Alto flute

Last updated
Alto flute
Alto flute 006.jpg
Classification Woodwind (Aerophone)
Playing range
Range Alto flute.png
Related instruments
Musicians

The alto flute is an instrument in the Western concert flute family, pitched below the standard C flute and the uncommon flûte d'amour. It is the third most common member of its family after the standard C flute and the piccolo. It is characterized by its rich, mellow tone in the lower portion of its range. The bore of the alto flute is considerably larger in diameter and longer than the C flute [1] and requires a larger column of air (volume of air) from the player, though it also requires a slower airspeed. This gives it a greater dynamic presence in the bottom octave and a half of its range. Its range is from G3 (the G below middle C) to G6 (4 ledger lines above the treble clef staff) plus an altissimo register stretching to D♭7. It uses the same fingerings as the C flute and piccolo, but is a transposing instrument in G (sounding a perfect fourth lower than written).

Contents

British music that uses this instrument often refers to it as a bass flute, which can be confusing since there is a distinct instrument known by that name. This naming confusion originated in the fact that the modern flute in C is pitched in the same range as the Renaissance tenor flute; therefore, a lower pitched instrument would be called a bass.

History

While there is no exact date that the alto flute was created, large flutes have existed for several hundred years. [1] Some problems with early alto flute design included the long length of the tube, troublesome cross fingerings, inconsistent intonation, finger holes that were too wide across, and how far one’s arm had to be stretched in order to reach the finger holes, particularly in the left hand. [2] The greatest innovations to the alto flute were developed by Theobald Boehm in the 1850’s when he made the alto flute in G, and it was said to be his favorite flute. There is some research that shows this happened in the mid 1850’s, around 1854-55, when he was 60 years old. [3] The creation of this alto flute was to rid other lower pitch flutes of their current problems. The new flute design by Boehm had rational key systems and levers that were created in order to shorten the length that fingers needed to stretch. New changes were also made in modification to the bore size of the flute in order to support the low register of G. Along with the bore size, the placement and sizes of the keys were changed to compliment the new, larger bore. [2]

The first widely produced alto flute was created by Rudall Carte & Co. in London, 1891. They took many of Bohem’s ideas and adjustments to create their alto flute. This alto flute was the lowest flute in the family just under “Bass Flute G”. [2]

Design and Construction

Like other Western flutes, the alto flute is constructed of three main parts: the head-joint, the body joint, and the foot joint. Those pieces include an embouchure hole, tone holes, keys, and the mechanism that operates the keys. The head-joint may be straight or curved; curved head-joints are often made in two parts. The straight head-joint is easier to play in tune in the high register due to its true conical bore shape, which is not possible with a curved head-joint. [4] However, the curved head-joint could be a better option for those flutists who have smaller arms and/or smaller hands; it is frequently preferred by smaller players because it requires less of a stretch for the arms, and makes the instrument feel lighter by moving the center of gravity nearer to the player. [5] The head joint is slightly tapered (conical bore) to accomplish precise tonal quality and it includes an embouchure hole. The body and foot joint of the alto flute are composed of either closed hole or open hole keys. Most alto flutes are made with closed hole keys; the Kingma system alto flutes are available with open holes. [1] Open holed alto flutes have more possibilities for extended techniques. [6]

Size

The alto flute along with the other low flutes are constructed at a longer length than the concert flute; the larger the flute, the lower its pitch. [7] The alto flute is about 1 inch in diameter and 34 inches in length. [8] This compared to the concert flute makes it ¼ of an inch wider in diameter and almost 8 inches longer in length [9] (these measurements may vary depending on the type of head-joint---curved or straight---and whether or not a person is measuring the overall length of the flute or the sounding length of the flute, which is the length measured from the middle of the embouchure hole to the end of the flute). [10] The tone holes on the alto flute are slightly smaller than those of the modern concert flute, relative to its size. According to page 26 of The extended alto flute: The history and development of the alto flute, with a study of modern alto flute design and its effect on extended techniques in alto flute repertoire and pedagogical materials, a dissertation by graduate student John Edward Davis, “the averaged and converted alto flutes show that their tone holes are relatively smaller compared to the c-flute”. [9] The arrangement of the holes can differ depending on the maker of the flute.

Alto flute with curved head. Yamaha Flute YFL-A421U.png
Alto flute with curved head.
Alto flute with straight head. Yamaha Flute YFL-A421S.png
Alto flute with straight head.

The embouchure-hole for alto flute is similar to that for C flute, but in proportion to the size of the instrument. Hence the embouchure-hole sits lower on the lower lip, and the lip-aperture is wider.

