What Is a Flute Concerto?

Peter Hann

A flute concerto is a work for solo flute and an instrumental accompaniment such as an orchestra. Flute concertos were first written in the Baroque Period and continue to be part of the output of composers in the modern era. The flute concerto is normally written in three or four movements, containing at least one slow movement. The part for the flute is generally written as a contrast with the orchestra, with the different sounds of the solo instrument and the orchestra taking the form of a dialogue in which the flute may move with or against the accompaniment.

Mozart’s flute concerto No. 1 in G major is a famous example of a classical flute concerto.
Mozart’s flute concerto No. 1 in G major is a famous example of a classical flute concerto.

The flute is an instrument in the woodwind family. Its distinctively smooth sound is created by the flow of air across an opening in the instrument, giving rise to air vibrations in the opening. The sound contrasts with the sharper sound of a reed instrument such as the oboe. Some types of flute are designed to be blown from one end, but the Western concert flute is blown by the flautist using an opening in the side of the flute.

Many flute concertos were written in the Baroque Period, and works by composers like Antonio Vivaldi and Johann Joachim Quantz are part of the repertoire of many modern performers. At the end of the Baroque Period a number of flute concertos were written by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, who wrote flute music for Frederick the Great of Germany. One of the best known flute concertos from the classical period is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s flute concerto No. 1 in G major. This work consists of three movements, and its Adagio second movement gives full rein to the expressive qualities of the flute. Mozart wrote his flute concerto No. 2 in D major for the oboe but he later adapted it to be performed as a flute concerto; it is part of the repertoire of many modern orchestras.

Flute concertos from the 20th and 21st centuries offer a variety of contrasting styles and approaches, and the number of movements ranges from two to five. Carl Nielsen’s flute concerto, written in 1926, is a long work in two movements, the first being symphonic in style while the second is more dramatic in nature. The concerto features dialogue between the flute and other instruments, including the other woodwind instruments. A flute concerto written by Christopher Rouse in 1993 is in five movements and contains references to Celtic music; it has an elegy as its central movement. In the 21st century, a flute concerto by Kalevi Aho allows the range and virtuosity of the flute to be displayed while maintaining a lyrical feel and an atmosphere typical of the composer.

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