The oldest of our instruments

Dating back to prehistoric times, various forms of flute have been discovered all across the world. In September 2008, many pieces of a flute dating back to the upper paleolithic period (around 35,000 years ago) were discovered in a grotto in south west Germany. This flute had been constructed from a radius bone of a tawny vulture and gives proof that even the first Homo Sapiens had played some form of music.

Generally reserved for the dance, the flute slowly gained the favour of the court musicians. The flute is an instrument that has been made in many different forms and sizes.

The Gemshorn

Gemshorns are flutes made from animal horns.

They are part of the ocarina family and have a soft flute like-sound and not the sound of a trumpet or a horn as is often imagined from their appearance.

Here is shown a boxed set of an alto and a tenor gemshorn made from cow's horn. They are played in a similar way to a recorder; they are chromatic but they are limited to only one octave in range.

Deux gemshorns; ténor et alto

The Transverse Flute

The transverse flute probably arrived in Europe via Byzance.
Less widespread than the recorder (fipple flute) the instrument is played by blowing air across an embouchure.

This transverse flute has been made after an instrument of the renaissance.

The transverse flute that is used for today's irish music is derived from a small number of English flutes from the early 19th century. The most well known instruments are those manufactured by Rudall and Rose between the years 1830 and 1840. These flutes are tuned in 'D', and in comparison with other European flutes of the same period, the fingerholes were much larger which eliminated the possibility of crossed fingering. However, as a result the flutes were much louder and possessed a reedy quality to their tone. Eight keys were generally provided to access the semitones.

La flûte traversière du XVIème siècle La flûte traversière du XVIème siècle

The Recorder

The recorder (or fipple flute) is played by placing the embochure directly between the lips. The three instruments shown are reconstructions of recorders from the 16th century made from boxwood and ivory. The instruments have a bore larger than todays recorders and consequently have a stronger voice but with slightly less range.

To the right is a soprano, a sopranino and a tiny garklein; a flute made from a single piece of wood that plays an octave above the the soprano.

Trois flûtes à bec de la Renaissance.

The Three Hole Pipe

This little flute has only three finger holes for the notes and so the instrument requires only one hand (the left) for playing. The right hand is generally used to beat a small drum or percussion instrument to accompany the music.

This three hole pipe is a traditional English style made in brass and is an instrument often used to accompany Morris dancing.

Une flûte à trois trous en laiton