Repertoire

Music written for alto flute includes but is not limited to music for alto flute alone, for alto flute and piano, for alto flute and mixed ensembles of many different instruments, and flute choir music. It also appears in orchestral music and film soundtracks.

The following lists are not intended to be complete, but rather to present a representative sampling of the most commonly played and well-known works in the genre. The lists also do not generally include works originally written for other instruments and subsequently transcribed, adapted, or arranged for alto flute, unless such piece is very common in the repertory, in which case it is listed with its original instrumentation noted.

Alto flute alone

Alto flute and piano

Alto flute and guitar

Alto flute, piano and electronics

Orchestral excerpts

In the classical literature, the alto flute is particularly associated with the scores of Igor Stravinsky and Maurice Ravel, both of whom used the instrument's distinctive tone color in a variety of scores. It is featured in Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé , Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring , Franco Alfano's opera Cyrano de Bergerac , Sergei Prokofiev's Scythian Suite and the original version of Webern's Six Pieces for Orchestra. Shostakovich used it in his operas The Gamblers (left unfinished), Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District (also known as Katerina Ismailova), as well as in his Symphony No. 7 (Leningrad) . It also figures prominently in several movements of Gustav Holst's The Planets . [11] It also appears in Howard Shore's music for The Lord of the Rings among many other contemporary film scores. [12] Even before 1940 it had been used occasionally in Hollywood; early Broadway pit orchestrations using the instrument include Jerome Kern's Music in the Air (1932) and Very Warm for May (1939), both scored by Robert Russell Bennett (the manuscript orchestrations are in the Jerome Kern Collection, Music Division, The Library of Congress).

Performers & Pioneers

A number of specialist alto flute players emerged in the 20th and 21st centuries. These include French improvisor/composer Christian Le Delezir, American Christine Potter, American Paige Long, British Kingma System alto flute player Carla Rees, jazz players Ali Ryerson and Brian Landrus, American Peter Sheridan who currently resides in Australia, Swiss composers/performers Matthias Ziegler and Stefan Keller and Dutch composer/performer Anne La Berge. Florian Schneider-Esleben of the German Electronic Group, Kraftwerk, played an alto flute in the first few years of the band's tenure.

Christine Potter

Christine Potter established a connection with the alto flute while she was studying at the university of New Mexico. As she became more experienced with the flute and fell more in love with the instrument, she began to compile a repertoire of music and publishers that included parts for the alto flute. At this point, she had such a repertoire that she wanted to make sure that her findings were available online to people who were also interested in playing the instrument. In doing so, she was connected with other flute players like Carla Rees, and the two specialists put their information together and created a compiled list of music. Potter had the opportunity to perform at a convention in Chicago showing how the alto flute could be considered a low solo instrument. This was received very well and Potter was invited to perform with different concertos around the country. At a 2012 Las Vegas Convention, Potter performed the world premiere of a low flute ensemble that she had been working on with other low flute specialists. The performance garnered excellent feedback from the audience, inspiring Potter to reach out to other performers and music composers around the world to perform her own and other peoples pieces. Potter has commissioned thirteen pieces since then that feature the low flute as well as produced a number of her own arrangements and compositions. She holds the distinction of being the initial individual to chair the National Flute Association Low Flutes Committee and pioneered what is called the International Low Flutes Festival in Washington D.C, bringing flutists of all skill levels and age together to give the low flute center stage of their performances. This along with conducting many competitions, Potter has been an important performer and pioneer in the generation of usage of the alto flute as well as the study of the alto and other low flutes.

Paige Long

Paige Long initially played violin in a faculty orchestra in her place of employment. She was offered a position to play piccolo and took the position to open up new opportunities for her. She was offered a flute teaching position a year later. Whilst in this position, Long started a flute choir to attract more people and was allowed to purchase an alto flute and a bass flute. The choir became very popular, but she knew she needed to improve the quality of the lower sound. She attended a convention where she heard a low flute ensemble, and becoming more interested, she intended to gather more low flutes for her own ensembles. At a convention three years later, Long had the opportunity to purchase the first alto flute in all of North and South America. Paige Long spent many years and much money to try and incorporate the low flute into many ensembles, and is one of the biggest advocates of the low flute in music. [13]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bassoon</span> Double-reed woodwind instrument

The bassoon is a musical instrument in the woodwind family, which plays in the tenor and bass ranges. It is composed of six pieces, and is usually made of wood. It is known for its distinctive tone color, wide range, versatility, and virtuosity. It is a non-transposing instrument and typically its music is written in the bass and tenor clefs, and sometimes in the treble. There are two forms of modern bassoon: the Buffet and Heckel systems. It is typically played while sitting using a seat strap, but can be played while standing if the player has a harness to hold the instrument. Sound is produced by rolling both lips over the reed and blowing direct air pressure to cause the reed to vibrate. Its fingering system can be quite complex when compared to those of other instruments. Appearing in its modern form in the 19th century, the bassoon figures prominently in orchestral, concert band, and chamber music literature, and is occasionally heard in pop, rock, and jazz settings as well. One who plays a bassoon is called a bassoonist.

