1902 Encyclopedia > Transverse Flute

Transverse Flute

TRANSVERSE FLUTE, THE,—-or GERMAN FLUTE, as it was formerly designated in Great Britain,—may be de-scribed as a musical instrument in which a column of air is set in vibration by regular pulsations derived from a current of air directed by the lips of the executant against the side of an orifice serving as an embouchure, pierced laterally in the substance of the pipe and towards its upper extremity. This mode of blowing appears to be of very ancient origin: the Hindus, Chinese, and Japanese claim to have used it from time immemorial; in Europe the high antiquity of a lateral embouchure is generally admitted, although it does not really rest, so far as our present knowledge goes, on any conclusive evidence.
The oblique flute of the Greeks was of Egyptian origin, and it is therefore safest to suppose it to have been like the instrument frequently figured on the monuments of ancient Egypt, which, held obliquely, was blown through the orifice itself of the pipe at its upper extremity. The same instrument (called " nay") is still used in Mohammedan countries. The flute is often mentioned in mediaeval poetry, but no details of its construction are given. It was the custom, moreover, to designate various instru-ments by this name. The oldest representation we know of the transverse flute is found in the 11th-century frescos of the cathedral of St Sophia at Kieff. Eustache Des-champs, a French poet of the 14th century, in one of his ballads, makes mention of the " flute traversaine," and we are justified in supposing that he refers to the transverse flute. It had certainly acquired some vogue in the 15th century, being figured in an engraving in Sebastian Vird-ung's celebrated work, where it is called " Zwerchpfeiff," and, with the drums, it already constituted the principal ele-ment of the military music. Agricola alludes to it as the " Querchpfeiff " or " Schweizerpfeiff," the latter designa-tion dating, it is said, from the battle of Marignan (1515), when the Swiss troops used it for the first time in war.
From Agricola onwards transverse flutes formed a complete family, said to comprise the discant, the alto and tenor, and the bass,—
n respectively. There is evidently
2~ *>T an error in the indications of
y T ~' jd ' | ~ pitch here given, for the instru-
*^ ZZ\: "d~ ments must in fact have produced
sounds an octave higher than those noted. Prsetorius,
who in a special note warns his readers against inaccuracies of this
kind which were then frequent, designates the transverse flute as
" traversa Querpfeiff" and "Querflot," and notifies the bass in
p ~ the tenor ~~Y and the ~r j nsvarietie.sthen
and alto
in use. A flute concert at that
two kinds of ~~(9" ~i "FeldpfeilT," jgpib
time included two discants, four altos or tenors, and two basses. The same author distinguishes between the "Traversa" and the "Schweizerpfeiff" (which he also calls "FeldpfeilT," i.e., mili-tary flute), although the construction was the same. There were : ~ r~ respectively; they were em-and u s~^j— plo3'ed exclusively with the military drum.

Mersenne's1 account of the transverse flute, then designated "flûte d'allemand" or "flûte allemande" in France, is obscure enough ; but the tablatures and an ' ' Air de Cour " for four flutes in his work lead us to believe that there were then in use in France or ~ r- and the bass 'Çy [:

