[soprano flute, tierce flute] (Fr. flûte à tierce; Ger. Terzflöte). A soprano flute pitched a minor 3rd above the concert flute – hence its name. Its development followed that of the concert flute through the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. 18th-century examples are usually in F (the lowest note of the contemporary flute was D), while later ones in E also served in military bands to replace or double other instruments such as the E clarinet. It has been used in the USA and Ireland in flute bands and choirs, together with flutes of all other sizes. It was used by Mozart in Entführung aus dem Serail, by Beethoven in the ninth symphony and by Tchaikovsky in the Nutcracker among others.
(iii) Flûte d’amour
(Ger. Liebesflöte; It. flauto d’amore). Flute usually pitched in A, a minor 3rd below the concert flute. J.M. Molter (1696–1765) wrote a concerto in B for flûte d’amour and Christoph Graupner (1683–1760) included the instrument in five cantatas and a triple concerto in G for flûte d’amour, oboe d’amour and viola d’amour. However, the repertory of the 18th and 19th centuries is small compared with the number of surviving instruments; perhaps they were used as transposing instruments, employing the same fingerings as concert flutes. Music written at concert pitch could be played on the flute in A by reading it as though written in French violin clef (g' on the bottom line), a procedure recommended by Quantz. Verdi scored for three flûtes d’amour in Aida; by then the instrument was so uncommon that some had to be specially made. The derivation of the instrument’s name is not clear; it may have come from the soulful tone quality of the deeper pitched instrument, or it may merely be by analogy with the oboe d’amore in A (seeOboe, §III, 3(ii)).
(iv) Alto flute
(Fr. flûte alto, flûte contralto en sol; Ger. Altflöte; It. flautone). Flute pitched in G, a 4th below the concert flute (fig.6b). It was constructed by Theobald Boehm in about 1854 as a completely new instrument. Its mechanism differs slightly from that of the concert flute to allow the fingers to reach the keys and it has a powerful sonorous tone, which Boehm compared to that of a french horn. It is a transposing instrument, its music written a 4th higher than it actually sounds. Boehm promoted the instrument by performing on it a repertory of specially composed and arranged music. Its slightly melancholy, haunting tone attracted 20th-century composers such as Stravinsky (Rite of Spring), Ravel (Daphnis et Chloé) and Holst (The Planets), and it has been much used in avant-garde music. The tiefe Quartflötementioned by Quantz (1752) may have been an earlier instrument at this pitch. The alto flute has sometimes been called the bass flute, especially in Britain.
(v) Bass and sub-bass flutes.
Flutes of several different kinds, used principally as the lowest members of flute ensembles. The most common is that in C (fig.6a), an octave below the concert flute. It is held transversely, with the head doubling back in a U-bend to reach the player’s lips. Other types include a sub-bass flute in G, an octave below the alto flute, or a tone lower still, in F. A double bass flute in C, two octaves below the concert flute, has been made by Jaeger and by Kotato & Fukushima. The instrument is held vertically, the head bent twice like the letter P to bring the embouchure within reach. In 1910 a wide-bore bass flute in C, the Albisiphon, was made by Abelardo Albisi, principal flautist at La Scala, Milan; it was used in Mascagni’s Parisina (1913). About 1925 Gino Bartoli introduced a U-shaped instrument with a narrower bore which he called a ‘contrabass flute’. Rudall, Carte & Co. devised another transverse type in 1932; it had a coiled head joint and a crutch to rest the instrument on the player’s thigh. Ravel, Stravinsky and Shostakovich have scored for bass flutes, and various types have been used in avant-garde music and jazz. Several 18th-century bass flutes survive, including instruments by Beuker, Naust, Thomas Lot and Delusse; the latter has a U-shaped head joint.
Flute, §II: The Western transverse flute
(i) To 1500.
(iii) 1800 to the present.
Flute, §II, 4: The Western transverse flute: History
(i) To 1500.