The clarinet is a single-reed musical instrument in the woodwind family, with a nearly cylindrical bore and a flared bell.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Flute</span> Woodwind instrument

The flute is a member of a family of musical instruments in the woodwind group. Like all woodwinds, flutes are aerophones, producing sound with a vibrating column of air. Unlike woodwind instruments with reeds, a flute produces sound when the player's air flows across an opening. In the Hornbostel–Sachs classification system, flutes are edge-blown aerophones. A musician who plays the flute is called a flautist or flutist.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Recorder (musical instrument)</span> Woodwind instrument

The recorder is a family of woodwind musical instruments in the group known as internal duct flutes: flutes with a whistle mouthpiece, also known as fipple flutes. A recorder can be distinguished from other duct flutes by the presence of a thumb-hole for the upper hand and seven finger-holes: three for the upper hand and four for the lower. It is the most prominent duct flute in the western classical tradition.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Trombone</span> Brass instrument played with a slide

The trombone is a musical instrument in the brass family. As with all brass instruments, sound is produced when the player's vibrating lips cause the air column inside the instrument to vibrate. Nearly all trombones use a telescoping slide mechanism to alter the pitch instead of the valves used by other brass instruments. The valve trombone is an exception, using three valves similar to those on a trumpet, and the superbone has valves and a slide.

The Boehm system is a system of keywork for the flute, created by inventor and flautist Theobald Boehm between 1831 and 1847.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cornett</span> Early wind instrument with a cup mouthpiece

The cornett, cornetto, or zink is a wind instrument that dates from the Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque periods, popular from 1500 to 1650.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Transposing instrument</span> Musical instrument for which notated pitch differs from sounding pitch

A transposing instrument is a musical instrument for which music notation is not written at concert pitch. For example, playing a written middle C on a transposing instrument produces a pitch other than middle C; that sounding pitch identifies the interval of transposition when describing the instrument. Playing a written C on clarinet or soprano saxophone produces a concert B, so these are referred to as B instruments. Providing transposed music for these instruments is a convention of musical notation. The instruments do not transpose the music; rather, their music is written at a transposed pitch. Where chords are indicated for improvisation they are also written in the appropriate transposed form.

<i>Shakuhachi</i> Japanese end-blown flute

A shakuhachi is a Japanese longitudinal, end-blown flute that is made of bamboo. The bamboo end-blown flute now known as the shakuhachi was developed in Japan in the 16th century and is called the fuke shakuhachi (普化尺八). A bamboo flute known as the kodai shakuhachi or gagaku shakuhachi (雅楽尺八) was derived from the Chinese xiao in the Nara period and died out in the 10th century. After a long blank period, the hitoyogiri shakuhachi (一節切尺八) appeared in the 15th century, and then in the 16th century, the fuke shakuhachi was developed in Japan. The fuke shakuhachi flourished in the 18th century during the Edo period, and eventually the hitoyogiri shakuhachi also died out. The fuke shakuhachi developed in Japan is longer and thicker than the kodai shakuhachi and has one finger hole less. It is longer and thicker than hitoyogiri shakuhachi and is superior in volume, range, scale and tone quality. Today, since the shakuhachi generally refers only to fuke shakuhachi, the theory that the shakuhachi is an instrument unique to Japan is widely accepted.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bass clarinet</span> Member of the clarinet family

The bass clarinet is a musical instrument of the clarinet family. Like the more common soprano B clarinet, it is usually pitched in B, but it plays notes an octave below the soprano B clarinet. Bass clarinets in other keys, notably C and A, also exist, but are very rare. Bass clarinets regularly perform in orchestras, wind ensembles and concert bands, and occasionally in marching bands, and play an occasional solo role in contemporary music and jazz in particular.

<i>Dizi</i> (instrument) Chinese transverse flute

The dizi, is a Chinese transverse flute. It is also sometimes known as the di or héngdi, and has varieties including Qudi, Bangdi, and Xindi. It is a major Chinese musical instrument that is widely used in many genres of Chinese folk music, Chinese opera, as well as the modern Chinese orchestra. The dizi is also a popular instrument among the Chinese people as it is simple to make and easy to carry.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tenor saxophone</span> Type of saxophone

The tenor saxophone is a medium-sized member of the saxophone family, a group of instruments invented by Adolphe Sax in the 1840s. The tenor and the alto are the two most commonly used saxophones. The tenor is pitched in the key of B (while the alto is pitched in the key of E), and written as a transposing instrument in the treble clef, sounding an octave and a major second lower than the written pitch. Modern tenor saxophones which have a high F key have a range from A2 to E5 (concert) and are therefore pitched one octave below the soprano saxophone. People who play the tenor saxophone are known as "tenor saxophonists", "tenor sax players", or "saxophonists".

