The flute is by far one of the oldest musical instruments and is speculated to be the first ever wind instrument. Flute playing has a particularly long tradition in the Orient. The Sumerians and Egyptians were among the first to add three or four finger-holes to their bamboo flutes, which allowed them to produce several notes.
But it has been in use since at least the Stone Age.Other than the caves of the Swabian Jura, the earliest secure archaeological evidence for music comes from sites in France and Austria and post-date 30,000 years ago.
And there are actually several names for the flute. Including, the cross flute, German flute, transverse flute, and flauto traverso. In early cultures, the flute played an important role in the realm of magic, and was very closely linked to the spirit world of gods.
The flute is often shown as being played by gods, or symbolizes a god’s voice: the Ancient Egyptians, for example, believed the voice of Isis, the gods’ mother, was audible in the long, drawn-out notes of the flute.
Beside this, it was the gods themselves who gave the flute to mankind as a gift; the Hindu deity Krishna – having taken on the form of a shepherd boy – brought the transverse flute to his people. But the first likely flute was called the “ch-ie” and emerged in China.
Most early flutes were played in two different positions: vertically, like a recorder, or horizontally, in what was called the transverse position. The transverse flute first arrived in Europe with traders from the Byzantine Empire during the Middle Ages, and it flowered in Germany, so much so that it became known as the German flute.
The flute seems to disappear with the fall of Rome and only begins to reappear in the 10th and 11th centuries.
By the 14th century, the flute began to appear in non-Germanic European countries, which included Spain, France and Flanders. During the 1100s and 1200s, the flute was widely used in courtly music and saw use as a military signaling and marching tool. Swiss mercenaries helped popularize it in the 1300s. During the Renaissance, it became fashionable for amateur flute players to practice and play together with what was known as “consort music” in cultured homes.
And until Renaissance times, the flute was also very closely associated with warfare and battles, since it, along with drums, were the instruments played by foot soldiers. But by the Baroque age, the instrument’s ability to express it’s gentleness had been recognized. This aspect of the flute gained enormous importance in the Romantic period when it became the instrument “par excellence” for lending expression to sentimental feelings.
By 1600, plucked and bowed instruments were combined with the flute in mixed consort music. During this period, Italian and Netherlands flute makers experimented with the size of the flute’s bore, added an E flat tone hole and divided the flute into sections that made storage and travel easier. France’s Louis XIV was a big fan of the sound of this flute, because it was known as having a romantic, sweet tone.Efforts to improve the transverse flute soon spread from France to other countries.
The Prussian flutist and composer Johann J. Quantz, Frederick the Great’s flute teacher, studied the intonation problems of the instrument and later became a flute maker himself. He invented the tuning slide, experimented with various shapes and sizes of tone holes, and added another key. These improvements, along with his treatise “Versuch einer Anweisung, die Flöte traversiere zu spielen” (An Essay on Instruction in the Art of Playing the Transverse Flute), published in Berlin in 1752, and his 400 compositions for the instrument, boosted its popularity and brought it to the attention of even more composers.
The late 1600s and 1700s saw a solo flute repertoire emerge, giving players music that had a range extended below the usual high register melodies. It also called for the player to add more individual character to each part. Throughout the 16th century, flutes were one of the most popular instruments of the Italian musical scene. This popularity was also echoed in England as was obvious from Henry VIII’s large collection of flutes. These instruments were very simple in construction, consisting of a cylindrical tube with a cork stopper in one end, a blow hole, and six finger holes.
Their range was limited, as they were constructed in different sizes in order to handle the complete range of the music being performed. In 1681 a Hotteterre flute with a range of 2 and half octaves was used in Jean-Baptiste Lully’s opera orchestra, its first appearance in an orchestra of this type. Its wide range and timbre meant that the transverse flute soon became a serious rival to the recorder.When in the mid 17th century, the art of flute-making underwent a process of rapid innovation.
