Origin of the Flute
Origins of the flute date back to the stone age. Known as the first ever wind instrument, most of the flutes were end blown flutes and looked like our modern day recorder. What could be considered the first flute was found in China and was called the “ch-ie”. The egyptians and Sumerians were the first to add finger holes so that we were able to produce different notes. Before then, it was made of animal bones with a carved out embouchure. Ancient greeks also played the flute (an end blown flute) however it was known as the instrument of the common man and was often looked down upon.
During the fall of the roman empire, the flute seemingly disappeared from the west (Europe). It is likely that the flute was brought back to Europe during the Byzantine Empire from Asia where it’s traditions are longstanding. It was only during the 16th century (renaissance era) where the prototype or ancestor of the flute that we know of today was widely used. Until the 18th century, flutes were referred to pipe instruments that were both horizontal and vertical.
A German court orchestra flutist by the name of Theobald Boehm presented what would be the modern day flute in 1847 at the Paris exhibition. He incorporated ideas from his colleagues and most notably, from Frederick Nolan who made use of the ring keys in 1808. In 1832, he (Theobald Boehm) built a flute based on logical acoustic placement instead of the easiest fingering. He also linked certain keys to each other.
This lead to a new fingering that ended up being easier than its last. In 1847, felt pads were added to prevent leaking air, pin springs were added, the shape of the embouchure was changed and the flute was made of silver. This new flute was well received in the USA, France and England. However, in Germany, Russia and Italy, flutists were close-minded and didn’t want to accept the change of fingering despite the fact that the new design won many awards. Eventually, Boehm’s flute came into common use and has undergone minimal changes from then on.
The flute, or what was called the flute back then, has been used since the middle ages. Used for the court and sometimes the military, it was often paired with the drum. During the renaissance era different ensembles were commonly heard together. The “flute consort” which consists of three different sized transverse flutes (horizontal flutes, like the ones today) and the “broken consort” which was made of the viola, lute and flute. During the end of the 17th century, solo flute works began to rise in popularity along with the excessive ornamentation of the baroque style.