The bass flute is a member of the flute family. It is in the key of C, pitched one octave below the concert flute. Despite its name, its playing range makes it the tenor member of the flute family so it's really a Tenor Flute. Because of the length of its tube, it is usually made with a J-shaped head joint, which brings the embouchure hole within reach of the player. Its soft dynamic range means in large ensembles it is easily obscured unless amplified or lightly scored; however its unique timbre in the low register can be very effective, especially in solo works, small ensembles, and flute choirs. The "bass flute in F" produced by Kotato & Fukushima is a contra-alto flute.

The Western concert flute is a family of transverse (side-blown) woodwind instruments made of metal or wood. It is the most common variant of the flute. A musician who plays the flute is called a “flautist” in British English, and a “flutist” in American English.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Contrabass flute</span> A flute tuned in middle C

The contrabass flute is one of the rarer members of the flute family. Typically seen in flute ensembles, it is sometimes also used in solo and chamber music situations. Its range is similar to the regular concert flute, except it is pitched two octaves lower; the lowest performable note is two octaves below middle C. Many contrabass flutes in C are also equipped with a low B. Contrabass flutes are only available from select flute makers.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Subcontrabass flute</span> Subcontrabass member of the Western concert flute family

The subcontrabass flute is a member of the Western concert flute family. With the length of tubing ranging from 15 feet (4.6 m) to 18 feet (5.5 m) long, it is the second largest instrument of the family after the hyperbass flute.

The guan is a Chinese double reed wind instrument. The northern Chinese version is called guanzi or bili and the Cantonese version is called houguan. It is classified as a bamboo instrument in the Ba Yin system. Unlike other instruments in the double-reed family of woodwinds which mostly have conical bores, such as the Chinese suona or the Western oboe, the guan has a cylindrical bore, giving its distinctive mellow, yet piercing buzz-like timbre.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tenor cornett</span>

The tenor cornett or lizard was a common musical instrument in the Renaissance and Baroque periods. This instrument was normally built in C and the pedal (lowest) note of the majority of tenor cornetts was the C below middle C. A number of surviving instruments feature a key to secure the lowest note. The instrument has a useful range of approximately two and a half octaves, however, an experienced player with a strong embouchure may be able to push the instrument higher.

A flute ensemble is an instrumental chamber ensemble consisting of members of the flute family.

The western concert flute family has a wide range of instruments.

References

  1. 1 2 3 "The Kingma System Alto Flute: A Practical Guide for Composers and Performers". www.altoflute.co.uk. Retrieved 2024-03-28.
  2. 1 2 3 "The Kingma System Alto Flute: A Practical Guide for Composers and Performers". www.altoflute.co.uk. Retrieved 2024-03-19.
  3. "What Is An Alto Flute? | tonebase Flute". tonebase. Retrieved 2024-03-19.
  4. Potter, Christine (2016). Alto Flute Method. United States of America. ISBN   9781530126583.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  5. "Phyllis Louke - Article: Getting Started Playing Alto, Bass and Contrabass Flutes". Archived from the original on 27 February 2009. Retrieved 19 April 2021.
  6. Davis, John Edward (1997). "The extended alto flute: The history and development of the alto flute, with a study of modern alto flute design and its effect on extended techniques in alto flute repertoire and pedagogical materials".{{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  7. "Wave Physics with LIGO data" . Retrieved 28 March 2024.
  8. Music, Phamox (2022-10-19). "Alto Flute - Musical Instrument Guide". Phamox Music. Retrieved 2024-03-19.
  9. 1 2 "A guide to the lengths of flutes". www.mcgee-flutes.com. Retrieved 2024-03-19.
  10. "Phyllis Louke - Article: Getting Started Playing Alto, Bass and Contrabass Flutes". web.archive.org. 2009-02-27. Retrieved 2024-03-19.
  11. Toff, Nancy (2012). The Flute Book: A Complete Guide for Students and Performers. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. pp. 69–72.
  12. One of the best-known uses of the alto flute in 20th century music was by Pierre Boulez in his piece Le marteau sans maître for contralto and six instrumentalists. Adams, Doug (2010). The Music of the Lord of the Rings Films: A Comprehensive Account of Howard Shore's Scores, Book & CD. Los Angeles, California, USA: Alfred Music.
  13. Tedjamulia Read, A. "The History and Pedagogy of Low Flutes".