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.

  • When did flutes d’amore begin to be made?
  • Where were they made and who made them?
  • Why were they used?
  • What music was written for the flute d’amore and who wrote it?
  • What gave the instrument its distinctive sound?
  • 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 Europe and their sheer number.  This alone, points to the instrument’s obvious popularity in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In recent years we have seen some resurgence in the flute d’amore’s popularity as modern manufacturers have begun to reintroduce them into the market place.

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The flute d’amore was originally made in the Baroque era (c.1700) when wind instruments began to gain more importance.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 Francois 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

Composer Works
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) Various cantata movements Pastoralefrom Christmas Oratorio possibly Sonata in B minor
Christopher Graupner (1683-1730) Seven religious cantatas; two birthday cantatas; Tripleconcerto for flute d’amore; oboe d’amore and viola d’amore; Solo flute d’amore: Concerto in A. (Uses A d’amore)
George Philip Telemann (1681-1767) Concerto in A  flute d’amore (A) & strings
Johann Melchior Molter (1696-1765) Concerto for flute d’amore (Ab) and strings
Johann Helmich Roman (1694-1767) 2nd movement of E minor Sinfonia uses two flutes  d’amore.(A)
Ignaz Jacob Holzbauer (1711-1783) La Passione di Jesu Christo
Franz Anton Hoffmeister (1754-1812) Notturno in Eb for Flute – Flute d’;amore – (Ab) two horns in Eb – two violas – cello or bassoon.
Notturno in Eb Flute d’amore – Horn in Eb and Viola. (Trio)
Joseph Weigl (1766-1846) Concerto in Eb for Cor Anglais – Flute d’amore – (Ab)Trumpet in Eb – Violad’amore – Glockenspiel – Euphonium – Cembalo – and cello.
With echo ensemble: Cor anglais – Flute d’amore – (Ab) Trumpet and cello.
Fredrich Hartmann Graf (1727-1795) No title located
Antonio Messina-Rosaryo Fantasia Diabolica (bass flute – flute d’amore & flute/piano)
Giuseppi Richter 18th/19 Century Quintet for 4 concert flutes and flute d’amore (in Ab)
Johann Adolf Hasse (1699-1783) Concerto in F for flute d’amore (Bb) and strings.
Severio Mercadante (1795-1870) Trio for Flute – Flute d’amore and cello in F major
Fantasia Concertante for flute – flute d’amore and orchestra
Stephen Dodgson (b.1924) O Swallow – flute d’amore (A) and piano

Table 2: Missing scores of known flute d’amore compositions [1]

  • Johann Morawetz Eight nocturnes for fluted’amore, 2 violins, 2 trumpets and cello.
  • Johann Neubauer Two nocturnes for flute, flute d’amore, 2 rns, 2 violins and cello
  • F.G.Reymann 13 concerti for Flute, Flute d’amore, 2 horns, 2 violas and cello.

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 Sirene, 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.

Pierre Naust built the earliest currently known example of a flute d’amore in c.1700. It is now in the Collection of the Musee de la Musique in Paris. Christopher Addington did extensive research on the instrument, which included taking detailed measurements and playing it and came to the conclusion that it was the first flute d’amore. Some scholars previously thought it could have been a very low pitch concert flute.

The larger flutes were built to a four joint design, which originated in c1720. The flute d’amore was manufactured throughout Europe and the spread of the instrument was determined to a certain extent by the location of the manufacturers. In many European countries the baroque traverso flute seems to have appeared some years later than the baroque oboe and recorder. Although the new baroque-style instruments were probably invented in France, woodwind makers in other European countries also played an important part.

Table 3 gives a list of flute makers that are known to have made flutes d’amore. The list has been drawn up from museum catalogues, instruments that I have inspected and makers referred to in William Waterhouse: The New Langwill Index and Ardal Powell’s The One Keyed Flute. The Viennese and Dutch makers were sourced from articles published in the Galpin Society Journal.