no Hute Tjtj I , or alto
in -fj"0 flute in tj
The Museum of the Conservatoire "e^ Koyal ot Brussels pos-sesses specimens of all varieties hitherto mentioned except the last. All of them are laterally pierced with six finger holes; they have a cylindrical bore, and are fashioned out of a single piece of wood. Their compass consists of two octaves and a fifth. The successive opening of the lateral holes gives rise to a series of fundamental notes forming the first octave. By a stronger pres-sure of the breath these notes are reproduced in the next octave higher, and the extent of compass of the instrument is completed in the higher region by the production of other harmonics.
The largest bass flute in the Brussels museum is in rivn at the French normal pitch A 435 double 2Q— vibrations per second. It measures 0'95
m. from the centre of the blow orifice to
the lower extremity of the tube. The disposition of the lateral holes is such that it is impossible to cover them with the fingers if the flute is held in the ordinary way. The instrument must be placed against the mouth in an almost vertical direction, inclining the extremity of the tube either to the right or the left. This inconvenient position makes it necessary that the instrument should be divided into two parts, enabling the player to turn the head joint that the embouchure may be most com-modiously approached by the lips, which is not at all easy. The first and fourth of the six lateral holes are double, but those holes are stopped up with wax which have become useless through the player's habit of using the fingers of the right or left hand to cover the higher three holes. The bass flute shown in fig. 1 is the facsimile of an instrument in the Museo Civico of Verona. The original, unfortunately no longer fit for use, is nevertheless sufficiently well preserved to allow of all its proportionate measurements being given. The lowest note, E\y, is obtained with a remarkable amplitude of sound, thus upsetting a very prevalent opinion that it is impossible to produce by lateral insufflation sounds which go a little Fig. 1. Fig. 2. lower than the ordinary limit downwards of the modern orchestral flute.
The bass flute cited by Mersenne should not differ much from that of the Museo Civico at Verona. We suppose it to have been in —, and that it was furnished with an open key like that '— which was applied to the recorders (flutes douces) of the
same epoch, the function of the key being to augment
1 Harmonie Universelle, Paris, 1636.
by another note the compass of the instrument in the lower part. Following Quantz, it was in France and about the middle of the 17th century that the first modifications were introduced in the manufacture of the flute. The improvements at this period con-sisted of the abandonment of the cylindrical bore in favour of a conical one, with the wide part in the head of the instrument. At the same time the flute was made of three separate pieces called head, body, and foot, which were ultimately further subdivided. The body or middle joint was divided into two pieces, so that the instrument could be tuned to the different pitches then in use by a replacement with longer or shorter pieces. It was probably about 1677, when Lully introduced the German flute into the opera, that recourse was had for the first time to keys, and that the key of D$ was applied to the lower part of the instrument. The en-graving of B. Picart, dated 1707, which ornaments the work of the French flautist Hotteterre-le-Romain, represents the flute as having reached the stage of improvement of which we have just spoken, but the body was still formed of one piece only. In 1726 Quantz, finding himself in Paris, had a second key applied to the flute, placed nearly at the same height as the first, that of the
, intended to differentiate the and the E[>. This
omy | I innovation was generally well received in Germany, but
tJ does not appear to have met with corresponding success in
other countries. In France and England manufacturers adopted it but rarely; in Italy it was declared useless. About the same time flutes were constructed with the lower extremity lengthened and furnished with two supplementary keys to produce the C^ and C. This innovation, spoken of by Quantz, did not meet with a very favourable reception, and was shortly afterwards abandoned. Passing mention may be made of the drawing of a flute with a C key in the Music-Saal of J. F. B. Mayers, Nuremberg, 1741.
The tuning of the instrument to different pitches was effected, as already explained, by changes in the length, and notably by substituting a longer or shorter upper piece in the middle joint. So wide were the differences in the pitches then in use that seven such pieces for the upper portion of it were deemed necessary. The relative proportions between the different parts of the instru-ment being altered by these modifications in the length, it was conceived that the just relation could be re-established by dividing the foot into two pieces, below the key. These two pieces were adjusted by means of a tenon, and it was asserted that, in this way, the foot could be lengthened proportionately to the length of the middle joint. Flutes thus improved took the name of " flütes ä registre." The register system was, about 1752, applied by Quantz to the head joint, and, the embouchure section being thus capable of elongation, it was allowable to the performer, according to the opinion of this professor, to lower the pitch of the flute a semitone, without having recourse to other lengthening pieces, and without disturbing the accuracy of intonation.
The upper extremity of the flute, beyond the embouchure orifice, is closed by means of a cork stopper. On the position of this cork depends, in a great measure, the accurate tuning of the flute. It jp.
is in its right place when the accompanying octaves are n :jz
true. Quantz, in speaking of this accessory, mentions "7 , P the use of a nut-screw to give the required position to I the cork, He does not name the inventor of this ap- ^ pliance, but, according to Tromlitz, the improvement was due to Quantz himself. The invention goes back to 1726.
When the Method of Quantz appeared there were still in use, besides the orchestral flute in D, the little fourth flute in G, the low fourth flute in A, and the flute d'amour a note higher ; in France they had, moreover, the little octave flute in D (octave). A bass flute in D had also been attempted (see fig. 2). When Ribocq published his Bemerkungen über die Flöte the flute had already
the five keys here shown. This author does n
not cite the inventor of these new keys, but Z7 j some claim them for Kusder, a musical-instru- S LS^^e-nient maker in London, others for Johann *^ It George Tromlitz of Leipsic, and Ribocq declares he has seen no flutes so constructed other than by these two makers. But Tromlitz lays no claim for himself to the credit of this improvement. He only says that "he had occupied himself for several years in applying these keys so as not to augment the difficulty of playing, but, on the contrary, to render the handling of them as easy as possible." We may therefore regard th e London maker as the author of the first flute with five keys, with, however, a reservation as to the G$ key, which, from 1727, had been applied by Hoffmann of Easten-berg to the transverse flute and the oboe. The higher key of C£j, adopted from 1786 by Tromlitz, we believe to have been first re-commended by Ribocq (1-782).
In 1785 Richard Potter, of London, improved Quantz's slide applied to the head joint as well as to the register of the foot by a double system of tubes forming double sliding air-tight joints. In the document14 describing this improvement Potter patented the idea of clothing the holes which were covered by keys formed by metal conical valves. The keys mentioned in the patent were four,—DJjl, F, G$, AJ|. The idea of extending the compass of the flute downwards was taken up again about the same time by two players of the flute in London named Tacet and Florio. They de-vised a new disposition of the keys C and C$, and confided the execu-tion of their invention to Potter. In Dr Arnold's New Instructions for the German Flute occurs a tablature, the engraving of wdiich goes back to the end of the 18th century, and bears the following title, " A Complete Drawing and Concise Scale and Description of Tacet and Florio's new invented German Flute, with all the addi-tional keys explained." It explains the use of six keys,—C, CD, D#, F, G"#, A|,— that are not always figured, because the employ-ment of so many keys was at once admitted. Tromlitz himself, who, however, made flutes with nine keys,—adding Ej?, another F, and C|j, declared that he was not in favour of so great a complica-tion, and that he preferred the flute with only two keys, and E[>,

