instruct his students on how to create a prelude. The prelude is a spontaneous musical form which was not written down but created by the performer on the spot. The performer may have announced the key of the prelude and then improvised in a virtuoso manner using scales, thirds, triads, trills etc. According to Ardal Powell (The Flute, p. 76, Yale University Press, 2002) the creating of preludes existed well into the 1800s. Hotteterre’s examples utilize the French violin clef in G located on the first line of the manuscript. You can read this clef as if it is bass clef only sounding one octave higher. If you want to create your own preludes, playing through his examples offer ideas of what could happen.
    Besides performing and teaching Hotteterre continued the family’s business of making instruments and reportedly became a wealthy man. While it cannot be proved, he may had made changes in the design of the flute. Previously the flute had been made in one cylindrical piece, but Hotteterre may have been the one to cut the flute into three pieces: the head, the body, and the footjoint with the D# key.
    Flutists today study the writings of flutists like Hotteterre for insight on how to perform music of the period on original and modern instruments.

    Editor’s note: Hotteterre’s birth and death dates cannot be verified. Paul Marshall Douglas, the translator of his Rudiments book writes, “He died, according to most authorities, in 1760 or 1761, his birth date remaining to this day a matter of speculation.”