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Renaissance flutes


The flute became much better-known all over Europe in the 14th century as Swiss mercenaries, who used it for marching and signalling, spread its use along with their new infantry techniques. Military flutes are on another page.

In art music of the renaissance the flute, like other instruments, was most commonly used in sets of different-sized family members to play consort music, usually in four parts. In the picture at left (1619) these are shown in the bottom right corner. The music often had to be transposed to fit on a consort of flutes: musicians used the idea of hexachords to make transposing and fingering the different sizes of flute easy. Consort flutes were played mostly in music in the Dorian and related modes, and in the upper part of their range, where their tone was even and pure and blended well with the other flutes in the consort. Consort music was a popular pastime for cultured amateur players as well as for professional musicians.

By the early 17th century flutes more frequently appeared in mixed consort music along with bowed and plucked string instruments. German and Italian sacred music, though not often scored for specific instruments, used flutes in various ways. Motets by Michael Praetorius and others sometimes contrasted groups of different instruments against each other. In other pieces a tenor flute was used to play an inner part, with a violin or cornetto on the upper (cantus) part and viol, trombone, or bassoon playing the lower voices. Modes and hexachords were still an essential part of musical theory at the time.

Solo instrumental music became common at about the same time. It is not clear whether it was played on the same type of instrument used for consort music. Certainly by the late 17th century, special types of flute had been developed to play the new music.

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