with a register foot joint and a cork nut-screw at the head joint. This instrument met all requirements. He was even against the use of the keys for C|j and C§, because they altered the recognized quality of tone of the instrument. When Tromlitz published his method, the family of flutes had become modified. It compre-hended only the typical flute in D, the flûte d'amour a minor third lower, a "third" flute a minor third higher, and, finally, the little octave flute.
While Tromlitz was struggling in Germany with the idea of augmenting the compass of the flute downwards by employing open keys for Cfj and Cjjl, an Italian, Giovanni Batista Orazi, increased the scale of the instrument downwards by the application of five new keys, viz., B, Bp-, A, A[?, and G. At the same time that he produced this invention he conceived the plugging of the lateral holes by the valve keys then recently invented by Potter. But it was hardly possible to obtain a perfect plugging of seven lateral holes with the aid of as many keys, for the control of which there were only the two little fingers, and therefore this invention of Orazi proved a failure.
In 1808 Frederick Nolan,s of Stratford, near London, conceived an open key, the lever of which, terminating by a ring, permitted the closing of a lateral hole at the same time the key was being acted upon. The combination in this double action is the embryo of the mechanism that a little later was to transform the system of the flute. Two years later Macgregor, a musical-instrument maker in London,'constructed a bass flute an octave lower than the ordi-nary flute. The idea was not new, as is proved by the existence of the bass flute mentioned above. The difference between the two instruments lies in the mechanism of the keys. That employed by Macgregor consisted of a double lever, a contrivance dating from before the middle of the 18th century, of which the application is seen in an oboe of large dimensions preserved in the National Museum at Munich.
About 1830 the celebrated French flautist Tulou added two more
keys, those of F$ and C|, and a key, called ,-,
"de cadence," to facilitate the accompany- tJiT^ _*-~m
ing shakes. t ft f F~
To increase the number of keys, to improve ~~p" I '
their system of plugging, and to extend the Z"
scale of the instrument in the lower region, ix' —these had hitherto been the principal problems dealt with in the improvement of the flute. No maker, no inventor whose labours we have called attention to, had as yet devoted his atten-tion to the rational division of the column of air by means of the lateral holes. In 1831 Theobald Boehm, a Bavarian, happening to be in London, was struck with the power of tone the celebrated _ English performer Charles Nicholson drew from his instrument. Boehm learned, and not without astonishment, that his English colleague obtained this result by giving the lateral holes a much greater diameter than was then usually admitted. About the same time Boehm made the acquaintance of an amateur player named Gordon, who had effected certain improvements ; he had bored the lateral hole for the lower E, and had covered it with a key, while he had replaced the key for F with a ring. These innova-tions set Boehm about attempting a complete reform of the instru-ment. He went resolutely to work, and during the year 1832 he produced the new flute which bears his name. This instrument is distinguished by a new mechanism of keys, as well as by larger holes disposed along the tube in geometrical progression.
Boehm's system had preserved the key of open ; Coche, a professor in the Paris Conservatoire, assisted by Auguste Buffet the younger, a musical-instrument maker in that city, modified Boehm's flute by closing the G§ with a key, wishing thus to render the new fingering more conformable to the old. He thus added a key, facilitating the shake upon C$ with DjJ, and brought about some other changes in the instrument of less importance.
Boehm had not, however, altered the bore of the flute, which had been conical from the end of the 17th century. In 1846, however, he made further experiments, and the results obtained were put in practice by the construction of anew instrument, of which the body was bored cylindrical, but the head was modified at the embouchure. The inventor thus obtained a remarkable equality in the tones of the lower octave, a greater sonorousness, and a perfect accuracy of intonation, by establishing the more exact proportions which a column of air of cylindrical form permitted.
who called it the "panaulon." 3 Patent, No. 3183. < Patent, No. 3349.
The priority of Boehm's invention was long contested, his detractors maintaining that the honour of having reconstructed the flute was due to Gordon. But an impartial investigation vindicates the claim of the former to the invention of the large lateral holes. His greatest title to fame is the invention of the mechanism which allows the production of the eleven chromatic semitones intermediate between the fundamental note and its first harmonic by means of eleven holes so disposed that in opening them successively they shorten the column of air in exact propor-tional quantities. Boehm has published a diagram or scheme to be adopted in determining the position of the note-holes of wind instruments for every given pitch. This diagram gives the position of the intermediate holes which he had been enabled to establish by a rule of proportion based on the law of the lengths of strings.
The Boehm flute, notwithstanding the high degree of perfection
it has reached, has not secured unanimous favour ; even now there
are players wdio prefer the ordinary flute. The change of fingering
required for some notes, the great delicacy and liability to derange-
ment of the mechanism, have something to do with this. In Eng-
land especially, the ordinary flute retains many partisans, thanks to
the improvements introduced by a clever player, Abel Siccama, in
1845.11 He bored the lateral holes of E and A lower, and covered
them with open keys. He added some keys, and made a better
disposition of the other lateral holes, of which he increased the
diameter, producing thus a sonorousness almost equal to that of
the Boehm flute, while yet preserving the old fingering for the
notes of the first two octaves. But in spite of these improvements
the old flute will not bear an impartial comparison with that of
Boehm. (V. M.)


