The Flute d’amore
Why write an article about a little known instrument that is rarely used? The background to this research is that I purchased a flute d’amore three years ago to play in a flute orchestra. I was immediately captivated by the sound. As I used the instrument questions began to form.
1. When did flutes d’amore begin to be made?
2. Where were they made and who made them?
3. Why were they used?
4. What music was written for the flute d’amore and who wrote it?
5. What gave the instrument its distinctive sound?
6. Why did they become obsolete?
As I began my research I wondered what I would find. I discovered a whole new world, which is little known. Even now much more research needs to be done to get the full picture. I was astounded to discover that there was a “family” of flutes d’amore, contrary to the belief that the instrument is only pitched in A.
When I started to examine surviving instruments I was
surprised at the diversity of design, fingering systems and materials used in
their manufacture. It was fascinating to
see the geographical spread of the makers around
Most people believe the flute d’amore is pitched in A, a minor third below the concert flute (corresponding to the oboe d’amore). However during my research I discovered examples of instruments and compositions for flutes d’amore in A, Bb and Ab. They all fall into the alto range of the flute family.[i]
The flute d’amore was originally made in the Baroque era (c.1700) when wind instruments began to gain more importance. The older style Renaissance wind instruments had declined in popularity as they were considered too crude to blend with the string sound and so the string orchestra, now the backbone of the modern orchestra, came into being.
However, no sooner had the wind instruments been rejected, they were re-admitted by French orchestras. The instruments had been modified, by making them with two or more pieces so intonation could be improved by using interchangeable joints known as corps de rechange, and adjustments to the bore to make the tone smoother by using a conical bore. As well as the concert flute other larger flutes were made e.g. the fourth flute and basso traverso. The flute d’amore was considered to be the most important of these larger flutes.[ii] Until recently it has been thought of as obsolete with very little repertoire written for it. However, my research has shown this is not true as several composers wrote specific repertoire (solo, orchestral and chamber works) for the flute d’amore. The following repertoire lists illustrate this.
Although not included in the tables, the Concerts Royaux written by François Couperin (1668-1733) could have been intended for flute d’amore. He was not generally thought of as a composer for the flute as his music was written in a low tessitura and in keys that were not satisfactory on the concert flute. However, in the preface to the Concerts Royaux he included the flute as being one of the instruments for which the music was written. If the flute d’amore were used, the music would become idiomatic and in a perfect range for the instrument. The scholar Christopher Addington believes that the French violin clef was used to facilitate this.[iii]
Table 1: Known works composed for flutes d’amore with existing manuscripts
Table 2: Missing scores of known flute d’amore compositions
Example1: Extract from Ritratto dell’amore: Nouveau concert No 9 (Paris 1724)
b. Modern notation for flute d’amore in A
Composers like Christoph Graupner (1683-1760), Johann Helmich Roman (1694-1767) and Johann Melchior Molter (1696-1765) were attracted by the instruments distinctive sound and other composers like Franz Anton Hoffmeister (1754-1812) and Joseph Weigl (1766-1846) were writing in keys that lay awkwardly for the concert flute using forked fingerings that produced a muffled sound. Therefore, these pieces sounded better on a flute d’amore. It seems that Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) used the flute d’amore for its evocative quality as well as for tonal convenience. Bach used the instrument in Cantatas and it is possible that some of his flute sonatas we play on concert flute were in fact intended for flute d’amore. More research is needed to verify this. There is one example where the indication for flute d’amore does clearly appear on a Bach score and that is for two flutes d’amore in the orchestral pastoral in part ii of the Christmas Oratorio. There is evidence that he used the flute d’amore and other larger flutes in other works as the range of the part goes below that of the C flute. Again, this requires closer research.
It is possible that eighteenth-century flautists, like clarinettists and trumpeters, followed the practice of using an instrument at the appropriate pitch to achieve the correct timbre and be able to play in awkward keys. At this time only four or five keys were really acceptable on the concert flute from the point of view of intonation it must have been helpful to players and composer to have access to instruments in different pitches. As these larger flutes were constructed to their own scale the sound was altered which expanded the range of timbres available to the composer. As you will see from the evidence of specialist repertoire, the flute d’amore was not just an instrument of convenience.
The sonority of the flute d’amore was still appreciated in the nineteenth-century; for instance the slow movement of a Caprice de Concert for flute and piano, La Sirène, by Adolf Terschak (1832-1901) carries the following instruction: ‘To be played as by a flute d’amore’.[iv] Verdi originally scored the Sacred Egyptian Dance in the finale of Act One of Aida for three flutes d’amore. My research has not produced a reason why he decided to use flutes d‘amore, but it could be that he wanted the more mellifluous, dark sound produced by the flute d’amore. Three matched instruments were specially built for the production in 1871, but the idea was abandoned during rehearsals.[v] There is no obvious reason documented. However, it is possible that the instruments could not project through the thick texture of a romantic orchestra.
built the earliest currently known example of a flute d’amore
in c.1700. It is now in the Collection of the Museé
de la Musique in
The larger flutes were
built to a four joint design, which originated in c1720. The flute d’amore
was manufactured throughout
Table 3: List of Flute-makers known to have made flutes d’amore.
Materials used to make
flutes d’amore have included Boxwood, Ivory, Ebony
and Silver. Instruments of many different designs survive, ranging from
single-keyed models then four-, eight-, eleven- and thirteen-keyed ones,
culminating in the Radcliff and the more familiar Boehm-system instruments that
many flautists use today.
