Canadian born musician Robert Aitken (b. 1939) has enjoyed an active and versatile career as a flutist, composer, and new music champion. The influence of non-Western music traditions on his compositional aesthetic is reflected in his sensitivity to microtonality, color, and timbre. Aitken belongs to a resurgent class of contemporary flutist-composers— a tradition that began in the Baroque era and proved crucial to the recognition of the flute as a virtuosic solo instrument— and their intimate knowledge of the instrument’s capabilities have laid the foundation for a new body of repertoire specifically tailored to the modern system flute.
Editions Transatlantiques Paris commissioned Aitken to compose a work for young flute players, and the resulting work was Icicle (1977) for solo flute. Though the idea for the piece came on a winter day in New Hampshire and the shimmering effects in the work evoke images of glistening icicles, the title was retrospectively conceived. The composer insisted in a 1981 interview that Icicle “isn’t terribly, terribly, intellectual” and subsequently revealed that one of the principal techniques used in the work— playing without the thumb key— was meant to be a fun and out-of-the-ordinary trick for the intended young performers. However, regardless of compositional intent, the novel and colorful timbral effects in the work have solidified its place in the contemporary flute repertoire.
The dedication, which simply states “For Dianne,” reveals a bit of humor hidden within the framework of the piece. Aitken explains:
I dedicated it to my daughter Dianne who also plays the flute. Her younger sister played the double bass at the time, and every morning Dianne would come downstairs and play the theme from The Pink Panther just to tease her. If you look at Icicle, you can see the same rhythmic motives of the theme. There is some Pink Panther in it. However, the actual melody relies on the color changes.
For the past three years, I’ve been studying with Nina Assimakopoulos, so I’ve selected her recording of this work from her most recent solo album Vayu.