Why A Flute Can Be Fantastic
When it comes to orchestral musical instruments, many think of the larger items like the trumpets and trombones, or the various stringed instruments. Indeed, many a violinist or cellist (just think of the Two Cellos act) can be the star of the show.
However, nobody should underestimate the wonders of the flute. It has a role to play in orchestras, yet is so versatile that in some musical forms it can take centre stage by itself, like folk music. After all, two special Ukrainian versions of the flutes, known as the sopilka and the telenka, were played by Kalush Orchestra in their 2022 Eurovision Song Contest winning song Stefania.
Stefania is certainly a song whose woodwind notes can be played by a flute or a recorder, as the sounds are similar enough and the right keys and notes are available on more familiar western woodwind instruments.
This may not be a surprise, for the flute is a wonderfully versatile instrument and part if the proof of that is the way its use in orchestras has changed over time.
As Philharmonia notes, in the days of composers like Bach it was the recorder that played the main woodwind role in orchestras, but as the flute developed it offered greater power, especially after the invention of the Bohem System in the 19th century of metal keys and pads covering the surface and enabling more sophisticated music to be played than a recorder could ever manage.
Most flutes now are made of metal, with the exception of the piccolo, which remains a woodwind instrument with wind passing through the wood.
Having taken a greater role in orchestral performances, flutes have now produced some grand concertos. Band Essential’s list of the top ten includes shout-outs for Mozart’s Flute Concerto No. 1, Chaminade’s Flute Concertino in D Major and Christoph Willibald Gluck’s Flute Concerto in G Major.
While the flute has developed over time like many instruments, there are still some very old ones around that are both fascinating to look at and a delight to play. Indeed, American singer and trained flautist Lizzo recently made history by playing a 200-year-old crystal flute that formerly belong to US president James Madison, one of the country’s founding fathers and president from 1809-17.
Lizzo played the instrument at her concert in Washington DC and described it as “like playing out of a wine glass”.
Given the priceless nature of the instrument, a family heirloom, she played just a few notes on it, but afterwards she posted on social media: "As a flute player this is iconic and I will never be over it." The Library of Congress later confirmed the instrument had been returned safely home.
It is fair to say that no flute you may ever learn to play will be so iconic or historic as the one Lizzo was able to enjoy. But the fact that such an instrument was in existence so long ago as to be owned by the Father of the US Constitution shows that the flute has a long and grand history.