The technical improvements made to the flute were passed on, to its smaller sister, the piccolo traverso. In the early 18th century the piccolo began to appear with one to four keys, and more were added as the century progressed. In the years that followed, the piccolo’s development mirrored that of the flute. .By 1720, the body was divided into two parts and extra joints of differing lengths. At some time during the 17th century makers determined that narrowing the bore toward the bottom of an instrument made its low notes stronger and allowed the second octave to be played with the same fingerings as the first.
Adding a key for E flat made that note more even in tone with the rest, and later on, the flute started being made in three sections, which made manufacture easier. It also allowed performers to shift the pitch of the instrument in order to be in tune with different orchestras. However, because of the cross-fingerings, these flutes sounded best in keys of D- and G-Major. While there were many amateur performers of the time who played the flute poorly (out of tune), the professional performers of the time mastered these challenges extremely well.
Composers like Bach, Vivaldi, Handel, Telemann and Blavet wrote extensively for the solo flute, and professional players such as J.J. Quantz began to find success traveling from area to area performing concerts on the baroque flute. Around 1750, London instrument makers took the baroque flute and added a system of flute keys, while also increasing the taper of its bore. This created an even stronger lower register and more solid tuning.
By 1780, these instruments were appearing in instrumental music of Mozart and Hayden. In addition, flute makers extended the range of the instrument downward by adding low C and C-sharp keys to the foot joint (just like today’s modern flute). By the end of the 18th century, two more keys were introduced which resulted in the 8-keyed flute. This instrument formed the basis of most “simple system” flutes which are still being played today in various ensembles, and the keyed flute was almost universally adopted.
The recorder had originated in England and gained popularity in Europe at the same time as the transverse flute, becoming established as an orchestral instrument. But from the middle of the 18th century, the description flauto in musical scores no longer referred to the end-blown recorder, but the transverse flute (which had hitherto been described as the flauto traverso).
Every country had its own style of keyed flute and hosted visiting artists from other countries to show off their repertoire, instrument, and skill. J.G. Tromlitz, a German flautist, was well known at the time as a virtuoso who performed on a keyed flute of his own personal design..
Flute design flourished through the first half of the 19th century, with significant design variations found in Austria, England, America, France and Germany. Theobald Boehm, of Bavaria, began to attract attention with a key design that used a system of complex interlocked rods to allow accurate, fast fingering in a more natural hand position. He replaced the traditional hole layout with an acoustically based one and improved the venting by replacing closed chromatic keys with open-standing keys.
Over time the Vienna style of flute, with its conical bore and range down to G on the violin, became very popular. Its design was merged once again with the traditional keyed flute around the year 1850 to become an instrument known as the “Meyer” flute, which was quickly adopted across America and Europe. However, 20 years later the superior technology of the Boehm style flute put it well on the way to becoming the preeminent instrument used by both professional and amateur musicians going forward.
And In 1832, when Boehm invented a revolutionary mechanism for the flute, by the middle of the 19th century, it had already found its way onto the piccolo. Nevertheless, piccolos with older key mechanisms remained in use well into the 20th century. Today’s flute is based on Boehm’s innovations, with modifications that vary depending on the instrument maker. Once a technically complete flute had been made, the amount of solo literature for the instrument increased dramatically.
The first solo music for flute was published around 1700, and pieces by Telemann, Blavet, Handel, Bach, Vivaldi, and many other composers followed. In Germany and Italy especially, flutists began to write pieces for the flute in all 24 keys, rather than in the restricted range it had used before. But most published music was in relatively easy keys for the baroque flute, such as G major and E minor. Professional players generally reserved more difficult music for their own use to be sure it would be played in tune.
Composers began to explore the limits of the instrument, and experimented with different tone colors and means of articulation. This resulted in various types of playing techniques. One major change that has been made is a rescaling of the flute to A=440Hz during the 1960s by an English flute maker named Albert Cooper. This standard pitch is now the worldwide standard for the flute.A modern Boehm-system flute is made of wood or metal.
It is 26.5 inches long and has three sections. The body and the foot joint have the note holes which are controlled by an interlocking mechanism of padded key plates hinged on the axis. The bore narrows in the head joint, which contains the mouth hole, and is closed just above the hole by a cork, also called the crown.