Theobald Boehm found the
flute d’amore of his time unsatisfactory. I have yet to find acoustical details but we
know that to overcome his perceived problems with the flute d’amore
he developed the alto flute in G, with its much wider bore. In a comparison of modern instruments the
alto is much more weighted to the lower and middle octaves whereas the modern
flutes d’amore have the sonority in the lower octaves
as well as being able to utilise the third octave fully. The flute d’amore mechanism gives greater technical flexibility than
the heavier alto flute action found on most altos. Philip Bate in his book The Flute
explains that modern flutes d’amore are built in the
same way as concert flutes but with a bigger bore and the keys spaced further
apart which is offset by the Boehm system key-work. This may have been the case
with the earlier Boehm system models made by A.Buffet
and Rudall Carte.
During my visits to collections and museums I found it interesting to note that on the instruments I was allowed to play, such as the Stanesby in the Bate collection, that the sound of the flute d’amore has changed very little. Obviously there are differences in the power of the sound, but the dark mysterious quality has always been evident. It was the quality of the sound that attracted recitalists to use the instrument to play more melancholy and emotional solos. Players in opera pits also used the instrument for the sound. During the course of an opera they would change to a flute d’amore for particularly poignant solos or aria accompaniments
complicates the study of these flutes. I
would like to briefly introduce the English Bb tenor flute, which was made in
Although the earlier roles of the flute d’amore have been taken over in part by the alto flute,[viii] I believe that with the modern instruments now available the balance should be redressed. Composers should be encouraged to write new repertoire and flautists should consider reviving the performance practices of the eighteenth-century to exploit the rich tonal qualities of this vastly under-used instrument, so it can again be heard in concert halls in the twenty-first century.
Anyone interested should contact her on +44 1895 674278 or
 I have been unable to establish the correct dates of these composers
 Entries followed by an * are Company dates
 Birth date is approximate
 Sankyo have just started production spring/summer 1999. A prototype was made in 1995
[i] The flute family consisting of: Piccolo, G treble, Eb flute, Concert flute, Flutes d’amore, Alto flute, Bass flute and Contra bass flute.
[ii] Other larger flutes did exist, the fourth flute and the bass flute. Philip Bate: The Flute, 184-5.
[iii] Christopher Addington: In search of the Baroque Flute 41.
[iv] La Sirene, Schott Edition, Mainz. I wish to thank Colin Fleming for making this work available to me.
One of these instruments is listed in the Dayton C Miller Collection
[vi] Rob van Acht: Dutch wind instrument makers from 1670-1820.
[vii] The original score is in the British Library. I have seen the microfilm copy.
[viii] Theobald Boehm did not like the flute d’amore and developed the alto flute to supersede it. See On Playing the Flute 119
Acht, Rob van: “Dutch Wind Instrument Makers from 1670-1820”, Galpin Society Journal, 41 (1988), 83-101.
Addington Christopher: “The Bach Flute”, Musical Quarterly, November 1985, 264-80.
Addington Christopher: ”In Search of the Baroque Flute” Early Music 12/1, (1984), 34-47.
Baines, Anthony: The History of Woodwind Instruments (New York: Dover 1991).
Baines, Anthony: The
Bate, Philip: The Flute, Instruments of the Orchestra, 2nd Edition, (London: Earnest Benn Ltd 1969).
Boehm, Theobald (Trans. Dayton. C Miller.): The Flute and Flute Playing in Acoustical, Technical and Artistic Aspects, 2nd English Edition (New York: Dover Press, 1964).
Bowers, Jane: “New Light on the Development of the Transverse Flute between about 1650 and about 1770”, Journal of American Musical Instrument Society, 3 (1977), 5-56.
Fairley, Andrew: Flutes, Flautists and Makers (active or born before 1900) (London: Pan Educational Music, 1982).
Powell, Ardal, with David Lasocki: “Bach and the Flute: The players, the instruments, the music”. Early Music, 23/2 (1995), 9-29.
Quantz, Joachim. J. (Trans. Edward Reilly): On Playing The Flute (London: Faber & Faber, 1966).
Solum, John: The Early Flute, Early Music Series 15 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992).
Terry, C.S: Bach’s Orchestra, 5th edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972).
Thalheimer, Peter: “Flauto d’amore, B flat Tenor flute und “tiefe Quartflöte”, Tibia, 8 (1983), 334-342.
Toff, Nancy: The Flute Book, 2nd edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996).
Tromlitz, Johann.G. (ed Ardal Powell): The Keyed Flute, Oxford Early Music Series 17, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996).
Tromlitz, Johann.G. (Tans/ed Ardal Powell): The Virtuoso Flute Player (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1991)
Waterhouse, William: The New Langwill Index (London: Tony Bingham, 1993).
Young, Philip T: 4900 Historical Woodwind Instruments (London: Tony Bingham, 1996).
Graupner, Christoph: Concerto in A for flute d’amore and orchestra, RISM 000009476, Mus.ms: 411/7 Landesbibliothek
Hasse, Johann Adolf: Concerto in F for flute d’amore and strings, RISM 000157764, Manuscript FbO-R, Statens Misikbibliotek (Stockholm, Sweden).
Hoffmeister, Franz Anton: Notturno in Eb major, for flute, flute d’amore, 2 horns, 2 violas and cello/bassoon, edition Kunzelmann D7891 (Lottstetten, Germany 1986).
Molter, Johann Melchior: Concerto in G for flute d’amore
and orchestra, Mus: MS 307 Landesbibliothek
Terschak, Adolph: La Sirene Edition Schott 181