The earliest undoubted representations of transverse flutes on the fringes of Europe come from Byzantium. Such instruments appear on 10th-century ivory caskets (Museo Nazionale, Florence, and Victoria and Albert Museum, London) and in a number of 11th-century manuscripts (listed in Braun; fig.7). Thereafter, the transverse flute makes very occasional appearances, the earliest being on a Hungarian bronze water vessel of c1100, found in eastern Slovakia. The figure probably represents the centaur Chiron, here playing a drum, teaching the art of music to Achilles, who stands on the centaur’s back playing the flute left-handed – the normal posture in the Middle Ages. Two 12th-century Benedictine manuscripts (an encyclopedia and a psalter) show figures playing transverse flutes, as does an illustration in the 13th-century Munich psalter (D-Mu 24).
Music was not conceived for specific instruments in this period, and most references to flutes in written sources are ambiguous, possibly referring to duct flutes such as recorders or tabor pipes. Flutes of all kinds were often identified with mythical or spiritual figures, with pastoral life, and with death. Although depictions and descriptions of transverse flutes were rare compared with references to other instruments until the mid-16th century, in the most realistic of them certain customary uses can be identified. Adenés Le Roi’s romance Cléomadès (c1285) mentions ‘Flahutes d’argent traversaines’ as part of the instrumentarium of a well-known minstrel: the word ‘silver’ [argent] may refer to their material or perhaps their tone. The Niebelungenlied of c1300 refers to the loud sound of the flute, comparing it to that of the trombone and trumpet, and in the Roman d’Alexandre (GB-Ob) illustrated by Jehan de Grise in 1344, transverse flutes are shown being played with large bells, drums, bagpipes and trumpets. A number of references to flutes in the hands of sentries and soldiers point to its use in outdoor military music as well as indoor courtly songs.
The first evidence to link the flute with a particular musical repertory is provided by two medieval illustrations. A manuscript of the Cantigas de Santa María (E-E; c1270–90) associated with the court of Alfonso, King of Castile and León, contains a depiction of two seated flautists playing left-handed on slightly different instruments, one with ornamental turning or binding. At this date flutes, like the other instruments, were probably made by the musicians themselves rather than by specialized instrument makers. The early 14th-century Manessische Liederhandschrift (D-Heu), one of the most important sources of Minnesang, includes a miniature, ‘Der Kanzler’, which presents a clear and elegant portrayal of three musicians: a fiddler playing a four-string instrument, a transverse flute player holding the instrument to his right, and a singer (fig.8). As the music in these manuscripts is monophonic, it is not clear how the flute was used: perhaps it doubled the vocal line or played a drone, perhaps it provided improvised heterophony. Guillaume de Machaut gave instructions in Le Livre dou Voir dit (1363–5) that when instruments were used, his (polyphonic) ballades should be played without ornamentation or cuts, therefore this was probably not the normal practice. In La Prise d’Alexandrie (c1369), he distinguished between transverse flutes – ‘flaüstes traverseinnes’ – and duct flutes – ‘flaüstes, dont droit joues quant tu flaüstes’, that is, ‘flutes you blow straight when you play them’. Other literary references, notably in the works of Eustache Deschamps (c1346–c1406), suggest that the flute still led a double life as both a soft, indoor instrument and a loud one with military connotations. No medieval flutes survive, but they were probably built in broadly the same way as surviving 16th-century examples: a basically cylindrical tube with six or more finger-holes and an embouchure hole, but perhaps with different ratios of bore and outer diameter to sounding length, which affected range, tone and carrying power.
Pictures and literary references involving flutes become rare for about 70 years after the second decade of the 15th century; Franco-Flemish, English and Italian polyphonic music of this period may have provided few opportunities for the instrument. At the end of the 15th century the military flute became common again, particularly in the hands of Swiss mercenary troops and in combination with large side drums. The first use of the term Fife occurs in a description of an occasion in 1489 in which drums, fifes and trumpets played together at a French feast. By 1494 the grande écurie of the French court was making payments to ‘tambourins suisses’, probably a corps of transverse flutes and side drums associated with Swiss mercenary troops who accompanied Charles VIII to Italy. In this period, as before, any technical distinction between the ‘fife’ and the ‘flute’ remained unstated. In fact, early 16th-century illustrations, such as the group of four Basle soldiers by Urs Graf, himself a mercenary, seem to indicate that, even if the instruments differed, the soldiers played both, perhaps performing four-part consort music on ordinary flutes and functional field calls and improvised marching music on military flutes.
Flute, §II, 4: The Western transverse flute: History