The flute and its high-pitched relative the piccolo, are the highest-pitched members of the woodwind family.
Although instruments have been found dating back thousands of years in the form of hollowed-out bones and wood, the modern-day flute was developed in 19th-century Germany by inventor and flute virtuoso Theobald Boehm. Flutes today are predominantly made out of a range of metals such as silver-plated brass or even solid gold, silver and platinum.
The flute is unique amongst the wind instruments as sound is created by blowing across the top of the mouth plate rather than directly into the instrument, as with clarinets and oboes. The act of blowing into a flute is similar to blowing across the top of a bottle and it is a firmly held belief amongst musicians that flutes require the same amount of air volume as tubas to perform.
Pitch is altered by opening and closing the keys in the body of the instrument, changing the length and inner resonance of the body; performers can also vary pitch by blowing more or less forcefully. Dynamics are also controlled by the speed of the air passing across the mouth hole: faster air flow produces a louder sound and slower air flow creates a softer volume.
Flautists use a variety of techniques to create different sounds, including flutter tonguing, multiphonics and microtones.
The flute is almost unrivalled for its ability to create colouristic effects, and it is often paired with the harp in passages of great delicacy. Favourite works for flute include Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, Gluck’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Orfeo ed Euridice, Mozart’s Concerto in C for Flute and Harp, K.299 and Bach’s Badinerie from Orchestral Suite No.2.
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