What Is a Baroque Flute?

Pablo Garcia

A Baroque flute is a type of flute that was used during the Baroque era, which lasted between the 17th and 18th centuries. This period saw important changes in the areas of music, art, and architecture. During this time, the flute underwent substantial design changes that greatly improved its sound. Many believe that the sound of the Baroque flute is still superior to that of any others.

Handel wrote specifically for the Baroque flute.
Handel wrote specifically for the Baroque flute.

The flute is one of the world’s oldest musical instruments, dating to the 9th century B.C. It is an instrument that is part of the woodwind family, which includes various flutes, clarinets, oboes, and saxophones. With the possible exception of the drum, it is thought to be the oldest instrument in human history. A simple flute is a hollow tube that can produce sounds when air is blown through it. Holes made in the flute tube can create musical sounds when covered and uncovered with the fingers. By the Baroque era, the flute was a finely crafted concert instrument.

Johann Sebastian Bach, born in 1685, is a German composer of the Baroque period, whose works included his compositions for the flute.
Johann Sebastian Bach, born in 1685, is a German composer of the Baroque period, whose works included his compositions for the flute.

The type of flutes used at the start of the Baroque era were “transverse flutes.” The flutist blew into an “embouchure,” which is a mouth hole on the side of the flute near its closed end. It was divided into three sections: a head, middle, and foot. There were six key holes which played all the major scales. The “bores” of the holes, the interior chambers where the air passed through, were all cylinder shaped.

As the Baroque era progressed, changes were made to the transverse flute, the “transvoso,” which resulted in what today is still called a baroque flute. The flute began to be constructed in two “joints,” the head and the body. The head joint contained the embouchure, which retained its cylindrical bore. From the head down, the newly designed flute used cone-shaped bores. This resulted in a much richer sound quality.

Composers such as Antonio Vivaldi, in Italy, and Johann Sebastian Bach and George Handel, in Germany, began to write music specifically for the Baroque flute. It became very popular as a solo instrument, and was increasingly used in scores for ballets, operas, and chamber music.

Later, in the Classical period of music, Theodore Boehm introduced the “Boehm flute.” It reintroduced cylindrical bores and altered the shape and sizes of the finger holes, giving the flute greater ranges of scale and making physically easier to play. The Boehm has been criticized for sacrificing sound quality to ease of use. Many still consider the Baroque flute a superior instrument because of its beautiful tone.

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