Table 3: List of Flute-makers known to have made flutes d’amore

Workshop Location Flutemaker Date
England London Clementi & Co 1752-1830*[2]
London Monzani & Hill 1762-1839
London Rudall Rose/ Rudall Carte 1821-1871*
London Charles Schuchart 1695-1758[3]
London Stanesby Jnr 1713-1754
London James Wood 1799-1832
France Paris A.Buffet 1789-c1885
Paris Thomas Lot 1708-1787
Strasbourg/Paris Pierre Naust 1660-1709
Switzerland Basel Christian Schlegel 1617-1746
Basel Jeramias Schlegel 1730-1792
Germany Mannheim Johann Georg Eisenmenger 1698-1742
Potsdam Friedrich Gabriel Kirst 1750-1806
Potsdam Johann Joachin Quantz 1697-1773
Nuremberg Johann Wilhelm Oberlender Snr/Jnr 1705-1745/1712-79
Butzbach George Heinrich Scherer 1703-1778
Munich Max Stiegler 1784-1858
Leipzig George Tromlitz 1726-1805
Austria Vienna Johann Erzbecker c1726-1788
Vienna Friedrich Lempp c1723-1796
Holland Amsterdam Thomas Boekhout 1666-1715
Amsterdam Richard Haka 1646-1705
Amsterdam Jan Jurrinsz van Heerde 1638-1720
Italy Venice Andrea Fornari 1753-1841
Japan Tokyo Altus 1990-date*
Tokyo Sankyo 1999*[4]

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. Altus and Sankyo, the current manufacturers of Bb & A flutes d’amore, produce state-of-the-art Boehm-system instruments with Briccialdi Bb thumb-keys and Dorus G# keys with extended foot joints.

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. However, Altus designed their flutes d’amore in consultation with the British flautist William Bennett and Sankyo took advice from Andras Adjoran. The first Sankyo prototype was used on a recording in 1995, of the Trio in F major for flute, flute d’,amore and cello by Severio Mercadante.

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.

Terminology complicates the study of these flutes. I would like to briefly introduce the English Bb tenor flute, which was made in England in the nineteenth century. There is a difference of opinion between scholars as to whether this was the same instrument as the Bb flute d’amore. It is believed that if it is the same instrument it was called the Bb tenor flute because the oboe d’amore was not as well known in England as it was in Europe. Originally Flutes in A were known as alto flutes in A as the English did not have the oboe d’amore as a reference point. The Bb instrument was known to be popular for supplying the lower line in flute quartets, which were popular among amateur players. Also, makers such as Richard Haka were making a Dutch equivalent to the flute d’amore in Amsterdam. It was known as a bass traverso. Although the bore and length differed slightly to that of the standard flutes d’amore but they produced a similar characteristic dark sound. The bore is similar to that of the Naust, which has been classified as a flute d’amore and is contemporaneous with the Dutch instruments, which were also made c.1700.[vi] In his article In search of the baroque flute, Christopher Addington voices the opinion that these instruments come within the flute d’amore genre.’ In his score of Riccardo Primo, George Frederick Handel (1685-1750) uses a Bb flute d’’more but indicates it on the score as a traverso basso. This is a further example of how the terminology has become very confused.[vii]

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.

Kate Walsh is a freelance flautist and teacher living and working in London UK. The flute d’amore was her specialist research dissertation for an MA in performance studies at City University/Guildhall School of Music in London.

Kate has played in Mexico, North America, and continental Europe. In addition to her freelance flute and piccolo playing and teaching, Kate is able to offer a lecture recital or workshop on the flute d’amore.

Anyone interested should contact her on +44 1895 674278 or +44 7889 716181 Email: kateflute@btinternet.com.

Copyright: Kate Walsh, January 2000

  • [1] I have been unable to establish the correct dates of these composers
  • [2] Entries followed by an * are company dates
  • [3] Birth date is approximate
  • [4] Sankyo started production spring/summer 1999. A prototype was made in 1995

End Notes

  • [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.
  • [v] One of these instruments is listed in the Dayton C Miller Collection catalogue in Washington (8 keys, boxwood with ivory rings). The collection is based in the Library of Congress soon to move to the Smithsonian institute.
  • [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.

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