The flute is from the woodwind family but also from the aerophone family as the flute does not use a reed, but rather a hole to blow across to create the sound … so technically, even an empty bottle would be considered a kind of flute!
On this week's Learning to Listen, we'll learn about the flute by way of one of the greatest flute players who ever lived, Julius Baker. The 100th anniversary of his birth is Sept. 23. Our guest, Immanuel Davis, teaches at the University of Minnesota and is a former student of Julius Baker.
When it comes to talking about flute players, is the right word "flutist" or "flautist"? It turns out both terms are technically correct, but Julius Baker, one of the greatest flute-players of all time, was a modest, handy and practical man who found the best term to use was "flutician." Baker played with technical perfection, a kind of expressive but very expressive rubato, and also a spinning sound created by a natural singer-like vibrato. Every flutician in every major orchestra in America was affected by Baker's impeccable playing and by his sound, whether they studied directly with Baker or not.
And Baker made all of these spectacular sounds with an instrument that has not changed in the most fundamental ways since the Pleistocene era. The flute is a tapering cylinder with a hole on one end that the musician blows across while fingering holes (now with the use of a complicated system of keys) along the tube. Whether made of wood, bone, silver, gold or platinum, the instrument vibrates simply by the air splitting at the top and the use of eight fingers and one thumb. But then the performer has to take it from there, and this is how Time magazine defines flute virtuosity:
"Julius Baker - 50 - first flutist of the New York Philharmonic, last week played the intricate trills in Mendelssohn's Oratorio Elijah as casually as another might whistle for a taxi. A plump, dapper, matter-of-fact chap who looks and acts like a prosperous dentist is the supreme mechanic of his instrument, and he produces what is surely the most glorious tone that ever came out of the flute. Big round, cool, white, radiant as a September moon." Time, 1965
Flute Facts:The flute is an aerophone, part of the woodwind family but rather than using a reed to produce sound, the player blows across a hole. This is the same principle as a whistle or recorder where the splitting of air occurs inside the instrument rather than at the embouchure (spot where player puts his or her mouth).
The flute has 25 to 27 keys perfected by Theobald Boehm in the 19th century; it's the same keying system used on all woodwinds.
Orchestral flutes are made of wood and precious metals today, but every society has some form of flute made of wood, bone, clay or glass.
The lowest note is C or B below the staff; the highest note is F, two octaves above the staff.
Flute FunOn a Clear Morning with flutist Immanuel Davis
A flutist's-eye view of the orchestra by Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra principal flutist Julia Bogorad-Kogan
Program PlaylistClaude Debussy, Trio (excerpt)
Camille Saint Saens: Carnival of the Animals: Voliere
Kostelanetz and his Orchestra Claude Debussy: Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun (excerpt)
Stokowski and his orchestra Grigoras Dinicu: Hora Staccato
Yoichi Miuri, piano Frederic Chopin: Nocturne in C#
Yoichi Miuri Maurice Ravel: Daphnis and Chloe (excerpt)
Boulez/NY Philharmonic Jacques Ibert: Flute Concerto, finale
CBS Orchestra Lennox Berkeley: Flute Sonata
Juliette Arnold, piano Paul Hindemith: Symphonic Metamorphosis (excerpt)
Kubelik/Chicago SO Esy Morales: Jungle Fantasy Francis Poulenc: Sonata, Finale