[concert flute, cross flute, German flute, transverse flute] (Fr. flûte, flûte traversière, flûte allemande, flûte d’Allemagne, traversière; Ger. Flöte, Querflöte; It. flauto, flauto traverso, traversa).
Term used to refer to a vast number of wind instruments, from the modern orchestral woodwind to folk and art instruments of many different cultures.
Generically, a flute is any instrument having an air column confined in a hollow body – whether tubular or vessel – and activated by a stream of air striking against the edge of an opening, producing what acousticians call an ‘edge tone’; flutes are therefore often called edge-tone instruments.
Flutes are classified in the Hornbostel and Sachs system by the way in which the sound is generated and then by a variety of other criteria.
There are very few parts of the world where the flute is unknown. Whistles were certainly known in Paleolithic Europe, for pierced animal phalanges have been found at Magdalenian sites in France, and it is improbable that bone antedated cane and reed, although of course bone survives far longer as a buried artifact.
The most basic form of flute is a tube of reed or cane, stopped at one end and blown across the other. Such instruments, played in sets by a group of people each playing a single note in turn in hocket style, are used in a number of areas, for example the skudučiai in Lithuania and the nanga of the Venda of South Africa. More complex forms, with the tubes combined into a single instrument, are known as Panpipes and are found almost worldwide.
The number of finger-holes on flutes varies according to the needs of the music and the preferences of the culture. The most common number is six, to which is added, where necessary, a thumb-hole to aid overblowing to an upper register: heptatonic scales of various forms are the most frequent throughout the world.
While most flutes are blown by mouth, a few, especially in Oceania and Southeast Asia, are blown by the nose. This is most commonly for cultic reasons, the breath of the mouth, which is used for eating and talking, being considered profane and the breath of the nose nearer to the soul.
The modern flute is a tube of metal, more rarely of wood. The sound is produced by blowing across the mouth-hole, activating the air in the tube. The instrument is functionally in C and thus non-transposing. It has an effective compass of just over three octaves. Control of the sound is achieved principally by the player’s lips, and thus the embouchure is an important part of the flautist’s training. The mechanism of the modern flute is based on Theobald Boehm’s design of 1847.
The modern flautist is expected to be able to play a broad repertory. Distinct styles and techniques for playing Baroque, Classical, 19th-century, avant-garde music and jazz have all become part of the flautist’s training, and the well-rounded orchestral flautist must also be an accomplished piccolo player.
The flute is highly popular among young people, especially girls, although there is still a high proportion of male players in some countries such as Ireland and Italy.
Other members of the family include:
(Fr. petite flûte; Ger. kleine Flöte, Pickelflöte, Pikkoloflöte, Oktavflöte; It. ottavino or, more rarely, flauto piccolo). A small flute pitched an octave higher than the concert flute.
soprano flute, tierce flute] (Fr. flûte à tierce; Ger. Terzflöte). A soprano flute pitched a minor 3rd above the concert flute – hence its name.
(Ger. Liebesflöte; It. flauto d’amore). Flute usually pitched in A, a minor 3rd below the concert flute.
(Fr. flûte alto, flûte contralto en sol; Ger. Altflöte; It. flautone). Flute pitched in G, a 4th below the concert flute.
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, 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 flute repertory is wide and covers all the centuries of music evolution. There was a revival in the 1960s for the Baroque Music and the flutes used at those times, works of Haendel, Bach, Telemann and many others. The modern flute participates in all kind of music formations and can play all styles.
Reference (with liberty): New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell, (editors), 2nd ed., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.
- Alice Farhat
- Alin Tataru
- Nabil Mroue
- Peter Foldesi
- Toni Rahi
Page created at: 06-04-2015