The Louvre has two ancient statues (from the Villa Borghese) representing satyrs playing upon transverse flutes. Unfortunately these marbles have been restored, especially in the details affecting our present subject, and are therefore examples of no value to us. Another statue representing a flute-player occurs in the British Museum. The instrument has been supposed to be a transverse flute, but erroneously, for the insufflation of the lateral tube against which the'instrumentalist presses his lips, could not, without the intervention of a reed, excite the vibratory movement of the column of air.

Musica cjetutscht und auszgezogen, Basel, 1511.
s Musica Instrumentdlis, Wittenberg, 1529
Organographia, Wolfenbiittel, 1618.
It is from the word Pfeiff that the French Fifre and the English Fife, still applied to the military flutes in present use, are evidently

3 It is usual to indicate the tonality of flutes by the note produced when the six lateral holes are covered by the fingers. This custom is objectionable, because it is the disposition of the fingers which is made use of to sound D. The prac-tice has for its result that the tonality is always a note lower than the signature used. Thus the flute in D is really in _ ; that in F in E\>, &c.
Victor Mahillon, Hints on the Fingering of the Boehm Flute, London, 1884.
Fetis, Rapport sur la Fabrication des Instruments de Musique _ VExposition Universelle de Paris, en 1855.
Versuch einer Anweisung die Flöte traversiere zu spielen, Berlin, 1752.
unless where the contrary is stated, we have always in view, in describing the successive improvements of the flute, the treble flute in D, which is considered
to be typical of the family. 7 Principes de la Flute Traversiere.
" Herrn Johann Joachim Quantzius Lebenslauf, von ihm selbst, entworfen,1' in the Historisch-Kritische Beiträge zur Aufnahme der Musik, by Marpurg, ßerlin, 1754. Quantz was professor of the flute to Frederick the Great.
Antonio Lorenzoni, Saggio per ben sonare il flauto traverso, Vicenza, 1779.

Ausführlicher und gründlicher Unterricht die Flöte zu spielen, Leipsic, 1797.
Compare Schilling, Univ.-Lexicon, Leipsic, 1835. 11 Stendal, 1782.
Kurze Abhandlung von Flöten spielen, Leipsic, 1786.
Gerber, Lexicon der Tonkünstler, Leipsic, 1790. I4 English patent, Xo. 1499.

Saggio per costruire e suonare un fiauto traverse enarmonico che ha i suoni bassi del Violino, Rome, 1797.
The idea of this large flute was taken up again in 1819 hv Trexler of Vienna,
5 Another specimen, almost the same, constructed about 1775, and called
'o Basse de Musette," may be seen in the Museum of the Paris Conservatoire.
0 See Ueber den Flblenbau and die neuesten Verbesserungen desselben. Mainz,
1847; and W. S. Broadwood, An Essai/ on the Construction of Flutes originally
written by Theobald Boehm, published with the addition of Correspondence and
other Documents, London, 18S2.
; Examen critique de la Flute Ordinaire comparée à la Flûte Boehm, Paris, 1838.

Search the Encyclopedia:

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-17 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries