Between the flute's first golden age in the early 18th
century and the rise of the recording industry in the
ealy 20th, strongly characteristic styles of flute-playing
were heard in several European countries. We know of
these styles not only because of what flutists,
conductors, critics, and other listeners wrote about
flute-playing, but also because the instruments
used in different countries have different tone-qualities,
and because in the early recording
era many performances in these different styles were
captured on disc.
Early recordings (1902-1940) of flute-playing
The most distinctive and best-known national styles
were French, German, and English, with other styles
in Italy and the Uniteds States playing a part at various
As in the case of many other instruments, the Paris
Conservatoire came to dominate flute-playing all
over the world during the early 20th century. Its light,
vibrato-laden tone and sensitive shadings copied stylistic
elements from certain singers and violinists of the
Taffanel and his pupils spread it to other European
countries and the U.S., so that by about 1960 almost
the whole flute-playing world had adopted elements of
the French style, technique, and instruments.
A strong sense of tradition leading back to
J.J. Quantz made German flutists focus on highly
modulated orchestral playing as their highest goal and
resist foreign influence. Most of the long-established
German and Austrian orchestras excluded the
Boehm flute until the late 19th or early 20th centuries,
mainly because it was considered too loud and insensitive.
Instead, German players and makers developed
the 'tradtional', conical-bore, flute. Vibrato was a
controversial technique, with some players strongly
in favor and some equally opposed. By the time of Germany's
defeeat in World War 2, German-style flutes and flute-playing
had almost completely disappeared.
English flutists of the 19th century traced their heritage
Nicholson, famed for his powerful tone as well as
his 'sensitive' interpretations of British folk melodies.
Nicholson used a special type of flute that aided his
personal techniques, and while many of his successors
adopted the Boehm flute or one of its derivatives,
a steady, vibrato-free tone and perfect woodwind blending
remained the ideals of English flute-playing until after
World War 2. Many of the most brilliant recordings of
the early 20th century were made by British or Empire
players, but the recording industry began to demand
French-style playing by the 1930s.
Italian players, as well as those in the Austro-Hungarian
and other central European countries, used Viennese-type
flutes (some manufactured in Italy) with an extended
lower range throughout the 19th century. Their brilliant
technique was usually accompanied by a fast, light vibrato.
The United States
German musicians dominated America during the 'melting-pot'
era of immigration; many flutists used Meyer-type
instruments. But the Boehm flute gained early success
with professional players in New York, and the Boston
Symphony was formed using French woodwind players and
French-style Boehm instruments, which were soon copied
by U.S. makers. By the 1930s a 'virile' French-influenced
style of flute-playing had emerged out of the mix.
Ardal Powell's The Flute
(Yale University Press, 2002) contains more information
on the growth, interplay, and disappearance of national