The technical development of flutes during renaissance

In music history the time between 1450 and 1600 is called renaissance. This period is also full of groundbreaking innovations

At the start of 16th century the art of printing was by and by used for music. This fact we owe first school works for several instruments (for example Sebastian Virdung: Musica getutscht, Bale 1511; Martin Agricola: Musica Instrumentalis deudsch, Wittenberg 1528). Printing also led to a new trend of making music for leasure.

The religious reformation of Martin Luther had also a big influence on music by starting the Protestant church music.

In building instruments new technics were developed and problems in intonation bit by bit solved. The evolution of a whole family of flutes similar to the human voices registers made it possible to use flutes as a replacement of vocal music.

The "Querflötte" distanced itself gradually from the sharper folk instruments. In contrast to the "Schweitzerpfeiffen" used for military purposes, the flute developed a softer sound due to a broader diapason and become a more artistic instrument.

The renaissance flute was built from wood in one piece with a cylindrical bore hole. The most common wood sorts were fruit trees, maple or boxwood. There were six fingering holes, none of them for the thumb. The holes were small (about 6 mm). The mouth-hole was a straight circle.

The common order of tone holes made it impossible to play major or minor scales but only the medieval hexa chords.

Michael Praetorius documented the design and development of instruments in 1619 in the second tome of "Syntagma Musicum". The same did Père Marin Mersenne in Harmonie universelle, where the flute was called flûte allemand.

In France the 16th century brought a prosperous bourgeoisie, which made the worldly vocal music with instrumental accompaniment flourish.

The rooms for playing music in renaissance were mostly equipped with wooden floor, walls of stone and rare surfaces covered with textiles. Thus they built good resonance rooms like they are today only found in churches. Thus the instruments, today sounding very muted for our ears, were back then good audible even for dancing or in a concert.

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Author: Claudia Haider; Last updated 13.04.2013